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Mountain Review

Mountain Review: Hickory Ski Center

This mountain review is one that comes off the beaten path. It comes from a mountain that, until this year, I never heard of and until I actually saw with my own eyes, never thought existed. It is a place that until last year was not operating and the only tracks you saw down its steeps were from poachers hiking for knee deep powder.

Hickory has the same lodge now that it did in 1948. The fire place is in the same place and the doors swing open the same way. The regulars skiing this mountain are the sons and daughters of the sons and daughters of the sons and daughters who carved these trails out of the mountain side looking for a home some 60 years ago.

This is a destination that has been witness to the evolution of the ski industry to include metal edges, snowboards, and may have even had a role in helping to create the tele-mono board I saw on the slopes last weekend.

Hickory not only has the history, but more importantly, it has the heritage and die hard attitude that makes a ski hill unique.

Poma’s are the only lifts to the peaks here. If you get ambitious you can slap on your skins with the rest of the tele faithful or hitchhike a ride on a snowcat. The terrain you find here wont be groomed, man made, or forgiving. And that’s the way we like it.

Last Saturday was the annual Telefest @ Hickory. The trees were open, welcoming, and steep. It seems no matter where you went, the glades called you with a Rip Van Winkle type of peer pressure. The trails were all bumped up and soft. Not to mention that skier traffic was non existent. So quite simply, it was the perfect ski day. Every run we took had a different personality with their mix of cliffs or trees or fun stuff to ski. Heading up and down the Poma never got old. Every pull of the lever to release the bar provided another boost up the hill. When we got tired there was a warming hut at the peak (complete with back to the future chairs and a wood burning stove) to take some deep breaths and consider skiing the out-of-bounds off the back of the mountain. If those walls could talk… There was plenty of variable terrain to keep us occupied all day – and skiing the same run twice never skied the same way. All you saw were smiles all around and I don’t think I had ever seen such a collective happiness to click in.

In a recent interview I watched with Warren Miller he was asked of all the places he had ever skied, which was his favorite. His response was “where ever you find yourself that day”. That may be because he may has never skied Hickory. Or if he has, he was just trying to be fair to the countless places he was able to hawk some free lifties from.

Back to the lodge at the end of the day was a welcoming break. The big circular fireplace provided enough seating for a bakers dozen or so and the BYO policy was perfect for sharing a local brew with the people who called Hickory home, literally.

The girls I toasted a Saratoga Lager with before we took off told me stories about how they used to shack up in the lodge for the night and roast marshmallows with their Dads. Skiing is supposed to bring about a sense of family and togetherness. Hickory provides just that all the while maintaining a sense of pride that makes it stand alone among all others. Although the nights of Hickory sleepovers are over, the charm, character, and relentlessness of Hickory continues.

If you find yourself searching for a home, look no further than Exit 23 on the Northway. Tucked away in its own time warp you will find Hickory, living on in all of its glory.

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Mountain Review: Tuxedo Ridge

Off the Throughway, right as you cross over the border of New Jersey into New York, you start finding signs for Tuxedo Ridge (www.tuxedoridge.com). Formally known as Sterling Forest, they say it is ‘The Biggest Little Mountain East Of The Rockies’. They might have that right. What Reno is to a big city, Tuxedo is to the corporate ski resorts taking over first tracks all over the country.

Only :45 minutes out of Hoboken, I never knew this place existed until I started uncovering all these gems of mountains looking for support for Ski Till I Die.

We got to the mountain and immediately I felt the energy. The lodge is small, but they make it work. There is a fireplace on one end and a bar on the other. A perfect set up for warming up and putting one down.

The mountain is almost out of a time warp. Chris, one of the head ski patrol guys at Tuxedo, has been working there on and off for 35 years. He gives me a tour of the patrol house and for some reason it reminds me of the movie Hotdog from the 80’s (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NHyP4Oj17zg). There are pictures from the 70’s wallpapering the wood panels, a pair of Olin Ballet skis lean against the wall, and Chris has the same handlebar grin on in the picture from ’76 that he is walking around with now.

One of the motto’s I heard walking around was “we might be small, but we know how to use it” and that is definitely the truth. They have 8 runs, 4 lifts, and make the most of what they have. Every night they have different promotions. The one that got my attention takes place on Mondays when Tuxedo hosts a beer league race night – which I fully intend on participating in.

The Rail Jam we were there sponsoring was held at the bottom of the hill right in front of the lodge. The placement was perfect, 3 features, and everyone had a front row seat. This is a mountain for jibbers most certainly. They dedicate an entire run to jumps and features and you could tell this was a terrain park crowd once the kids started showcasing their skills during the contest.

The other group Tuxedo caters to are the newbies who are just learning how to put sticks to the hill. The ski school groups and the instructors were in sync all day, the rental house worked like clock work, and the #1 question we were asked during our stay wasn’t ‘where is the bathroom?’ but ‘where is the bunny hill?’.

If you’re a park rat and you want something close to home, head to Tuxedo. If you have never strapped on a pair of boots and you want to be taken care of, you will find it wearing a bow tie, or if you want to hot tub time machine yourself back to what ski resorts USED to be like – then this is the mountain for you.

