Western mountains: big like a Haakon flip. Eastern mountains: small like 2000 to 4000 feet. Admittedly, I've skied out West.
I've bought lift tickets costing upward of $80 — Aspen's tickets are rumored to be $87 this year — skied the long, boulevards and bowls. Stuff we don't really have here in New England. I've pored over descriptions of lift tickets with miniature prints of what were possibly, Degas's ballerinas because, well, I don't know why. But I've also spent Christmas hooked up to an oxygen tank on a pull-out couch. Thank you, Breckenridge.
It's not just for that last mishap that I now prefer skiing in the East. I favor our mountains, tacked with snow like lace that's full of holes. Avoid the granite, avoid the roots, avoid the pine trees, and — it used to be — avoid the kid in the Starter jacket. Skiing in the East is unpredictable, due to the Mod Podge terrain. And so, for some, it's smarter. For others, maybe, it's just charming.
Charming or not, there are still things I wish for in the East. However tempting, I do not wish for heated sidewalks or movie stars. I also do not wish for a lift up Tuckerman's Ravine. Or, for Massachusetts’s highest peak, Mount Greylock, at 3491 feet, to be any higher — it's fine right where it's at. But I do wish for a few simple and technical things.
WISH #1: more green, more white
As Aspen and Vail compete for green chicness and national accolades — Vail is on the US Environmental Protection Agency's top-25 list of green-power purchasers, Aspen is not — last week, Spruce Peak at Stowe in Vermont was the first ski resort in the US to win the Audubon Green Community Award from Audubon International. Stowe is not the only Eastern mountain "going green." In Maine, Sugaloaf/USA and Sunday River both underwent $4.8 million in renovations, which include 70 to 85 new low-energy snow guns per resort. What does this mean? While ski resorts in the West reduce their carbon footprint by purchasing Community Energy wind credits to offset their carbon production, resorts in the East are reducing their impact on the environment by purchasing low-energy equipment. What this also means: longer season, more snow.
This Halloween, Maine’s Sunday River was the first ski area to open lifts in the Northeast for the season. (Even though Sunday River's message board read something like this: "Dust on crust? Sawdust on plywood? Ribbon of death? Either way you serve it up, spin it, or hype it, this is still skiing in October for the East Coast!" Thank you, username Dave.) The Halloween opening was Sunday River's earliest in 11 years.
Other ski resorts in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont are following River's lead. Mount Snow in Vermont purchased 101 fan guns, the most in New England. And even smaller mountains, such as Jiminy Peak in Massachusetts, are rivaling Westerners for clean snowmaking. Jiminy Peak is the first ski resort in North America to install a wind turbine, which will generate clean, natural wind energy. Ski on, Massachusetts.
WISH #2: more buses, more trains
Skiers and snowboarders are seasonal "o-zonic" offenders. The amount of gas we use getting from city to slope could fuel a New England Storm Watch. Thankfully, the MBTA has reinstated the good ol' weekend "ski train" to save us some air pollution. The renovated ski coach accommodates skier, snowboarder, and equipment — comfy. Unfortunately, the train only runs to Fitchburg. The Fitchburg mountain, a/k/a Mount Wachusett, runs a free shuttle bus to and from the commuter rail station. At least it's cheap! The commuter rail/ski train fare is $7.75 one-way (subject to change).
For economy plus ever-changing terrain, check out Ski Market's Day Bus. With a bottle of . . . something, the bus is not that bad. This season’s schedule includes runs to big mountains such as Killington, Sugarbush, and Sunday River and small mountains like Sunapee. Bus ticket and lift ticket combined are only a cool $72. Check for College Break Trips in January and March. And wish for more buses, more trains, and less traffic to the slopes.
WISH #3: more women boarders, more women skiers
It wasn't until recently that ski and snowboard manufacturers started designing equipment specifically for women's bodies. Now that we have K2's feminine Luv line, how about some women-only ski mags? Or even, women-only park days? If only to break from the bands of squatting sk8ter bois . . .
Finally, some women-only stuff is happening. Skiing magazine launches Women's Skiing in December. And despite cheesy subheads like "True stories of four women dominating Dudeville," at least it's a "girls-only" outlet, with Jenn Berg's prettier-than-thou mug on the cover.
Online, accessorized, and hot pink, Ski Chick LLC also focuses on, well, just chicks. The best part of the Web site is its extensive calendar of women and girls-only clinics, like this year's Women in Motion Camp in Stowe, Vermont. Worth, at least, a tune-up.
Ellee Dean, now thoroughly re-oxygenated and ready to slalom, can be reached at email@example.com.