Friday January 11, 2013

I’ve always said that New Year’s Day or, more specifically, New Year’s Day morning, is one of the best days to ski.

The obvious reason is that a large percent of the skiing and riding population parties the night before and is in no particular hurry to hit the slopes for first tracks. The possible exception to this is a powder morning, when, at some areas at least, some people catching the first chairs have been known to still be in full-on revel mode.

So, in general, if you get to the mountain early, you will have the place pretty much to yourself.

But New Year’s Day afternoon usually isn’t a big one for traffic on the ski hills, either. Too many people are home watching football or driving home because they live in the city and have to work the next day.

That was what Marilyn and I were thinking when we made first chair on the six-pack lift at Ragged Mountain (603-768-3600; www.raggedmountainresort.com) in Danbury, N.H. on New Year’s morning.

Actually, the first chair we made wasn’t really first chair as Ragged allows season passholders on the mountain a half-hour before the rest of the world. Nice perk.

As near as I can tell, there may have been as many as six people taking advantage. Certainly there weren’t a lot of tracks in the smooth corduroy of our first run.

The ride up the high-speed lift was noticeably chilly. The wind was brisk out of the northwest and picked up as the morning progressed. It was also snowing lightly, though the sky first cleared, then clouded up again.

As usual, we never bothered to look at the trail map and just followed what looked good. Somehow, on this day, following our instincts keeping to skier’s right put us at a junction where our only option was to thread our way down among the giant snowmounds in the terrain park.

Not to worry, the crowd was apparently still asleep or still warming up in the base lodge. We had the place to ourselves.

One by one we sampled all the open trails across the face of the main mountain. All were pretty much empty, all covered in smooth, soft, pristine corduroy. Conditions, in other words, were excellent. With the high-speed lift rides up and high-speed descents down smooth, empty trails, it didn’t take long to begin to feel our thighs. You can get in a day’s worth of skiing in an hour in conditions like that.

With one more run left in us before we needed to go inside and warm up, we slid over to the venerable Spear Mountain Triple chair for the long, slow ride up with the wind directly in our faces.

It was worth it to have the long, swooping descent on Flying Yankee a wonderful blue-square trail which twists and turns its way down the mountain. Be warned: Ragged has plans to replace this old, slow triple with a new detachable quad this coming summer, which will mean a much quicker ride to the summit but will also (sadly) mean many more people on Flying Yankee, Cardigan and Showboat. Personally, I’d keep the old lift, but I’m clearly in the minority. Everyone else I talked is excited about the "upgrade."

After a quick warmup we were back out on the mountain. A few more people had shown up -- nothing approaching a crowd -- and we still skied right onto the lift and still had the trails pretty much to ourselves. It was, in all regards, a great day of skiing, and a great way to start the New Year.

Which is, of course, the second reason to ski on New Year’s Day. One day of 2013, one day of great skiing, great fun, fresh air, sunshine. That’s a pattern I’d like to continue for every day until late April. How about you?

Tim Jones can be reached at timjones@easternslopes.com.