One might ask, why? I mean why drive that far to ski and go no farther to ski something better? It's a good question that has a complicated answer that can best be summarized as follows. A ski friend that has skied everywhere suggested that Hunter has some nice higher end terrain and was worth checking out some time.
Getting there was a big fat pain in the butt. Note to self -- do not leave maps and directions on desk at work when going on a road trip.
Ok so what's the deal? Is there any reason to bother with such a trip?
Hunter is an oddly shaped mountain that is NOT apparent from the brochures and trail maps. It essentially has two tiers, a lower "false" summit and then a slightly higher top peak. The result is that most of the trails that come down off the top loop around the top tier to the second tier. These trails are narrow and little more than catwalks. From there, one then can take any of several trails down the second tier to lifts below.
In my book this is simply not that much fun -- although you do get used to them narrow winding trails and the better skiers simply zip down these things at high speed, cutting near perfect rail turns as they go, the upshot is they still just kinda suck.
However, Hunter has ONE really large saving grace -- the DOUBLE-BLACK diamond runs. This I believe is why my friend suggested Hunter to me. Not that I am any great skier that eats these sorts of things for breakfast (more like, I'm likely to LOOSE my breakfast!) but in thinking back now on my conversation with my skier friend, it centered on higher end terrain accessible by car for a weekend trip within striking distance of DC -- and hence out came the recommendation for Hunter.
Around the "back" of the mountain is Hunter West which has three really steep, tough runs... LUCKILY two were closed while we were there. I say luckily because I think the one is enough for me really. Clair's Way was BY FAR my favorite run on the mountain. Steep to very steep in places, on day one the previous day's snow fall had the thing bumped up with soft snow, unfortunately sporadically covered with a thin veneer of rain induced crunch... I found I could circumnavigate around most of the hairy-spots, and the soft snow that was there added enough forgiveness to allow me to rather tentatively work my down the thing. Well, it might not sound like it but I was enjoying it.
On day two, the bumps were gone, groomed away in favor of extending the life of the snow cover. The run I think showed its TRUE character, steep, hard, icy in spots with a brutal wind whipping up from the valley. Ahhhh. I did not make it look it easy but I enjoyed watching the others that did. I booted out once too, first time ever, but luckily no harm done although someone almost ran over my lost ski. Sorry buddy! This is a tough run and I liked that. I could ski a bit of it and make it up on the other parts... challenging, yet fair, a bit hairy in places but NOT ridiculous. You had to think a bit to get from top to bottom, and I guess I like that.
Anyway, the OTHER two runs on Hunter West looked even steeper than Clair's Way from the chair. Westway didn't have enough snow cover and was closed. I am guessing it might just be open with lots of fresh snow; otherwise, it might just be too crazy. But that's just a guess. Next to it and the farthest "west" was Annapurna which was closed on day 2, or at least that's what someone told me, and I really wanted to believe it, so I didn't even try to really determine the validity of the claim... Clair's Way was enough for me. (in situations like that a local would be nice to ski with so you can get some relative comparisons)
Two other double black diamonds of note -- K27 and Racer's Edge... Lower K27 is a fairly sheer wall of moguls. I went down twice... sort of using my tumbling technique I have patented. It works like this. Pick a line, make a little forward tilt while turning the skis down the line, catch an edge, loose balance, bounce down 20 yrds before catching yourself, try again. And in no time you will down to the bottom. Works like a charm!
Racer's Edge is right off the front and on day one it was a SHEER face of ice with mogul-ally bumps scattered about, while day two again gave way to groomed hard pack that was a carver's delight....
The rest... well, stick to the one's above, otherwise, perhaps ski elsewhere.
So here's my advice. Go visit your friend in NYC and take one of the tour busses (see Paragon Sporting Goods) to Hunter Mtn for some double-diamond skiing. BUT first, bring a map to get there and avoid going through any major city along the way such as Philadelphia. Next MAKE SURE your edges can cut the hairs off a cat at 10 paces, as it WILL BE ICY. And next, try not reveal to anyone you are from the South. Finally DON'T BOTHER paying extra for the slope side condo unless you are staying more than 2 days... that was, well STUPID comes to mind of me making such arrangements... Oh and change, bring 20 dollars in quarters to throw at the sleeping booth attendants as you whiz through the toll plaza on your way to the yet another toll plaza someplace up the road...
Did I forget anything?
Hmm, a brain bucket for peace of mind.
What routes did you take on your return trip?
How was Lower K27 compared to Upper K27?
Only a few trails were open when I skied the mountain.
As for upper vs lower k27. On Saturday Upper was bumped up as well as lower. But on Sunday upper was groomed flat. In general they groomed ALL the double-black diamonds except for lower k27. It's possible the one other trail on Hunter West, Annapurna was ungroomed but I couldn't see it very well from the lift and did not venture down it on either day -- it WAS bumped on Saturday and I was told it was closed on Sunday (although there was nothing to indicate this from the 2nd lift on that side).
