Tim Jones: Skiing at early Okemo


Want to know what an early-season weekend ski getaway can be like? Read on!

Dec. 8

9:02 a.m. -- Okemo Mountain Resort, (800-786-5366; www. okemo. com) in Ludlow, Vermont has been one of my early-season favorites for many, many years now. It's next neighbor north, Killington (800-621-6867; www. killington.com) traditionally opens sooner, but Okemo typically takes a little longer and offers a greater variety of terrain when it does open. Okemo is noted, of course, for doing a great job of snowmaking and grooming. Its Nov. 8 opening this year was its fourth-earliest ever and, by this weekend, it had 28 trails open and well-covered in snow.

I'm writing with my feet up, sipping hot tea in front of the fireplace in a comfy studio at Okemo's Jackson Gore Inn, shortly after 9 in the morning. Normally, Marilyn and I would have been out on the slopes an hour ago. In fact, I even started that way earlier with all my gear, ready to go. (Marilyn, smarter than me, had decided to wait.) But then I hit a wall of rain and fog that misted up my goggles before I could even get to the shuttle that was supposed to take me to the lifts ...

The weather forecast is calling for things to improve in an hour or so. More later ...

3:28 p.m. -- Well, it never got "partly sunny" like the weatherman said it would but the rain stopped and we jumped on the lifts at 11 o'clock. It was a little foggier than we would have liked, but the snow was perfect -- butter-soft, consistent and a delight to ski. We hammered the slopes for a good hour and a half until hunger forced us to stop for lunch. Then we hammered some more (Defiance and Upper World Cup were exceptional!) until our legs said it was time to quit and hit the sauna and hot tub at the hotel. Wonderful day of skiing!

9:56 p.m. -- We had originally made reservations for a five-course "Snowcat dinner," where they take you from Jackson Gore to the Epic restaurant in the Solitude base lodge by Snowcat, long after the lifts have closed. They feed you spectacularly, ply you with excellent wines, and then bring you back to reality. Unfortunately, there wasn't quite enough snow for the Snowcat ride, so we took a shuttle van instead. Not as much fun, but who needs a Snowcat ride when the food is this good? They change the menu often, but if the superb porcini-dusted beef tenderloin or wild halibut are offered as entrees, you can't go wrong.

Dec. 9

7:10 a.m. -- Gotta hustle. We're headed for breakfast and, if possible, first chair. The sky cleared overnight, the temps dropped and the sunrise was spectacular. Hoping for a corduroy morning.

11:30 a.m. -- Well, we didn't make first chair, but we were close. We did manage to get up the mountain ahead of almost everyone else. By weekend standards, the slopes were empty.

Yesterday was warm. The overnight temps dropped below freezing and the Okemo crew was out making conditions as good as they possibly could be, considering the tricks Mother Nature was playing on us. This was classic New England early-season skiing -- either smooth and hard or soft and a little chunky. In any case, it was fast, fast, fast ...

12:45 p.m. -- After our skiing was done we took three runs on their "Timber Ripper" Mountain Coaster. What a hoot! This is a little cart that rides securely on a seamless steel track, kind of like a long, fast roller coaster. It plunges 375 feet in just over six-tenths of a mile. The carts have brakes so you can slow them down if you want to -- but why would you want to?

Okemo also has the new "Sawyer's Sweep" zipline course that runs all winter. We almost signed on for the two-hour adventure with seven different ziplines, two suspension bridges and three rappels. But we'd run out of time and had to get on the road. Next time ...

Tim Jones writes about outdoor sports and travel. He can be reached at timjones@easternslopes.com.


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