For some New Englanders, ski season is the best time of year. For others, it’s a consolation prize, something fun while awaiting the return of longer days and fewer layers of clothing. The good news for both camps: Our rainier-than-average summer, an effect of El Niño, is predicted to give way to a warmer-than-average winter, yet heavier snowfalls. That would mean a longer season with a good shot at exceptional conditions.
Certainly, the resorts — many still reeling from the pandemic, as well as challenges such as inflation and unpredictable weather — are stoked. By November 3, Killington Resort in Vermont was already welcoming early birds, with Sunday River Resort and Sugarloaf Mountain in Maine following suit on November 14 and 17, respectively. And why shouldn’t they be? Like many resorts, they’ve spent the offseason upgrading terrain, lodging, restaurants, and other features, as the local industry eyes another rebuilding year. Here’s a roundup of what’s new at popular New England destinations.
In the Carrabassett Valley, Sugarloaf’s hotly-anticipated West Mountain expansion debuts this season with 12 trails across 120 new skiable acres (207-237-2000). The expansion, part of the resort’s plan to add more than 450 skiable acres by 2030, also includes the new Bucksaw Express chairlift, a high-speed detachable quad set to open in January. Hop on the lift at its base near West Mountain Road to access the additional trails, or to grab a snack or cocktail at the on-mountain Bullwinkle’s Bistro. Also new at the resort: the Sugarshack Demo Center, which offers try-before-you-buy options from brands like Völkl, Nordica, and Stöckli.
Meanwhile, in Newry, Sunday River is opening its second major new lift in two years with the high-speed Barker 6, a covered lift that carries six people (800-543-2754). At just over four-and-a-half minutes to the top of Barker Mountain, it’s one of North America’s fastest six-person aerial lifts. Brand-new snowmaking capabilities in the Jordan Bowl, along with last season’s introduction of the high-speed, covered Jordan 8 lift, enabled the resort to open earlier than ever this season. The busy South Ridge Base Area is also welcoming eight new high-efficiency snowmaking guns.
Saddleback Mountain in Rangeley is the largest independently-owned mountain in the East, yet one of the least crowded (207-864-5671). It averages an eye-popping 225 inches of snowfall per year, and its 600 skiable acres include 88 acres of glades, offering opportunities for all levels, plus abundant backcountry options. The new mid-mountain restaurant, The Nest, opens in December with sprawling views of Rangeley Lake, plus indoor and outdoor seating to enjoy offerings such as chowders, hand pies, fish cakes, and ramen, and a ski-up bar with food and drinks for those eager to keep moving.
The mountain reopened in 2020 following a five-year closure, with a renewed commitment to sustainability that this year becomes reality in the form of a new 50-acre solar farm capable of producing twice the amount of energy required to power all of Saddleback, plus state-of-the-art, ultra-efficient snowmaking and ecofriendly trail groomers. Twelve EV charging stations round it out as one of the region’s more environmentally-friendly ski options.
Some of the Granite State’s most significant upgrades are at Loon Mountain Resort in Lincoln, where the multi-year South Peak expansion sees the addition this season of 11 new trails and the Timbertown Quad, upping the resort’s skiable terrain to more than 400 acres (800-229-5666). The terrain includes two tree-skiing areas specially designed to accommodate beginner and intermediate skiers as well as fully- and semi-automated snowmaking.
Skiers and riders at Cranmore Mountain Resort in North Conway will see plenty of new features as part of a multi-year redevelopment plan, including the opening of the brand-new base lodge, Fairbank Lodge, featuring new food options, a slopeside bar, ski gear shops, and condos ( 603-356-5543). New lodging options include the two-story Artist Falls Lodge (home to the Mountain Adventure and Tubing Park) and the Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott.
This season, Mount Sunapee — one of the most accessible mountains from Boston — celebrates its 75th year with a winter full of events and live music, plus a renewed commitment to its Epic for Everyone Youth Access Program, which last year hosted thousands of young people who otherwise wouldn’t have had access to skiing and snowboarding, in partnership with the National Brotherhood of Skiers and Boys & Girls Clubs (603-763-3500). Also new this season: a ski-through lighthouse, inspired by Lake Sunapee’s three lighthouses, on its beginner-friendly South Peak (can anyone say Instagram op?).
Elsewhere, a new 2,000-square-foot deck at Waterville Valley Resort’s popular Freestyle Lounge will offer an all-day aprés vibe with alfresco dining, firepits, live music, and views of the carpet lift at the kids’ learning center (800-468-2553). Attitash Mountain Resort in Bartlett will debut the Mountaineer, a high-speed quad (603-374-2600); Pats Peak Ski Area in Henniker will introduce brighter, eco-friendly night skiing lights (603-428-3245); and Rosebrook Lodge at the summit of Bretton Woods will offer panoramic views of Mount Washington and the Presidential Range, now accessible by gondola to even the non-skiers in your crew (603-278-1000).
At Sugarbush Resort in Warren, Mount Ellen peak — home of the state’s highest chairlift as well as a terrain park — will be the beneficiary of a $3 million snowmaking infrastructure upgrade (802-583-6300). This is great news for Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sports, a nationally-recognized organization now with a permanent home there, which supports people of all abilities with recreational programming and inclusive sports opportunities.
Sugarbush’s popular Walt’s at the Glen House, located at the top of the Green Mountain Express Quad, continues to serve up the state’s most festive aprés with karaoke after dark on its recently-upgraded karaoke machine. The new machine won’t suddenly make you a better singer, though a pint of the local Lawson’s Sip of Sunshine IPA might help. Work off the calories the next day at the resort’s new health center.
