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Six Unsung Heroes

Six Unsung Heroes

Travel
By Everett Potter
posted: 09/30/2002

When Manhattanites Ed and Carol Wetschler go skiing for the weekend, you'll rarely see them at Killington, Vt., Hunter, N.Y., or similar haunts of snow-starved New Yorkers. Chances are you'll find them at Elk Mountain, in the Endless Mountains of northeastern Pennsylvania. "Elk is extraordinarily well-groomed, and while the Endless Mountains are not true mountains, they are endless and very rural," Ed says. He adds that "Elk also falls within our personal three-hour driving limit. And the slopes are about as good as you're going to get until you hit Okemo."

Let's hear it for the unsung mountains, places that might not make SKI's Top 60 list, but nevertheless offer great skiing, uncrowded slopes and a break on the wallet. These are mountains cherished by a loyal clientele. They are often overshadowed by bigger and better-known competitors that get far more weekend traffic. Some are family-owned; others are lesser lights of mega ski corporations. But they all view value as a key component, offering welcome breaks on lift and lodging prices, as well as terrain that feels like a personal discovery.

BRIGHTON, UTAH
Leave Alta and Snowbird of Little Cottonwood Canyon to the hardcores, and head instead for Big Cottonwood Canyon. Here you'll discover Brighton, a favorite of Salt Lake locals. Families are attracted by inexpensive lift tickets ($39) and gentle, meandering trails that dominate the midsection of the resort. Experts come for the area's open-boundary policy and bountiful backcountry terrain. Everyone else comes for some of the best cruising in the state: With four peaks, 66 runs and seven lifts-including three high-speed quads-that serve 850 acres of inbounds terrain, there's plenty of room to move. And if you need even more variety, Solitude is next door. Simply put, Brighton is a bargain-hunter's dream. For locals only? Not anymore.

  • A GOOD DEAL Four nights' lodging, daily continental breakfast and a four-day lift ticket for $380 per person, double occupancy, at the Brighton Lodge. One kid age 10 or younger stays and skis free with each adult. 800-873-5512; www.skibrighton.com.
  • BRAGGING RIGHTS 519 annual inches of Utah powder, minus the high prices.

    CRYSTAL MOUNTAIN, WASH.
    A pinhead's paradise, Crystal Mountain is famous for incredible powder stashes and lift-served skiing that feels like the backcountry. The combination inspires near-fanatical devotion in many Puget Sound-area skiers. The resort has a series of bowls facing different directions, so if a north face gets too icy, you can always turn to a south face. Avalanche and Silver basins are steep enough to satisfy even the most voracious adrenaline junkies, and locals swear that Pinball gives Corbet's Couloir in Jackson Hole, Wyo., a run for its money. From the Summit House Restaurant, Crystal throws in incredible views of Mount Rainier with your lunch. When locals confide that "we hit it really big on Southback; we were up on Boxcars," let them lead you there, because you won't find it on any trail map. The usual banes of Northwest skiing (i.e., fog and wet snow) can be problems, but the incredible terrain and beautiful views more than make up for those.

  • A GOOD DEAL Ski Free Midweek packages start at $169 per room and include two all-day lift tickets. (Good for lodging Sunday-Thursday and for skiing Monday-Friday during nonholiday periods.) Contact: 360-663-2265; www.crystalmt.com.
  • BRAGGING RIGHTS Crystal averages 380 inches of snow annually, and it's less than two hours from Seattle.

    ELK MOUNTAIN, PA.
    Elk Mountain opened in 1959, but because of its location in the Appalachian Mountain range, it remains "a hidden jewel," says a satisfied SKI reader. Blessed with an elevation of almost 2,700 feet, Elk's summit is the highest point in eastern Pennsylvania. That, combined with its 27 trails, often earns Elk comparisons to Vermont's favorite hills. As one reader puts i Elk offers "Okemo's service and family feel married to Sugarbush's terrain." But Elk stands on its own for having what might be the best groomed cruisers in the state. Those in need of a few thrills on this skiers' mountain, with about 40 percent of its terrain deemed black, head down runs like Tunkhannock or Susquehanna. When night falls, visitors will likely be staying at a motel down the road at nearby Clark's Summit. And if you're looking for nightlife, go elsewhere: Skiers who favor Elk come for an uncanny taste of Vermont that's many hours closer to home.
  • A GOOD DEAL Rooms at The Nethercott Inn, 16 miles from Elk Mountain, start at $80 per night, which includes a full breakfast. Contact: 570-727-2211; www.nethercottinn.com.
  • BRAGGING RIGHTS A true skiers' hill in a secluded locale just three hours from New York City and two hours from Philadelphia.