On the front Racer's Edge was bumped on Saturday and groomed flat on Sunday. Next to it, Eisenhower (black) was 50/50 both days.
Generally I think you can say they had a lot of snow over the last week which had been soft and fluffy, and then when the icy rain came through they had little choice but to groom most everything to make it skiable.
As for routes... on friday I simply took 95 all the way to the New Jersey Turnpike. From there I took 287 (exit 10) to 87, the New York Thruway, and then got off at exit 16 (?) toward Saugerites/Hunter and followed the signs to lodge. THE BIG problem is that I went right through philly which was nothing but stop and go traffic for a good 30 minutes. The rain and night driving probably slowed me down too.
On the way home, I followed NJP all the way the end and took the Delaware bridge across to 95, then to 895, to 97 near BWI where I live. This was MUCH faster I think but more tolls. I think there are numerous other options to getting there and several were suggested to me by random people.
If I were to go back, I would look carefully at the snow reports to make sure some of Hunter West was open, and the front double blacks like k27 and Racer's Edge.
I think the other thing I FORGOT to put in my already overly long post is they really need (I think) to upgrade their snowmaking, and some of the lifts. They are expanding though with a new hotel and condo unit and possibly more trails.
Also I *really* liked the atmosphere in the large lodge. It had good food in general and a big round open bar with lots of folks hanging out. It *seemed* like just the right mix to me somehow. It was MUCH more enjoyable than the madhouses at Whitetail or Roundtop I have experienced this year.
You've been out to T-line and BK KevR? How would you say the double diamonds at Hunter compared to those?
Anyway, I have never been to t-line or blue knob. However my friend that has skied all over and down things like Corbet's and Jupiter bowl, and also claims Big Colouir, although I now doubt this because you have to sign a form and carry a shovel and transponder -- which he simply would not do or even have with him... essentially said... NOW I am not trying to piss anyone off, I am simply repeating. That t-line, 'shoe, BK, all the stuff nearby was not worth the investment in time (although ski them once), and that it would be better to take that time and travel a bit further for better. SO that's when Hunter came up. (I am not talking about a day trip or even casual weekend trip) Based on that, I think he would say Hunter has better hard stuff, but in truth, he hasn't been to any of the above in probably 5 yrs or so. I personally was fairly pleased with the double-blacks at Hunter. Even groomed, I thought they were very challenging. I can't really ski them very well. I mean I go down them, I make some turns and so forth. BUT I can watch others skiing them well and I know that I am not skiing them as well. So I skied 3 of the 5 double-blacks, each at least 2 times. (mostly clair's way, 6+ times, not sure) The two others on hunter west (they include trail splits on the map but I am not) -- looked potentially harder still.
Probably SNOW IS NOT as good as WV, I will say that. It seems like WV stays drier with lower water content snow but i could be wrong.
I wouldn't make big effort to try huntuh but if you were in the area.
Also I am now curious about Whiteface which is FARTHER still.
And I intend to ski at t-line at least, not sure about BK, and I likely will never ski down Corbet's, Big Colouir...
My one point of comparison would be BD at WT vs say lower K27. I would say at its steepest BD is about the same pitch as top part of LOWER K27. However BD had much bigger monster moguls on it where k27 was more of a wall with fairly evenly spaced moguls, then a run out. Which one is harder? I dunno they are both hard. I FELL TWICE going down K27 and nonce on BD this year. BUT I am used to BD.
Clair's Way -- well this is longer than the WT runs I think and steeper overall than any of their blacks. It's got one or two really steep pitches in it that are steeper i think than the BD drop off. So maybe take the BD drop and make it the length of the run, and then add a little steep pitch someplace at the middle-ish area... split the trail in one section and put some moguls with REAL ICE bulging out on one side... scrape the thing down with a howling wind coming up from bottom... is that harder than BD with huge volkswagen bug sized moguls? Heck I dunno. It was hard though.
Gore Mountain is also a good hill to ski, not as far as Whiteface but they've got a couple double blacks at the summit with some pretty sick drops. It skis much bigger than it is, because each lift services a separate skiing area. It's only another 2 hours past Hunter but bigger, more snow, less crowded, and not as brutally cold and icy as Whiteface. Gore would be like going to southern VT but I think the skiing is better at Gore than, say, Mount Snow. If you're going to Whiteface, would probably be better to head for VT and ski MRG or Sugarbush or even Stowe.
Kev, do your self a favor and head out to Blue Knob on a good day. Upper and Lower Extrovert is as difficult a trail you will find in the mid atlantic. Lower shortway is the most narrow trail in the mid atlantic yet still has a good pitch. Lower 66, has a little of both being narrow and steep. Catch BK on a good day and you will have without a doubt the most difficult skiing in the mid atlantic.
Now I could add BK, although I have heard its really ICY. But then again, I seem to kinda like that... so...
Then this winter alta, 'bird, solitude, brighton, and big sky... coming soon.
Also I have ridden my bike up and down st. stephen's many times and know it very well.