Everybody loves a good cruiser, unless maybe you’re an elite extremist or an extreme elitist. The ski trails I’m talking about are longish, usually well groomed, and range in difficulty from low intermediate to advanced intermediate. Extreme terrain, bump runs, and fancy terrain parks may get more press, but nothing can relax a hotshot or encourage a newbie like a good intermediate run.
In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I thought I’d recap the pleasing aspects of a few of my favorite cruisers. Every ski area worth its road salt has plenty of intermediate terrain, but from a very personal point of view here’s a brief description of the more memorable intermediate trails I’ve had the pleasure of cruising over the years.
All lengths and verticals are approximate.
Blue Knob, PA - Jack Rabbit (formerly known as Bunny Hop, a misnomer corrected): to the skier’s left from the summit, a solid intermediate pitch uninterrupted for approximately 2/3 of a mile, with roughly 700’ vertical. There is a triple chair waiting for you at the end of this run or you can continue down the easy runout to Blue Knob’s base. I’ll never forget a particularly frigid, but sunny January in the early ‘80’s when my brother and I donned heavy snowmobile suits and cruised this trail and the rest of Blue Knob all by ourselves for a week when temps never climbed above single digits. Blue Knob trail map.
Liberty, PA - Sidewinder to Lower Strata: to the far right off the backside of the summit. This combination makes for a solid intermediate cruiser, about 2/3 of a mile long with 600’ vertical. Just steep enough so that I really enjoyed some spring skiing on this trail a few years ago. This route features some of Liberty’s nicest views and is somewhat removed from the rest of the area. Liberty Mountain trail map.
Massanutten, VA - Diamond Jim and Paradice: these two alluring runs parallel each other on the far right as you peer up from the base lodge. They’re labeled as black diamonds on the trail map, but they provide a nice, wide 3/4 mile, 750’ vertical romp for strong intermediates. The real drawing cards at Massanutten in my opinion, management usually keeps these twins in great shape all season. Served by an “experts only” quad chair with the shortest lines on the mountain, you can rack up some mileage here even when the rest of the area is mobbed. Massanutten trail map.
Snowshoe, WV - Cupp Run: centerpiece of the section of the resort known as the Western Territory. One and a half miles long with 1,500’ vertical, Cupp is undoubtedly the premier advanced intermediate cruiser in the mid-Atlantic. When the snow is good, this one will burn your quads and satisfy your cruising jones. Snowshoe trail map.
Snowshoe’s Cupp Run, on left, and Shay’s Revenge, on right. Cupp Run is 1.5 miles of cruising delight. Photo provided by Snowshoe Mountain Resort.
Extra Long and Extra Easy
The mid-Atlantic region contains several easy 1.5 to 2 mile runs. Under the right conditions these trails can be a cruisin’ treat for low intermediates and even spunky beginners.
Blue Knob, PA - Mambo Alley: I learned to ski on this one back in the ’60s. On a quiet day this is two miles of switchbacking bliss down the center of the mountain. On a busy day it can be an accident waiting to happen due to many intersects with advanced runs. Blue Knob trail map.
Canaan Valley, WV - Timber Trail: one and a half mile cruiser to the skier’s right off the summit. This secluded beauty offers Canaan Valley’s full 850’ vertical over a gradual descent. Canaan Valley trail map.
Timberline, WV - Salamander: a two mile long playground for little tikes. This most gentle of top to bottom cruisers swings wide to the right as you glide from the summit down Timberline’s 1000’ of vertical. This trail borders the Dolly Sods Wilderness area and is lined by an exceptionally pretty forest. Timberline trail map.
Wisp, MD - Possum: off to the right as you look up the mountain. One and a half miles long with 600’ of vertical, ambitious “never evers” will want to take top to bottom runs down Possum even if it’s their first day out. Wisp trail map.
The author’s son cruises down Wisp’s Possum trail. Photo by Jim Kenney.
Cannon Mountain, NH - there is a well known intermediate bushwhack to the defunct ski area of Mittersill. It is 2+ miles down Cannon’s full 2100’ vertical and provides a rare taste of easy Eastern backcountry skiing. This route starts as a cruiser off to the skier’s left from the top of Cannon. The middle section includes a short climb and very narrow path over to several choices of terrain at the adjacent abandoned ski area. There’s some fun ungroomed intermediate trails leading back to a beginner area at the Cannon base. I’m having trouble recalling trail names, but this route is so popular you can easily tag along with locals heading over to check it out. Cannon Mountain trail map.
