Mike Walsh | Powder Report: Ski Butternut, Otis Ridge creating a big, happy skiing family

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As I drive the 90 minutes south from Mount Snow on a Friday afternoon — contact lenses practically fused to my pupils, sucking on the remnant grounds of the morning's coffee and housing the one dud clementine from a baggie of Halos — I'm curious about just one thing: When is the next powder day coming?

More realistically, I'm just rehashing the epic Founders Day at Mount Snow. I met up with a friend from college who is an advanced skier, and we took the day to sacrifice ourselves to the gods of Southern Vermont powder. Founders Day there is hands-down the best deal you'll find in New England all winter. A top 20 vertical drop (1,700 feet) with top 10 skiable acreage (600) in the region, and all for $14 on a — bless you, Pope Gregory XIII — week day. As my bargain-hunting grandmother always says, "How can you go wrong?"

Well, Grammy, you can't.

However, I will recommend diversifying your shred group for days like this. Caela and I hopped into the lift line around 10:30 a.m. and finished our last run around 3:45 p.m. In between was around 15 runs with no water, snack or bathroom breaks. The terrain was so good and so craved, as that shredmama Dory once sang, "just keep shredding, just keep shredding."

Though now the cravings have shifted to an ice bath, so as always, Mother Nature wins and it's never a bad idea to have someone there to suggest a lodge visit now and then.

Anyway, on to the column.

Since we're bi-weekly here at the Powder Report headquarters, we missed out on relaying opening day stories at Ski Butternut down in Great Barrington last weekend.

The South County ski haven welcomed skiers and urchins alike back for the new season on Friday, Dec. 7 for a full weekend of blue bird days.

I was at Butternut's opener last winter as well, and what a difference some cold weather can make. A year ago, they opened with just the Highline Quad and pretty much just Main Street available. This time around, they had about 10 trails available, plus some action going off Paddy's lift in the novice area. While the summit and Top Flight Quad were still awaiting another week of blowing, there wasn't much you couldn't do off Highline.

"It was a great start, and got even better by Sunday. This was our earliest opening in probably five years," said director of marketing Dillon Mahon. "Everybody was really excited and seemed to be enjoying the mountain."

Unfortunately, by opening day, all the natural snow we got in the Berkshires had melted away, but thanks to a run of cold days, and some creative snow-blowing by the team at Butternut, there was plenty of plush crud and artificial powder. According to Mahon, they already have a 12- to 24-inch base down on most of the mountain, which he hopes will allow them to retain and stay open longer.

Butternut had sprayed snow into giant mounds to restrict melting, and then groomed out from there, leaving tons of great rollers, kickers and spins throughout the mountain. Butternut, long the king of Berkshire County park work, even had some terrain park features flowing.

As for what's next, Butternut reopened this weekend with 18 trails ready for shredding action. Pretty much everything outside of Lucifer's Leap was slated to be green lit. Beyond that, Butternut hopes to be open for weekday skiing and riding this week.

"We've got some great stuff planned for this winter," said Mahon. "There's new two-day weekend pass offerings, and we've got live music lined up almost every weekend. There'll be some beer tastings in February as well."

On the near horizon is the annual Ski with Santa event on Christmas Eve.

Mahon also was able to touch on the expanding Butternut family, which now includes Ski Blandford and Otis Ridge.

Blandford was purchased last fall, but after a peak under the hood, Butternut was forced to keep the Mountain off the ski market for the season. But, Mahon is psyched to say that with infrastructure improvements, the anticipated opening was very near.

Both he and Otis Ridge general manager Eric VanOostveen describe the new relationship — Butternut owns 75 percent of the Ridge — as phenomenal.

"It's been good. It's kind of nice to have a place we can call up if we need some help with something. It's great for a small place like this," said VanOostveen. "And now with Blandford as well, it's one big, happy family."

Otis Ridge opened last weekend as well, but just for its annual beginner day, which is a sort of open house for those looking to check the place out and give skiing a try. They package rental equipment with a lift ticket for beginners to come try the hill out for free. VanOostveen said they had about 90 lessons going.

As for actual opening day this weekend, "It wasn't the best weather in the world, but everybody had a nice day," he said. "We had about 50 percent of our trails open. This time last year we were running I think just two of them."

Otis Ridge hopes to reopen next weekend for school vacation, and stay open throughout the season. Also, one of my favorite Apres spots, the Grouse House, will be opening up for the season this weekend as well.

"We'd like it to be that everybody comes back to see the same old Otis Ridge," said VanOostveen. "Even if you haven't been here in 30 years."

Looking forward to checking out the improvements made at Catamount for the next edition of the Powder Report.

Until then, 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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