Mike Walsh | Powder Report: Berkshire East's skiing immaculate, and surrounding area quickly shaping up to be
Let me slide myself away from the dinner table and loosen this belt a notch before diving into this column. I gobbled up a bit too many cords on Friday at Berkshire East.
One of the weirdest weather weeks in my memory has led us to a new edition of the Powder Report
The deep freeze of MLK Weekend gave way to a 50-plus-degree overcast and rainy mid-week. The backyard view out my kitchen window was a river. So, when the temperature dipped back into the 20s Thursday night, I was a bit hesitant to trek up Route 8A and across West Hawley Road to Charlemont.
First off, kudos to the plows and sanders, because the drive was far safer than I imagined. But, the real heroes here are the overnight groomers at Berkshire East Mountain Resort. Liftys, lesson teachers, ski patrol and bartenders get a lot of shine this time of year, but it's the guys and gals working during the mountains' closed hours that make weekends like this one so surprisingly great.
I met up with Jon Schaefer, who runs Berkshire East, around 9:30 a.m. Friday in the main lodge, and while waiting for him to wrap up a quick meeting, a skier plopped down next to me and instantly raved about how great it was.
When I relayed that to Schaefer a few minutes later, he responded with the quote of the week.
"It's always good," he said while strapping up his ski boots and grabbing a pair of mis-matched ski poles.
And it was. We rode up and eased into the intermediate Big Chief to test things out, but the next run was a right off the Summit Quad and down some black diamond Minnie Dole. It was one of the most beautifully-manicured runs I can remember riding. From treeline to treeline was just untouched corduroy, soft enough to dip your edge into to stay in control, but firm enough to bomb one of the fastest runs you can get south of the Vermont state line.
Schaefer was pleased with terrain, though not quite as surprised as I.
"It's a science, and those guys have it down," he credited the night groomers. "They wait and wait and wait, it's all timing."
The science part of it relates to Berkshire East's location, which is in a sort of cold barrier. While my car read 54 degrees at one point on Thursday, Schaefer, who lives nearby, said his back yard thermometer never broke into the 40s.
That kept the snow from running down and running off too much. Some of the more beginner slopes like Snowdance and Exhibition had some wind burn that formed to crust and a few dirty patches, but even that was very ridable.
Talk on the lift ranged from the weather, how the other local mountains in the Berkshires are faring, and Berkshire East's recent purchase and run of renovations at Catamount. Schaefer said the area and type of ski customer there intrigued them heavily. They think with a few upgrades to the experience, Catamount can be a real draw for the New York Metro set. As I wrote in the Powder Report last month on Catamount, the idea is to make it more of a full-year destination.
While that makes sense to Schaefer, he views it more in the light of what's next for Berkshire East.
"We want to improve upon what we already have and really make this area into a community around the mountain," he said in between some dynamite runs. "We can't do anything about the vertical here, the mountain is what the mountain is, but we own so much land around it, we want to work to really make this a community and a place people want to come and spend time."
He's right, at the moment, Berkshire East is a great diamond-in-the-rough type of mountain. Great to visit, but somewhat intimidating to get to and without a whole lot going on once you loosen the boots and shift towards the apres.
But with Schaefer and his team in charge, Berkshire East may not be that way for long. Don't get me wrong, the mountain will maintain that well-earned reputation as a old-school spot that lets you hit the powder when it falls. They won't be going full "Snow Nook," if you catch my Out Cold drift.
But between the new mountain bike trails being cut — watch out Killington, they're coming back for that title you snared — the potential for new lodging opportunities, a potential two-way pass with their new acquisition, and a budding relationship with Colrain's own Stoneman Brewery, Berkshire East is soon going to be a place to spend more than the four hours I was able to squeeze out of a work day before Schaefer had to return to his more important side hustle of being a dad not just to the mountain, but his actual family.
They're growing just as quickly.
A youth ski group showed up and soon the lodge was littered with young urchins and skies itching to sink their teeth into those quality cords.
Time for me to duck out.
Until next time, keep your tips up and stay spoice!
Mike Walsh is an urchin snowboarder who can be reached in the local lift line or at email@example.com.
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