Killington, VT - Great Eastern: four and a half miles and 3000’ vertical. This may be the ultimate lower intermediate cruiser in the Eastern U. S. I first took my young kids down this run about five years ago and it was like rediscovering the joy of Christmas through the eyes of a child. There is a special feeling of satisfaction when a beginner/ intermediate heads down a hill and doesn’t get to the next lift line for 30 minutes. Busy days can bring a dangerous mix of timid and aggressive snowriders on this trail. Killington trail map.
Ski Santa Fe, NM - Sunset to Lower Burro: head far to the skier’s right from the top of the mountain. This is an easy intermediate combination cut through beautiful pines for 2+ miles and about 1600’ vertical. There are awesome mountain and desert views from many vantage points on this high altitude, underrated ski area. Ski Santa Fe trail map [pdf].
Snowbird, UT - Chips Run: 3000’ vertical and about three miles long (think two Cupp Runs back to back). An excellent cruiser for advanced intermediates, this run slices down the stupendous Peruvian Gulch side of Snowbird, which is to the left as you look up from the tram base. I survived a memorable face plant/yard sale on this run after going over a 5’ rock ledge. The snow quality is so renowned at Snowbird and neighboring Alta that it frequently tempts Europeans from the Alps. Snowbird trail map.
Snowmass, CO - The Big Burn: much wider than a single run, this is a mountain side of mellow, scenic cruising terrain that will spoil you for life. I skied this area in 1976 and then again in 1991, a visit every 15 years doesn’t cut it. If I ever hit the lottery, I’ll give my memories a refresh. The informal boundaries of The Big Burn loosely cover terrain/runs of about a mile in length with 1400’ of vertical. Snowmass trail map.
Stratton Mountain, VT - Wanderer to Meadow: on the right side of the mountain as you look up from the base; this is a wide-open 3 mile cruiser down 2000’ vertical. Very convenient to Stratton’s 12-passenger gondola; on a quiet day lower intermediate snowriders can log some heavenly vertical on the consistent grade of this route. The 3,900’ top elevation of Stratton Mountain is among the 3 or 4 highest in Vermont and it has some of the best and most abundant intermediate terrain in the East. Stratton Mountain trail map.
Wildcat Mountain, NH - Polecat: maybe my favorite cruiser ever! I could be over romanticizing it. I was at Wildcat ski area just one beautiful, sunny 35-degree day in March 1995. Polecat seemed to have it all: nearly 3 miles long, 2100’ of vertical, lots of twists, turns and changes in pitch, with great views of colossal Mt. Washington around every bend. This run could inspire one to poetry, or a lesser talent to a hackneyed limerick:
Not too hard, not too easy,
Long legged and plenty curvy.
Easy on the eyes, tougher on the thighs,
Remote, pristine, yet comfy as a friend.
When it’s over, you want to do it again.
A skier catches some air on Polecat. Photo provided by Wildcat Mountain.
The amazing thing about this unsung hero of a ski area is that several other moderately difficult trails (e. g., Lynx and Wildcat) were just as sweet and distinctive in their own way. Wildcat Mountain trail map.
Cruising the Alps
There are thousands of ultra long cruisers in the Alps. The most astounding may be the 12-mile run down the Vallee Blanche at Chamonix, France, which covers 9000’ of vertical. That one is still on my “to do” list, if not in this life, maybe the next. After a lifetime of skiing in the States, last winter I made my first trip to ski Europe. I visited five Austrian resorts and perhaps my most memorable cruiser was at Zell am See on the Schutt run. Five miles long with 4000’ of vertical, the Schutt run never got tougher than what a strong intermediate could handle. We took it as the first run in the morning and joked that by the time we reached the gondola base beside Lake Zell, we needed to shave again.
This article will clearly spark some fun discussion. I especially enjoyed your links to each areas trail maps. That allowed me to better visualize some of the trails I have never skied.
Defining the term cruiser can be thorny. To some, a cruiser is a long, gentle green trail like Salamander at Timberline with no steep sections. To others, it is a trail like Risky Business at Sunday River that is groomed in its entirety but contains steep areas followed by nice run-outs. I lean towards the Risky Business definition because those are the trails I particularly enjoy.
With this second definition in mind, I would add the some additional local trails to the list:
White Lightning at Timberline: This is more of a fall-line trail than a cruiser but because the fall-line in that section of Herz Mountain is relatively benign and because White Lightning has a decent run-out at the mid-mountain level, I would add it to the list. Its never bumpy and always groomed to perfection.
