Wachusett may be 52 miles from downtown, but it does a booming night business.
If you're looking for glamour, bangles, embroidery or Bogner, then you've got a problem, mistah, because that's not what Boston skiing is all about. It's about denim. It's about buckling your boots in the parking lot, hitting the slopes with your pals and having, as we say around here, a blast. It's about taking some turns with the kids; avoiding the psychic damage of The Big Vacation; and spending as little money as possible, which, after all, is what we Yankees do best.
This is not to say that Boston lacks panache. Or even the ability to spend lots of money quickly. Boston's economy—rooted in the triple threat of financial planning (Fidelity is a huge employer), exotic high-tech (Route 128 is still squarely in the crosshairs of Russian missiles) and academia (there are more than 160 universities in Boston)—is booming.
But a funny thing happens on the way to the hill: As the American Express financial advisors and the Hale and Dorr lawyers glide out of the brick canyons of State Street and past the Georgian revival silhouette of Faneuil Hall, they engage in a sort of reverse masquerade-shedding their fancy daily garb and donning blue jeans, sweatshirts and whatever else will keep people from saying, "What a wuss!" And, of course, all the people in Boston who actually work for a living-the eight kajillion contractors, electricians and masons working on the Big Dig (the largest public works project in human history)-don't have to change a thing. They go as is.
Surprisingly, though, there is an old-world corporate ski culture in Boston. Head Skis USA, plus its sister companies Head Boots and Tyrolia Bindings, are based just north of Boston in Byfield, and Swix-the venerable cross-country brand-distributes its Lillehammer-made products out of Wilmington. And until recently, Salomon's distributorship was about 15 minutes outside the city.
But at its heart, Boston is a Yankee ski town. This becomes very clear when you wade into the hyperactive, hormonal sea that is the after-school rush at Nashoba Valley. Nashoba, a little mound 20 minutes outside of Boston, absorbs unbelievable numbers of riders and sliders, all of them wearing New England Patriots sweatshirts or Bruins longshoreman caps. In some cities, kids hang out on street corners after school. In Boston, they rip it up at Nashoba.
To get there, take Route 2, go past the Reformatory in Concord, past Colonial Chevrolet, and take a right. And then a quick left. Watch out for the school buses. Nashoba Valley-with its 240 feet of vertical and 59 skiable acres-serves an astonishing number of Boston-area skiers, 100,000 last season, according to Al Fletcher, whose family has owned the place since it opened in 1964. Knee-high sliders, taking their first runs, rocket around everywhere.
Of course, there are other ski areas like Nashoba sprinkled around Boston-Bradford Hill in Haverill, Blue Hills in Milton, and tiny Ski Ward in Shrewsbury, just off the Massachusetts Turnpike. Ski Ward, with 200 vertical feet and 10 skiable acres, is situated on Main Street. Want to check the conditions? Drive by.
About 20 minutes farther out Route 2 is the crown jewel of Boston skiing—Wachusett, which for years now has been run by the plentiful Crowley family. The Crowleys have taken the efficiencies of their Polar Beverages bottling company and applied them to their ski hill. With a vengeance. These guys won't quit. They love skiing, and they love their area (which is open 14 hours a day and serves as an old-guy hangout at 7 a.m. and Master's racer stomping ground at 8 p.m.). If something can be improved, they fix it: Hot chocolate gets delivered, for free, to people standing in line on cold days. You can buy tickets online. And the family won a design award by taking the excess heat thrown off by its huge snowmaking system and warming the lodge with it.
The Crowleys' big idea: Get people from Boston and Worcester and the surrounding towns out of their cars, up on the high-speed detachable quads and into their 105 skiable acres, like, wicked fast. Last year, Wachusett had more skier visits (more than 300,000) than enormous Waterville Valley in New Hampshire.