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Winter Travel

How to find a New England ski adventure that’s just right for you

From beginner to advanced, families to après skiers, there’s a perfect mountain for everyone.

illustration by Janne IIvonen for the Boston Globe

Sometimes it can feel as if there are just two types of skiers in New England: Those who’ve been doing it since they were small (and know exactly where to go and what to do) — and everyone else. The reality, however, is there are many types: Some are in it for the adrenaline, others for family bonding or to spend time in the great outdoors, and yet others for the chance to kick back afterward for a craft beer by a roaring fire.

The good news for New Englanders is that whatever your vibe, there’s a mountain tailored to your needs. The only questions: Which type are you — and where will you go? While most mountains these days can accommodate all sorts of skiers and snowboarders — from young to old, beginner to advanced — it pays to explore your options before making reservations. In Maine, for instance, “There’s no bad spot for either beginner or adventure terrain,” says Dan Masselli, a professional outdoor guide and volunteer ski patroller at resorts including Black Mountain, Lost Valley, and Sunday River. “But there are also lots of excellent mountains that tend to go overlooked. It’s pretty easy to fit in a day or two at a smaller, more local option during a longer trip to one of the better-known resorts for an entirely different perspective and experience.”

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Whether you’re a beginner looking to learn with ease, an expert looking for new ideas, or just in it for the après party, we’ve got some suggestions for choosing your own New England adventure this ski season.

For beginners

Just 90 minutes from Boston, Mount Sunapee in Newbury, New Hampshire (mountsunapee.com, 603-763-3500), is close to home and extremely accessible for beginners. The mountain’s South Peak offers great learning terrain with a protected area serviced by user-friendly “magic-carpet” lifts and its own overhead chairlift for when newer skiers are ready to progress to steeper terrain. Sunapee’s ski school staff has a reputation for being among the most knowledgeable in the business, with many instructors returning year after year to offer their teaching experience.

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For beginners heading to Vermont, it’s tough to beat Smugglers’ Notch in Jeffersonville (smuggs.com, 800-419-4615) for its learning opportunities. A robust all-ages First Timer Ski and Snowboard program offers everything from day camps to six-week programs (with gear rental included). Mount Snow in Dover (mountsnow.com, 800-245-7669) and Stowe Mountain in Stowe (stowe.com, 802-253-3000) also have designated learning areas to practice on your own or as part of a private or group lesson led by veteran local instructors.

In Maine, both Sugarloaf in Carrabassett Valley (sugarloaf.com, 207-237-2000) and Sunday River in Newry (800-543-2754, sundayriver.com), which in 2020 installed three new lifts in its terrain-based learning area, offer well-run programs for kids and adults.

And while lessons are always a good idea, smaller mountains can feature more beginner-friendly terrain that’ll let newer skiers explore on their own without worry of getting in over their heads. “The more local mountains are friendly, community-oriented, and so accessible that beginners’ skis often never leave the snow,” says Dan Masselli, whose own children learned to ski across the 16 trails of Titcomb Mountain in Farmington, Maine (titcombmountain.com, 207-778-9031), and at Lost Valley (lostvalleyski.com, 207-784-1561) in Auburn, Maine. At Mount Abram in Greenwood (mtabram.com, 207-875-5000), he notes, you can practically see the whole mountain from wherever you are, making it easier to keep tabs on your family. And at Black Mountain in Rumford (skiblackmountain.org, 207-364-8977), he says, “Even beginners can take the lift to the top and find manageable terrain to the bottom — there’s no getting to the top and finding you’re above your ability.”

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Newcomers to the sport might also try out a few different mountains to find the right fit. The Vail Resorts Epic Day Pass (epicpass.com) gives skiers the flexibility to choose among Vail’s eight New England properties, starting at $40 per day. These include Sunapee, Mount Snow, and Stowe, as well as Wildcat Mountain (skiwildcat.com, 603-466-3326) in Gorham, New Hampshire, and Okemo Mountain Resort (okemo.com, 802-228-1600) in Ludlow, Vermont. Closer to Boston, Wachusett Mountain in Princeton, Massachusetts (wachusett.com, 978-464-2300), offers partial-day lift tickets for different times throughout the day, letting newer skiers test their skills without having to go all in on a full-day pass.

For families

Planning a family ski trip, of course, can be more challenging than doing so for just yourself. Maybe you need a range of terrain to suit all levels of your group, enough activities to keep the non-skiers engaged, or package deals that make the trip more affordable (or all three).

Okemo is consistently ranked among the best destinations in the East for family skiing and riding, thanks in part to its snowmaking and grooming regimen that results in consistent snow surfaces, and abundant family lodging on-mountain and off. The trails are laid out to encourage exploration while making it easier for families to stay together, and its ski school is one of the region’s most welcoming. “It’s not uncommon to see kids, parents, and grandparents enjoying the mountain together,” says Adam White, the Northeast region’s senior manager of resort communications for Vail Resorts, Okemo’s parent company. There’s also a variety of alternative activities at the resort, including tubing and a mountain coaster.

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Elsewhere in Vermont, family-friendly attractions include the indoor water park at Jay Peak Resort in Jay (jaypeakresort.com, 802- 988-2611), which is enough of a draw that it gets some non-skiing families to try hitting the slopes for the first time; the ice rink at the WhistlePig Pavilion at Stowe’s Spruce Peak (sprucepeak.com), which lets adults enjoy a cocktail while the kids skate nearby; and the fan-favorite snowshoe-to-s’mores trips at Smugglers’ Notch.

In Massachusetts, Jiminy Peak Mountain Resort in Hancock (jiminypeak.com, 413-738- 5500), which bills itself as the largest ski and snowboard resort in Southern New England, is an enduring family favorite for its diverse terrain and logistical ease. All 45 trails funnel back to the base area, making it easy for family members to ski at their own pace without getting separated. There’s also a mountain coaster, miles of snowshoeing trails, and s’mores and board games around the base lodge fire pit every afternoon.

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To help entice families, many mountains have introduced flexible ticketing. In New Hampshire, for example, Bretton Woods (brettonwoods.com, 603-278-3320) offers an interchangeable family ticket that lets parents take turns with their new skier or snowboarder while the other relaxes in the lodge. Several levels of the Epic Pass come with discounted tickets for family and friends.

For nature lovers

Downhill purists love Mad River Glen in Waitsfield, Vermont (madriverglen.com, 802- 496-3551), for its natural snow skiing; snowmaking here is strictly prohibited above 2,300 feet. Mad River also features one of the country’s last remaining single chairlifts, which offers skiers the chance to ride to the top in quiet solitude while also guaranteeing low skier density on even the busiest days. That translates into a wide range of trails that often feel like you’re the only one on them.

In Maine, Saddleback Mountain, in Rangeley (saddlebackmaine.com, 207-864-5671), is “great for skiers looking for a big mountain feel with fewer tourists,” says Masselli. “It checks all the boxes: easy terrain for beginners, steep terrain and lots of skiable glades for the more adventurous, plus some of the best snow in the state.” Black Mountain, meanwhile, offers plenty of downhill terrain, including lots of options for skiing in the trees, but is perhaps best known for its 10 miles of cross-country trails, which have hosted several national cross-country skiing championships.

In New Hampshire, Wildcat, nestled in the White Mountains, is home to more than 2,100 feet of vertical terrain that some would say affords the best views of any ski resort east of the Rockies. Its trails are rugged and challenging, twisting and plunging through old-growth hardwoods and on loosely packed powder. But beginners needn’t be deterred: Wildcat also features the longest green circle trail in the East, stretching over 2.75 miles. For a family-friendly experience in scenic surroundings, head to Pinkham Notch, where the Great Glen Trails Outdoor Center (greatglentrails.com, 603-466-3988) offers cross-country skiing, tubing, and snowshoeing.

For adventure-seekers (and the more advanced)

Even the most experienced skiers can find plenty to love — and be challenged by — right here in New England. In Maine, Brackett Basin and Burnt Mountain make up Sugarloaf’s Sidecountry, over 650 acres of backcountry-style glades — powdery, steep stretches, chutes, and cliffs among the trees — that are wild and remote, yet maintained and patrolled. New this season, the resort is offering “cat skiing,” featuring passenger snowcats customized to your group size (up to 12) and experience level that let you bypass the hike up.

In Vermont, Killington Resort (killington.com, 800-734-9435) has seven peaks (and New England’s largest vertical drop) and caters to intermediate and advanced skiers with long, well groomed trails, skinny runs full of trees, trails packed with moguls, and lots of speedy snowboarders to dodge. Stowe Mountain is home to four double-black-diamond trails and multiple terrain parks (and the state’s highest peak); this season, the resort debuts its first-ever six-passenger, high-speed chairlift designed to get skiers higher, faster. Nearby, Mad River Glen offers tighter, more technical routes in the form of narrower trails.

To get in the trees, Jay Peak and neighboring Burke Mountain (skiburke.com, 802-626- 7300) have excellent glade options that offer ever-changing terrain, depending on the snowfall, throughout the season. A local favorite for off-trail skiing and riding in Vermont is Bolton Valley Resort in Bolton Valley (boltonvalley.com, 802-434-3444). “They have an incredible backcountry program, and terrain to match,” as well as guided backcountry tours and rentals, says Bryan Rivard, the director of communications for Ski Vermont. “It’s a perfect option for someone looking to get into some off-trail skiing and check out what the backcountry has to offer.”

Later in the season — think April and May — the even more intrepid might opt to skip the lift lines (and lifts) entirely and hike New Hampshire’s Mount Washington via the Tuckerman Ravine Trail, and then ski down — a classic backcountry option. Plan for a strenuous hike to the top and a 10-minute ski down. Those who make the pilgrimage should be prepared for a steep ride, and one that has caused injury (and worse) to even experienced skiers. It’s a good idea to pack layers and snacks. Start out at the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Pinkham Notch Visitor Center in Gorham (603-466-2721); call ahead to check trail and weather conditions.

For the après set

Night life is a big part of ski culture, so it’s hard to find a mountain — or mountain town — that doesn’t make an effort to keep skiers hanging around even after the lifts have shut down. In Killington, the access road leading to the resort is dotted with locally-owned restaurants and bars serving a wide range of cuisine, while the resort’s own Wobbly Barn steakhouse becomes a club at night with live entertainment and a party vibe. Mount Snow is known for its lively atmosphere with plenty of on-mountain options serving up local microbrew beers and regular live music, as well as options along Route 100 (Vermont’s famous “Skier’s Highway”).

Stowe, meanwhile, is as renowned for its restaurants as its skiing. New this season, the WhistlePig Pergolas — covered, heated structures that seat up to eight people in the same party — at Spruce Peak are just steps from the slopes and offer cocktails, craft beer, and dishes such as raclette in a warm and toasty outdoor setting. In town, the new Après Only bar and tasting room at Field Guide Lodge (fieldguidestowe.com, 802-253-8088) celebrates classic Vermont ski culture with ‘80s decor and craft cocktails and beer by several cozy fireplaces. Not that skiers need a fancy place to crack open a beer: Wildcat is known for its tailgating scene in the legendary C parking lot. Just pull up a chair — or pull down the tailgate of your truck — to join. “After a long day, there’s nothing better than pulling your boots off and having a drink with some locals,” says Masselli, who favors Black Mountain’s Last Run Pub. “Of course, I’m a local, so I’m probably biased.”

And, of course, the setting of the sun needn’t mean the skiing’s done. In Maine, Pleasant Mountain in Bridgton (pleasantmountain.com, 207-647-8444) — until this year known as Shawnee Peak — offers plentiful after-dark skiing, starting at 3:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday (and some Sundays). In Vermont, Bolton Valley and Magic Mountain (magicmtn.com, 802-824- 5645) host popular night skiing on trails and in their terrain parks.

Or combine skiing and night life at Sugarbush Resort in Warren, Vermont (sugarbush. com, 802-583-6300), where the mid-mountain Walt’s Glen House stays open late on Saturday nights with dinner, drinks, and karaoke. Take the lift up before it stops running — or choose to hike or “skin” up (ski uphill) for the evening before skiing down to the base after belting out a few tunes, combining several adventures into one.


Alyssa Giacobbe is a frequent contributor to the Globe Magazine. Send comments to magazine@globe.com.