Downhill economy

By JASON O'BRYAN  |  November 18, 2008

The powder: close, cheap, open at night

The ice: small, monotonous upon frequent visits.

WACHUSETT MOUNTAIN — PRINCETON, MASSACHUSETTS
Located 52.5 miles away, Wachusett is one of the taller mountains in Massachusetts, with a vertical drop of 1000 feet and 105 acres of terrain. Offering night skiing until 10 pm, Wachusett is particularly useful in conjunction with the MBTA Ski-Train, which has been revived for it's second year. Take the Fitchberg line out of North Station to Fitchberg (about 90 minutes), and on weekends, Wachusett offers a free shuttle from the station to the mountain and then back again at night. (The Ski-Train schedule is not posted yet, but Wachusett confirms it will be similar to last year's). Lift tickets are mid-range, $39 to $52 weekdays and $47 to $52 weekends with $34 rentals, and various discounts for groups of four, 15, and 20. Additionally, all 22 of its runs are covered by snowmakers, so you don't have to cross your fingers and pray.

The powder: Easy access, good balance between size and price, close to home.

The ice: Miss the last train, and you're stuck in Princeton. Good luck.

CROTCHED MOUNTAIN — BENNINGTON, NEW HAMPSHIRE
Crotched has carved out a niche for itself in the college market for one very good reason: you can ski until 3 am. Located 81.1 miles away, Crotched offers a series of specials to lure in the youth: Friday is College Night with $29 lift tickets, $22 for weeknights from 5 to 9 pm. "Twofer Tuesdays" is $22 for groups of two, live music every Saturday night, and Friday and Saturday "Midnight Madness" is $29 from 9 pm to 3 am. It's slightly smaller than Wachusett with a 875-foot vertical drop, 75 ski acres, and five lifts, but like Wachusett, 100 percent of it's runs are covered by snowmakers. The drawback to Crotched is that it's in Bennington, New Hampshire, which has apparently been forsaken by all bus and rail companies. This also means that it's very often less crowded, if you can get up there.

The powder: Best night skiing in New England, cheap, supplementary activities.

The ice: Hard to get to without the luxury of a car, and who wants to drive home at 3 am?

OVERNIGHT TRIPPER
Looking for a night away? With your thighs burning and your toes numb, taking a train or bus home doesn't sound half as appealing as taking those goddamn boots off and sitting by some kind of open flame with hot chocolate or cold beer. Public transportation options are limited but they do exist, for those of us with the lack of money or abundance of wisdom to not own a car in Boston.

CANNON MOUNTAIN — FRANCONIA NOTCH, NEW HAMPSHIRE
Cannon Mountain is big. At 2146 feet, it's twice the height of Wachusett, with 50 percent more ski acres and three times the number of runs. It's 143 miles away — a good drive or a bus ride. Concord Coachlines runs a bus from Boston to Lincoln, New Hampshire, and a taxi service called the Shuttle Connection picks you up and takes you the 15 minutes to Franconia Notch (the same bus can also access Loon Mountain, located in Lincoln itself). Cannon has deals for college students as well, $46 lift tickets against the $64 standard adult fare, and two-for-one Tuesdays and Thursdays for everyone. Ski magazine named Cannon No. 1 for value in the East, which is all nice and good so long as you can get to it. The problem with the bus is that the $50 round-trip ticket is designed for Boston commuters, so it runs only once a day, 6:15 pm out of Boston and 7:15 am out of Lincoln . . . which means two nights for only one day of skiing. Depending on your plans, you may be better off renting a car.

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