Skiers and snowboarders are passionate about the trails they choose, and I am no exception. Terrain, scenery, weather, conditions, technical prowess, even mood, move me to certain runs around New England.
So, allow me - a skier of some 35-plus years and an ibuprofen-popping, adult-taught, goofy-footed snowboarder - to add to the debate.
Though the adrenalin-producing, advanced, top-to-bottom plunge down Lynx exudes excitement at wintry Wildcat Mountain in Pinkham Notch, N.H., the nearly 3-mile cruise on sinuous Polecat is the place I go when I want to gaze upon White Mountain majesty. I’ve often passed skiers and riders posing for photos with Mount Washington’s Tuckerman and Huntington ravines in the background. Taking snappy Catnap midway through yields a wondrous hairpin curve.
Sunday River’s Jordan Bowl might be a far-flung commute from the South Ridge Lodge, but the trip to the Newry, Maine, resort’s western peak affords playful, wide, modern cruising terrain highlighted by regal Excalibur, an unrivaled intermediate run to ski in a rascally mood. Start by pulling your ski pole out of the snow’s lackluster grip. Look upon the mountainous Maine kingdom before you and fly away fast.
When there’s bountiful snow, that means hauling it to Vermont’s Jay Peak.
Though duct-taped diehards are hooting and hollering in secret stashes and tight clusters like Stateside’s Timbuktu and Tramside’s Beaver Pond Glades, I’ll build some confidence first in intermediary Kokomo’s twists and turns before venturing to more challenging pitches such as Everglade and Valhalla.
When it’s time to switch on cruise control to carve those long, arcing turns, I set sail for Okemo in Ludlow, Vt. Though many of the Okemo Peak trails seem similar, I become a blissful automaton doing laps riding the South Face Express Quad to a collection of groomed boulevards - Dream Weaver, Off the Rim, Rimrock, Stump Jumper, and Blind Faith - that increase in difficulty but can be done readily by seasoned snow riders.
I don’t do bumps much. When I do, I like to have some nice bail-out room. The 23-percent pitch on Loon Mountain’s Lower Flume at North Peak in Lincoln, N.H., plunges straight down the fall line under the quad and has decent snowmaking. With a nice groomed swath on the side, it’s a place to become a bumpmeister gradually, knowing that exhilarating Upper and Lower Walking Boss are next door.
But there are days to push oneself close to the edge - but not over it.
Bode Miller developed his cavalier style on soulful Cannon’s Front Five, towering over Echo Lake in New Hampshire’s rugged Franconia Notch. I rarely tread on the steep black diamond Avalanche, Paulie’s Folly, and Zoomer’s, instead using as much white space as possible on long, sweeping, stomach-in-throat turns down Rocket and Gary’s.
Unassuming Sugarloaf in the wilds of Maine’s Carrabassett Valley is often buzzing. When I seek the delightful land above treeline without venturing to the steep backcountry, I beeline to the Timberland quad high on the mountain’s snow-encrusted west side. Though the quad is slow-moving and subject to the Loaf’s notorious wind-hold, it’s the gateway to an enchanting world of frosty skiing with stellar views to the 4,000-foot Crocker mountains. Warm up on scenic Upper Timberline before the narrow, winding, and refreshing black and blue trail combinations of Cinder Hoe, Binder Extension, and Buckskin.
Though rippling mountains on the horizon are dazzling, there’s something soothing about seeing a large frozen lake out there. Many a ski area affords such vistas but I’m partial to county-owned Gunstock’s summit in Gilford, N.H., with its giant of a gem, Lake Winnipesaukee. Up front, Gunstock is where I got hooked on skiing during my 20th-century cub radio reporter days. Launching down wide and steep Upper Recoil with the Big Lake in sight, cruising into its sweeping midsection, and just letting the boards go at the end is reviving and nostalgic.
Getting off the beaten path is always an adventure, and many times I’ve had to stop for moose in the road nearing Maine’s not-so-secret Saddleback. Traveling to glitz-less Rangeley is a welcome step back in time and I appreciate its low-key demeanor and variety of terrain from undulating Blue Devil and Red Devil to the straight and steep Tightline.
Central Vermont’s huge Killington can tire you out, but there are those days when you want to keep going. Slow down without stopping at the Beast on the 3.5-mile Great Eastern trail to the roadside Skyeship Express gondola station. The mellow pathway is a place to kick back and glide by snow-covered boulders, pockets of frosty birch, sturdy snowmaking pipe, over a bridge, and past comfortable slopeside homes tucked in the woods before reaching the station where hot chocolate awaits if you are pooped.