The author, enjoying a long-awaited payday at West Mountain.
East coast skiers are accustomed to sketchy conditions. There’s a reason we have “rock” skis at-the-ready for days when snow is thin. In fact, they usually get more use than our more favored sticks.
But every once in a great while, we get lucky.
The same storm pattern that’s dumped 100 inches on Boston has left east coast ski resorts with the best conditions in decades; and skiers with a case of permagrin.
The illustrated 2015 trail map Trampoline created for West Mountain.
At our nearby hill, West Mountain, locals are tossing around words like “best-ever”, “legendary”, and “all-time”. This Sunday, the final day of President’s Week, there wasn’t a parking spot to be found and ticket lines stretched as far as the eye could see. Every trail was open, four inches of fresh snow fell overnight atop a fluffy 75” base, and, after a week of single digit temps, the mercury finally rose into the 30’s. Conditions were perfect.
While we’re all thanking Mother Nature, credit must be given to the mountain’s new ownership. It wasn’t long ago that the mountain’s future was in jeopardy. But recent investments and mountain improvements have revived the mountain’s spirit and returned it to its former glory. Without a doubt, it’s in the best shape I’ve seen it in my 20 years of skiing there, and I’m not the only who feels that way. On Sunday I skied with a friend who lived in Colorado for five years and skied at famed resorts like Vail, Breckenridge, Jackson Hole and Alta. Stopping halfway down an untracked glade run at West Mountain, he commented (between deep breaths) that it was as good as any runs he’d skied out west.
And it’s not just our local hill thriving. Our friends at Hunter Mountain in the Catskills, resorts across Vermont, and businesses throughout the Adirondacks who rely on winter tourism are all enjoying a well-deserved boost to their bottom line.
So let’s revel in this moment, east coasters. It’s not often we get to stick our tongues out at our friends out west and say with certainty that we have the best skiing in the country.
After a week that saw the launch of our new website (cue kazoos and confetti) and with 2014 now in the rearview mirror, the Trampoline team was ready for a little R&R. So on Tuesday, we traded mouse and pencil for skis and boards and headed to the Catskills for a day of skiing at Hunter Mountain Resort.
Our staff’s skiing and riding experience varies. Derek, Paula, Sean, Will, Cara, and myself all grew up earning our turns on east coast gnar. Growing up in Washington, Amanda was on skis at an early age and has been forced to sharpen her skills to keep up with Sean and their three girls. Kate, on the other hand, risked life and limb digging her board out of her parent’s storage shed back home in Guilderland, and Matt pointed out that the last time he strapped on the planks, rear-entry boots were all the rage, the Buffalo Bills were in the Super Bowl, and Kate and Cara weren’t born.
We couldn’t have picked a nicer day. Bluebird skies and temps hovering around 30 degrees. Better yet, it being the Tuesday after the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend, lift lines were non-existent. After setting Matt up with rental gear and leaving he and Kate with encouragement, a few pointers, and silent prayers on the novice hill, us “fall-hardened” skiers loaded onto the six-passenger Kaatskill Flyer chair lift — which lives up to its name, zipping us to the 3,200 ft. summit in a bar-gripping 8 minutes.
We arrived late in the morning, but bagged five runs before lunch, sticking mostly to blues like Belt Parkway and Kennedy Drive before testing our legs on the black diamond, Hell Gate (Going down?).
Let me pause to say that Hunter Mountain’s snowmaking is top-notch. Mother Nature hasn’t spared much in the way of natural snow in the Catskills, yet there were no bare spots or ice to contend with. With 1,100 tower guns and 60 miles of pipe, combined with single-digit overnight lows, they were able to crank out 11 inches of manmade snow over 40 acres in the past 24 hours.
Around 1:30, we retreated to the lodge for lunch and a brief production meeting. While our new studio space is great, I was reminded how a change of scenery can refill the inspiration tank and provide a fresh perspective. Looking at the snow-frosted Catskills out the window, my laughing co-workers around me, and the A-list of clients on the page in front of me, I couldn’t help but feel grateful for the opportunity to work with this team. Also for the fresh pint of Saranac IPA in my hand.
After lunch, we geared up for more runs. I was itching to check out the Empire Terrain Park and get some GoPro footage for our video reel. The park was in peak shape. As I had learned while working on the resort’s magazine, Hunter Mountain Life, the park crew had just welcomed a respected jump builder, Randy Nelli, to its team. It was obvious by the perfectly cut table tops and smooth transitions throughout the park that his presence was being felt.
After making it out of the park mostly unscathed, the group headed back to the upper mountain and spent the remainder of the afternoon on black diamonds like Jimmie Heuga Express, The Cliff and Hell Gate. On mellow lower-mountain cruisers Fifth Avenue and Mossy Oak, we had real estate to lean into big, sweeping turns and feel our edges grip into the buttery corduroy.
With the late-day sun sending mountain-sized shadows across the Catskill Valley, and with sore legs, we threw in the towel on a great day of skiing. Back in the lodge, as we shared war stories, we were visited by Hunter Mountain VP of Sales, Marketing and Sponsorships Gerry Tschinkel. It was my first time meeting him in person, and it was great putting a face to the person I’d talked with over the phone so many times while working on Hunter Life. We discussed ongoing and future projects (stay tuned!) and assured him we’d be back again before the snow melts.
We left the mountain all agreeing that the day couldn’t have gone any better. And with an unspoken understanding that we’re all pretty damn lucky to do what we do for a living.