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EpicSki › Mountain Article › In Praise Of The Anti Resorts

In Praise of the Anti-Resorts

By Jim Kenney, aka JamesJ

EpicSki Travel Correspondent


May 6, 2012 — When it comes to skiing I like it all, including four season mega-destinations with more golf holes than ski runs. But as I complete my 45th ski season I must admit there’s a special place in my heart for the “anti-resorts”, those standalone ski areas with no slopeside lodging and few, if any, resort trappings. They’re not trying to be all things to all people. The good ones remain in business because of one compelling characteristic - top notch skiing. I’ve experienced some notable examples of this dinosaur of the ski world and they can be most worthy of a visit.


In my mind the definition of a ski area that qualifies as an anti-resort is nebulous, but the common denominator is that they exist for skiing/riding and pretty much nothing else. They often have low crowds and prices relying on a local base of day trippers. The best anti-resorts have terrain, snow, or other attributes that are interesting enough to attract guests from two or three hours away, and even the rogue ski-weeker. Anti-resorts get to the heart of the matter. Without pretension, attitude, or glitz, they provide access to unvarnished skiing and riding usually among guests that share the same unadulterated love for the sport. When you connect with an anti-resort on a good day it can provide a magical dose of the essence of skiing: you, the mountain, and the elements.


In my home turf within a few hours of Washington DC, most of our ski areas don’t quite fit my definition because they are set up as both overnight weekend resorts and day-trip areas. There are a couple of mid-Atlantic candidates, however, that I see as anti-resorts. If you’ve ever been to the White Grass Ski Touring Center in Canaan Valley, WV you would agree it must be labeled an anti-resort. The focus is on Nordic/Cross-Country/Telemark skiing. There are no chairlifts, but if you don’t mind earning your turns it’s renowned as a quiet escape for touring Weiss Knob (elevation 4,459’) and other nearby summits of the Cabin Mountain Range. The onsite and down-to-earth White Grass Cafe serves excellent home-cooked food with a funky, welcoming freeheeler/pinhead vibe.


Curiously, I might also categorize Roundtop Mountain Resort (yikes) as an anti-resort. The clientele are strictly day-guests and there are no slopeside accommodations. Located about two hours from Washington, DC near Gettysburg, PA, Roundtop has a slightly less frenetic tempo of operations than ski areas closer to the city. Although the vertical is small, the heart is big. Roundtop has a couple of short, but challenging black diamond runs, a race club, and an active terrain park scene.


Wildcat character. Photo provided by Jim Kenney.


Moving beyond the mid-Atlantic, the Northeast United States hosts several classic anti-resorts that are flat-out fantastic. Wildcat, NH has no hotels or resort infrastructure at the base, but is set in an awesome location directly across Pinkham Notch from Tuckerman’s Ravine and Mount Washington (elevation 6,288’). A good day at Wildcat will make you forget why you ever wanted to fly West to ski. The trail layout features a legit 2,000 vertical feet of varied terrain imparting a genuine big mountain feel with long runs, dispersed crowds, and scenery unparalleled in the East.


Cannon tramline. Photo provided by Jim Kenney.


Set about 50 miles due west of Wildcat and surrounded by 5,000 foot mountains, Cannon Mountain, NH enjoys similar pristine White Mountains scenery with the added attraction of an 80 passenger aerial tramway rising approximately 2,100 vertical feet. Interstate 93 passes right beside the base lodge giving Cannon good accessibility for an anti-resort. It has an extraordinary array of skiable side country in the Mittersill trail pod and around the aerial tram that will entice you to abandon the groomed runs and go bushwhacking. When the snow gods cooperate the terrain around the tramline is considered among the gnarliest in the East. There are overnight accommodations within a few miles of the ski area, including a lodge/condo facility at quasi-lift linked Mittersill, but for many guests Cannon serves as a giant day-trippers delight.


Good vibrations at Mad River Glen. Photo provided by Jim Kenney.


Northern Vermont is home to one of the nation’s quintessential anti-resorts, co-op owned Mad River Glen (MRG) ski area. MRG is about 15 miles south of Waterbury and its rockin’ terrain, steep glades, and mostly all-natural snow surfaces are legendarily challenging. It may be the only place I’ve skied where a lazy cruise down a marked green circle run can suddenly include a field of sharply defined moguls 100 yards in length. Don’t get me going on the glades, they are amazing. The last time I was there lifties were playing the sweet sounds of Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson around the single chair loading area at the base. I got the feeling, whatever your tastes, at some time during a visit they’ll be playing your favorites. The special appeal of MRG is hard to describe succinctly, but on a weekday it’s like a private club for diehard skiers where everybody “gets it”.