Speaking of aprés, at Stowe Mountain Resort, the beloved WhistlePig Pavilion at The Lodge at Spruce Peak will now allow diners to join the wait list using the restaurant app Tock (802-253-3000). Once inside, order a WhistlePig Rye Whiskey cocktail and the baked raclette before heading over to the Tipsy Trout, the seafood-forward, in-house restaurant at Spruce Peak, which this season will offer extended hours (sprucepeak.com, 802-282-4625). The fare will fortify you for the slopes, which this year feature expanded snowmaking capabilities.
Mad River Glen in Waitsfield, which is celebrating its 75th year, is rolling out upgraded snowmaking components for its lower mountain system, a boon for its increasingly popular kids ski school program (802-496-3551). Meanwhile, Killington Resort retains its title as one of the state’s earliest mountains to open for the season — and one of the latest to close (800-621-6867). This year, the resort is replacing large sections of snowmaking pipeline throughout its six peaks and adding a Prinoth Bison X groomer and winch, a machine that improves snowmaking accuracy by providing snow depth readings and ensuring snow goes where it’s needed.
Okemo Mountain Resort, in Ludlow, is a family favorite for its home-away-from-home vibe and non-skiing activities, including ice skating, a mountain coaster, full-moon snowshoe hikes, and a calendar that’s typically packed with events such as live music, fireworks, and races (800-786-5366). This year, the resort has added an access trail at the base of its Evergreen Summit Express lift, designed to increase accessibility for all levels and relieve congestion at the resort’s primary summit lift, the Sunburst Six.
For those looking for a festive atmosphere, Jay Peak — just 5 miles shy of the Canadian border — will get into the holiday spirit every weekend in December with WinterShine, featuring live music, fireside s’mores, fireworks, and hundreds of thousands of holiday lights displayed around the resort, plus special lodging packages to sweeten the deal (802-988-2611). In April, the resort celebrates the total solar eclipse with The Whiteout, a long weekend of eclipse-themed fun including educational talks and an eclipse viewing party featuring cover band Pink Talking Fish performing Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon in its entirety.
Farther south, Stratton Mountain Resort in Stratton this summer debuted CLIMB, a new indoor and outdoor rock climbing experience that’ll stay open during the winter (802-297-4000).
Day trippers headed to family-favorite Wachusett Mountain in Princeton will delight in a $1.5 million renovation of the Minuteman Express lift along with several snowmaking upgrades, including 6,500 feet of new piping to bring snowmaking to several new areas of the mountain (wachusett.com, 978-464-2300). Butternut Mountain in Great Barrington — which celebrates its 60th anniversary in January with fireworks and a torchlight parade featuring the Berkshire Bateria and Bosa Triba, a jazz and samba troupe — has also upgraded its snowmaking and grooming, including new equipment and additional pipeline to cover more of the mountain (413-528-2000).
Deeper into the Berkshires, Berkshire East Mountain Resort in Charlemont — which provides for all of its energy needs on site through wind and solar power — improved even more on last season’s $1 million snowmaking investment (50 new guns) with two new groomers and, now, 100 percent snowmaking coverage on the mountain (413-339-6618). Also new: a high-speed quad that promises to deliver skiers and riders to the top in less than three minutes.
PLUS: MULTI-MOUNTAIN PASSES, EXPLAINED
New England’s difficult-to-predict conditions have prompted many to opt for multi-mountain passes, like those offered by Ikon (ikonpass.com), Epic (epicpass.com), and the lesser-known, but increasingly popular, Indy (indypass.com). The upshot? The passes enable you to ski more, at a variety of mountains, for less.
Both Epic and Ikon offer access to destinations around the world, including some close to home. The Epic pass (adult prices start at $969) includes access to such resorts as Stowe, Okemo, and Mount Sunapee, while the Ikon (starting at $1,259 for adults) will get you into Sugarbush, Stratton, and Sunday River, among others. This year, Indy — designed to promote smaller, independently-owned mountains — launched with more than 50 new resorts added to its fleet of 130, including Saddleback and Black mountains in Maine, Berkshire East in Massachusetts, and Pats Peak and Cannon Mountain in New Hampshire. With passes starting at $399 for adults, it’s the most affordable of the three.
Both Ikon and Epic offer discounts on tickets for friends and family, as well as on food, lodging, lessons, and rentals. Starting this year, Epic’s mobile app will allow users to store their passes on their phone for easy access to lifts.
Choosing the right pass for you — if you opt for this option — comes down to where you’d like to ski, how often you think you can, and your budget for traveling to destinations that may not be a car ride away. For those who wish to ski only at a particular mountain, for example, or are likely to ski fewer than seven days a season, other options may make more sense.
Most single mountains also offer season passes, though often in limited quantities (buy early!). There are several multi-mountain options specific to local skiers, as well. The New England Pass (newenglandpass.com), for instance, offers different levels of access, starting at $519, to Sunday River, Sugarloaf, and Loon; while the White Mountain Super Pass (whitemountainsuperpass.com) includes Cannon, Bretton Woods, Cranmore, and Waterville Valley. Epic offers a Northeast Value Pass that works at its New England resorts, with blackout dates.
For a little something different, Saddleback has partnered with Uphill New England, a nonprofit promoting uphill skiing (skipping the lifts and climbing up the mountain in your gear) to create the first multi-resort pass for such skiers, offering access to more than a dozen mountains across New England (starting at $215, uphillnewengland.org).
Alyssa Giacobbe is a frequent contributor to the Globe Magazine. Send comments to email@example.com.