I can’t wait to head back. The positive vibe, the smiles from the staff, and the unique setting for this mountain make it one of a kind and I implore you check it out before the rest of the greater NYC area find out it exists.

Cheers & keep shredding,

Ryan


Mountain Review: Killington

They call it The Beast. A very fitting name considering Killington is the baddest game in town. If you have never skied Killington, you have surely heard about it and I am certain there is no need to read up on mountain reviews outlining what to expect when you get there. 7 peaks (including Pico), 140 trails, 3,000+ feet of vertical devistation, a network of lifts & gondolas that get you up and out all day long, and an Apres Ski scene that can make even the most prolific partier blush. Killington is a behemoth.

But I am going to do my best to give you a different take this overwhelming ski destination. One that localizes the experience and provides anyone with endless options to indulge in the glory that is skiing. You really can find great skiing anywhere. What separates Killington from anywhere else are the limitless options that appeal to groups of friends like mine where everyone wants to do something different.

As far as the skiing goes there truly is something for everyone. You want bumps, head to Bar Mountain and ski their signature run, Outer Limits. If this is your first time strapping on the sticks, Snowshed has the slow rollers that will help even the beginner get up and down like a pro. The double black tree runs off the top are some of the best around. If you want to avoid the crowds, duck off into the woods for your own enjoyment and you won’t have to see another skier for the rest of the day. Speaking of the woods, you get the best of both worlds in The Stash – their new all natural terrain park. If you want to try showing off with a yard sale under one of the lift line runs, you can do that too. There are options abound.

Off the mountain there is also plenty to keep the non-skiers in your group happy while you’re busy shredding. Between the brewerys, ice skating, and snowmobile tours – if they can’t find anything to occupy their time then it has to be because they are still asleep and haven’t left the cabin yet. (I like brewery tours http://www.vtliving.com/breweries/)

Finally when all is said and done, Killington has THE BEST apres ski I have found anywhere on the Eastern seaboard. You have your pick of about a dozen different local spots to indulge. If you stay on the mountain, I like the Snowshed lodge – plus Duane Carleton plays there quite a bit which is always a treat. You can go to Casey’s Caboose for wings, The Wobbly for nachos, or the Garlic for peel & eat shrimp. At night some of the best bands around are playing live at The Pickle Barrel or you can grab a keg from Green Mountain Boys and relax by the fire burning up in your cabin.

I have been skiing Killington for the last decade & I do not see that trend changing over the next 10 years. As we usher in another year I want to say Happy New Year to everyone and thank God ski season is officially here.

Happy trails 2010 and even happier shredding in 2011.

Cheers,

Ryan


Mountain Review: Blue Mountain

Currently some people might say that I am ‘unemployed’, ‘homeless’, and haven’t gotten a haircut in almost 5 months. 1 of those 3 things is true. However, one of the BEST things about my current situation is all the gems of mountains I have been able to find, and subsequently ski, as a result of my search for exposure and opportunity.

This past weekend I had the privilege to ski Blue Mountain (http://www.skibluemt.com). I had never given it much thought, focusing my skiing efforts in Vermont & New York.  Generally when I think of the Poconos (technically the Blue Ridge Mountains in this case) I think of short trails, no snow, and Philly fans – but I have to tell you about how pleasantly surprised I was after my day at Blue.

After getting in a dozen runs before lunch my first thought was, “how have I never skied this place before”! The snow was perfect, even for man made hard pack powder. The runs were wide and putting your edge perpendicular to the hill was no problem if you wanted to put some solid GS style turns in. Then we found the moguls.

We were supposed to ski with this guy called Flying Johnny – the mogul coordinator for the mountain. Couldn’t find him all day but he said he would step out some moguls for us to rip. He was right, they were amazing. They weren’t your standard skier made bumps. These were legit, competition bumps, and a perfect start to the season I am deeming the ‘year of the mogul’.

We hopped back up to the summit for lunch. They had just renovated the entire lodge and patio this summer and it’s ready to go for the season. Outdoor grille, bar, huge fire pit – complete with free ski check and views of the whole valley. The beer wasn’t cheap (to be expected on the mountain) but the burger was delicious. Setting up shop at the picnic tables  they have by the fire pit was the ideal location to refuel for the second half of the day.

I really tried hard to find something I didn’t like about this place. The vertical is over 1,000 feet, they have almost 40 super wide trails, the patio was a great central location to grab a cold one, it was closer to NYC than Hunter or Windham, and everyone was super friendly.

We finally came up with our gripe for the mountain. Blue doesn’t give you a standard lift ticket, they have cards you put in your pocket and get scanned – just like an easy pass for skiers. Now, as I understand it this place gets pretty packed when they are in mid-season form (lift lines were non existent last week) so the scanning process saves time and creates a more efficient lift line process. Technology prevails again apparently. However, I like seeing the same lift attendant after every run. It’s nice to be able to create a report with the guy or girl checking your badge – the EZ-Pass system takes away from the personal aspect that gives skiing one of those special qualities.