North Face Slope at 7 Springs: This trail is not terribly long, but it is steep in sections and has nice run-outs. Its also wide enough to allow decent skiers to safely open the throttle.
Snow Dancer at Whitetail: Not as crowded as Limelight and a bit gentler. During the midweek when crowds are minimal, this is a good cruiser.
Outside of the region, there are loads of great cruisers but a few that hold nice memories include:
Sterling at Stowe: This is a natural snow trail on Big Spruce Peak that does not always get groomed but when it does, its a magnificent, endless, cruiser. Skiers have to suffer through a long ride up Big Spruce on a slow, old double that rarely runs but if they do, they will be rewarded with a wonderful, twisting trail that has some nice, short steep section followed by generous run-outs.
Mt. Snow: The whole front-face of the mountain. :)
Risky Business: Sunday River.
Seekopf Standard at Zuers, Austria: This is a nice long, but reasonably gentle European blue trail that snakes down the Seekopf side of Zurs. Its never crowded but serviced by two high-speed detachables.
Yeah those are good ones! I like Jack Rabbit at Blue Knob .... very nice and they once set a great GS (it was suppose to be a slalom bu it turned out to be GS) course for the WSI race circut and IT RULED (actually I say that only b/c I got FTD on it LOL).
I also sort of like Limelight at Whitetail when it is not crowded; nice wide runw ith a decent pitch you can arc real big ones and lay out on your skis.
Giant Steps at 7 Springs is fun because of the rolling terrain.
I would have to add Ultra to Ski Libery ... you can really haul ass on it especially if it has just been groomed. Sort of short, but you can rip some big ones on it too.
Roundtop runb on the back where the NASTAR course is set (whatever that one is called) is also cool, and the little knoll near the end on the left makes for some fun.
Some of the runs at The Canyons in UT are great cruisers; the run under the Super Condor lift is almost like some sort of DH racecourse!
One of my favorite cruiser runs is at Colorado's Winter Park resort. I start at the top of Parsenn Bowl, and ski down from the bowl into the glades. (You can pick a path down with widely-spaced trees.) Then, I swing to the right on Edelweiss, and follow that down to the bottom of the Sunnyside lift. From there, I continue onto Corona Way, which wraps around the right side of Mary Jane mountain and finally ends up at the base Mary Jane. The run starts at 12,060 feet above sea level and ends at 9,450 feet for a total vertical drop of 2,610 feet.
Another fun cruiser at Winter Park is to start at the top of the High Lonesome Express and link runs such as Switchyard and Lonesome Whistle.
I agree with Crush -- one of my favorite local cruisers is Limelight at Whitetail. I was dismayed when Limelight never made it open during some of the warmer ski seasons, but with the installation of fan guns a season or two ago, Limelight is now one of the first to open. You can really give your legs a workout on Limelight, making one run after another off of the Whitetail Express.
When conditions are right (i.e. no ice) I like Giant Steps at 7Springs; also Valley Vista at Canaan Valley.
I totally agree with you. There is nothing more relaxing than cruising an intermediate trail. It pretty much defines skiing...the beautiful and rythmic arcs, the scenery, the binding of the skier and the mountain.
You hit it right on the nail in Snowshoe (Cup Run) and in Snowmass (Big Burn)...probably the best cruiser in the planet! I'll add to that Mozart in Keystone, Centenial in Beaver Creek, and any blue run in Deer Valley.
I always get my kicks and adrenaline rushes in the steep terrain, but I always come back to the great intermediates to boost my confidence, practice my turns, and enjoy SKIING!
The best cruiser in the region is at Canaan Valley and is a trail called Ramble. Always uncrowded, Ramble is the best all around trail.
I also enjoy Timber Trail there, taking Timber Spur rather than the switch back to add a bit of spice.
Everybody loves a good cruiser, unless maybe you're an elite extremist or an extreme elitist.
I'm neither of the two, but I used to be an extreme extremist who has since grown up to be an elite elitist. But I still like a good cruiser.
1) Cupp Run, Snowshoe - Classic trail with the best vertical in the Mid-Atlantic and plenty of terrain variety. Marred only by the occasional skier proving their mettle by doing the power snowplow or straightline down the trail.
2) Expressway, Blue Knob - comes in a close second to Cupp Run. Doesn't have the cutbacks that Cupp does, but has some nice roll-off sections.
