Who's the King of the Mountain? With more than 60 alpine ski resorts spread across the region, there's always a place claiming fame, proving that there are plenty of ways to stand out. Here are the ultimate alpine ski experiences in New England.
The battle continues as two giants vie for biggest animal in the jungle honors. Sugarloaf (800-843-5623, www.sugarloaf.com) in Maine claims it's the "largest ski area east of the Rockies." If you add all patrolled, inbounds territory, including trails, backcountry, and gladed terrain (and this is how most resorts across the country do the tally), The Loaf has 163 trails and glades spanning 1,240 developed skiable acres, including the addition of the backcountry-style, gladed terrain in the Brackett Basin and Burnt Mountain areas. It also boasts the only lift-serviced, above-treeline skiing in the East. On the other hand, Killington (802-422-6201, www.killington.com) in Vermont, the Beast of the East, which spreads across six mountain peaks, including Pico, claims 1,977 skiable acres (Killington 1,509, Pico 468). It also has the largest lift capacity in New England, with 29 lifts (Killington 22, Pico 7) and the most terrain parks in the East — six at Killington and one at Pico. It all gets down to how they tally the numbers, and what they count as skiable acreage. But, no matter. Both are big leaders of the pack in New England when it comes to sheer size.
Killington has the biggest vertical drop in the region, at 3,050 feet. Runners-up are Maine's Sugarloaf with 2,820 vertical feet, and Vermont's Smugglers' Notch (800-419-4615, www.smuggs.com) at 2,610 feet and Sugarbush (800-537-8427, www.sugarbush.com), with 2,600 feet of vertical.
Jay Peak (802-988-2611, www.jaypeakresort.com) received more snow than any resort in the continental United States last season, a whopping 373 inches. Think last year was snowy? Consistently ranking as the snowiest resort in the East, it had 423 inches dumped on its slopes in 2007-08.
First cat skiing in the East
PHSVS (powderhounds seeking virgin snow): Check out First Tracks at Sugarbush, the first New England resort to offer cat skiing. The heated Lincoln Limo cat claws to the top of the mountain before the lifts open. Tours may go to the top of Heaven's Gate, the top of North Lynx, or elsewhere, depending on conditions.
The beloved Ski Ward resort in Shrewsbury (508-842-6346, www.skiward.com) has a mere 220 feet of vertical, 45 skiable acres, nine trails, and four lifts. But it packs a lot into its small resort, including more than 100 instructors, a terrain park, fireside lodge, bar and grill, rental shop, and 100 percent snowmaking. And, it's the only New England resort that offers summer skiing and riding in its year-round terrain park. Cochran's Ski Area in Vermont (802-434-2479, www.cochranskiarea.com) has only 30 acres and six trails, but 500 feet of vertical, and it's the first nonprofit, tax-exempt ski area in the nation.
The toughest run
Paradise at Mad River Glen in Waitsfield, Vt., (802-496-3551, www.madriverglen.com) is more hell than heaven. The tight, nasty trail, with lots of natural obstacles, starts with a stomach-flipping plunge off an 8-foot frozen waterfall and never lets up. Legend has it that Goat Trail, one of Stowe Mountain Resort's famous Front Four (802-253-3000, www.stowe.com), was named by a local Vermont hiker who said that only a mountain goat could climb it. With 2,000 feet of vertical, it's ultra-steep and agonizingly long. The famed White Heat trail at Maine's Sunday River Resort (207-824-3500, www.sundayriver.com) is dubbed the "longest, steepest, widest, lift-serviced expert trail in the East." Hit the mogul side for a sustained knee-crunching, thigh-burning workout. The aptly named Black Hole at Smugglers' Notch is the only triple black diamond trail in the Northeast. The ungroomed 1,600-foot trail starts with a 65 to 70 percent grade as it descends through bumpy, tight glades.
Best lift ride
Oh baby, it's cold outside, but that seat is warm! We love the high-speed, six-passenger bubble chair with padded, heated seats at Vermont's Okemo Mountain Resort (802-228-1600, www.okemo.com). And, this winter, they're adding another four-person bubble chair. Killington's heated, stereo-equipped gondolas are pretty hot, too, and the mega-resort has 22 lifts, the most of any resort in New England. Mount Snow (800-245-7669, www.mountsnow.com) in Dover, Vt., comes in second for the most lifts in New England with 20. The Slide Brook Express chair at Sugarbush is more than two miles, making it the longest detachable quad in the world.
Bring your sunglasses to Bromley (802-824-5522, www.bromley.com), arguably the sunniest mountain in the East. Dubbed Vermont's "Sun Mountain," Bromley has a top-to-bottom southern exposure, drenching its slopes in sunshine on clear days.
Tastiest cafeteria food
Subjective, we know, but the Great Room Grill at Stowe gets our vote (others' too, judging from its 4.5 TripAdvisor rating). Located at the Spruce Camp Base Lodge, the upscale food court features a make-your-own-salad area and five cooking stations, with made-from-scratch fare showcasing fresh local ingredients. There's also a lively bar and lounge area, grand fireplace, and often live music.
Near-perfect spring ski day
If the sun is shining, head north to Bolton Valley (877-926-5866, www.boltonvalley.com). It has one of the longest ski days (lifts are open until 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and until 10 on Fridays), the highest base elevation in the state, which means lots of snow, and some of Vermont's best Green Mountain vistas. Ski or ride all afternoon under sunny skies, and then watch the sun set over Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks. Keep skiing as the skies darken and the night lights begin to twinkle.
The longest day
How does 18 hours of nonstop skiing sound to you? If your legs can handle it, head to Crotched Mountain (603-588-3668, www.crotchedmountain.com) in New Hampshire's Monadnock region, where the slopes stay open from 9 a.m. to 3 a.m. (yes, you read that right!) every Friday and Saturday night through late February. All its 25 trails, spread across about 100 skiable acres, are lighted into the wee hours for its weekly midnight madness event, with bonfires, live music, and special deals. Wachusett Mountain Ski Area (978-464-2300, www.wachusett.com) in Princeton also caters to skiers with stamina, keeping its 25 trails open from 8 a.m. weekends and holidays (9 a.m. midweek) until 10 p.m. every night.
Jiminy Peak Mountain Resort in Hancock, Mass., (413-738-5500, www.jiminypeak.com) was the first ski resort in North America to generate power from its own wind turbine. This fall the resort installed solar fields, covering 12 acres near the base of the resort. The project, along with other conservation efforts, will enable the resort to offset 90 percent of its energy needs from local renewable resources, making it one of the greenest four-season resorts in the nation.
First to open
Killington opened two trails on Oct. 18, following an inch of natural snow with cold temperatures allowing snowmaking to pile on another 6 to 12 inches. Sunday River officially opened the season on Oct. 19 with weekend skiing on the Locke Mountain T2 trail.
Oldest ski club
New Hampshire’s Waterville Valley (603-236-8311, www.waterville.com) is home to the Black & Blue Trail Smashers, the oldest ski club in America. It has recruited and trained some of the best winter athletes in US history, including nine Olympians at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi.
Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at email@example.com.