Sunday River in Maine cranked up its snowmaking system last Saturday as it gets ready to be the first ski resort to open in the East
While it’s still too early to pull out the boards, anticipation is building evey day as a new ski season nears.
Already, Sunday River in Maine started blowing snow last weekend. Sure, it was more of a “test” of its snowmaking system (and to blow out a few mice). But it was also a good motivator (and PR pitch) to get people excited about the season.
This is the time of year when there’s a guessing game going on over which ski area will be the first to open in the East. For the past few years Sunday River has jumped the gun by offering top-to-bottom riding on one of its trails, usually before Halloween.
The trail remained open for only a couple of days, but it did secure the bragging rights for being the first out of the gate. In previous seasons, Mount Snow in southern Vermont nabbed the first-to-open laurels, but its sliding on a small slope near the clocktower was extremely limited. The biggest surprise happened about 10 years ago when the tiny Woodbury ski area in Connecticut opened up a slope in early November; the upstart beat everyone.
From an advertising/ PR perspective, this first-to-open publicity is nearly priceless. That’s because nearly every TV weather person in New England will use the footage as they begin their weather report. Unfortunately, this feel good about the coming season is often dampened by some winter-hating anchor person, shaking their head, saying it’s too early for snow.
But there’s an exciting new development in the first-to-open race this year.
Killington in Vermont, which for decades was always the first to open, has constructed the Peak Walkway that will connect the top of the North Ridge Triple to the top of the K1 gondola.
This will solve a problem with upper mountain early season skiing that started when Killington removed the old double chair to the summit in the early 1990s and replaced it with the K1 gondola.
The K1 gondola essentially follows the same path of the old (and miserably cold and long double chair) from the base to the summit. But unlike the old summit chairlift the K1 does not have a mid-station stop.
For decades, Killington usually opened in mid-October. It blew snow on the upper elevation trails around the North Ridge chair (then known as The Glades) along with the upper stretches of Cascade and sometimes, Downdraft. Skiers, (there were very few snowboarders then) slid down to the mid-station and boarded the chairlift down the mountain.
Here’s how Killington explains the Peak Walkway:
“How will construction of the Peak Walkway impact our winter operations? The walkway will provide access, via a 6-minute walk, from our upper-mountain terrain in the North Ridge area, where historically temperatures from about Oct. 15 on are favorable for snowmaking, back to the top of the K-1 Gondola. |
“Simply stated, the Peak Walkway will allow us to open for skiing during periods when we have marginal lower-mountain snowmaking conditions and provide access to upper mountain terrain and our early-season terrain park on Reason,” states our Director of Mountain Operations Jeff Temple.
Our goal for kicking off the season remains the same: We are committed to open as early as possible for our guests with a sustainable quality product. “It is important for us to be open as early as reasonably possible, as it is a critical element in our overall operating plan,” Temple says. A quality product is defined as one that allows for snowmaking mounds to “dry and cure” for a period of time before grooming and opening. This process greatly improves the durability and quality of the snow surface.
“Remember last season when we saw significantly colder temperatures in mid-October, fired up the snowmaking system and buried the upper slopes with deep snow? Then the temperatures moderated into November and we struggled to cover Lower Bunny Buster to get skiers/riders back to the base of the K-1 Gondola. The result was opening and closing four times before we were able to open and remain open for the season beginning the first week of December. Had the Peak Walkway been installed last year, we would have remained open with upper-mountain skiing through that challenging weather period. So the bottom line is we look at the Peak Walkway as insurance for early-season operation.
With the Peak Walkway in place, we’ll be able to focus our early-season snowmaking resources on expanding upper-mountain terrain on Snowdon Mountain (Upper Bunny Buster, Mouse run and Killink), instead of having to utilize a substantial amount of our snowmaking resources to cover lower mountain terrain during marginal weather conditions. Rest assured, that even with the Peak Walkway in place, Killington will remain committed to providing top-to-bottom skiing and riding as soon as conditions permit.
In this Killington photo, Crews poured the first foundations and starting building the Peak Walkway from the top of the North Ridge Triple back to the top of the K-1 Gondola in September.
