Much of the focus is skiing these days seems to be on huge, mega-resorts with tons of high-speed lifts, hotels, condo and "retail village" development around the base areas.
There’s nothing wrong with that at all. These mega-resorts have the financial wherewithal to blow lots of snow (especially early in the season) and groom it to perfection, to whisk you to the top of the hill with nary a liftline in sight, even on weekends and holidays. But skiing at one of these "resorts" as opposed to a "ski area" comes at a price -- more expensive lift tickets, more crowded slopes and trails and, often, just more stress getting from the parking lot to the lifts.
Most "resorts" are owned by investors, sometimes investor groups or large corporations. Again, nothing wrong with that, but there is an alternative: ski areas owned by a family or a local entity with strong ties to the local community. Each season, I make it a point to seek out these smaller, less-glamorous areas for at least half of my time on snow. Some years, it’s the best skiing of the year.
Which areas am I talking about? Sometimes the lines aren’t perfectly clear. Some of the ski areas I think of as "family-owned" are really owned by local clubs or non-profits, multiple shareholders or small liberal arts colleges. In other words, families formed by common interest, and emotional ties, not by corporate profits.
My basic rule of thumb is fairly simple. Resorts have detachable lifts, condo and other developments (or plans for them) slopeside. Ski areas don’t. If a hill is owned by a corporation that owns several hills, it’s a resort.
In Connecticut, Mohawk Mountain (800- 895-5222; www.mohawkmtn.com) in Cornwall and Woodbury Ski Area (203-263-2203; www.woodburyskiarea.com ) in Hotchkissville are for sure family-owned, but the other ski areas in the state, Mount Southington (860-628-0954; www.mountsouthington.com ) near Marion, and Ski Sundown (860-379-7669; www.skisundown.com ) in Canton Center sure feel like family areas. I haven’t been there since it reopened, but Powder Ridge (860-349-3454; powderridgepark.com) in Middlefield has re-opened as part of a year-round adventure center. Jury’s out on whether it’s still "family-owned," it certainly used to be.
In Western Massachusetts, you have Ski Butternut (413-528-2000; www.skibutternut. com ) in Great Barrington, Catamount (413-528-1262; www.catamountski.com ) in South Egremont, Bousquet Ski Area (413-442-8316; www.bousquets.com ) in Pittsfield, and Berkshire East (413-339-6617; www.berkshireeast.com ) in Charlemont ,which are family-owned, and Blandford Ski Area (413-848-2860; www.skiblandford.org ) in Blandford (owned by a local club).
In Vermont, Magic Mountain (802-824-5645; www.magicmtn.com ) in Londonderry and Mad River Glen (802-496-3551; www.madriverglen.com ) in Fayston, are two "ski areas" that have survived because a loyal family of shareholders wanted them to. If you don’t believe they are family-owned, you’ve never skied at either. Middlebury Snow Bowl (802-388-4356; www.middlebury.edu/~snowbowl ) in Hancock, is part of the Middlebury College "family." Bolton Valley (1-877-926-5866; www.boltonvalley.com ) in Bolton is bigger than most family mountains and could be called a resort (it has condos and a hotel at the base), but it was started by the DesLaurier family, is currently owned by two local guys and still has that family-owned feel. Ski there, and tell me what you think.
In New Hampshire, Black Mountain (1-800-475-4669; www.blackmt.com ) in Jackson (in business for 75 years), Granite Gorge (603-358-5000; www.granitegorge.com) in Roxbury, and Pats Peak (1-888-728-7732; www.patspeak.com) in Henniker are all family-owned, and Pats is still owned by the original family that started it 50 years ago! Dartmouth Skiway is owned by the Dartmouth College "family." The big story for this year is Whaleback Mountain (603 448-1489; www.whaleback.com) in Enfield, which has been bought out of bankruptcy and re-opened by a non-profit community group that loved the mountain too much to let it go. That’s family by any definition.
Up in Maine, Mount Abram (207)875-5000; www.skimtabram.com ) in Locke Mills is family-owned and feels like it. Big Squaw Mountain (207-695-2400; skibigsquaw.com) near Greenville Junction is now community-owned and is right at the top of my list of must-ski places this season. Black Mountain of Maine (207-364-8977; www.skiblackmtnofme.org ) in Rumford and Bigrock, (207-425-6711, www.bigrockmaine.com ) in Mars Hill are owned by the non-profit Maine Winter Sports Center and just plain feel family-owned.
There are others, but you get the ides. These are small areas, run without a lot of glitz and glam, but they have lifts, and snow, and slopes, and that’s really all you need to get out and enjoy the best of winter.
Life isn’t a spectator sport. Get out and enjoy!