Le Massif scenery. Photo provided by Jim Kenney.


Le Massif de Charlevoix in the province of Quebec, eastern Canada, wants to be a fancy four season resort in the worst way. It could be only one more year before a 150 room hotel sprouts at the base of the slopes cementing a new era as a true skiing/snowboarding destination. But until then the ski area remains primarily a day tripper spot from Quebec City and is so removed from the rest of the East Coast megalopolis that it qualifies as one of my anti-resorts. This uniquely beautiful mountain-by-the-sea has long runs, expansive glades, and a 2,500’ vertical drop served by three long high speed chairs and a new gondola. Hopefully, as the long and painstakingly planned development of Le Massif unfolds it will not spoil the primordial fjord-like setting beside the St. Lawrence River.


Upstairs in the Plattekill lodge. Photo provided by Jim Kenney.


I can’t leave the East without mentioning Plattekill Mountain, NY, set in a remote western corner of the Catskills. The day I visited was a lousy one, rainy and foggy. I didn’t see Plattekill’s 1,100 vertical feet at its best, but this family-run ski area is surely an anti-resort. It’s got the gnar (on and off piste), the no frills infrastructure, and an unmistakable vibe; the only people that go there are the ones that really want to be there.


11,500-foot lunch at Loveland. Photo provided by Jim Kenney.


I have greatly enjoyed visits to several Rocky Mountain ski areas that fall into the anti-resort category. Loveland and Arapahoe Basin are two neighboring ski areas in Colorado’s front range that fit the bill. Both have moderate crowds and prices, wonderful high alpine terrain, but no slopeside lodging. A-Basin is heavy on the double diamonds, while Loveland features a ton of wide-open intermediate slopes. Both have lift served terrain rising to almost 13,000 feet and are renowned for some of the longest ski seasons in the nation. They straddle the Continental Divide in close proximity and the scenery from their summits is awesome.

Bodacious A-Basin bumps. Photo provided by Jim Kenney.


About 20 years ago I visited Ski Santa Fe, NM. It’s 15 steep miles from the town of Santa Fe and maybe 90 minutes from Albuquerque and caters to day trippers without any onsite overnight lodging. It’s not the most hardcore anti-resort, but I give it major style points for steep tree skiing and awesome afternoon views of the New Mexican desert and the Sangre de Cristo mountains bathed in alpenglow.


Exactly how one defines an anti-resort is not as important as making sure you don’t miss out on their authentic brand of skiing/riding. You can find them in many places around the country. Other candidates, some of which I know only by reputation, include Silverton Mountain and Wolf Creek CO, Beaver Mountain UT, Mount Hood Meadows and Mount Bachelor OR, Mt. Baker WA, and Whitewater BC.


The list could go on and on including many small, remote ski areas, such as the ones my colleague Robbie Allen writes about on DCSki. The experience usually starts with a free parking spot close to the lifts. Enjoy the scenery, hopefully unspoiled by slipshod slopeside development. Take a run with a few rocks and weeds showing through the thin cover. It will ski more like a West Virginia country road than a rush hour spin around your local interstate artery. And finally, observe the clientele. Chances are they’ll leave you with the impression that the sport is not all about fancy ski outfits, $30 lunches, and constantly checking the iPhone/BlackBerry during lift rides. At the anti-resorts it’s about skiing and the big, wide grin on your face.


There is an evolution we recreational skiers/riders go through during our time enjoying snowsports. It starts with mastering the lowliest beginner slope at our local ski area, then setting out for the largest conglomeration of intermediate groomers we can zoom, and finally on to conquering the toughest black diamonds in skidom. Every destination serves its purpose, but sometime in your personal ski evolution I hope you take the road less traveled to the anti-resorts.


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About the Author

  • Husband, father and civilian employee of the Department of Navy, Jim Kenney is a Washington D.C. area native and has been skiing recreationally since 1967. Jim’s ski reporting garnered the 2009 West Virginia Division of Tourism’s Stars of the Industry Award for Best Web/Internet/E-Magazine Article. To read other articles by Jim, click here.



