Thrills, generally speaking, aren't cheap. Neither is speed . . . but for those of us fortunate enough to live in New England, skiing can be. We're talking about exhilaration, my friends, as very little compares to the frictionless bomb of a good run, racing the biting cold as you hurtle your way down a mountain. Once the exclusive province of Sherpas and the Swiss, skiing (and now snowboarding) has become affordable to even the most Ramen-fed of us. It can also be a seemingly bottomless money-pit that will take your shoes and the shirt you're wearing before spitting you back into your bitter, impoverished life. The difference? Planning.
Though most of this guide is dedicated to the spirit of rugged individualism, the best deals out there often involve going with a large organization. Many colleges in the area have ski clubs, and for non-students, organizations such as the Boston Ski and Sports Club (BSSC) or the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) Boston Chapter organize trips.
For example, if you're looking to get out of the immediate area, BSSC offers weekend same-day or overnight trips for members and non-members alike to five of the eight biggest mountains in the New England — Jay Peak, Killington, Sugarbush, Sugarloaf, and Sunday River. For $78 ($73 for members), BSSC provides transportation to the mountain, lift tickets, discounted rentals and/or lessons, and optional activities . . . and considering that the lift tickets alone for any of these five giants cost between $65 (Jay Peak) and $82 (Killington), these organizations essentially offer free transportation, and are far and away the best deals around.
Even if you're intent on going it alone, skiing and snowboarding doesn't have to be a multi-day adventure. Contrary to what they'd have you think in Vermont, there are four places to go skiing within 50 miles of Boston, and 13 within 100 miles. Many of them additionally offer night skiing, which means it's completely feasible to get out of work or school, go ski for a few hours, and go home . . . which, in and of itself, is pretty cool. All prices listed are for adult tickets, and all distances are measured, in miles, from Fenway Park.
BLUE HILLS SKI AREA — CANTON, MASSACHUSETTS
The Blue Hills Ski Area is by far the closest option for Boston skiers. It's only 13.9 miles away, and one of the three ski slopes reachable via commuter rail — a 25-minute ride on the Fairmount line to Readville, and cab the last two miles to the mountain. Lift tickets are as cheap as you'll find anywhere, $18 to $27 on weekdays and $24 to $36 on weekends and holidays. With rentals a modest $28, the whole experience is possible for under $65. The only issue is the size of the mountain. Though it's the tallest and biggest around short of Wachusett, the vertical drop is only 309 feet, less than half the height of the Prudential Center and less than one-sixth of the common-law definition of "mountain." So if you've ever looked up at the Prudential Tower, gleaming in the morning sun, and asked yourself, "I wonder what it's like to ski down 40 percent of that," go find out. Blue Hills also offers cheap season passes with outstanding deals for students. Best for scattered days or nights, to satisfy the fix.
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.