As I was up in Connecticut for a relative's 90th birthday, I couldn't resist driving a little bit further north to take in some of the snowy bounty that graced New England this winter. And once I found out that an old ski academy teammate would be at Sugarbush, the destination was set.
So I set forth very early on Saturday morning for the Bush. Wanting to avoid Route 100 as much as possible, I found a road that looked suitable on Google Maps: Warren Mountain Road, which connects Roxbury to Warren. Little did I know that said road is mostly unpaved, sporting a sign that says that four-wheel-drive or chains are required from November through April, and that my little, front-wheel-drive, all-season-radial festooned Geo wasn't really the proper car for this kind of road in the winter (those who were at the Mid-Atlantic gathering in 2010 know this car and its lack of snow prowess).
So what does this guy do: yup, I said "[forget] that" and did it anyway. And the traction wasn't bad, totally doable in my little car, and saved me some time in the morning commute - yes!
Once I'd picked up my ticket at the Lincoln Peak base (thanks to Liftopia and some credits I had there for making the ticket price very reasonable), I met up with my friend and we drove over to Mt. Ellen, where her kids are enrolled in the GMVS weekend racing program. While her kids bashed gates, we hit the trails.
The weather on Saturday was typically New England: variable. It was very warm (low-to-mid 40s), with wind, occasional spitting rain, some fog and brief shots of sun. The wind was strong enough to shutter all lifts that terminated at the summit of Mt. Ellen or Lincoln Peak, as well as the Slide Brook Express lift that connects both base areas. The side-effect of this last closure was that Mt. Ellen remained uncrowded all day long, while Lincoln Peak's lifts were burdened with 20-35 minute lift queues. I call that a big plus!
My friend and I explored all of the trails that were open on Mt. Ellen. Early on, the snow was "peely": an easily-moved, slushy top layer over a solid base, which was difficult to ski well. This wasn't the case on trails with all-natural snow cover, where the base was uniformly soft and pliable, if a bit prone to base suction if you tried to run your skis flat (it was a day when a good wax and/or grind was a godsend). As the wind kicked up, the overall character of the snow changed to spring softness: corn to slush, with some solid ice on the natural trails that had a film of water that made it very rink-like to the uninitiated.
The best trails of the day were the natural snow trails: Exterminator, Bravo, Brambles and Lower F.I.S. were all a lot of fun, with soft bumps, great pitches, occasional patches of ice, grass and rocks - traditional New England challenge. I hiked to ski Upper F.I.S. on one run (ski patrol turned a blind eye), which was fun as I was likely the only one to ski said pitch all day, given the wind and fog. I skied some of the trees in Exterminator Woods and Ellen's Woods, which were softer still but a lot of fun. And the cruisers of The Cliffs, Rim Run and Inverness were a kick in the pants when I wanted to let the throttle out a bit.
I admit that I didn't snap many pix as I was having too much fun catching up with my old friend, but I did get this pic from Lower F.I.S. While it doesn't capture the pitch very well, it shows the soft, Slurpee snow and the overall scene for the day.
All-in-all, it was a great day!