The Peak Walkway will be approximately 750 feet long and about 4-feet wide, providing access back to the top of the K-1 Gondola from the summit of the North Ridge Triple. The actual distance is the same as walking from the Bay 5 parking lot to the K-1 Lodge. ”
To me it sounds like Killington is ready to regain the first-to-open crown. And even if it doesn’t there should be some find skiing and snowboarding on these trails during the early season.
All of this early season guessing comes down to the weather. Everyone knows, you can’t make snow if it’s too warm.
And there’s a chance that the upper peaks of New England could see some natural snow Thursday night as a nor’easter rolls up the coast.
Most major ski areas are just days away from jacking up prices for season passes. Wait until after the deadline and you can end up paying hundreds of dollars more.
To some, it doesn’t matter because … they’re rich.
So why not buy a season pass for a reserved parking spot at a ski resort?
At the top of the pack is Stratton Mountain in Vermont that charges $899 to park in a guaranteed, reserved parking space at the main base area. The price “drops” to $749 if you have a “premier” season pass meaning you can ski and ride on holidays and weekends from 7:45 to 8:3o a.m. before the everyone else can. The premier pass costs $1,249.
Mount Snow in southern Vermont is selling its parking pass for $300 ($350 after Oct. 11). What you get is “preferred” parking in Lot A, right behind the Main Base Lodge. The pass is good on weekends and holidays only. Unlike Stratton, Mount Snow, however, says that parking is not guaranteed.
Killington was one of the first areas to charge for premium parking. Their permit-only spaces are the upper bay of the K-1 parking lot. Like snow it’s good on weekends and peak days
Preferred Parking Pass provides the most convenient access to the K-1 Lodge and Gondola on peak days all season long. The price? $299 until Oct. 15, then it rises to $349.
You can’t blame ski resorts for charging for these things. They are after all a commodity and obviously there is a demand for it.
Those who frequent a ski area often already know where the best – and free – parking lots are. Three of the best: Mount Snow’s Carinthia area, Stratton’s Sun Bowl and Killington’s lot at the Skyeship gondola on Route 4 and the lots along lower Great Northern. At these lots you can ski right to your car, that is if you get the first row.
The trick is getting there early. Think of all the money you’ll save.
This photo taken at the Wildcat Ski Area in New Hampshire is from the early 1960s. Many of those who skied during those days are still on the slopes.
Don’t be surprised if you’re standing at a ski ticket window when an older skier tells the cashier: ”Don’t forget my senior discount.”
No this isn’t a coffee shop or a WalMart, but a ski area where seniors expect to see a few dollars knocked off the price of their lift ticket.
But things are changing at ski resorts that are seeing an increasing number of senior skiers, especially during midweek days. There was a time not too long ago that if you were still skiing at age 70, resorts would give you a free lift ticket.
While there are still ski areas that offer freebies for seniors, some like the Catamount ski area in New York/Massachusetts, increased the age to 80.
A handful of areas in Vermont including Mad River Glen, Ascutney and Smuggler’s Notch give freebies to those 70 and older, but some limit their discounts to only midweek, non-holiday times.
Part of the reason has to do with numbers; there’s just too many senior skiers out there with the percentage rising every season. And, while ski areas are reluctant to admit it, there are many senior skiers who are often well off, financially, then most of the people on the slopes. Nonetheless, ski areas want them to return (hopefully, with grandkids) and entice them with discounts that will keep them sliding into their golden years.
According to the National Ski Areas Association, the percentage of people ages 55 to 64 on the slopes has more than doubled to 9.2 percent since the 1997-98 season. And the number of skiers 65 and older has been rising as well.
Senior skiers often get some of the best prices for season passes, especially midweek.
At the front of the line is Mohawk Mountain in Cornwall that is offering a $99 midweek season pass to those 65 and other. On Friday, the price of the pass goes up … slightly … to $105.
That’s still half price of what Mohawk charges for an adult mid-week pass.
Up the road at Butternut in Great Barrington, Mass., seniors have to wait until they are 70 to buy a season pass for only $100 that’s good weekends and holidays.
Often senior discounts amount to the same price as a young adult ticket, a discount between $10 and $15.
I wonder … with the millions of baby boomers still skiing or snowboarding nearing retirement … how long this will last.
Already we’re starting to see a new definition of what a senior citizen is. Stratton in Vermont, for example, calls you a senior if you’re between 65 and 69. But if you’re 70 or older, they call you a “super senior,” which entitles you to a bigger discount. Adults pay $149 for a two-day pass, seniors are charged $128 and “super seniors” pay only $105.
