Mike Walsh | Powder Report: Catamount gets new life with fresh face-lift

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Rain, rain go away so Mike can shred* another day.

Welcome back, everybody for an unfortunate edition of the Slush Report.

Plans for a Friday morning pow session last week before the craziness of the holidays and my time off spent with the flat-land folks out around Boston were thrown into a relative yard sale with the driving rain storm.

Alas, the shred* must go on, and thanks to some creative finagling and Mikaela Shiffrin going full beast mode to supply plenty of front-page copy, I was able to shoot down Barker Road and boardslide the state line along NY-22 to Catamount Mountain Resort on Saturday for some of that good solo slush.

Ever since I got wind of Berkshire East's purchase of Catamount last May, I've been curious. Catamount was a great mountain with some solid terrain and a good lift ticket price tag, however it definitely could've benefitted from a tuning, tightening and some fresh blood.

And it appears that's exactly what the winter experts at Berkshire East have brought to the funbox in South Berkshire County.

Even just pulling off Route 23 onto Nicholson, you can tell this isn't quite your ski-elder's Catamount anymore. Save some ongoing construction, the place is looking sharp.

The parking lot, long a sticking point for locals and visitors alike, has received a total resurfacing. Personally, the renovations could've ended there to satisfy myself. On a recent trek to Ski Butternut, a sizable divet swallowed up my Honda Fit and knocked the front axle guards off.

But Catamount didn't stop there, as longtime owner and marketing director Rich Edwards tells it.

"The Berkshire Lodge is completely renovated; new roof, new floor, new siding, new windows, lighting, furniture. It's a total renovation of our base lodge."

That's right. The rustic, old wooden lodge you remember is now looking like a million bucks, with nice vertical knotted paneling on the exterior and a complete fresh, white paint job on the interior. Out back, the seating is slightly higher-slung Adirondack-type chairs, perfect for that apres goodness.

The ongoing construction is even more enticing. Right next to the Berkshire Lodge is the frame of what will become a 7,500-square foot lodge with a mezzanine level, two-floor fireplace and seating for 300, plus food service, ticketing, guest services and restrooms.

"For the opening, it's possible we could have seating and restrooms by early March," said Edwards of the new base lodge. "We'd certainly like to have that available for people to see, but it won't be fully finished."

On top of those infrastructure improvements, Edwards says a new triple chair is being installed on the Massachusetts side of the mountain. The Promenade Triple will run 2,500 feet and boast a vertical drop of 550 feet, while servicing three new trails.

The new partnership with Berkshire East has also allowed for the purchase of 100 new snowguns and a pair of grooming machines, including one that can service Catamount's infamous double-black diamond Catapult trail.

All of that is going to add to a truly gnarly experience at the new Catamount, but nothing may improve the consumer experience like the addition of reloadable RFID cards in the place of traditional lift tickets.

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for the proudly-displayed bouquet of stickers, zip ties and wire fasteners hanging off bits and pieces of your chosen steeze, but you can't beat the immediacy of the new technology. Catamount's cards work outstandingly well. Think Jiminy Peak's Berkshire Express, but minus the need to hop up and down in the stall to get it read properly.

"Been operating for three weeks with no glitches right now, and people are comfortable with it and the gates are working well," said Edwards. "The technology has improved year to year."

All of these improvements have been happening at black diamond pace. Plans were developed in June and July, and construction began around Labor Day Weekend.

The rain on successive Fridays at the end of December certainly did not help things, but Edwards said Catamount had an excellent day on Thursday, and is hoping to build momentum back up over the weekend for Monday and New Year's Day on Tuesday.

I was personally able to rip it up on some surprisingly sturdy base on Saturday. Rocking just a vest over flannel, spraying that choice granular on the Glades and Alley Cat felt amazing.

College week is on the horizon as well. Catamount will offer college students mid-week lift ticket for $20, as well as $20 rentals and $20 group lessons from June. 2 through 18.

"People are excited about what they see. They like the fresh new look," he said. "I just see a lot of smiles on people's faces."

OFFSEASON BONUS

The wider-view scoop on Berkshire East coming on board at Catamount is making the spot a year-round attraction.

Edwards says they've been working since October to install the longest zip flyer in the country, a nearly 6,000-foot long run from top of mountain. The dual zip, side-by-side flyer will drop 1,000 vertical feet and reach speeds up to 60 miles per hour. Count me in.

They'll also be introducing kayak excursions on the Housatonic River in the summer.

"That's an activity that Berkshire East is very familiar with up on the Deerfield River, and they want to be able to present that to the public in South County," said Edwards.

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 mwalsh@berkshireeagle.com.


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