Another in a series on New England getaways on public transportation.
Only 50 miles or so west of Boston, Wachusett Mountain has long been the metro skier’s go-to spot for a quick getaway on the slopes. It doesn’t pretend to stand in for the bigger ski hills farther north, but with a 1,000-foot vertical drop and more than 100 acres of skiable terrain (all with snowmaking), it’s not a bunny hill either. Northborough’s Nick Krause of the US National Team grew up skiing here (as the Wachusett Mountain commercial will tell you). On a December weekend when rising temperatures and a threat of rain were dampening skiers’ enthusiasm for committing to a more serious mountain, we found the ski train from North Station full of folks taking advantage of the convenience. “I’m going skiing next week in Maine,” snowboarder Phil Connaughton said. “I wanted to make sure I still had it. This is my first time this season.”
On Saturdays and Sundays during ski season, the first train of the day on the Fitchburg commuter rail does double duty as the ski train. A car with tubular stands holds ski gear, while the other cars are standard-issue double-decker commuter-rail cars, complete with some electrical outlets and a surprisingly strong free Wi-Fi signal (good for checking the weather forecast). The ride from North Station to Fitchburg takes about 95 minutes. Skiers can also hop on at intermediate stops on the line (see www.mbta.com). A bare-bones Wachusett Mountain bus meets the train in Fitchburg for the 18-minute drive to the ski area in Princeton.
The ski train makes only one round trip each day, leaving North Station at 8:35 a.m. For the return, you must catch the bus at the ski area before 4:45 p.m. (the driver advises getting there by 4:30). Otherwise you’re on your own to get to the Fitchburg station for the 5:35 p.m. departure for North Station. The schedule allows a pretty full day of skiing, although it does preclude night skiing. Tickets (Zone 8 from North Station or Porter Square) can be purchased online using the iOS or Android app, at any MBTA ticket machine or ticket windows.
WHAT TO DO
Well, you could go skiing. Or boarding. The mountain has 22 trails, and its eight lifts include three high-speed quads and one triple chair along with three carpets and a pony lift for novices. Full-day weekend lift ticket for adults is $60; discounts are available for online purchases at www.wachusett.com.
The Balance Rock trail, the area’s longest, stretches a mile and a half. If you choose not to lug your gear on the train, rental of either snowboard and boots or package of skis, poles, and boots runs $39 per day for adults.
In the 38,000-square-foot lodge, the MTNside Ski & Ride shop stocks gear for skiers and boarders, as well as all manner of items — from beer mugs to teddy bears — emblazoned with the Wachusett logo. There is also no shortage of eating opportunities, and Wachusett usually scores pretty high for on-mountain food in the annual Ski magazine resort guide. For a quick snack, The Core specializes in local Red Apple Farm hot cider, cider doughnuts, and apple dumplings ($1.75-$3.25). The cafeteria-style Base Lodge Cafe is much more international in scope, supplementing the slope-side classics of burgers, chili, and pizza with sushi and warming bowls of pho ($3.95-$8.95). If you prefer to have your burger delivered to your table, the Black Diamond Restaurant (sandwiches $12-$13, entrees $16-$17) offers a smokehouse burger made with Angus beef, cheddar cheese, and applewood-smoked bacon. The Black Diamond’s pulled pork mac and cheese may be the most satisfying choice after a cold day on the slopes. The “Snowshoe” hot chocolate with brandy and peppermint schnapps served in the Coppertop Lounge is a close second. The lounge, which allows children only if accompanied by adults, is a favorite with parents waiting for their young ones to finish a lesson.
We paid $20 each for round-trip tickets from North Station, and found that both the train and bus were on time. Ski train customers on our trip ranged from experienced local boarders and skiers to a group of Asian students, many of whom sprang for a beginner’s bargain package with lesson, equipment rental, and lift pass. If you want to make a weekend of it without driving, Wachusett Village Inn (9 Village Inn Road, Westminster, 978-874-2000, www.wachusettvillageinn.com) offers a couple of ski-and-stay packages starting at $109 per person on the weekend. The same bus that meets the ski train is pressed into service as a shuttle to the inn.Patricia Harris and David Lyon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.