The ski season here in the east is drawing to a close. (What happened to all the March and April storms this year?) I’m not really ready to let go, and so have started to think about next year.
I ski (and bike) regularly with a group of friends from work. We keep threatening to take some kind of budget trip out west together. Maybe it can happen next year. I thought I would pick this group’s brains for:
1) general money-saving strategies that don’t require nineteen-year-old-ski-bum-style compromises in basic levels of convenience, privacy and comfort, and that leave room for a pace and style that says “vacation,” not “boot camp.”
2) specific ideas for locations and / or places to stay with which you have first-hand positive experience
Here is some background:
Who we are: group of 4 – 8 skiers, all men, all work in software development in one capacity or another. Age range is early 30s to mid 50s. We are reasonably fit and are all strong, fast skiers, using more or less solid modern technique on our native New England terrain and conditions. However, none of us is a cliff-hucking daredevil; we’re not going west so we can ski Corbet’s or the ledges at Squaw or otherwise court Darwin awards. We race in a weeknight league and occasionally free ski together on weekends too. One of us is on tele-skis, and another will get on a snowboard if there are freshies. One of us is a level 2 PSIA coach. Most of us have skied out west once or twice and can whoop it up competently on a powder day, but none of us has what you would call extensive experience with a broad range of western areas or off-piste conditions.
Logistical considerations: Trip should be a short week. Prefer non-holiday week to avoid crowds and conflicts with family obligations. Want to spend 4 or 5 nights, so that we can do the whole round trip from the east coast and still be able to unwind on Sunday and arrive awake and functional at work on Monday. Need to fly out of Portland ME, Manchester NH, or Boston, in decreasing order of preference. My inclination – negotiable - is to try to reduce the pain of what inevitably is a grueling all-day journey, virtually always with a layover and change of planes, by not trying to get to a resort that’s a super-long ride from the airport. We want to really minimize cost, and so are okay with sharing a condo, preparing most meals, staying slightly off-mountain, etc., if that’s what it takes. Ideally, though, we also do not want to be spending an hour each way in the car driving to and from the hill. East coast analogy: If we were skiing at Stowe, staying in Waterbury would be fine; staying in South Burlington, not so fine. Altitude can always be an issue when you’re coming direct from sea level, as we will be, and when you don’t have the luxury of a lot of time to acclimatize, as we won’t. So the lower the better, all other things being equal. (Some of us have been rooting for a Canadian location for this reason. I’d be interested to hear pros / cons on that. My thought is just that it seems like most of those places – except Whistler, maybe – are just really hard to get to and require expensive flights.) Time of year is not critical to us, but needs to be chosen with an eye to reliabilty of conditions and probability of scoring some powder; we don’t want a late spring trip to ski mush all week, or a December trip to ski rocks.
Skiing considerations: Although there is definitely room for contention and debate among the group, I think it’s fair to say that on balance we tend to opt, here in New England, for areas that favor high quality terrain and sparsely peopled slopes over areas that have the most/fastest lifts and/or the most highly developed resort bases. We will be looking for some of the same out west. It’s not that we don’t like high speed lifts; it’s just that we want to ski, not attend the circus. I was lucky enough to spend most of a week at Alta last year and felt at home with the casual vibe there, for example. Although I loved skiing Mineral Basin, overall I was just slightly put off by the well-heeled base area scene at Snowbird. ( Or maybe it was just the shock of seeing all those snowboarders all of a sudden. ;-) ) In a different way, when I visited Winter Park a few years ago I really didn’t like the throngs of people, or the way they more or less forced you to put all your stuff in a locker for $2.00 per door opening, or whatever it was. That just did not sit well with the Mainer in me who has for four decades always just left his gear in a free cubby in the lodge and never thought twice about it. (And never – yet - had any of it stolen.)
Obviously we need enough interesting terrain to keep a bunch of good skiers happy for a week. If that means splitting time between two or even three areas, that’s okay. Personally I think it’s nice to limit things to one or two areas, since one of the pleasures of a trip like this is getting to know an area well enough to focus in on favorite sections of the mountain that you know make you especially happy, rather than spending a whole week learning how to navigate new places and wasting a lot of time on cat tracks or whatever as you do so. Since this trip will be a rare western experience for us, we want at least some terrain that is classically western. Meaning, someplace with some good well-spaced tree skiing, bowl skiing, etc. Wider and softer versions of the between-the-trees fall-line cruisers we can get at home are great. We will love those, but we want something more, too. Snow: reliability is key. We can ski on crappy snow whenever we want; no point in getting on a plane for that.
So… have at it. Any info is good info, as long as it is thoughtfully considered and based on first-hand experience. Happy to have any of my leanings / prejudices / assumptions flouted in the interest of new ideas, as long as you can explain why. (I.e, “it’s just so totally awesome, dude” is not particularly helpful.) Thanks in advance!