Okemo snow, groomers and exposure helps it hold onto snow into April year after year to give skiers and snowboarders plenty of opportunity for spring fun on the slopes.
By almost any yardstick, Okemo Mountain Resort in Ludlow, Vt., is a perennial winner among skiers and snowboarders who travel to the mountain for its snow, careful attention to grooming and superlative service. The culture of making skiers and snowboarders of all stripes and sizes happy is ingrained into every corner of the resort and goes back many years.
Because of both the copious amounts of natural snow this season, few thaws, and knowledge that Okemo’s snowmakers and groomers know how to make the best of an excellent situation, our family knew that it would be the perfect place for getting in some late-season turns on a sunny April day.
Like many like-minded ski resorts that manage to have the exposure and altitude to hold on to snow into spring, Okemo drops its prices in the late season and keeps the faithful coming back to squeeze as much fun out of the season as possible.
Because the forecast was for clear skies and temperatures expected to reach into the high 50s by the afternoon, we got an early start from our home base in Peterborough, N.H., and headed west by north. The trick to skiing when the sun is expected to shine throughout a day when temps are expected to rise well above freezing is to get to the mountain as early as possible. That way, you’ll find the most consistent snow conditions before the corn begins to give way to saturated mashed potatoes.
Okemo had the A-Quad running solo from the base. On busy mid-winter days when the crowds show up in force, the report runs both the A and B, detachable, high-speed quads to quickly thin out the base area and send people on their ways to three main parts of the resort. On this day, however, only one lift was necessary and there was no waiting.
From the quad we skied down on soft granular snow and were almost pulled over to the Waffle Cabin by the tempting aroma of warming maple syrup and Belgian waffles on the griddle. But we wanted to ski, so continued to the Northstar Express Quad after making a mental note for possibly indulging in some well-earned carbohydrates later on.
On the ride up the Northstar Express it was quite evident Mother Nature had been kind this winter as the creek that ran beneath the detachable quad ran in and out of a deep snowcover. On previous early April visits over the last few seasons, the creek had been completely exposed and you had to use your imagination to figure out what the narrow trail might have looked like covered in snow at midwinter.
The Northstar quad whisked us up to where the Summit Lodge sits just a couple hundred feet below Okemo Peak and decided on the beginner trails Easy Rider and Mountain Road for a warm-up run. The gradual pitch and narrowness of the trails where they looped into the trees kept the snow shaded in the morning and consistent in its depth. That meant for some easily negotiated turns as we cut back and forth across the east-facing slopes. But because of the mountain’s aspect, the warm sun would begin its work on the snow quickly.
We took a return trip to the summit on the Northstar Express Quad and tried our luck on Sapphire before another run out to the base of the Northstar quad, which was the only chair on the main mountain to be running on that day.
In search of a challenge, the family parted ways at the summit, with me heading over to Heaven’s Gate and Screamin’ Demon for a ride up the Solitude Express Quad. My better half followed our two boys back to Easy Rider, choosing the green slopes better snow consistency than anything else. It was already late morning by then, and snow was going from fine-grained corn to sloppy potatoes with patches of saturated slush easily identified by their grayish hue. The blue trails I took to the Solitude Express Quad were still in good shape and offered an excellent opportunity for letting the skis run as I whooped it up downhill. The thinly populated slopes meant I could use the entire width of the trails for some high-speed GS turns.
I decided on the black-diamond Exhibition for my next descent, but it really reminded me more of an intermediate trail than a typical New England expert trail. For years, Okemo had been known as a mountain with a decided lack of steeps and a liberal use of black paint on its trail signs – the South Face notwithstanding. But luckily, owners Tim and Dianne Mueller recognized the potential of the Jackson Gore Peak area and opened a couple of handfuls of new trails and an express quad at the north end of the resort in 2002. Today, Jackson Gore offers a nice selection of genuine steeps for skiers and riders looking to get the adrenaline pumping. Big Bang was left untouched by the grooming crew, and its big, soft bumps offered an excellent chance to test the thigh muscles. Upper Limelight is a nicely pitched black that leads to a more gently rolling intermediate trail. And, midwinter, Black Hole and Super Nova offer glades aficionados some sweet tree skiing and riding.
That opens the entire mountain for skiers of every ability in your group, and when you combine that with the fact Okemo offers a first-class day care center and learning program, there’s no reason not to check out Okemo Mountain Resort for some last-chance spring skiing.
After two more trips up the Jackson Gore Express Quad with descents down the expert Quantum Leap and winding blue trail Tuckered Out, it was time to work my way back to the main base area to meet the family for an early lunch before heading back out for a couple of runs before heading home. In the car heading south and east, we were already making plans to return next season.