3) Snow Dancer, Whitetail - the least crowded of the three main blue runs off the high-speed quad. Never understood why. Some nice little rolls near the sides of the trail with a steep section leading to a brief runout at the bottom.
4) Limelight, Whitetail - catch it during the first hour of the day, and it is the classic let 'em rip and make as wide turns as you want trail. Consistent pitch from top to bottom. If you're skiing well, a good trail for showboating for the lift riders above you. Make sure your smiling with each turn.
5) Tie - Stembogen, Blue Knob and Barrett's Trail, Ski Roundtop. Both are mellow-pitched trails with sharp cut-backs. If the snow is good; fun, fun, fun.
Great idea for an article! Always fun to think about your personal favorite trails.
Won't include any of the Mid-Atlantic trails, but Cupp Run would be up there.
1) Andy's Encore to Rosi's Run / Overlode, Copper Mtn. Nirvana for a vertical junkie. Serviced by a high-speed six-pack chair (six packs are good), nice terrain variations in the middle of the trail with a real steep groomed face at the bottom. Watch out for the speed trap near the bottom.
2) Pork Barrel to Needle's Run to Blue Grouse, Snowbasin. Not sure if I got the names right even after consulting a trail map, but there are plenty of high-speed groomers in that section. Trails are empty groomers with some nice drop-offs for catching air. So good I skied numerous top to bottom cruisers without stopping. (Rare for me since I'm a powder hound.) 2.3K vert for each.
3) Ruthie's Run, Aspen. Former World Cup downhill course, but listed as a blue. No wonder the Europeans thought that American courses were wussy until the Bird's of Prey and Grizzlie courses were built. But their loss is the crusers gain. The trail runs down the top of a ridge, with incredible view's to the skiers left. In some sections you can ski down the side of the ridge back onto the trail for some variety.
4) 80% of Sunday River. I couldn't read the trail signs since I was going too fast. Plenty of dropoffs and rolls. Names like Airglow to Black Hole, Rogue Angel, Excaliber, Obsession are ringing a bell.
5) Gondolier, Stowe. Right under the Gondola at Stowe, but the trail is wide enough that you can find plenty of elbow room. 2.2K vert - not bad for the East.
6) Big Burn section, Snowmass. Agree with what's been said before. Some groomed, some widely-spaced trees, but all of it is total easy cruisin'. Like the early Eagles songs. Campground is another worthy section, but was (is still?) serviced by a slow lift.
7) Centennial, Beaver Creek. Another former (wimpy) World Cup Downhill course. Ends with a nice little pitch right at the base lodge.
8) Proctor, Middlebury College Snow Bowl. You never forget your first girl and you never forget your first cruiser. I remember wipping around this trail as a young'un. Plenty of trail turns and variety. Proctor has the unique trait of having cut-off sections for each of the three most difficult faces. Either way is a lot of fun. Bummer of a run-out at the end.
9) Blackcomb Glacier to Blackcomb Glacier Road to Cruiser to Merlins to Village Run to the Longhorn for a beer (or two), Blackcomb Mtn. 5k vertical and you'll experience all four seasons on the way down. The exchange rate may even fluctuate a bit from start to finish. Blackcomb Glacier has an incredibly beautiful vista with a groomed section on one side if you desire.
10) Minturn Mile, Vail. Backcountry run that is accessible to most skiers; get's so much traffic it's practically a groomed run. Goes from the top of Gamecreek Bowl in Vail to the town of Minturn. Some nice steep powder sections at the very top with a flat bob-sled section in the middle. Take your skis off at the road where the snow ends and walk 1/4 mile to the Saloon at Minturn for one of the best ski bars (and Margarita's) around. Hope that your friends (and their car) show up as promised.
JohnL: your comments confirm that there are too many sweet mountains and too little precious time. Regarding local 5: both of these crossed my mind. Barretts is sweet, but too short. Stembogen is too bizarre, but admittedly my all-time favorite local trail. I hesitated to call it a cruiser because of sketchy conditions, cross fall lines, counter banked turns, bushes, rocks, and melange of fun&funky stuff on that trail.
I agree that the cover on Stembogen is normally a bit sketchy, so you can't relax on it like a typical cruiser. Wish that BK would make some more snow on it.
As for Barretts, I had to throw in a least one obscure trail in a favorite list.
Here's a neat story I recently stumbled on about the "backcountry" cruiser from slopes of Cannon Mtn ski area: