It is hard to beat the exhilaration of downhill skiing on a bright winter day.
With three ski areas in Greater Boston — Blue Hills in Canton, Ski Bradford in Haverhill, and Nashoba Valley in Westford — there’s plenty of opportunity to enjoy the winter sport close to home and beat indoor COVID confinement.
“You can see the Boston skyline while enjoying a full ski experience,” said Al Fletcher, president at Nashoba Valley, which features 53 skiable acres, 17 trails, eight lifts, and a snow tubing park. “A great advantage of local skiing is that you can come for a whole Saturday, and still have Sunday at home.”
For Finn Davis, 38, having Ski Bradford 10 minutes from his Boxford home means he can take his 4½-year-old son Grayson just about any day.
“Grayson loves it. He has been skiing since he was 3. My daughter Ava is 19 months and she will learn, too,” said Davis. “I grew up in Vermont skiing. I am thrilled that I can share the experience with my son without packing the kids up for a long drive.”
Davis said living so close to Ski Bradford — which has 60 acres of skiable terrain, 15 trails, and nine lifts — “is a real lifestyle plus.” On a recent weekend, he and Grayson skied in the morning, were home for lunch, and in the afternoon walked along the beach at Lynch Park in Beverly.
“We love where we live,” said Davis. “Skiing or going to the beach can be spur-of-the-moment options.”
Just 17 miles south of downtown Boston, Blue Hills has 60 acres, 16 trails, and four lifts. It is part of the Blue Hills Reservation state park, but managed by a private firm.
“Accessibility, being so close to Boston, and affordability gives families a great winter recreational outlet,” said Molly Ross, Blue Hills general manager.
Skipping the long drive — or a plane trip — makes local skiing all the more attractive, especially as people seek outdoor activities during the COVID era.
Skiing and snowboarding have attracted greater interest across the country, according to the National Ski Areas Association. There were 61 million skier visits nationally during the 2021-22 season — a 3.5 percent increase from the previous season.
“COVID definitely brought an uptick in skiing nationally,” said Adrienne Isaac, National Ski Areas Association director of marketing and communications.
During the height of the COVID pandemic, said Ross of Blue Hills, “Skiing gave families an outlet to be outdoors together. We saw grandparents buy lift passes for the whole family.”
“COVID brought new energy to outdoor activities,” said Fletcher. “At Nashoba, we saw a lot of first-time skiers and a resurgence of 20- to 30-year-olds that came back to the sport.”
“We were pretty much open, with restrictions, throughout the pandemic,” said Dennis Gauvin, Bradford ski patrol director. “People wanted to be outdoors and having fun. We adapted with more outdoor seating, heaters, and fire pits.”
Warm temperatures, rain, and a lack of snow have limited ski operations early in the season, which typically runs from December into mid-March.
“The ski industry is not for the faint of heart,” said Ross. “Climate is certainly a challenge.”
“Weather is something we cannot control,” said Isaac of the national ski areas group. “Climate change is a broad-scale concern, but the ski industry is very good at adapting. State-of-the-art snow-making technology makes skiing possible — even when the weather doesn’t cooperate.”
“We have always seen variables in the weather; the difference is that the fluctuations have become more frequent,” said Fletcher. “Usually it gets cold and dry enough overnight to make snow.”
The increased cost of utilities to make snow and supply chain issues also have impacted the industry this season.
“The cost of everything is up across the board — same as it is for every other business,” said Ross. “It is actually hard to predict energy costs this winter.”
Gauvin sees the challenges of inflation, but also a potential benefit. “At the price of gas, food, and lodging, more families may opt to stay close to home and ski multiple times locally, rather than go to an overnight resort,” he said.
“Skiing in Massachusetts is a perfect way for residents and visitors to enjoy winter at its fullest,” said Keiko Orrall, executive director of the Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism. “These ski areas offer a convenient way to get out on the slopes and to sample the beauty and splendor of our great outdoors.”
“It is really a multigenerational sport,” said Gauvin, 73, of Bradford. “This year my great-grandson will put on skis.”
Westford’s Ed Connolly, 62, has fond memories of skiing with his father at Nashoba.
“We always had a season pass, and when I was a teenager, I would get dropped off on Saturday morning and ski with friends all day,” he recalled. “It was great fun and freedom.”
Connolly eventually became a ski instructor. Later, he and his wife Gail brought their own kids to Nashoba. Their son Matt followed in his father’s tracks as a Nashoba instructor during high school and college.
“Affordability is key,” added Gauvin. “It is expensive to head up north to a resort. Being able to enjoy skiing locally is big, especially for families.”
“Skiing is similar to flying in that tickets purchased at the [airline counter] are going to be most expensive,” added Isaac of the national ski areas group. “Advanced online purchases will generally give the consumer the best pricing outside of purchasing a season pass and skiing frequently.”
In response to the unseasonable weather and limited open terrain, Nashoba has been offering an early-season discount. A four-hour lift ticket, usually $70, is on sale for $55, seven days a week.
Locally, the cost of lift tickets ranges from $45 to $70, depending on the days and hours. Daily equipment rentals are $44 to $50.
All three ski areas focus on lessons for beginners ages 3 and up. Group lessons for kids at Blue Hills start at $69, $75 at Ski Bradford. Nashoba offers private, group, and a one-day “private bubble” option where visitors create their own small class.
“Since Nashoba opened in 1964, I would say we probably have taught half a million lessons,” said Fletcher.
“The smaller, more personal ski areas in metro areas are so important to the industry,” said Isaac of the National Ski Areas Association. “It’s where many people go to learn, where parents can watch kids’ lessons from the lodge, and just have fun.”
Linda Greenstein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.