Compared to, say, Vail¿or virtually any other ski area, for that matter¿Nashoba Valley is emphatically puny, the merest of anthills: Vert tops out at an unwhopping 240 feet. But it's a big deal to the thousands of kids who learn, train or just plain enjoy themselves here in a pastoral suburb only 25 miles from Boston. Their parents like it, too, as more than a handy playground. Scores of adults participate faithfully in the weeknight racing series. Nashoba even has its own residentfanatic, Chet Paradise, who, with his Avocet watch, logged 1.2 million vertical feet last season¿an average of 70 runs every day Nashoba was open.
"He's the only real hardcore," says Al Fletcher.
Fletcher manages the area with his father, Al Sr., the "pop" behind this mom-and-pop operation since it opened in 1964, and dad to Olympian racer Pam Fletcher, who grew up tearing down these gentle slopes. "Most people come for the convenience," says Al Jr. "They like the fact that it's as easy as going out to dinner. Plus, they find it less intimidating than the big areas."
Having put off my visit till the tail end of the season (mid-March), I wasn't so sure about that last part: The view down Bull Run, where the local prep schools compete, looked downright scary¿and I'd just come back from Vail. Maneuvering a beigish mosaic of spongy slush, I decided my snowplow could use some work¿in the interest of research, of course. Then I followed an aural trail of shrieks and laughter over to the more northerly slopes, where a couple of guys shirking work finessed some smooth moves and hordes of kids careened to screams of "Wait up! Wait up!"
I decided to play ministering angel to one lad who wasunsuccessfully attempting to monoski rather than climb uphill to retrieve his errant gear. "I'm having a hard time turning, too," I confided, handing over the detritus of his yard sale.He looked horrified. "I can turn," he answered haughtily. "They ought to put out more snow."
It was my turn to be appalled. Was I staring into the implacable consumerist face of Skiing's Future?
But just then, another boy whizzed past us. "Dad-Dad-Dad-Dad!" he called; it came out like one name. "There was this puddle?" he huffed, catching up. "And I water-skied!" Come rain, sleet or mud, there will always be joy in Nashoba Valley.
Nashoba Valley, Westford, Mass.
Information (978) 692-3033, www.ski-nashoba.com. Snowphone: (978) 692-8577.
Stats 240 vertical feet; three triple chairs, one double, four rope tows, one T-bar; 17 trails; 60 skiable acres; 45-inch annual snowfall; 100-percent snowmaking.
Ticket Prices Adults $30, midweek $22; 12-and-under $28, midweek $20; 5-and-under or rope-tow-only $16; Midweek Morning Pass (9 am to 1 pm) $150.
Price of a Cheeseburger $3.50