East Coast ski resorts are getting more attractive; it's up to Mother Nature to cooperate this winter.
At last, there’s good news for those who live in the shadow of America’s lesser range. Throughout the Northeast, a variety of enhancements—from season pass access to snowmaking and mountain improvements—will make it a particularly exciting year to be an East Coast skier.
So don’t listen to your hater friends who ski out West or outside the U.S.: There are plenty of things to look forward to in the season ahead.
Easier (More Affordable) Access
Vail Resorts and Alterra Mountain Co. have been busy scooping up East Coast resorts such as Vermont’s Killington and Stowe and a handful of other ski areas. With their multi-mountain passes, you can now ski them all by simply buying lift tickets for your annual weeklong trip to Colorado.
“One of my clients from Long Island was taking his entire family to Vail,” said Gloria Saiya-Woods, a travel agent with Ski.com, “and realized that the Epic pass was the most economical option for his family. Now he’s thinking about taking the grandchildren up to Killington since he’s already got a lift ticket to cover them there.”
Collective passes don’t just offer shared access to mountains in Vermont and Colorado; they cover much of the globe. On the East Coast, Okemo, Stowe, and Mount Sunapee now accept the Epic pass. Killington, Loon, Stratton, Snowshoe, Sugarbush, Sunday River, and Sugarloaf, meanwhile, can be accessed with the Ikon pass. (Prices start at $749.) With those season passes, it’s also possible to ski in far-flung locales including Japan and the Canadian Rockies for one single price.
The development is so significant, Dan Sherman, chief marketing officer of Ski.com, is conservatively predicting a 30 percent rise in East Coast business—all from people who’ll see the region as a “gateway drug” to the bigger resorts elsewhere or who’re now seeing it as icing on the cake.
New Yorkers Get a Key Upgrade
Hunter Mountain, the most conveniently located resort for New Yorkers, is adding 80 acres of terrain this season, plus a high-speed, six-chair lift. That means five new trails, four new gladed skiing areas, and an overall 30 percent boost to acreage. And for those who normally see next-door neighbor Windham as the most beginner- and intermediate-friendly mountain, that might start to change: None of Hunter’s new terrain will be flagged with black diamonds.
Vermont’s Total Makeover
In Vermont, Mount Snow will welcome a $22 million base lodge that, at 42,000 square feet, is five times larger than its predecessor; expect more retail and food offerings, plus two new bars. Then there’s the $30 million snowmaking system, which Mount Snow claims will be the most powerful one on the East Coast. (It’s being developed with low-energy tech, to boot.)
For mountains that are now accessible on Epic and Ikon passes, head to the state’s two most famous mountains. Killington will see tech upgrades including RFID lift tickets and faster chairs; the addition of the bubbled-in Snowdon quad will send up to 3,000 skiers up to Snowdon Mountain peak, one of the resort’s more popular areas, every hour. And an effort to regrade and reroute some overly trafficked areas will result in a better balance between advanced, intermediate, and beginner terrain.
Stowe, meanwhile, will finally be fully on board with Vail’s Epic Mix software, which lets you track how much you’ve skied and compete with your friends. (It’s integrated into the RFID lift ticket system, also new at Stowe.) For families, the addition of on-mountain “Kids Adventure Zones” will be another boon.
It’s just going to keep getting better. Both Vail and Alterra are planning to invest tens of millions of dollars—if not more—across their East Coast resorts in the coming years. “Expect more in terms of new chairlifts, gondolas, easier access, adventure offerings, snowmaking—even summer experiences,” Sherman says. And if you’re worried that the entry of these large corporations will suck the soul from your local resort, Saiya-Woods says to breathe easy: “These smaller mountains will always retain their uniqueness, but they would have never had the money to improve on what they were otherwise.”
A Forecast That’s Feeling (Mostly) Good
According to Mike Halpert, deputy director of NOAA’s climate prediction center, this winter will see a mild El Niño weather pattern—which makes for difficult-to-predict snow conditions in the Northeast. “We’re giving it better-than-even chances of being a warmer-than-average winter in the Northeast,” he says. But he adds that doesn’t mean it will necessarily be any less snowy.
On the contrary: Too-cold temperatures can impede lake effect snow, he says. “Sometimes the ski resorts do better off when it’s a little warmer, because the air mass can hold onto more moisture,” he explains. If barely freezing temperatures and decent snowfall sound like the best of both worlds, that’s because they are: But don’t count it as a done deal. Halpert’s predictions are based on what he calls “noisy data” and a “weak signal,” which make forecasts less decisive.
“We’ve only had about 10 winters that we would classify as a mild El Niño pattern in the past, so it’s not enough data to draw patterns from,” he adds.
Don’t sweat it. With all of the major mountain resorts adding snowmaking enhancements across the board, conditions should be prime. Slipping on ice in the East may just become a thing of the past (no promises).
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Photo credit: A day on the slopes at Killington in Vermont, now accessible with the Ikon pass. Chandler Burgess / Bloomberg