Comments (20)

Nice piece, Jim. I agree with it all, and share your affection for these places - I've been to most of them, and would like to check out the rest. I do think you may have left one out, though. Wink, wink. ;)
Great article, you hit the nail on the head. However, I would suggest that Mt. Bachelor is probably not the type of place you're talking about even though it has no on-mountain lodging. They sell the place as a destination resort. There are many other Oregon and Washington areas (pretty much all of them except for maybe Crystal Mountain and Timberline) that fit the bill, though.
I grew up skiing in New England (Mad River Glen is an old favorite), but I am now in New Zealand. Winter is just starting, so you should come and visit! There are a whole bunch of very anti-resorts here, most owned by local ski clubs. Here is a video link from Temple Basin. You have to hike one hour to get to the base lodge! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9--_V_l_Ccs
I grew up skiing in New England 35 years ago and this story reminded me of trips to Attitash and Bretton Woods. Both were off the beaten path and not resorts like Killington, Waterville Valley, and Mt. Snow were at the time. Looks like both have changed quite a bit in the late 80s. I'm out in Colorado now and am a big fan of A-Basin when the wind isn't blowing.
Ditto for the NZ clubbie fields. Renting a vehicle and cruising the fields spending a few nights at each is awesome.
Favourite so far is Craigieburn.
Nice article. Visited Cannon in the summer and appeared to be a real skiers mountain. My home area is a Non-Mega-Resort that skis very well at times. The most averages snow in all of Idaho located on top of the Bitteroots at Mullan Pass is Lookout Pass ski resort. the secret is good early snow, and they are closed one of two days a week depending on month and they next day can be a real powder day. A sleeper mountain. No lodging, no stores, no gas, no nothing just good skiing. Get there at 0800 and you park from one to 10 steps from the slope. Good bar, great chili and real skiers.
Saw your post and looked up Lookout. $38 tickets! That is how it should be.
Great article Jim. My home mountain is Cannon, and every summer the legions of devoted Cannon skiers keep our fingers crossed hoping that the state of NH does not sell to some large ski company that wants to make it a full resort with condo's . Places like Loon & Waterville can keep their legions of crowds, traffic and condos to themselves. Afterall, Cannon is always cold and Icey anyways, Why would you want to ski there? Wink wink!
I agree about Cannon and Wildcat. But you forgot to mention the ultimate Eastern anti-resort: Burke Mountain in East Burke VT.
Love the anti resorts! A-Basin is my favorite place to ski. When I'm crammed into a shuttle bus for a long ride from a mega resort's remote parking lot past the swollen base faux village, I sometimes think that condos ruined skiing. But I have to admit that when my buddy invites me to stay at his luxury condo in Breck and my pillow-to-lift time is like 15 minutes, I know the haters are just jealous!
Does anyone know of anywhere in Europe that fits the anti-resort description?
Anti-resorts in Europe:  Pra Loup and Puy St-Vincent in  France
La Grave, France if you like things a little more extreme.
Thanks for the great article, nolo, I'm adding a couple to my list. I'd put Mt. Bohemia in this category as well.
Grew up skiing the Mt. Washington Valley.  Wildcat and Cannon will always be the spots that gave that first taste of real mountain adventure; they still hold that mystical place of reverence like that hot senior from freshman year.  Anybody have any recommendations for skiers mountains in Europe?
Just saw the Europe posts.
The Sugarbush Valley use to have two such areas, Glen Ellen (now part of Sugarbush) and MRG were my spring favorites.
I'm an anti-resort lover as well. I've really enjoyed every place on your list that I've been to.
One addition: Magic Mountain, in Southern VT. A rollicking good time of an anti-resort if there ever was one.
I love anti resorts and I've skied all of the places in the article other than La Massif (been on my wish list for a decade) and other than the Alps, nearly everything else mentioned. Definitely add Magic Mt, the Mt Greylock Ski Club in Mass, Bromley Vt (sort of fits in), Hickory Hill outside of Warrensburg, NY. Would add a small Canadian resort -Owl's Head- even though it now has modest lodging (and recently a golf course-too bad). Mt Bohemia in Michigan is high on my ski-to-do list...so is Hurricane Ridge in the Olympics. I'd love to spend my retirement exploring the smaller spots out west and in Europe.
Just noticed this article.  I enjoyed reading it and noting the resorts mentioned by you and other commenters.
I look forward to eventually skiing at as many of these places -- time/money permitting.  One place near Plattekill that could also fit your criteria would be Belleayre (about 30 minutes away from Plattekill).
Question regarding Roundtop:  Do you mean near Harrisburg?  I only ask since Liberty Ski area is near Gettysburg (closer than Roundtop)
No Brighton?!?!?! 
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