Here's a stumper for you: What midsize Massachusetts mountain has surprisingly steep steeps, four glorious glades, bumps enough to liquefy your quads, night skiing, anda rowdy pub called Christiansen's where you can toast your successes?
The answer is Jiminy Peak, tucked neatly in the Berkshire hills in the state's northwest corner. The Bay State's largest ski area, 51-year-old Jiminy is a mountain of name-your-speed, stress-free cruising with an increasing number of tough terrain pockets capable of elevating the pulses of even advanced and expert skiers. For years Jiminy's been reason enough for day-trippers from the Albany area, Connecticut, and western Massachusetts -- and weekenders from greater New York City -- not to have to travel farther north for a total skiing and riding experience.
Now, Jiminyites have another reason to save gas: The ski area has opened the challenging Widow White's Peak, with a 1,136-foot vertical drop, 10 new trails -- including glades and the twisting black-diamond Noreaster -- all accessed by the resort's second fixed-grip quad. This eastward expansion has increased Jiminy's skiable terrain by nearly one third and added significantly to its advanced terrain.
The new peak actually debuted last season, but because of a dearth of snow, it was skiable on precious few days. But this season, if the snowfall is good, Jiminy's thrill quotient promises to be surprisingly high. Aside from Widow White's expert runs and blue-rated glade, Hot Wheels, the older main mountain features plenty of hair-raising stuff. There are black-diamond glades (Riptide and Willie's Gulch) and plenty of big, nasty moguls on Jericho, Whitetail, Whirlaway, Ace of Spades, Upper Fox, Wild Turkey, and Cutter. The runs are all rated black except Jericho, which is a long, steep, unrelenting double-black. In a normal season, each of those trails remains bumped for half its width and is groomed on the other half.
The new peak derives its name from the parcel's original owner, the Widow White, who left the land to her children at a time when an SUV was a horse-drawn cart. Aside from Widow White's rocking new terrain, there are views to die for on Panorama trail -- west to the Taconic Mountains along the edge of the Jericho Valley; east to the Hoosacs; north to 3,491-foot Mount Greylock, Massachusetts' highest peak; and beyond to the foothills of Vermont's Green Mountains. Despite all the changes, Jiminy still feels as comfortable as a favorite sweatshirt. Jiminy's "peak," the resort's primary skiing terrain, is actually a broad, flat summit with a 1,140-foot vertical drop that's served by three chairs. The Triple Chair deposits skiers on Jiminy's west side. The Exhibition Chair, a double that loads outside the Crane base lodge, rides to the summit's center, home of the new Hendrick's Summit lodge. The third route to the top is the Q1 Quad, reached by riding the short Novice Chair adjacent to the Exhibition lift, then skiing down to Q1's loading area. All three chairs unload onto that broad, flat summit, across which people pole and skate, sometimes huffing and puffing loudly, west or east until turning their skis downhill.
Jiminy's history dates to 1943, when Berkshire ski pioneer Bart Hendricks bought 300 acres of mountain property for less than $600. World War II sidetracked Hendricks' plan to open the mountain for skiing. When it finally did open in December 1948, Jiminy had five trails and a $3 lift ticket.
When 52-year-old Brian Fairbank, Jiminy's president and CEO, joined the resort as a ski instructor in 1969, the ski area had a slow double chair, two T-bars, and a single rope-tow. Now, it's a year-round resort, with the Country Inn and adjacent outdoor pool, 130 townhouses and condominiums, an Alpine Slide, six tennis courts, fishing, hiking, mountain biking, and trap shooting.
According to Fairbank, future plans include the creation of more glades in the dense hardwood forest between trails, thinning and wideniing shots locals have skied for decades; construction of a village complex with ground-level shops, eateries, and perhaps a nightclub, condos on thesecond floor, and an ice-skating rink; and building a "bunker" for teens, featuring a DJ and chaperoned games at night.
Just what skiers and riders need -- still more reasons not to travel farther north than Jiminy.
Vertical: 1,140 feet
Average snowfall: 100 inches
Skiable acreage: 157 acres
Snowmaking coverage: 95 percent
Terrain: 20% Beginner 49% Intermediate 31% Expert
Lifts: two fixed-grip quads, three triples, two doubles
Snow report: 888-4-JIMINY
The drive takes 45 minutes from Albany, New York; three hours from metropolitan New York City or the Boston area.
Adult full-day (8:30 a.m.-6 p.m.) weekend/holiday lift ticket, $44; twilight (3 p.m.-10:30 p.m.), $30; night (6-10:30 p.m.), $26; children 12 and under, $31; children 6 and under (toddlers), $15.
In the Country Inn at the base of the mountain, a one-bedroom suite (with a queen-size sleeper sofa) with lift tickets costs $69 per person, double occupancy. Two- and three-bedroom condos are available at Country Village, a short walk to the Village Center. The Mountainside Hemlock Village is a longer walk, and the Beaver Pond Meadow condos are 1 1/2 miles away.
Food and drink:
At the resort, there are two choices beyond basic fare in the East or Crane day lodges: Christiansen's, a rustic, octagon-shaped pub-restaurant a short walk from the Country Inn, and the Founder's Grille, on the Inn's top floor. Christiansen's has about a dozen types of beer, nearly two dozen hot drinks, and a limited menu. On the menu at the Founder's Grille are chicken, thick steaks, fresh seafood, and kabobs. Entrées range from $10 to $19.
Christiansen's frequently has live DJs sponsored by local radio stations or breweries. Five miles away, at Brodie Mountain ski area, is the Blarney Room, with a variety of live music on weekends, including folk singers, country groups, and Irish bands. The Old Forge Restaurant, in nearby Lanesboro, features Saturday night entertainment in a downstairs pub as well as over 400 beers. The Williams Inn in Williamstown, 10 miles away, has live jazz on Saturday nights.