At Okemo in Vermont, senior discounts for season passes start kicking at age 70. In fact, most of its season passes are for “all ages” between 7-69. Its “Super Senior” midweek pass goes for $269 ( $100 lower than what others pay).
Stowe in northern Vermont is sticking with age 65 to qualify for a discount. The savings are considerable for a season pass: $755 for seniors, $1,503 for other adults. This season, a one-day ticket at Stowe will cost $84 (on Saturday’s it’s $89). Seniors, however, pay $73 and $77.
So, if you’re old enough, how do you find senior discounts?
The web site www.seniorski.com is the quickest way get an overview. On the site U.S. ski resorts are organized in tables by age. Keep in mind, that some of this info is from last season, so check back in late December for updates. Ski resorts are still in the process of firming up their single ticket prices.
Keep in mind that deadlines are looming at most ski areas for season passes that could rise by a few hundred bucks if you wait just before the season begins. Now’s the time to do a little math and see if a season pass works for you in your specific age group.
By far, the best deals out there are for college students who can ski or ride for less than $300 a season.
Too good to be true? Maybe because ski areas make up the difference from the college students’ bar tabs.
A Sikorsky S61 helicopter is being used to help construct a new ski lift at the Mitterskill backcountry ski area near Cannon Mountain in New Hampshire.
The Stratford, Conn-made chopper is carrying 6,000 pound payloads of concrete that are being used to create footings for new lift towers for the ski area’s new double chair.
“This has been in the works for quite a while,” says John DeVivo, the general manager of Cannon Mountain and the surrounding Franconia State Park. “During the 2009-2010 ski season, skiers had to hike over from Cannon to ski Mittersill’s backcountry trails as they have for years. We ran a shuttle from Mittersill to Cannon, but we knew that adding chairlift access from Mittersill’s base would make a huge difference to backcountry enthusiasts who just can’t enough of the Mittersill experience.”
The project, which is Phase II in a three-year, $4 million investment and improvement campaign at Cannon, was contracted to Doppelmayr CTEC, Inc. of Park City, Utah. The firm is using Construction Helicopters of Michigan to transport the concrete.
According to DeVivo, the construction started several weeks ago along Mittersill’s original chairlift line. “Over the past month, concrete forms for footings were built where the 13 new towers will go. On Thursday the helicopter transported concrete from a truck at the base to these footings. It’s quite a sight: A bucket holding one and a half yards of concrete, weighing three tons, is attached by a line to the chopper and carried up the mountain. Once all the concrete is poured—that’s going to take more than 70 round trips-the chopper will fly out the old towers,
“Then, when the footings have cured, they’ll return to set the new towers in place.” DeVivo expects the entire installation will be complete by the end of the year, with a projected opening of the new double chair in early 2011.”
The State of New Hampshire and Cannon Mountain acquired the remaining piece of the abandoned Mittersill Ski Area in March, 2009 from the US Forest Service through a land-swap and officially opened it as a backcountry skiing area. During the 2009-2010 winter season Cannon opened Mittersill when snow allowed and shuttled guests from the base back to the main ski area at Cannon, but Mittersill could only be accessed by a short hike up from the top of Cannon.
Mittersill has a storied past and was the scene of many legendary ski races. The New England Lost Ski Areas Project has an excellent history of Mittersill on its web site. Check it out by clicking here.
To see a video of the Sikorsky helicopter delivering the concrete, click here.
An expansion at Sugarloaf in Maine will make it the largest ski area east of the Rockies.
Once the tree thinning is completed in three years, it will eclipse Killington in central Vermont, as having the most acreagefor skiing and snowboarding. The key word here is acreage, not more trails and more lifts.
Sugarloaf’s expansion is centered on Burnt Mountain that shares the ridgeline next to Sugarloaf. This season, they plan to add 270 acres of terrain and 655 more over the next three years. Here’s the official announcement.
Once that’s done, The Loaf will have 1,310 acres compared to Killington‘s 752 acres.
Killington in Vermont is now the largest ski resort in the East.
This doubling of terrain is essentially tree skiing, not groomed trails or snowmaking. But it will be a big draw for skiers looking for more interesting and challenging terrain with some steep cliffs and dropoffs. And it could be one of the East’s best powder playgrounds because the area is known for holding snow dumped there by prevailing winds.
Yes it will be “sidecountry” skiing with the added benefit of ski patrols. Yet, Sugarloaf strongly advises people not to ski or ride alone; a smart move.
No doubt the added terrain will open up some awesome glade skiers looking for fresh “pow pow.”
From a marketing standpoint, it’s also a smart move because Sugarloaf will get another bragging right (in being the largest), along with its incredible snowfields off the summit.
To those who have no interest in skiing the backcountry, relax … the huge area will still have long cruisers and steeps on the main mountain, along with grooming and snowmaking.
Don’t rule it out that one day, you’ll see some lift and trail development on Burnt Mountain in the future. A new lift here, a few groomed trails won’t surprise me, especially with all the condo areas belong Burnt Mountain.
The marketing of Sugarloaf as the largest will not be taken by some as a serious boast. Killington, aka ”The Beast of the East,” will still have more trails, lifts and skiable lifted service terrain.
Right now Killington counts 141 trails over 71 miles with 22 lifts.
Sugarloaf now has 118 trails (not including glades) over 56 miles with 16 lifts.
But many may ask: Do acres really county, or matter?
A couple of seasons ago, Mount Snow started counting acres, instead of trails, on its daily snow report. They said it provided a more accurate report on how much terrain is open. I can see their point, but it does help Mount Snow, especially since they have a few super-wide trails like Snow Dance.
The debate of who’s bigger and better will go on for years.
Don’t worry about the folks at Killington; they’ve always been smart at marketing themselves. They’ll likely focus on the “real” trails, mileage, lifts, off-slope nightlife/dining and … easier access.
And who knows … maybe they’ll finally connect Pico with Killington that surely would create some buzz.
Yes, it’s still summer, but not too early to start planning for the 2010-11 ski season.
By getting a head start before most skiers and snowboarders, you can snare the best deals, find the best equipment/rentals and book lodging on the dates you want … at substancial savings.
BOOKING A ROOM FOR A SKI VACATION:You can get the best rates and on the dates you want if you book soon. That includes the popular holiday weeks like Christmas/New Year’s, Martin Luther King weekend in January and President’s Week in February.
Okemo in Vermont has already rolled out its early booking discount. The details, book by: Sept 1 and receive 15% off most holiday periods, excludes Feb. 18-20; Oct 1 and receive 20 percent off weekends; Dec 1, get 30 percent off midweek. Click here for more details
Okemo fine print: “Valid for most unit types in most locations, based on space available and subject to normal holiday and minimum night guidelines. Due to limited unit type availability, Jackson Gore Penthouse and loft units are not available. Reservations must be confirmed with the normal 60% down within 5 days of booking or by the early action date (whichever comes first).”
Strattonin Vermont has its “Best Early Booking Offer.” Book any winter 2010-2011 lodging by Oct. 30 and save 30 percent off midweek, 20 percent off weekends and 10 percent off holidays. Also get special savings on lift tickets, snow school and rentals too. Also includes price protection and a relaxed cancellation policy.
It’s “Easy Package” includes lodging at the Inn at Stratton Mountain and select condominiums, a lift ticket, lunch and rentals all at $89 per person / per night (double occupancy) and available midweek and select weekends. That’s a savings of $75 a day, based on a la carte pricing. Add the kids for just $40 per child/per night. (Two night minimum) Details here.
Stowe in Vermont is offering discounts if you book early. Stowe Mountain Lodge has launched a Countdown to Winter sale, where travelers will save more the earlier they book.
30% off best available rate for all reservations made by Sept. 30
25% off best available rate for all reservations made by Oct. 31
20 % off best available rate for all reservations made by Nov. 30
The fine print: “For stays from November 24 – April 10. 2 night minimum stay required. Blackout dates include Dec. 24- Jan. 1, Jan. 14 – 16 and Feb. 18- 26. Reservations can be made at stowemountainlodge.com using the promotion code SKISTOWE.”
Keep in mind this is a five-star lodge that is very pricey, but if you’ve got a special anniversary or event coming up, go for it; you can save big bucks with these discounts. How much? A midweek studio, normally $499 is $349 with the early discount.
