Along Vermont’s scenic Route 100, a local in a red flannel shirt and grease-stained jeans starts his day by kicking the last of his driveway snowbank to pieces, hoping it will melt in the bright sun. It’s only early spring, but some people are just over winter. I am not one of them.
Especially since learning that Mount Snow has invested more than $8.5 million in state-of-the-art snowmaking equipment over the past two years. It’s time to check back in: It’s been three decades since I last visited the mountain so popular with metro New Yorkers.
“They’ve been blasting these things since Halloween,” says pass-holder Andreas Smoller, glancing down from the Canyon Express quad at a portion of the 261 high-powered fan guns that line the trails. Fan gun technology, which uses a ring of nozzles and a fan to disperse the manufactured snow, is both energy-efficient and able to produce high-quality cover at relatively high temperatures.
“I don’t know if it’s true,” Smoller adds, before setting out to join his wife and kids, “but I heard that last year with the new fan guns Mount Snow had more skier visits than Killington.”
Alas, it’s not true. But for two of the past three seasons the resort has been the first in the East to open—though Maine’s Sunday River took the title this year—serving notice that Mount Snow intends to compete for the attention of the die-hard skier. Each spring the dividends of that commitment cling to the slopes like man-made glaciers, measuring up to four feet on some of the 85 open trails when I pull into the parking lot one weekend.
At first blush, the gentle pitch and smooth contours of the resort’s frontside won’t intimidate. That’s part of the attraction. Mount Snow tends to pitch a big tent, drawing in everyone from jibbers to jeans-clad beginners. But like larger resorts, such as Vail, Mount Snow has the ability to disperse crowds and entertain an assortment of visitors through easily accessed sections.
In spring, savvy skiers start at the south-facing Sunbrook area, a pod of blue cruisers that include the aptly named Thanks Walt in honor of Mount Snow founder Walter Schoenknecht. An early pioneer of snowmaking in the 1960s, Schoenknecht was a gifted pitchman who created attractions such as Fountain Mountain, a 350-vertical-foot man-made ice mound that hosted ski races into June.
Since that time the resort has seen several owners, including the now-defunct American Skiing Company, each earning varying degrees of success or scorn. Peak Resorts’ acquisition of Mount Snow in 2007 has injected life into the place, opines Rick Finnerty, a 70-something skier from Boston, pointing to the 20 new snowguns stationed every 50 yards on his favorite trail, Snowdance. “To watch these things in action, it’s just staggering.”
With an abundance of terrain as well as sublime summit views of the Green Mountain National Forest, Mount Snow and its environs play to their strengths. In the quaint town of West Dover, visitors find their match at a wide array of first-class restaurants. On the mountain, skiers spin the dial to the slopes that suit their fancies. Rubberneckers choose Deer Run, a meandering green that descends 1.5 miles from the top. Experts, like the father-son duo of Dave and Drew Parsons, head to the North Face when they’re not working the frontside gates with the Mount Snow Ski Club.
Drew, 13, insists the double-black treeskiing of The Plunge, set in a cluster of challenging glades, sets the standard. The adjacent Ripcord is easily twice as long and offers more straightforward steep bump skiing, but Drew remains unmoved. The best place to ski on a powder day? “The Plunge,” the younger Parsons insists, declining to finger any of the seemingly endless off-piste options.
And if at some resorts the park-and-pipe crowd need to fight to get their due, it’s not so here. Home to venerable freestyle and snowboard programs—Olympic half-pipe gold medalist Kelly Clark hails from town—Mount Snow continues to lay the red carpet for the jibbers. Last season, the 100-acre Carinthia area was transformed into a smorgasbord of pipes, big hits and rails. It’s no wonder ESPN’s X Games were a smash at Mount Snow a few years ago.
Killington it’s not. And it remains to be seen whether or not Mount Snow will—or wants to—wrest the title of “Beast of the East” from its current owner. But one thing’s for sure: This mountain has come a long way, and shows no signs of slowing down.
SKIABLE ACRES: 588
VERTICAL FEET: 1,700
ANNUAL INCHES: 156
TERRAIN PARKS: 12
SIGNPOST: MOUNT SNOW
The Grand Summit Resort Hotel is slopeside, with the requisite pool for the kids (from $260; mountsnow.com/grandsummit). Or kick it up a few notches at the Inn at Sawmill Farm (from $775, with gourmet dinner and lift tickets for two; theinnatsawmillfarm.com).
The Hermitage, in town, serves dinner plus a light-fare menu (hermitageinn.com). Also in town, TC’s Family Restaurant, Kelly Clark’s family digs, is worth a stop for the Mount Snow and Olympic memorabilia (tcsrestaurant.com).
The Snow Barn rocks with live music most weekends (mountsnow.com).
Experts should test their mettle on Ripcord: short, steep and bumped.
Mount Snow is less than four hours from New York City, and 29 miles from Interstate 91 in West Dover, Vt.