Anyway, we finally found Johnny (of all places) in the moguls after lunch, putting together a little clinic for some junior bumpers with his ski pal Chris. Not only could these guys rip it, but they had some of the best stories I have ever heard. Johnny wasn’t technically an employee of the mountain – but his calling can be found in the moguls. This year he is putting together 2 bump competitions at Blue and based on present interest they look to be HUGE events. Chris has skied over 70 mountains and hearing him talk about some of the gems he has been able to find really puts into perspective how much more work I have to do. These guys were the epitome of what it means to Ski Till I Die – you do it for the love of the sport.

Bottom line. You want bumps, think Blue, they are the best you will find anywhere on the East Coast. You want easy access to the mountain, look no further. You want that personal element that makes skiing skiing, come here. Even with the automated lift access you still might get lucky enough to catch a ride up with a couple of guys who call Blue home, with some stories to keep you occupied on your 7 minute trip along the way.

I can’t wait to ski Blue again… thanks for a great day!

 


Ski It Or Die Mountain Review: Windham

This is the first mountain review of the season. I want everyone to know one thing; regardless of whether or not a mountain is a supporter of Ski Till I Die, I will always give you my non-biased opinion of the good, bad, and the ugly from each place I ski. From their food service to the top of the hill, you are going to get the real deal. Here we go!

This past Saturday was the first time I was out on snow all year. I had been waiting since March to get back out there and it felt good! Minus the fact that I was ripping it up like I was in mid-season form, I don’t mind that I am paying for it now, hardly able to move 2 days later, using muscles I forgot existed.

Besides my personal triumph, it also happened to be the official ‘opening day’ for many mountains up and down the East coast as well, including Windham.

This was my first experience at Windham. The first time you ever ski a new mountain it’s always exciting. New terrain, new people, new trails, and a new bar – all fun stuff.  Generally everyone coming from the greater New York City area, myself included, heads to Hunter. It has the reputation of being bigger, steeper, and meaner. But I think I found a new home mountain… here is my breakdown.

Size doesn’t always matter:

Hunter has 55 trails vs. Windham’s 46. They also share the same vertical drop and the length of the runs from a skiers perspective were almost identical. Ill take the 9 less trails for the quality of skier I seem to have found at Windham. The problem at Hunter is the number of people unable to ski the terrain who just end up crowding the hill which makes getting from top to bottom like playing a game of frogger that you never can win. Advantage -Windham.

Snowmaking:

I was disappointed that I only got to ski half the mountain. This was my ONLY gripe with Windham. I think that cost of lift tickets should be based on how much of the mountain is actually open. So if the mountain is only half open, I should only have to pay $34 instead of $68… makes sense right?? If I am paying full price for a service but you’re only providing half of that service, why should I get screwed?? Now Hunter has the same snowmaking capacity and shared the identical snowmaking temperatures as Windham and they were able to open up double the number of trails as Windham. Advantage – Hunter.

The Mountain:

Anyway, Windham had 21 trails open which was great but the other side looked like a lot of fun too. Save it for another day, I know, but I am impatient and as Veruca Salt would say, “I want it NOW daddy”.

The snow was awesome. It wasn’t mayonnaise but there were plenty of powder stashes to be found on the sides of the trails. Even with half the mountain open they still had some great runs to ski. The double blacks they had off the top were wonderful and steep. Even though it was the shortest run, The Wall was my favorite; all moguled up and soft. Classic steep bump run. With the exception of Hunter West – only because of the sheer length of the trails, I think that Windham can compete with Hunter as far as difficulty goes. AND, as I mentioned before, you don’t have the crowds to deal with which is huge to consider. Advantage – Windham.

Apres Ski:

First of all, I like the patio that Windham has at the bottom of the mountain. It’s big, lots of tables, and there is a gigantic fire place that sits at the center of everything. It really is the perfect place to set an enjoy a cold one. They had opened up a bar outside (cash only which was tough because none of the ATM’s were working) and had a DJ playing music all day. It was actually a really comfortable setting. This was also a place where I didn’t feel apprehensive to leave my gear sitting on the table. At Hunter, I expect that the second I turn around my goggles will disappear before my very eyes.

Now, the bar was pretty dead. I know I didn’t catch it on a big day but there were enough people at the mountain that I expected the bar to be a little more crowded. According to my buddy who skis Windham on a regular basis, it gets wild when they have live music and they themselves are in mid-season form so I won’t deduct too many points. The space was large and the bartender we had was a pleasure. I think ill just have to give the apres ski scene there another shot.

I have to call it even on this one. The venue and clientele are hands down better at Windham, however, I was at the mountain bar at Hunter last year for Mardi Gras and it was quite a party.

Overall I think I have found a new winter home base at Windham. For a mountain that doesn’t have the ‘bigger, badder, meaner’ reputation, you could have fooled the skiers I saw ripping it up last Saturday. With half a mountain and a bar scene with some definite potential left to explore, I anticipate you can find me skiing Windham again sometime soon. Until next time fellow shredders – Cheers!

Ryan