Making the most of a warm ski season

Hunter Mountain, as seen from the Kaatskill Flyer six pack chair.

By Albert Neubert

Welcome past and present readers of my column to its new home with Mid Hudson News. My promise to skiers and snowboarders is that I’ll bring you the best information possible regarding conditions, ways to save, the latest on gear and equipment, lodging, resort operations and most important, providing you with what you’ll need to have the most fun on the slopes!

On to the good news and the bad news. We could say a collective “good riddance” to January. January was most unkind to skiers and riders, being the second warmest on record and with too much “liquid snow.” I did the least amount of skiing in many years this past January as conditions varied from bad, to really bad, to downright awful and that was true for resorts in our backyard and throughout the Northeast all the way up to Maine.

So, February rolls in with what looks like a return to winter, and Mother Nature turns doubly mean by presenting us with a bone chilling polar vortex and record setting wind chill values. After two days of fighting frostbite, we return to January’s pattern of mild and wet weather. Thankfully, us skiers and riders remain undeterred and continue to hit the slopes in prodigious numbers, according to ski area operator reports I’ve been getting from across the region.

The mild winter so far means that this has become pretty much a manmade snow season. Ski areas with the most powerful snowmaking systems and the willingness to use them at every opportunity stand out with the most terrain and the best conditions under the circumstances. Make no mistake about it, every ski area in the East has bases that are like marble and the hope is enough snow could be made on top to weather heavy skier and snowboarder traffic and not expose the linoleum-like finishes underneath.

Ski areas nearby, like Mount Peter in Warwick, Holiday near Monticello, and Thunder Ridge in Patterson, all have very good snowmaking systems and have built deep bases that should last through March. Mohawk in Cornwall, CT and Big Bear at Masthope, PA had about 80 percent of their terrain open with good coverage. Montage, Shawnee, Camelback, Elk and Blue Mountain, all in Pennsylvania and within daytrip range, have terrific snowmaking systems and have most of their slopes open.

In the Catskills, the big three of Belleayre, Windham and Hunter have been making snow every time the temps turn optimal and have the most terrain available in our immediate area. Hunter continues to prove it is the undisputed leader in snowmaking firepower and had the most open terrain with bases that are over five feet on many trails. In the Berkshires, Jiminy Peak in Hancock, MA, is the snowmaking powerhouse in that region.

Most New England resorts in Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine are in decent shape and even have enough natural snow to ski trails without snowmaking coverage. Gore and Whiteface in the Adirondacks have large snowmaking systems and are offering decent amounts of skiable acreage, while the new snowmaking powerhouse to emerge in that region is West Mountain near Glens Falls and Lake George. West Mountain was nearly 100% open with only some insignificant terrain unavailable. West has become a favorite of mine because of the excellent snowmaking and diverse and interesting terrain.

I was able to get onto the slopes at Hunter last week before the high winds and arctic cold hit, and I enjoyed some of the best conditions of the season, all on manmade snow. It was a mid-week day with sparse attendance so ski surfaces held up even in high traffic areas. Hunter had snow guns going around the mountain including on Upper Crossover in an attempt to get at least one double-black diamond trail open on the main mountain. Claire’s Run, a double-black diamond run on the West side, was open earlier in the season but got wiped out during a wicked January thaw. Hunter’s snowmaking team was back at it on Claire’s along with Colonel’s Alternate and Taylor’s Run to provide steep freaks with their adrenaline rush.

There were snow guns going on other parts of the mountain in high traffic locations to improve surfaces and deepen bases. Whenever I encounter active snow guns I slow down to a crawl because I never know what type of consistency the snow is like coming out of the nozzles. Sometimes it can be like velvet while other times it is wet and sticky like cornstarch and can stop your skis or snowboard dead in its tracks.

With bluebird skies and comfortable temps in the mid-30s on Tuesday, I went to Windham, seven miles north of Hunter in the northern Catskills, to make some turns. Conditions were the best of the season and I got in by far the most skiing of my season to date. I skied a bunch of runs with my “go-to pro,” Nick Pera, a Level III PSIA instructor at Windham. Pera told me that the conditions were pretty much the best he’s skied at Windham this season. Pera was quick to point out some flaws in my technique, which reminded me that it’s always good to take a lesson at least once a season to work on any bad habits you may have picked up.

Think of it as being no different than US Olympic team members that are always practicing under the watchful eyes of their coaches. I take the attitude that I want to improve every time I ski, and Pera’s tips gave me something to work on for the next several ski sessions.

I was able to ski both the east and west peaks at Windham. It’s been a few years since I skied the east peak, which is actually a little higher than the main mountain. I find the three black diamond runs on that side of the mountain just as challenging as and more interesting than the double black trails on the main mountain. Wicked often lives up to its name while Wing n It is narrow with nice undulations as it follows the lift line. My favorite on Tuesday was the immaculately groomed Why Not, which is great GS racing trail with a couple of steep pitches, but you can let go and rip it back to the base.

Think some consistent cold and natural snow, and happy skiing and riding!

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