    KIRKWOOD, CALIF.
    Kirkwood offers some of the most challenging skiing in California. Add 500 average annual inches of snow and sparse crowds, and you've got what many feel is the best combo in the Lake Tahoe region. Surrounded by 35 square miles of national forest and wilderness, Kirkwood defines "getaway." As a concession to modern times, it now has many of the amenities that its larger brethren do, including the obligatory tubing hill and terrain parks. Yes, the downside is the lack of nightlife and the 35-mile drive to South Lake Tahoe, a commute that seems longer when there's fresh snow and you've put on chains. But remoteness and weather are considered major pluses by the faithful, who want to keep Kirkwood's inspiring terrain to themselves.
  • A GOOD DEAL Stay in a Kirkwood lodging property and ski free. Offer valid on nonholiday weekdays Dec. 16-Jan. 31, with a two-night minimum stay. Contact: 800-967-7500; www.skikirkwood.com.
  • BRAGGING RIGHTS Reliably deep snow on great terrain, surrounded by millions of acres of protected wilderness.

    MT. BACHELOR, ORE.
    With more than 3,300 feet of vertical and nearly 4,000 acres of dormant volcano, you won't run out of terrain to explore at Mt. Bachelor. And if you know where to look, there's always good snow to be found. In fact, the resort gets so much natural snow-more than 350 inches per year-that it doesn't even bother with snow guns.
    Such winning on-mountain attributes make Bachelor deservedly popular, yet it never seems too crowded, and vast terrain is only one of the reasons. A well-planned system of high-speed quads that keep skiers moving, not waiting, is the other. Off the hill, there's an extensive roster of new and surprisingly affordable hotels in the nearby hipster haven of Bend. Put it all together with the sheer beauty of the area, and it's clear why Mt. Bachelor ranks as one of the great U.S. resorts.

  • A GOOD DEAL Sunriver Resort's Skier's Delight package includes a lift ticket for every night you stay. The price for a standard guest room starts at $179 per night for two, with a two-night minimum stay. Contact: 800-547-3922; www.sunriver-resort.com.
  • BRAGGING RIGHTS A long season (mid-November through Memorial Day), reliable snow and one of the best lift systems anywhere.

    SNOWSHOE, W. Va.
    If West Virginia seems an unlikely place for a ski vacation, consider this: At 4,800 feet, Snowshoe's summit is higher than any ski peak in New England, meaning you'll find genuine snowshoe hares, fir trees and maple syrup. As one SKI reader raves, at Snowshoe you get "Northern exposure with Southern hospitality." Located on the snow-heavy western exposure of the Alleghenies, Snowshoe boasts 180 annual inches of lake-effect snow and a 1,500-foot vertical. And whatever nature doesn't take care of, Snowshoe backs up with 100 percent snowmaking. Like every Intrawest resort, the village is chock full of dining, lodging and shopping options. There's even a vibrant nightlife. The only reader complaint: Weekends can be crowded. But for good intermediate skiers, there are enough challenging runs to make liftlines worthwhile, which is why the faithful drive as many as six hours from points south every weekend.

  • A GOOD DEAL Book two or more nights in any on-mountain property Dec. 1-12, and get your lift tickets free. Contact: 877-441-4386; www.snowshoemtn.com.
  • BRAGGING RIGHTS The closest thing to New England for D.C. corduroy cravers.

    Room to Roam
    Kirkwood, Calif., may have 40 percent the skiable acres of a behemoth like Vail, Colo., but in the 2001-2002 season, it hosted 75 percent fewer skiers.

    Travel Hit
    Destination guests represent approximately 75 percent of Jackson Hole's skier days. And 90 percent of winter destination visitors fly in. The other 10 percent are regional drive-ins.
    Source: Jackson Hole Resortrowded. But for good intermediate skiers, there are enough challenging runs to make liftlines worthwhile, which is why the faithful drive as many as six hours from points south every weekend.

  • A GOOD DEAL Book two or more nights in any on-mountain property Dec. 1-12, and get your lift tickets free. Contact: 877-441-4386; www.snowshoemtn.com.
  • BRAGGING RIGHTS The closest thing to New England for D.C. corduroy cravers.

    Room to Roam
    Kirkwood, Calif., may have 40 percent the skiable acres of a behemoth like Vail, Colo., but in the 2001-2002 season, it hosted 75 percent fewer skiers.

    Travel Hit
    Destination guests represent approximately 75 percent of Jackson Hole's skier days. And 90 percent of winter destination visitors fly in. The other 10 percent are regional drive-ins.
    Source: Jackson Hole Resort

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