Every once in awhile we get what’s known to meteorologists as an “upside-down” winter. Storm patterns set up to deliver more snow and more storminess to the south than to the northern US and southern Canada. The winter of 2009/10 has, so far anyway, been an unfortunately perfect example. I happen to believe in the science that has predicted more frequent, larger, and less-predictable storms as a result of global warming. We may well see more years like this in the future.
Thanks to the massive investment resorts have made in snowmaking and grooming, however, the lack of snow here in the northeast isn’t really a problem. Every ski resort has delivered smooth corduroy on its groomed trails—even just days after that major January rainstorm. Some people scoff at man-made snow and groomed trails, but when the alternative is frozen cement, carving corduroy is a whole lot more fun than staying home!
We automatically think that resorts “up north” are going to get more snow than more southern locations. But that isn’t always true, especially not in an upside down winter. The Berkshires sometimes get snowstorms that haven’t made it up into Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.
That brings us to the two “northern” ski areas in the Berkshires. Jiminy Peak vs Berkshire East: both areas are almost identical in vertical and trail count, but as different as night and day in some other ways. A weekend lift ticket at Jiminy is about $11 more expensive than the priciest ticket at Berkshire East; on weekdays, you’ll pay almost twice as much for Jiminy’s high speed lifts. Here’s how they compare in other ways, so you can decide which is right for your next ski getaway:
Berkshire East in Charlemont, Mass., is primarily a “local” ski hill—which means lots of people drive right past it coming up I-91 on their way to Vermont. But I have to tell you it ranks high up on my list of best ski areas you’ve probably never visited. It’s got almost 1200 feet of vertical, a quad, two triples, a double, and two small surface lifts. They’ve also got 45 trails (we skied most of them), some of then twisty and some of them steep, plus a few wide-open slopes to play on. And they’ve got a very nice base lodge where all trails eventually lead, so you never have to worry about losing your companions or your kids. Honestly, what more do you need for a day or a weekend of fun?
On the day we visited , they had snow. Quite a bit of it, actually. No, the entire area wasn’t open, and no, they didn’t have quite enough snow to explore the glades, but they certainly had plenty of soft, groomed snow on the trails. We found one little patch of hard-crusted snow that the groomers somehow missed hidden away on a trail. But the rest of place was soft and inviting.
And, best of all, there was NO ONE there. That’s right. Though I’ve heard the place can get cranking on weekends, on a beautiful sunny Sunday, we never waited at all to get on a chairlift and head for the top. From what I hear, both nearby Jiminy Peak and Mount Snow were far more jam-packed with people that weekend. Sure, those more famous have more trails, more and faster lifts and bigger base lodges to spread out more people, but there’s something awfully nice about being able to find untracked corduroy on the edges of a trail at 11 o’clock on a Sunday morning.
Seriously, the next time you’re traveling on I-91, take your skis or your board along. Detour about 20 minutes west on Route 2. You’ll find a wonderful not-so-little hill for skiers and riders. Your friends will look at you funny when you tell them you discovered a hidden gem called Berkshire East. The smart ones will ask you how to get there. If you want to read more about Berkshire East, EasternSlopes.com Correspondent Allison Keller has done a review which you can read here.
Located right on the border of New York in Hancock, Jiminy Peak is the “Big” ski resort in Massachusetts. That concept will make some people smile. Some of those people will be the smug “I ski in Vermont” types who can’t believe there’s skiing and riding this good in Mass. Others will smile because they know how good Jiminy really is.
In stats, Jiminy’s almost a twin of Berkshire East—they’ve got almost 1,200 vertical, and 45 trails. But Jiminy feels like a big resort in ¾ scale: they have nine lifts including a high-speed six-pack, and lots of comfortable slopeside lodging and a couple of nice on-mountain restaurants. Families love Jiminy—the whole area filters down to a single base, so kids can explore without getting lost. In the summer, they’ve got what amounts to an on-mountain amusement park.
We settled into their slopeside Country Inn on Sunday night, hit the outdoor hot tub to ease the kinks of a long day of skiing, prepared our own dinner in the condo kitchen, went to sleep in a comfortable bed and woke up rarin’ to hit the snow. The breakfast buffet at John Harvard’s in the Country Inn is something of a tradition for us—great way to fuel for a long day.
The wind was howling on this Monday morning–not unusual for a mountain that faces due north–and it was chilly, so we bundled up and headed out for first chairs. Jiminy is an area that was long on the cutting edge of snowmaking and their snow was great on this day. A couple of small snowfalls they’d gotten since the January rain definitely helped.
They’ve got some steep diamonds off the front of the Mountain—Whitetail, Jericho and Exhibition—are always freshly-groomed perfection first thing in the morning morning. With no lift lines and a high speed lift to play with, it’s easy to hammer your thighs into submission by noon and miss their awesome night skiing entirely . . .
One thing you have to do at Jiminy is take West Way off the top of the six-pack and get a look at “Zephyr” the HUGE wind turbine that Jiminy uses to generate a significant portion of the electricity it needs throughout the year. Don’t worry, you can’t miss it and you won’t ever forget it. Getting up close and personal with this amazing work of industrial-scale functional art would be worth the visit—even if the skiing wasn’t so good!
Compared to Berkshire East, Jiminy Peak is indeed a “big” resort with all the slopeside lodging and restaurants you’d expect at a “resort” rather just a “ski area.” But it’s an hour closer to New York City than the closest Vermont area, and it’s got the trails and the snow. Try it sometime.
Try Berkshire East, too.