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Skiing in New England 2010-2011

Skiing in New England is a decent experience. It does not and never will compare to some of the worlds greatest skiing in the Rockie Mountains, the Pacific Northwest or the Alps, but short of those options it has the potential to deliver a great skiing opportunity. New England skiing is relatively easy to reach, starting out within 2 hours drive of Boston Logan Airport (BOS) or in the case of Vermont, within an hour of Montreal Trudeau (YUL). New England ski mountains are the highest in the eastern United States and they dependably get snow every winter. Some of the mountains are quite good sized, with often a dozen or more lifts and 40+ trails. However New England lies within 100 miles of the sea and for this reason the weather can often shift towards the warmer at certain points in the winter, creating what we call 'rain outs' or 'wash outs'. So, the quality of skiing in New England can really vary throughout the winter, with stretches of really excellent skiing and other stretches of near disaster. This works well for local New Englanders, who can pick and chose on a weekly basis when they choose to ski. Most famous among die hard New England skiers is 'going up midweek' which of course means taking a day off from work and going to ski during the week after a storm. Avoiding the traffic and the crowds on a midweek ski day can be one of the most rewarding ski experiences anywhere in this part of the world, but the opportunity is of course reserved for those who have that flexibility.

For the rest, New England skiing is a crap shoot, with December being by far the biggest risk. As you get into January and February, the weather is more dependably cold and you have a reasonable chance of avoiding a rain out.

The second big issue in New England skiing is the crowds. Weekends and holidays in the winter can bring big crowds with muddy cramped parking conditions, big hoards in the ski lodge and long lines at the lifts. The trails fill up with novice skiers and crazy snowboarders and you feel a bit like you are trying to ski in the middle of Manhattan. Generally, the farther North you go, the better you will avoid crowds. Northern Maine and Vermont especially have larger mountains and are more difficult to reach, avoiding what locals call 'day trippers' (or much worse: ski buses). Also, if you have ever skied in the midwest or the Poconos, know that on its worst day, New England skiing is not as bad as the Poconos.

So the key to New England skiing is avoiding (or tolerating) the crowds and finding good snow and both can be done with a little flexibility and forethought.

Also, 'spring skiing' in New England can be alot of fun. As the weather gets warmer and the snow gets softer, the sunny days combined with apres ski drinks in the later winter sun can add up to a very enjoyable, if muddy experience. St. Patricks Day always brings big crowds with green beer and our plethora of Irish imported ideas. 

Overview By State

While every ski area is unique, each state does have certain advantages and disadvantages. The following is an overview of each state, with Vermont really divided into two separate portions because of the vast difference between North and South.

MAINE - Maine skiing is somewhat rugged. The good skiing is in the western part of the state, hugging the NH border. The mountains are cold for most of the winter but as the sun gets higher later in the season, the spring skiing can be a blast. The two largest mountains, Sugarloaf USA and Sunday River, are both far enough away that you want to stay for at least a long weekend (4 hours from Boston). Once there you will find uncrowded skiing and a laid back atmosphere.

NEW HAMPSHIRE - Because it is so close to Boston, New Hampshire is fairly crowded. It has several destination resorts such as Loon, Waterville Valley, Canon and Balsams Wilderness each having many hotels and condominium options to choose from. These are good family destinations for the average skier. On the other hand, weekends can be crowded and those looking for something quiet might choose to look elsewhere.

VERMONT - There are really several options to VT skiing:

- Northern Vermont including Stowe, Smugglers Notch and Bolton Valley get alot of snow and are at higher elevations. They get a mix of Canadians, New Englanders and New Yorkers and are large but with good skiing.

- Southern Vermont includes major resorts such as Killington (the largest in New England), Stratton and Okemo. Stratton is heavily New York and Southern CT crowd. Okemo is mostly NY and upstate NY and has a very loyal following, partially because of its excellent glade skiing. And Killington is really known around the world and attracts visitors from just about everywhere, though it tends to bring in more Bostonians than most other VT areas because of its proximity and its range of skiing options. Southern VT resorts are just as large (and some larger) than those in the North, however the base elevations are a bit lower and being further south, they do not get snow as early or as dependably.

MASS & CT - This is really local 'urban' skiing. The mountains are small, but they are close by allowing people to come by after work for a few runs. After school programs go here and many areas have night skiing.

New England Ski Areas in Depth

Maine - Sugarloaf USA, Sunday River

New Hampshire - Black Mountain, Bretton Woods, Loon, Waterville Valley, Canon Mountain, Sunapee,

Vermont - Smugglers Notch, Stowe, Killington, Okemo, Stratton & Bromley, Suicide Six, Middlebury Snow Bowl, Mount Ascutney

Family Ski Trips to New England

So, you have decided for whatever reason to forgo the incredible skiing in the Western United States and to come to New England for a family ski vacation. Many people do it and many come back year after year, so you are not alone in your quest. Lets talk about how to make it happen:

1) Getting there - If you are driving, from outside of New England, consider Vermont as a good option. Vermont is further west than other top skiing states and thus a shorter drive from anywhere outside of New England (other than MA & CT which are not worth the family ski trip in my opinion). If you are flying, you have some choices:

a) BOSTON (BOS) - You can get to Boston from anywhere, so your flight options are plentiful. I highly recommend spending some time enjoying the city as part of your trip, rather than just flying THROUGH Boston.

b) MANCHESTER (MHT) - Manchester airport is small, efficient and modern. It is terrific actually. You can reach the airport from several major cities such as Baltimore (BWI), Philadelphia (PHL), NY or Chicago. You'll get your luggage and car quickly and you'll be an hour from some of the better mountains.

c) BURLINGTON, VT (BTV) - Quite small, Burlington's airport is accessible from some major cities such as NY, Washington and Chicago and will put you close to the northern ski areas in that state. Do not fly to BTV if you are going to NH as it is not as easy a drive as it looks and MHT is much bigger.

2) Deciding where to SKI - You will need to read up on the areas, place them on the map in comparison with how you are getting there and where you are arriving, weigh the pros and cons of extra long drives, mountains better geared to your needs (young children, expert skiing, whatever) and decide where finally you will ski. I do NOT ever recommend mountain hopping in New England. The areas are just not that thrilling that you need to move from place to place during your trip. Pick a mountain and enjoy unpacking once and staying there. Some areas such as in New Hampshire, are within an hours drive from each other if you really want to day trip.

3) Deciding if you will do more than SKI - If you fly through Boston I highly recommend stopping there. If you are driving through NY, I recommend stopping in NY and not stopping in Boston. If you are doing neither, you still might want to include some other activities during your stay. So, consider that there is more to do in New England than ski, especially if you are near a large city. Two smaller cities that warrant a visit are Portland, ME if you are skiing in Maine or Burlington, VT if you will be passing through. Other New England cities are not really worth a WINTER visit, especially if you have kids who want to be active.

4) Getting around - Face it. You need a car. End of story. You do not ever need snow chains in New England. If it snows that badly, nobody will be able to drive anyway. Snow tires are fine and studded snow tires are certainly worth it if you have them, but this is not Utah.

5) Managing the kids - Ski vacations with kids have a magical appeal that totally and completely falls apart when you have a cold, cranky, runny nose child, ski equipment that nobody wants to carry, gloves falling off and getting lost, long lines and on and on. Rarely do parents do ski vacations right with young children, so finally you have arrived at the guru for making it work better. Click here for Mark's Highly Sought After Survival Guide for Family Ski Vacations with Children. This section includes ways to maximize the adult fun by setting the kids up for success.

6) Avoiding Overdoing It - Watch for these early vacation killers:

a) Sunburn - At a sunny high elevation ski area you can get sunburned. Watch for this because an early sunburn will shorten anyone's vacation.

b) Fatigue - As advised before, don't force yourself or your kids to ski beyond your high energy level. You can call it quits at 3pm if you feel like it.

c) Injuries - This will darken your vacation instantly. Make sure that equipment is in good working condition, ski brakes checked, helmets on heads, ski within your ability level and buckle boots properly.

Your family ski vacation to New England (or wherever you go) will be memorable and you'll come back next year if you follow some of these much sought after guidance tips on having a safe and happy family ski vacation.

7) Communication - New to the ski culture is our societal craze with technology. Families have actually been keeping in contact on the mountain for decades with family radios (ie - walkie talkies) an ideal choice because they tend to cover about the range of a New England Ski area, are free to use and do not rely on cell towers. Once you introduce a cell phone, you must have cell phone service and as most of us know, that can be spotty in mountain areas especially those which are rural (which most are). Generally speaking, you will have the most luck at New England Ski areas with a CDMA phone (Verizon specifically, though Sprint can roam on Verizon's network). However, both phones must have service at the right moment and the receiver must HEAR the phone and be able to take the phone out, take off gloves and answer all before the last ring. Relying on all of this is difficult. So, here are some suggestions on keeping in touch on the mountain:

a) Go Old Fashioned - Ski together. Arrange to meet in specific places at specific times if you get separated or are meeting someone up there. Forego the technology altogether.

b) Use Text Messaging - This is probably the best use of today's technology. It just means you need to check your phone regularly. I suggest that it be right after you get off every chair or while waiting in the lift line.

c) Use Family Radios - They are better than ever, smaller than ever and don't rely on cell towers.

d) Keep Your Phone Close To Your Ear - I have a small pocket in the upper arm of my jacket. I keep my phone hear where I am most likely to hear it.

Warning: Using your cell phone on the ski lift is risky. Big gloves are not always dexterous enough to properly hold and operate a phone and taking the gloves off can take too much time. If you use your phone on an open lift, you risk dropping your phone. I always wait until I get off the lift and then see who called and I strongly recommend this if you want to keep your phone. Of course closed lifts such as gondolas and trams, are fine.

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