Outside Magazine, 1999 Annual Travel Guide
Fuggeddaboudit. some mountains got the goods, and some sidestep their insufficiencies with theme parks and Pisten Bullys, halfpipes and hoses blowing artificial winter. Smoke and mirrors. Skiing as competition for the cruise industry.
Mad River Glen, Vermont
The devout here are lifers, not vacation dilettantes. (Tradition forbids snowboarding even though it would increase the bottom line.) When curmudgeonly owner Betsy Pratt needed to sell the ski area a couple of years back, a co-op of 1,000 shareholders bought it, each chipping in $1,500. Last year, posters around the 50-year-old Basebox Lodge said: Ski it, Love it, Burn the Mortgage! Last March, they did.
Loyalty is sustained by the intriguing terrain. It looks as if someone poured maple syrup over the edge, and wherever it went, that's where they cut the trails. On hard-snow days, start out on the new Sunnyside double chair on rolling, east-facing runs like Quacky and Porky and Grand Canyon. North-facing glades and chutes off the Single Chair (yes, single!) preserve soft, winter-cold snow. Weekends, sneak off alone on Lower Antelope for miles of classic New England trail skiing with a wooden bridge and a modest (honest) Rockefeller family A-frame at the bottom.
At day's end, join the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd downing brews at General Stark's Pub at the Basebox Lodge, or slide down the road a ways to the Hyde Away Inn, where hard-core types toss darts and sip Trout River Red Ale. Rooms are cozy there, too. Or stay down in the town of Waitsfield or four miles south at The Sugarbush Inn in Warren. Wherever your pillow, Mad River will creep into your dreams. It's the way skiing in the future should be.
Alta Ski Area, Utah
And only skiers. Sorry, shredders. One practical reason for the ban could be that so much of Alta's best powder skiing requires long traverses: out the High Traverse, under the Baldy Chutes, over to Devil's Castle. Sidestepping, boot climbing, working for your untracked — it's a big part of the Alta charm.
Everybody knows about the famous snow and the infamous avalanches that occasionally close the road from Salt Lake City, so if you can, try to stay up in the canyon, at the somewhat pricey Alta's Rustler Lodge, or at the less pricey Alta Peruvian Lodge, or (if you're traveling in a pack) at the Hellgate Condominiums. Then when it dumps, and the road is shut, you'll have it all to your delirious, powder-addled self.
Most days, the problem is in sharing. The Germania and Sugarloaf chairs are the most popular, and they plug up accordingly. Once the crowd has left the base, ski the Wildcat lift to Rock Gully and the tree shots striping Wildcat Face. Always keep a sharp eye out for the ski patrol turning signs, opening up areas like elephantine East Greeley or the 40-degree free-fall rush of Baldy Shoulder.
Hang out at the Goldminer's Daughter for a sunset beer, then haul your tired bones back to the lodge for dinner and bed. You won't believe all the skiing you did in one day. And you won't mind for a second the complete lack of nightlife.
Taos Ski Valley, New Mexico
Ernie Blake, Taos's Swiss-German patriarch, named a clutch of the most precipitous runs after WWII martyrs — Stauffenberg, for example, for the man who tried to blow Hitler away by stashing a bomb in his bunker. Blake also started the tradition of hiding martini-filled pitchers in the trees to resuscitate the occasional flagging will.
Tree line in New Mexico stretches all the way to 12,000 feet. Looming 500 feet above the last forest, Kachina Peak's naked dome beckons with huge wind- and rock-scarred gullies. If it's open, go. Sign out for the 40-minute walk at Patrol Headquarters. You'll feel the pull of the sacred (as well as brute gravity) while gazing down on Taos Pueblo in the sage desert at the foot of the peak.
If the peak isn't open, there are scores of equally demanding routes off the ridges. It takes the patrol a while to open the high lines, so, first thing on a new-snow morning, drop into the spacious trees on either side of Walkyries Chute. Then inch out onto the High Traverse to Stauffenberg and Zdarsky. Bring your nerve and your best short-swing turns. Don't bring your snowboard.
Not too many years ago, Ernie used to shut the lifts for lunch. Modernity (and missed vertical) put an end to that civilized notion.
But tradition holds elsewhere. The place to stop for a cold one is still the sunny deck of the Hotel St. Bernard. Stay there with host and ski school guru Jean Mayer, or next door at the homey Hotel Edelweiss. The newest and most elegant option is The Bavarian, the only on-mountain lodging in the valley, with a handful of romantic suites and a high-end restaurant. If the tight-knit, Euro-inflected Ski Village feels too cloistered, try lodging 20 minutes away in gallery-laden Taos proper. The Historic Taos Inn is big on charm and coziness, and the lobby bar, a local hangout, is the closest thing Taos has to nightlife.
Arapahoe Basin Ski Area, Colorado
Arapahoe is the most alpine of Colorado ski areas; a huge majority of the sliding here is unbounded, Euro-off-piste, go-anywhere terrain skiing. Wind-sculpted cornices and natural gully/pipes make for prime freeriding, whether the tool of choice is one plank or two.
For very steep bumps on a fearsome north-facing avalanche path, try the Palivacinni lift. Cruise over to the great central gut of the mountain (Norway and Lenawee lifts) for oceanic rollers. Slip through the gate onto the East Wall Traverse for gliding access to Corner Chute and The Falls. Wind and sun angles will determine the best exposures. Ski patrol permitting, hike the summit ridge to SFB (Shit For Brains), a Chamonix-style shot through claustrophobic rock ribs.
Bear Valley Ski Area, California
I taught skiing there in the 1970s, and even working instructors can get in a ton of skiing. To start with, the Day Lodge sits at midmountain, so you can jump into your boots and immediately head down the heart-stopping steeps of Hari Kari without ever setting cheek to chairlift seat.
The upper mountain has the big moguls (try National) and most of the trees (go to church amid cathedral-column pines in Yellow Submarine), but the Grizzly and Snow Valley lower-mountain cirques absolutely rule. Haleakala rears up like that wave in Deep Impact. And Strawberry Fields on a powder day goes forever. Boarders and skiers both snake the natural hits on Flying Serpent (no Pipe Dragon necessary), and everybody launches the fall-away gelunde jump halfway down Bronco.
The village, including The Lodge at Bear Valley, condos, and home rentals, is three miles away by car or shuttle bus (free), but on perfect days, especially in spring corn, you'll want to slide the Home Run from the top of Bear Chair down the sunny backside to town. This is where the famous nude-skiing poster was photographed one spring in the late 1960s. BV is an unadorned (and unabashed) throwback to those halcyon times. You still see the old bumper stickers here and there around northern California: Ski Bare! Right on.
Copyright 1998, Outside magazine
Filed To: Snow Sports