Wachusett Shines After Dark
Ripping hot laps at Massachusetts' favorite nighttime winter playground.
As my chair crested the summit of Wachusett’s highest peak on a recent weeknight, the crowd came into view: dozens of skiers and riders, packed ten deep in spots, eagerly awaiting the pending rope drop that would open access to the 10th Mountain Trail, the black diamond run that drops beneath the Polar Express chair. Soon enough, patrol got the call and opened the trail, triggering a frenzy as each skier attempted to jump to the front of the crowd to ski a fresh, untouched line of snow.
It’s a familiar scene at any ski area on a powder day—only this wasn’t a powder day. In fact, if you looked in the woods that flanked the trails, you could see that not even a single inch of natural snow existed on the mountain. Rather, the crowd was waiting for the nightly resurfacing by Wachusett’s fleet of groomers, as they worked their way across each trail on the resort’s three peaks laying down fresh, silky corduroy for the masses. Hard and slick from a full day of skier traffic, each trail was now rejuvenated, soft, and begging for fast, carved turns.
“Grooming and snowmaking are our lifeblood,” said Tom Meyers, Wachusett’s Director of Marketing. “Every flake of snow that’s on the ground right now is machine made.” Indeed, in a warm El Niño winter at a southerly location just 30 minutes north of Worcester in central Massachusetts, efficient and comprehensive snowmaking is a necessity at this New England Mecca for night skiing. While night skiing in the Northeast is often more akin to ice skating, the combination of top-notch snowmaking and a daily evening groomer pass across every square inch of the mountain means that conditions are always prime. With a snowmaking capacity of 8,400 gallons of water per minute and state-of-the-art groomers that can detect snow depth to one eighth of an inch, the efficiency and attention to detail are astonishing and the results are beyond impressive.
The mountain is divided into three sections, each accessed via its own express quad. The Minuteman Express Quad on the far right of the map brings you to 625’ of windy intermediate trails like Ralph’s Run and Challenger, as well as the ski area’s NASTAR course—one of the busiest in the entire nation. Racing is the heart of Wachusett’s ski culture, from the talented, ambitious youngsters on the Wachusett Mountain Race Team to the recreational, beer league racers that compete weekly for bragging rights afterwards at the bar.
On the far-left side of the mountain you’ll find the Monadnock Express Quad, which accesses Sundowner and Indian Summer; two gentle green trails that are the perfect place for beginners to make their first turns. In addition to racing, Wachusett places a major emphasis on teaching people to ski and ride. With its close proximity to Boston and Worcester, Wachusett embraces its role as a feeder mountain, churning out generation after generation of new skiers and riders that eventually patronize the larger ski areas further north.
In the center of the resort you’ll find the Polar Express Quad, which quickly scoops riders up to the top of Wachusett’s 2006’ summit. From here, skiers can choose from a variety of the mountain’s steepest blue and black trails that wiggle 1,000 feet back to the base. While the ski area has a modest footprint in terms of acreage, the vertical reach of its main peak is impressive. Take a run down the rolling slope of 10th Mountain Trail or Smith Walton and you’ll find there’s nothing “hilly” about this feeder hill—it’s a legitimate mountain.
With its unique combination of big-mountain vertical and local-hill convenience, Wachusett earns a place even in the schedules of New England skiers who spend their weekends and holidays to the north, out west, or even abroad. “The grooming here is unbelievable and snowmaking is the best you can get,” says Wayne Clark, a contractor and seven-year pass holder from nearby Acton. Wayne shared his excitement for an upcoming vacation to the Alps, but he seemed equally stoked to be skiing fresh corduroy on a mild Wednesday evening just a few miles from his home. “This time of year, the snow tends to harden up, so the groomers come out to soften things up and give you a nice edge to carve.”
When your legs grow tired from the hot laps, head into the massive 38,000-square-foot base lodge where you’ll find a cornucopia of food and drink options, from a tradition base lodge cafeteria to the T-Bar and the Coppertop Lounge. For one of our favorite options, head upstairs to the Black Diamond Restaurant where you can pair comically tall piles of nachos with top-notch local brews from Wachusett Brewery. The destination-resort-like array of gastronomic options is impressive, particularly when taking into account that 97 percent of the ski area’s patrons are local day-trippers.
A weekday evening spent skiing at Wachusett Mountain offers a front-row view of the New England winter zeitgeist. It’s most definitely not a weekend resort scene filled with Boston Brahmins vacationing in a remote alpine paradise rife with fondue, fine dining and eucalyptus-scented saunas. It’s more like league night at a bowling alley on Main Street, U.S.A.—only the people themselves are the bowling balls and the lanes are mile-long trails of groomed gunpowder. It’s a place where gritty, hardy people intersect with polished, refined slopes. It’s approachable and unpretentious—a gathering site where people from all walks of life can learn to embrace the harsh and unpredictable New England winters.
And with a location that is just over an hour from Boston, just over a half hour from Worcester, and within easy day- or night-trip distance from most locations in Massachusetts, it’s something of state commons for locals who’ve got their winter priorities straight and aren’t willing to limit their slope time to the constraints of weekend warriors. Combine that accessibility with Wachusett’s affordability and emphasis on beginners, ski instruction and racing programs, and what you’re left with is a relatively-small Massachusetts mountain that has an outsized impact on Northeast ski culture. It’s a feeder mountain that keeps the feed coming back.
But perhaps its biggest draw is that it’s a fun, character-filled, high-energy spot to rip some thousand-foot-tall hot laps on a weeknight or half day when you don’t have the time to drive two or three hours north. For locals devoted to making the best out of a Massachusetts winter, it’s a state treasure that ranks right up there with the Patriots, every actor who appeared in The Departed, using “wicked” as a positive adjective, and the Mighty Mighty Bosstones,
There’s no place quite like it, and the nightly hordes of fresh cord hunters are a testament to its unique place in New England ski culture.