Mike Walsh | Powder Report: Celebrating another 'Best in Snow' at Vermont's Magic Mountain
There's a sign on the long driveway up to Magic Mountain in Londonderry, Vt. that reads "You've officially taken the road less traveled, welcome to Magic!"
That slogan couldn't have been more true for my first visit a couple years ago. My then-fiance and I were driving back from northern Vermont and looking for a place to hike and camp for the night. However, with spotty service and a gas tank running low, the hunt for some place with Wi-Fi became paramount. We turned left off a road and all of a sudden, the internet on my phone ticked on and we were face-to-face with Magic Mountain. I don't remember much more from that journey, just that we booked our wedding caterer using the excellent high-speed connection there.
Jump-cut to a little over a year ago. My buddies and I were planning a ski trip to southern Vermont, and I needed a spot to hit in between the big guys at Okemo and Killington and The Berkshires. Once again, though this time on my home internet, I stumbled upon Magic Mountain.
It turned out, Magic had just been rated the No. 1 mountain in America by a Liftopia 'Best in Snow' survey.
I hooked up with a couple of my friends and we shredded an icy day at Magic. My first impressions were definitely old school, rustic, a slower chair to the summit than I'm used to, but overall some gnarly terrain.
A year later, this past February, I happily returned to Magic on a foggy Thursday, kicking off another weekend of choice New England shredding.
Come to find out a couple weeks ago, Magic went ahead and three-peated as 'Best in Snow.'
I had to get to the bottom of how this relatively little mountain tucked deep off a main road in southern Vermont managed to claim a Kobe-and-Shaq level of greatness over a span of three years.
"It kind of measures the depth of passion of your customer base, and how strongly they feel about your particular mountain," Geoff Hatheway, President of Magic Mountain, told me over the phone this week. "In the case for Magic, we just have an incredibly powerful customer base in terms of their feelings about skiing at this place and what it offers.
"While we've been growing, and some times it seems with new customers the feeling might not be as strong, that hasn't been the case for us. They're just as passionate about this sport and what we're offering."
Hatheway and his family purchased Magic three years ago, when the mountain was hungry for the capital necessary to make upgrades. Magic was known as an expert skier paradise, with steep verticals, awesome off-piste action and some true screamers. However, if you were looking to break into the sport, better look elsewhere.
"Magic was all or nothing, going to top of the mountain and trying to find your way down, or you weren't having a great experience here. Our five-year plan that we've been tackling has been a new learning area, with the magic carpet to get people really young or starting out, they have a place to learn and feel comfortable that doesn't have skiers trucking by you really fast," Hatheway said. "The next step was adding a mid-mountain lift, so a stepping stone to not have to go all the way to the top, we just put that in this year to access intermediate terrain on the East side of the mountain."
The plan continues next year, with Magic looking to add a second summit lift, a quad, which will add bottom-to-top capacity to the current red double chair.
The double may move a bit slow for many resort skiers, but do yourself a favor and spin around while riding up, if your stomach can handle it. For my money, Magic offers the best lift views in the area.
Magic will also be upping its snow-making power, investing in energy-efficient guns, more firepower for their pump house and increasing the size of their pond to feed it all.
But just because there's all this fancy new — or used, but "new to us" — equipment coming in, don't expect Magic to become a major player on the resort level. That's not the goal here.
"We've done a lot. It's never going to compete with the likes of Okemo and Stratton and the wall-to-wall coverage," said Hatheway, who added that the hope is to be at 60-percent coverage with snow-making. "But we don't want that, we love our natural snow, and we have some trails that you just can't get a groomer on the damned thing."
Magic is still going to appeal to that passionate that has landed it three consecutive years of accolades, topping a list of 10 that features Jay Peak up north, along with mountains in New York, Utah, Wyoming and Montana.
"It's kind of amazing to be able to do that, especially because our customer base is changing. It's interesting to see us maintain that passion level," said Hatheway. "We have done a number of things that improved the experience for beginners. ... Those things do change who we are a little bit, but it hasn't changed the dynamic of the people we're attracting and their passion."
Magic will still be rough around the edges, but the good kind of rough. And, more importantly, they'll be rough around the edges for everybody, from first-try skiers to powder-hungry shred junkies like yours truly.
"Been a very busy three years, but we're seeing the response. People really seem to enjoy a different experience. Some don't realize that places like this exist anymore, they're used to the high-speed lifts and resort atmosphere," Hatheway told me. "This is a throwback, but we're committed to improving that experience."
Before closing up shop for the offseason, Magic, like many local spots, is open for one last weekend, and will shut down after today. But, Hatheway and company are going out with a bang, and he closed with probably the best words to say if you want this Powder Report columnist to hop in his car and drive the hour and a half north.
Magic is having a drain-the-kegs party at the lodge.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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