First chair to last call: How to 'ski the east'

Swans Frank Erickson and Jared Kahn enjoy the views at Pico. Photo by Ben Canellys.

By Ben Canellys, Forum Contributor

Whether you’re a powder hound, an après-skier, or a regular feature on Jerry-of-the-Day, the East is a must-ski.

You might hear die-hard westerners wax philosophical about the “Champagne powder” of Jackson Hole, Whistler, and Vail while they malign the cold, icy conditions that define the mountains of Vermont.

Frankly, they need to sharpen their edges and bundle up—the eastern slopes have produced some of the best competitive skiers the United States has ever seen, including World Cup champion and Olympic Medalists Mikaela Shiffrin and Bode Miller.

Growing up in the east, skiers learn early the kind of knee angle and weight transfer necessary for setting an edge in hardpack or ice. It’s no secret that if you can ski the east, you can ski anywhere.

What Makes the East Coast so Unique?

“The variable conditions,” said third-year J.D. student Frank Erickson, driving back from Whiteface. “We get ice, powder, mash potatoes, and snow. It’s why the Northeast produces talented skiers. We have people who learn to ski on ice sheets that would be unacceptable anywhere else.”

So Why Do You Do It?

“The appeal lies in the challenge—the speed, the adrenaline, and the chance of getting a beautiful powder day. Each mountain has character,” Erickson said. “Discovering their secrets is part of the charm of the Northeast.”

East vs. West is not just Ice vs. Powder. It’s the character of these resorts. While the western mountains have largely incorporated, the Northeast is home to countless small ski areas that foster a local community; hills like Swain, West Mountain, and Suicide Six are the type of tourist-free places that beginners get their start.

Where Should You Go?

Living in South Royalton, you have your pick of the finest mountains around. You are 20 minutes from Suicide Six, 45 minutes from Killington, an hour from Bolton, an hour and ten minutes from Stowe, and still have easy access to other top mountains such as Pico, Okemo, Mad River Glen, Jay Peak, Stratton, and Sugarbush.

Killington, the undisputed “Beast of the East,” offers six peaks sporting 155 runs, 6 parks, and 22 lifts spread across 1,515 acres of ski-able terrain. As the closest major mountain, it is a favorite among VLS skiiers.

Although it can get crowded on weekends, Killington is conveniently bookended by Okemo to the south and Pico to the north. Both see significantly less traffic, making them them all the more desirable on weekends following a good storm.

Other mountains have built their own reputations. “As you head north toward Stowe, Smuggler’s Notch, and Jay Peak, the snowfall dramatically increases,” veteran skier and second-year J.D. student Zach Berger said.

Killington saw 205 inches last year; Stowe saw 242 inches, and Jay got hammered with 310 inches. All that snowfall warrants a different kind of skiing.

“You have a lot of old growth birch and maple forest, so you get wide open glade skiing. Pretty much any area between the runs is skiable,” Berger said.

Compared to the younger forests at Killington, there is less bushwhacking involved and the glades are less technically challenging. However, if you do desire a challenge, Stowe, Smuggler’s Notch, and Jay all have phenomenal back country skiing nearby.

Bolton Valley deserves an honorable mention. Although only 157 inches fell there last year, Bolton offers an experience few other mountains can.

“Bolton is the only resort in the state that has an unobstructed view of Lake Champlain,” Berger said. “Because Bolton offers night skiing, you can ski with a clear view of the sunset over Champlain.”

But I’m in Law School

It can be tough to get out for a full day while balancing your workload. Luckily, these mountains are accessible to any level of skier. If you find one you like, a season pass is worth it. A pass allows you to ski for a morning, an afternoon, or even an hour without feeling like you have wasted money on a lift ticket.

For beginners, the ski shops near the mountain often have season-rental deals with the option to purchase at the end.

The sport is always growing and Vermont is a beautiful place to learn, so get out and earn your turns.

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