On the 45 minute drive from our motel in Brattleboro to Mount Snow, Vermont, I told my 15 year old son Vince that this ski mountain’s claim to fame is: the first best place. At least that’s the way I’ve always thought of it from my mid-Atlantic perspective. Since its inception 52 years ago there has been no Eastern ski area south of Mount Snow that combines so many trails (104) with so much vertical drop (1,700 feet). If you’re driving up from the south, Mount Snow is the first great Vermont ski area you’ll come to.
Arriving on a lonesome Thursday morning last March, just myself and fast moving Vince, I figured the two of us were in for a nice sampling of Mount Snow’s expansive terrain. But this father and son day of high speed mondo cruising was not to be without certain challenges. After a mostly dry approach we were greeted with an onslaught of sleet as we ambled through the old-timey main base facilities. I guess the upper atmosphere temperatures must have been dropping because the sleet turned to ice pellets after we killed 30 minutes touring the humongous main base lodge. Skiing under a hail of Dippin’ Dots is not ideal, but it beats wet sleet or plain old rain, so we ended the procrastination and headed out to face the elements and Mount Snow’s massive trail network.
Almost 100% of Mount Snow’s 100+ trails were open and the small crowd and empty lifts made the place ski even bigger. We started our day with some nice blue square rollers down the heart of the Main Face of the mountain, including Lodge and Ledge trails. Mt. Snow has a lot of undulation in its terrain and those rollers make for some nice variation from the tilted runway effect that wide, highly manicured blue square slopes can sometimes impart. It is very easy to rack up a lot of miles on these sweet groomers using the Grand Summit Express quad to return to Mt. Snow’s 3,600’ peak, run after run.
It wasn’t long, however, before we set off to check out the North Face, home of much of Mt. Snow’s black diamond terrain. A primary entrance to the North Face is the very scenic River Run with views of the Somerset Reservoir. This section of the mountain sports a number of nicely groomed single black diamond runs. From my perspective as an aging boomer the grooming is a thoughtful touch. Vince and I really enjoyed a couple examples in this vein like the narrow Challenger and the wide-open Free Fall.
But there was still one audacious, rough hewn double diamond descent in plain view as we headed towards North Face’s speedy Challenger Triple Chair. It’s called Ripcord and features a lengthy, high definition mogul field, indicative of much early season snowmaking. The foul weather, however, made a handful of ungroomed runs very icy on the day of our visit. Ripcord was roped off and pretty much bullet proof. Nonetheless, Vince was suitably impressed as we took a long, respectful look before continuing on.
As big as it is, one has to keep moving to explore all of Mount Snow in a day. One very user friendly trait about the layout is the single summit that affords easy access to every part of the ski terrain. After a few rides on the Challenger Triple we skated across the summit and headed to the Sunbrook area on the opposite flank of the mountain.
Sunbrook contains about ten trails, mostly blue square groomers. A couple reminded me of Mainstreet at Wisp, Maryland. One run we skied called Thanks Walt is named after the late ski area founder Walter Schoenknecht. I told my son he was a ski impresario extraordinaire. The mad lengths he went to attract customers back in the ’50s and ’60s, from a 350’ manmade geyser to pioneering outdoor swimming pools, could be the subject of a whole other article.
On this weekday the Sunbrook trail pod wasn’t just crowd free, it was deserted. I had the feeling the liftie at this section’s Beartrap Double Chair hadn’t seen anyone before us in 15-20 minutes. I understand Sunbrook is a good crowd beater even on the busiest days.
By 1 p.m. our clothes were encapsulated with ice. We headed back to the Main Base area and rode the Grand Summit Express Quad to the Summit Lodge for some hot pizza. Even here the weekday crowds were sparse as we grabbed a table next to a pair of patrollers and watched the ice pellets continue to rain down. After a while I discretely excused myself and went to employ the men’s room hand dryers on my low budget ski pants. So much for discretion, there was a small congregation of waterlogged gapers with the same idea.
After lunch we took the long (2.5 mile) and easy Deer Run from the summit to the Carinthia area. The accumulation of an inch or two of new Slurpee type snow and the major terrain features on several runs in Carinthia (Inferno terrain park and El Diablo slopestyle course) made for some fun skiing that my son liked even more than pizza!
Beside the base of Carinthia’s Nitro Express Quad Chair is the huge 400’ Gut SoBe competition superpipe. The Carinthia fun zone is definitely the place to be at Mount Snow for park and pipe lovers. The pipe, assorted rails, ramps and other freestyle features are also served by the dedicated Heavy Metal Double Chair. Mount Snow hosted the first Winter X Games in the East in February 2000 and is the home of Olympic Halfpipe Snowboarding Gold Medallist Kelly Clark.
We spent the last part of our day back where we started on Mount Snow’s huge Main Face. Served by more that a half dozen major chairs including two express quads, this area comprises one of the widest single mountain faces in Eastern skidom and features one fine intermediate groomer after the other. Some of these runs are straight and wide, some are narrow and twisty, and all have good length as the 7300 foot long Grand Summit Express Quad bisects the area.
At one point my son and I got separated in patchy fog on 100 yard wide Snowdance trail. I thought Vince was behind me so I waited above the loading station of the Canyon Express Quad, and waited, and waited. I’m learning these days that fast moving Vince is more likely to be in front than behind. He got in an extra run while pops took a final breather surveying the scene around the Launch Pad Learning area and Mount Snow’s signature Clock Tower building.
It had been nearly two decades since my last visit to Mount Snow, long before Vince was a twinkle in his parents eyes. Even with the ice pellets it was great to renew acquaintances with this mondo Green Mountain playground. We found out any day is a good day to enjoy some father and son bonding on old Walt’s mountain of snow.
Husband, father and retired civilian employee of the Department of Navy, Jim Kenney is a D.C. area native and has been skiing recreationally since 1967. Jim's ski reporting garnered the 2009 West Virginia Division of Tourism's Stars of the Industry Award for Best Web/Internet/E-Magazine Article.