This year may have a silver lining for skiers, as slopes still plan to pack the powder—but not the people.
Capacity restrictions mean having to navigate throngs and zip around others on a downhill thrill is a thing of yesteryear. Getting a gondola during peak times should be less of a lift, too, since riders will be required to tottle up only with those in their party (forget the awkward elbow-rubbing with strangers).
“Skiing is the original socially distanced sport,” says Craig Clemmer, director of sales and marketing at Omni Mount Washington Resort. “We’ve been wearing masks since its inception. And the poles or boards give you a good gauge of just how to stay 6 feet away from people.”
Bretton Woods/Omni Mount Washington
The 2,000-acre campus nestled inside White Mountain National Forest has been a quintessential New Hampshire getaway since opening in 1902. But this year—like many things in the COVID-19 era—classic experiences have been reimagined. Omni’s expansion of food and beverage options will help with mandates for indoor dining at half-capacity. And the Granite State’s first eight-passenger gondola, which debuted there in 2019, will help keep a steady flow of schussers who’ve reserved lift tickets online.
Across New England, advance purchase of day tickets is largely required. But a little proactive planning has its tradeoffs. Resorts have gotten creative, with new private slopeside cabanas offering food delivery service, and added entertainment options for all ages.
Planned enhancements made this year’s transitions much more seamless for staff and skiers alike, says Clemmer. While existing Lodge accommodations already have exterior corridors for entrance and exit (meaning no walking by other guests in the hallway), the expansion of the Presidential Wing this winter will add 69 spacious rooms and suites for skiers to spread out across the property.
Brand-new Rosebrook Lodge expands the total number of on-site dining options to 16, with almost half of Rosebrook’s slope-top seating outside. And just completed is a facelift to modernize the classic main dining room, which now features a custom-made 18-by-18-foot white marble bar.
It’s all about having choices indoors and out, says Clemmer. The resort has 464 skiable acres for both Alpine and Nordic options, with three peaks for snow bunnies of various abilities. Fat-tire biking, sleigh rides, tubing, and snowshoeing round out the choices for adventure seekers.
“While the surrounding area is beautiful, it’s possible to spend a long weekend here and never have to or want to leave campus,” says Clemmer.
For seven decades, thousands of children across the Merrimack Valley have taken lessons at Ski Bradford, and that tradition continues this year. Bradford is one of the few spots offering group lessons (through schools and via online sign-up), which also makes Bradford more affordable than other slopes only offering private options.
There will be a bit more of a “fair” atmosphere this year, at least in the olfactory sense. Capacity restrictions in the lodge mean there will be more heated outdoor dining and seating options, with a hut for sausages, hot dogs, and burgers, and stands for fried dough and waffles. Cocoa will help warm the chilly hands of those who’ve sped down one of 15 trails spread over 60 acres that also include a terrain park.
The proximity of Nashoba Valley Ski Area in Westford can also help those on the North Shore save some ducats on a resort room, while easily complying with in-state guidelines. In lieu of formal group lessons, they’ve launched a new “tips and pointers” program this year for ages 7 through adult. Participants get some advice on their technique along with a three-hour lift ticket to practice individually.
Bousquet Ski Area
The Berkshires aren’t exactly as renowned as other New England mountains, but Bousquet Ski Area in Pittsfield deserves a second look. Upgrades this year include new grooming equipment and a revamped snow-making system, a Triple Poma chairlift, and new magic carpets for the beginner area and tubing hill. The latter make Bousquet particularly well suited for the set still in the bunny-slope stage, although there’s something for everyone spread out over two dozen trails.
Adults can enjoy a new walk-up bar, just one addition this year to options for downtime after downhill time. The Berkshires fits the bill for lovers of the great outdoors and the culturally curious, and it’s worth spending a long weekend exploring The Clark, Mass MoCA, and Norman Rockwell museums.
Families of teens will want to consider Loon Mountain Resort, which is not only one of New England’s most affordable ski destinations but is easy to reach with a quick zip up I-93. Besides some of New Hampshire’s best trails, thrills include terrain parks and tubing. Or, suit up for SNO-GO, a fun—and rather funny-looking—adventure that combines the ease of riding a bike that’s tricked out not with wheels but with what looks like three snowboards.
Bonus? Loon is just a short drive from Ice Castles, a breathtaking frozen village created by professional ice artists. Each year is different but includes LED-lit sculptures, fountains, tunnels, and much more cool creativity.
It’s all about the numbers at Sunday River: 132 trails, eight interconnected peaks and two on-mountain hotels, each with an outdoor heated pool and hot tub. A third of the 870 skiable acres are dedicated to those already skilled enough to rip through powder, while the rest features several moving carpets and what director of communications Karolyn Castaldo described as some of the best terrain-based learning.
“We shape the snow to better allow learners to get the hang of banked turns, for instance,” she says. “And quarter pipes allow more progression into the learning process. The right grooming helps people get used to the feeling of snow or loading a trail lift—it’s great for kids and adults.”
This year, the Maine megacampus has also added a new private family lesson option for parents and kids. “Families may have been cooped up at home for the past few months together, but the world is totally different when you’re outdoors,” says Castaldo.
Also notable is the addition of more fireworks displays than in past years—every weekend through March, throughout holiday weeks, with fire dancers entertaining as a pre-show.
Forget the pizza and French fries—Vermont is an epicurean’s Shangri-La, and offers up plenty of opportunities to work off farm-to-table cuisine. But first, settle in to one of the handful of Relais & Chateaux properties in New England: The Pitcher Inn (opt for the wooden-hewn cathedral ceilings of the Ski Room if it’s free).
The boutique property is just five minutes from Sugarbush resort, where 484 skiable acres offer up 53 miles of mixed-ability trails. Since lifts are operating at half-capacity this year with no mixed parties, it’s an extra excuse to cuddle up with your sweetie on the way up the mountain.
This year a little Miami comes mountainside, too, with slopeside cabanas that can be rented out for the day. Outfitted with picnic tables and chairs from a local artisan and a heater, you can bring your own food, or up the ante with slopeside delivery service.