In the least, this is a good time to start talking to friends and family about when and where you want to go skiing and snowboarding.
EQUIPMENT:If you’re looking to buy some new equipment this season, start shopping around. Like last year, many snowsports shops will not overstock their inventory. So If you’re were looking for a particular kind of ski or snowboard realize the supplies will be limited. The same is true for boots. After Christmas, the stock should be pretty much picked over. The downside: don’t expect any big price breaks. But do shop around; I found the same type of ski last season that was more than $100 less than another shop.
Now’s also the time to start thinking about rentals. Don’t run out now, but start to look around by late September. Again, the rentals will be picked over if you wait when the season starts.
TICKETS/PASSES: If you’re thinking about buying a season pass, you already missed the best prices that ended in the spring. But there’s still time to grab some decent prices at the larger resorts in the north.
Discount cards that knock off up to $30 off a lift ticket are a good choice, especially Stratton Vermont’s X2 card, that costs $69 (until Nov. 23 when it costs $10 more). With the card you get a free day of skiing or snowboarding. Visit www.stratton.comor call 1.800.STRATTON to purchase your X2 Card and free day of skiing.
This is just the tip of the the iceberg. I’ll file most posts on the best early season deals as I get them.
The numbers are now in for skier visits during the 2009-10 season. And with the exception of Vermont and other regions of the country, they’re not pretty.
Overall, skier visits in the Northeast declined 2.7 percent from the previous year, according to the National Ski Areas Association. The most likely reason? Below average snowfall in northern New England. In fact, NSAA says average snowfall was down 21 percent in the Northeast.
Yet in Vermont, skier visits were actually up 1.4 percent from the previous year with 4.1 million visits.
In New Hampshire, skier visits were down 2.6 percent from the previous season with a total of 2.6 million visits. Yet Ski New Hampshire says it was the third best season ever. In fact, last season was 4 percent above the 10-year average for Granite State areas.
The Southeast (remember those D.C. snowstorms?) saw a 98 percent increase in snowfall. (What a waste; that was suppose to be OUR snow).
Recession a factor?
It doesn’t seem to be the case because in all other ski regions of the country, the numbers were up and just a little short of all-time records.
The stats from NSAA:
The U.S. ski industry recorded 59.7 million visits, the second best season ever, according to the preliminary 2009/10 Kottke National End of Season Survey.
That’s only 1.2 percent below the all time record of 60.5 million visits achieved in 2007/08.
The Pacific Southwest had a 15.0 percent increase in skier/snowboarder visits.
The Midwest and Southeast also experienced notable gains of 7.2 percent and 6.7 percent respectively.
The Rocky Mountain region continued its dominant overall position in terms of total visis, increasing by 3.4 percent over last year, and again exceeding the 20 millions visit threshold.
The Pacific Northwest also rose from 2008/09, growing by 3.2 percent.
Some positive Northeast Figures
Yet in an indication of widespread solid performance, the industry as a whole exceeded its 10-season average by 3.9 percent in the 2009/10 season, a pattern echoed by all regions, including the Northeast (up 1.1 percent from its 10-season average), Southeast (up 9.9 percent), Midwest (up 2.1 percent), Rocky Mountains (up 4.3 percent), Pacific Southwest (up 4.7 percent), and Pacific Northwest (up 5.7 percent). On an individual basis, 69 percent of responding areas reported increased annual visits.
Visitation gains occurred despite a 14 percent decrease in overall snowfall among ski areas nationwide. Regionally, snowfall totals were mixed, with substantially greater snowfall in the Southeast, up 98 percent; and to a lesser extent in the Pacific Southwest, up 8 percent. However, decreased snowfall was reported in all other regions, including the Northeast (-21 percent), Midwest (-32 percent), Rocky Mountains (-20 percent) and Pacific Northwest (-25 percent). A final Kottke National End of Season Survey will be issued in July. For more information visit nsaa.org.
Good news from Vermont
Parker Riehle, president of the Vermont Ski Areas Association, said, “With below-average snowfall, below-average days of operation and an economy still struggling to pull out of a major recession, the season’s numbers are a true testament to the ski industry’s resiliency and its importance to Vermont’s economy.”
VSAA says the 2009-10 season was most notably marked by a late start and an early finish, with few major snowstorms in between. Still, Vermont ski areas saw strong weekend business and solid holiday bookings that brought skier visits ahead of last year, while other Northeastern states saw an overall 2.7 percent decline as reported by the National Ski Areas Association.
While many of the season’s snowstorms missed the Green Mountains and instead fell in down-state backyards, that proved to be a boon for Vermont as skiers and riders were continually reminded that winter was in full stride, Riehle said. With a core market of 45 million people within a few hours drive who are increasingly vacationing closer to home, Vermont ski areas met expectations with steady mountain snowfall and ideal weather conditions for snowmaking and grooming. Skiers and riders responded with a rebound in spending at resorts which brought substantial increases to the state’s rooms & meals and sales tax collections over last year.
In New Hampshire, businesses were also able to benefit from the successful winter. An economic impact study conducted during the record 2007/08 winter showed a total of $940 million dollars spent by guests visiting NH ski areas. Of that total, only 12 percent was spent directly at ski areas with the remaining 88% spent on ski visit-related expenses such as lodging, restaurants, gas, tolls, retail, and other. This year’s numbers are expected to be comparable to the 2007/08 study due to the minor decrease in business levels and slight price increases due to inflation.
“Once again it was a fun winter that we feel our guests enjoyed. We were able to experience several big snowstorms and fun holiday periods. Unfortunately it was a bit anti-climatic with the lack of fresh snowfall or many spring skiing days in March and April, which ended the season a bit earlier than usual,” noted Karl Stone, Ski NH’s marketing director.
“The ski industry is fortunate to have guests that are passionate about the special experience they enjoy with family and friends on New Hampshire’s alpine slopes and cross country trails. We hope our snowmaking, grooming, and guest service continue to provide good value for their time spent in our state,” summarized Alice Pearce, Ski NH’s president.
Snow falls on blooming rhododendrons Tuesday, April 27, 2010, in Saranac Lake, N.Y. A late-season storm is expected to dump up to a foot of snow across the hills and mountains of northern New York and Vermont before moving east into the rest of northern New England. (AP Photo/Adirondack Daily Enterprise, Lou Reuter)
If you’ve been thinking about buying a season pass for next ski/snowboard season, now’s the time to act quickly if you want to same money.
Why? Because the end of April is the time ski resorts end their discounted season pass rates. Waiting will mean paying hundreds of dollars more if you decide to buy your pass in October. For example, many of Okemo’s passes increase $200 if you buy them after Friday.
Here are details from some of Connecticut skiers’ and snowboarders’ favorite resorts in Vermont.
Killington in Vermont has a Thursday deadline for its discounted passes that range from $999 for an unlimited pass good any day to $329 for college students. The $399 midweek pass (with some blackout days) is a good option. The Beast also has a payment plan where you can pay in three installments. Details here.
Stratton’s season passes will also increase on Friday. By far the best deal is its Midweek Superpass good at Stratton, Okemo and Mount Sunapee for $310. For details check here.
Okemo’s deadline for discounted passes ends Friday. Best deal is the forementioned midweek $310 pass good at three areas. Details here.
Same deal for Mount Snow with a Friday deadline. Wait until mid-October and you’ll pay $300 more for a season pass. Best deals: a $399 midweek pass; $299 for seniors. Its Classic Season Pass, with 12 blackout dates, is $549. Mount Snow also has a three-payment plan. Details here.
You have until Monday to lock into Sugarbush‘s season pass deals. Best ones: $319 for college students, a $499 adult midweek pass and if you’re 80 or older and still ski (God bless you) you pay $139. Rates are lower if you just get a Mount Ellen pass.
Today, the only ski areas remaining opening is Sugarloaf in Maine with 24 trails. They plan to close Sunday. Jay Peak in Vermont will reopen Thursday and close this weekend.
Jay filed this report this morning … it’s not an April Fools joke:
Heavy snow continues to hammer here this morning with storm totals pinned at anywhere from 14-18″ of snow across the resort with at least another 4-6″ headed in today. We’re happy. So happy, in fact, that we’re going to open for an extended weekend.
I expect single-day weekend passes to cost well into the eighty-dollar range next season. So when deciding to buy a season pass, it’s just a matter of doing the math. How many times you plan to ski verses the cost a lift ticket. Often you break even after using the pass six times.