On Saturday, December 10, 2011, Mount Snow in West Dover, Vermont “officially” opened for the season, with top-to-bottom skiing and riding on their main mountain and a full terrain park at Carinthia. “Unofficially”, they’d turned their beginner lift and opened a little terrain park way back in October.
Their “official” opener was a “Bluebird Day” for more than just the fine weather.
I took my first Tele turns of the new season on the Saturday opener to check out the conditions and wasn’t disappointed. It’s been a rough start to the season for most resorts and Mount Snow is no exception. They didn’t have as much snow as everyone would have wanted. But they did have enough snow to ski on happily.
Now, Peak Resorts, which owns Mount Snow (and Attitash, Wildcat and Crotched Mountain) is noted for their snowmaking capacity. They got their start in the midwest, where some of their resorts get less than 20 inches of snow annually. But, even a tremendous snowmaking system like theirs, with unlimited water and 253 high-efficiency fan guns (the most in North America), doesn’t do much good if there hasn’t been any cold weather. On Opening Day, with all the pent-up demand, there were really too many people on too few trails—typical everywhere in early season. I’d give the conditions a solid B, which is better than you can expect at most mountains on an opening day when there hasn’t been any natural snow that has stayed.
The fact that Mount Snow had as much terrain open as they did with as much snow as they had with only a night or two of real snowmaking weather is a testament to the power of their snowmaking system. The snowguns were humming (fan guns don’t roar, but they sure pump out a lot of snow) and a good percentage of the trail had a dusting of fresh powder for each run. That snow was constantly getting moved around by skiers and riders and some bumps developed on the steeper sections. All in all, was a real challenge for me on Tele skis (which is one of the main reasons to go Tele in the first place . . .) and I enjoyed every minute. Everyone around me seemed to be having fun, too. I think everyone was just grateful for the chance to be out having fun on snow while the rest of the world was dull brown and gray.
The real news at Mount Snow, however, wasn’t the Opening Day, or even the tremendous snowmaking effort. It was the new $8.6 million “Bluebird Express” lift that runs to the summit from their main base area. This is like no other lift you’ve ever ridden on: it’s a 6-passenger high-speed detachable lift with blue plastic canopies which drop down to shield you from wind and snow. It’s fast, smooth and a very nice ride, and even on a nice day like Saturday (temps around 30, little wind) the protection from all the snow blowing from the fan guns was quite welcome. This has almost as much protection as a gondola without the hassle of taking off your skis to ride it. This is the first in North America, but I’ll bet it won’t be the last.
Not your grandfather’s bubble chair . . .
Bubble-covered chair lifts were once, if not common, at least not unheard of around New England. Mount Snow had, I’ve believe, three in the early 70s. Onset Mountain, (later called Bobcat and now another Peak Resorts property, Crotched Mountain) in Bennington, N.H. also had one. These were essentially standard fixed doubles with clear plastic bubbles that closed over them. Trouble is, those bubbles acted like sails and caused trouble whenever the wind blew. They were also somewhat fragile, easy to break and hard to maintain. The bubbles disappeared and so, eventually, did most of the fixed-grip double chairs.
This new lift is a whole different beast. The chairs and cables are much heavier so the wind shouldn’t affect them as much. Mount Snow plans on using this as their primary summit lift, running the nearby detachable quad only on very busy days. (They’ll probably need traffic cops on the summit with both lifts running at full capacity!)
If you are wondering how long it’ll take before the shiny new bubbles start being vandalized with stickers and scratched-in messages, you may have to wait awhile to see any damage. In fact, Mount Snow is making a real push to keep the lift pristine. Lift tickets are scanned each time you ride the lift and security cameras constantly monitor who is on the lift, which chair they are on and if any damage has been done. I’ve heard the cost to repair/replace a damaged bubble is $3000 and Mount Snow fully intends to prosecute and recover costs for any damages by vandals. In fact, I’m told, one miscreant has already been identified and will be held liable. I was told they intend to “make an example” of him (perhaps by putting him in stocks by the base lodge so everyone can throw snowballs at him?). Imagine the hassle and expense he’s facing. What a way to ruin your day on the slopes!
Speaking of NOT ruining your day, you don’t have to worry about whether or not you’ll like the snow conditions at Mount Snow. If you buy a regular price full-day or multi-day lift ticket and are dissatisfied with snow conditions after taking one run within one hour of the purchase, you may exchange it for a voucher of equal value you can use on a return visit any day within one year. Nice touch, that.
It was cold on Saturday night, so I can absolutely guarantee that Sunday’s snow was better than Saturday’s, and you can expect things to get even better as winter finally arrives.
What’s really amazing is the fact that this whole area was devastated by flooding during Hurricane Irene in late August. Driving through Wilmington and up to the mountain on Route 100, you’d hardly believe anything had ever gone wrong. Clearly, Vermont is back in the ski business…and Mount Snow is proving it!