Last Thursday was a good day to ski Mount Mansfield, at least for those motivated enough to get up the mountain on their own power. Boot tracks could be seen headed up the gondola lift line and S-turns visible on the way down and the snow fell in big, dry flakes.
“It was a powder day today,” said Seamus Kerivan, who was swaying along to music from his friend Zach Gershman’s car as they swapped back from ski boots to regular footwear.
“Only took that one run, though. The legs aren’t quite there yet,” Gershman added.
The two are in their mid-20s and have been friends since attending Stowe Elementary School together, up through Friday program at the high school and getting together when they can.
Both plan to get as many days at Stowe Mountain Resort as they can, and make their Epic Passes pay for themselves — fewer than 10 trips will do it, but they’ll do more than that. That doesn’t include a run or two before the crowds show up.
Stowe opens for the 2019-20 season Friday, with the Four Runner Quad lift humming to life at 8 a.m., and a half-hour earlier on weekends, starting with this one.
A DJ will spin tunes at the quad that morning, getting people amped up, or more so, according to Jeff Wise, senior communications director for Vail’s Northeast operations — he’s been in Stowe since long before Vail bought the place in 2017.
“Everybody’s feeling good. The early season snow has gotten everybody excited and eager to get on the mountain,” Wise said. “Our staff has been gearing up for months and we’re looking forward to a great season.”
Wise said the resort plans to have 17 trails on almost 6 miles of terrain available for the opening weekend. Notable trails include Liftline, Sunrise, Standard, Lord, North Slope and Centerline.
While resort operations staff continue to make improvements, there’s only so much you can do to a crowded mountain at the end of a road where there’s only one way in and out. So, Wise said, many of the key upgrades this year are on the digital end, to amplify what’s already there.
For instance, the resort started a new Twitter alert system, @stowe mtalerts, which will have real-time parking conditions and operations alerts, like when lifts start up or shut down, whether scheduled or not.
There’s a new “ticket line busting” program, where resort staff will come to people standing in line who already prepaid online, and get them set up with their card passes.
And Wise said the state highway department has agreed to grant the resort electric sign boards farther down Mountain Road that will display which parking lots are full, so you don’t get the dreaded up-and-back looking for that choice spot near the base lodge.
Speaking of the historic lodge, Wise said there will be some improvements, but not enough to take away from the feel.
“The Den is still the Den,” he said. “It’s not renamed or anything. Just some nice improvements.”
Twenty-somethings Gershman and Kerivan have been skiing Stowe for 20 years, so they’ve seen the evolution of Stowe — including the Evolution Card, the radio frequency identification device-equipped lift passes that predated the Epic Pass.
Kerivan, raised in the former Auberge du Stowe bed-and-breakfast, rides public transportation from Winooski, where he lives now. His dad, Shawn, drives the Mountain Road Shuttle once in a while, so he gets to see his kid on the bus occasionally.
That means Kerivan typically gets up to the mountain only on weekends, and he’s noticed a major change in how busy the weekends have been since Vail took over operations.
“It just seems like it used to only be like that on busy weekends, like Martin Luther King,” he said.
Gershman still lives in Stowe — he and his dad run Stowe Bolt, a shuttle service between town and the airport and other places. So, he can still easily get up for a few runs on a weekday.
Or he and his best friend can grab a run on a Thursday before the rest of the world comes to Stowe. Last week, for that one run, they had the place to themselves, save a handful of other intrepid souls.
“Not too many people here today,” Gershman said. “I’m surprised, but not unhappy.”
The day after Thanksgiving, skiers and riders can pack up some leftovers for lunch and head to Smugglers’ Notch Resort.
Smuggs will start its lift service Friday, Nov. 28, and plan to keep them open until April 12.
According to the Vermont Ski Areas Association, a new program at Smuggs adds another dimension to its already renowned Snow Sport University.
Weather conditions in Vermont can be fickle, and that’s being generous. Smuggs’ new Pro Private Equipped plan “is designed to integrate your pace of skill-building to the terrain challenges of the mountain.”
The key lesson here is improving one’s “snow sense,” according to the ski association’s website, which adds, “Not only are skills taught, but also knowledge of equipment, reading terrain, and seeking the best conditions the mountain has to offer, which can sometimes change by the hour!”
More information, smuggs.com.
In the Valley
Sugarbush Resort in Warren kicks off its 61st year of skiing this weekend, and its first year under ownership by a major Colorado corporation that has been buying up resorts all over the country — and, no, it’s not Vail.
Colorado-based Alterra Mountain Co. announced the sale of the two-peaked Mad River Valley resort last Wednesday.
The new Sugarbush leadership team — including President Win Smith, who is staying on at the resort — held a community forum at Lincoln Peak Wednesday evening after press deadline.
According to resort spokesman John Bleh, the event was taped by Mad River Valley Television as well as the resort, and will be able to viewed on the Sugarbush Facebook page and mrvtv.com.
Lincoln Peak will open at 8 a.m. on Saturday, with the more remote Mount Ellen scheduled to open about a month later on Dec. 21, the first calendar day of winter.
In addition to its regular pass offerings, Sugarbush is also part of Alterra’s Ikon Pass, which allows pass holders limited access to Sugarbush this year — most likely full access next season, Bleh said — as well as 41 resorts that are part of the Alterra family.
Bleh said Sugarbush had “just came off a record year and didn’t really need to sell,” but the future of the ski industry can’t be gleaned by dwelling on last year’s snowfall totals, and it was prudent to jump at the offer.
Bleh said this year will look just like any other year at Sugarbush, and any changes will be incremental.
“No sweeping changes in the pipeline. Things should remain the same,” Bleh said this week.
The last day to buy an Ikon Pass is Dec. 12. All other pass offerings are at sugarbush.com
The Valley’s other mountain, the au naturel Mad River Glen, is scheduled to open Dec. 14, but since the resort doesn’t make its own snow, that’ll be dependent on how much falls in the next few weeks and how much of the current snowpack sticks around.
Keep track at madriverglen.com.