PRINCETON — On a crisp blue-sky day, the peak of Wachusett Mountain in this tony town in Central Massachusetts provides breathtaking 360-degree views. Of Boston to the east. Mount Monadnock to the north. The Berkshires to the west. And the green fields of Connecticut to the south.
Dennis Baker takes it all in, on a four-minute ride in a chairlift that climbs 1,000 feet to the summit tower, the highest point between Boston and the Berkshires.
“There’s nothing like being on top of that tower on a decent, warm winter morning,” says Baker, the lift department manager at Wachusett Mountain, the largest ski resort in Massachusetts. “You can’t see that from an office space.”
Over the last generation, Wachusett has rapidly expanded its ski operations, boasting the first quad lift (a four-person seat) in Massachusetts. Now, there are three high-speed quad chairlifts on the mountain, including one servicing the beginner trail. Ski Magazine recently ranked the resort number two in the East in its “Best Lifts” category. Each lift will transport 2,800 passengers to the summit each hour, a 500-horsepower DC motor pushing them upward at 1,000 feet per minute.
“The lift doesn’t stop,” Baker says in between maintenance work that’s done each summer in accordance with industry standards, what he calls “non-destructive testing.” That pretty much means taking parts of the detachable lifts apart and putting them back together. “They get completely rebuilt and retested,” he says.
In recent years, that has meant skiers and snowboarders haven’t had to wait more than 13 or 14 minutes to reach the attendant yelling “front row” — meaning they’re next up to board the lift. The quick pace is needed; crowds for the season can reach 400,000, or up to 4,200 on any given day.
“What we’re really focused on is providing a better experience, rather than pushing people up the mountain,” says Tom Meyers, Wachusett’s head of marketing. “You can get a lot of vertical feet in a day.”
And that means keeping the lifts running day and evening, making Wachusett one of the few mountains to offer night skiing until 10 p.m — with little regard for even the worst of weather.
“There’s no such thing in our world as a bad snowstorm,” Meyers says. “When people get here in winter, they’re expecting good snow conditions, good surface conditions, and the lifts to be operating.”
The winter season typically kicks off on the Friday after Thanksgiving, running daily straight through spring.
But the investment in speedy lifts has also allowed Wachusett to expand its operations into the summer months, with corporate and private events, like weddings, that allow patrons to use the lodge facilities and enjoy the added amenity of a ride up the mountain.
The lifts are now running on weekends, throughout several fall festivals at the mountain that attract people looking for views of the foliage from 2,000 feet high. Think apple fests, beer fests, barbecue fests, food truck fests, and — of course — Octoberfests.
Fall at Wachusett is “what we became best known for,” Meyers says. “We have more events now than we ever used to.”
That made for a busy summer for Baker, the lift manager, who used to work on boats until he started looking for work in the winter. That was in 1994. It’s now his full-time job.
“It’s pretty hard to beat, you know, when you know it’s going to be nice out,” he says, as dozens of workers scatter around him on a recent day, some testing lines, some painting, and all of them taking in the mountain breeze.
“You can come and get that taste of a mountain . . . you get your nature,” he says.
Milton J. Valencia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @miltonvalencia.