Reporting Jay Lloyd
A pretty good ski and snowboard season has the potential this year of getting a lot better and a lot longer. I’ve seen winter last until early April in the Poconos, June out west and New England. March brings milder temps, lazy skiing snow and winter carnivals. So, let’s cruise from winter to spring and look at some tips for jumping into a hopefully ongoing season.
EXPERIENCE THE ROCKIES
If you haven’t been there, imagine standing at the summit of Vail Mountain and waving at passengers on a commuter plane, flying at peak top level. It’s March, you’re on skis or boards, but the air has a Jersey shore feel about it. It’s the aroma of sunblock, as old Sol blazes down through crisp air on the powder covered mountain. Vail is just one of the many western big mountains that attract skiers and riders for their variety, snow conditions and long, long runs. It’s also among the easiest to reach from the Philly or Newark via direct flights to Denver and then rent-a-car for a 70 mile drive over a major highway. The destination is a sprawling village and mountain that offers 195 slopes, trails and bowls along with 31 lifts. At most major western resorts, you’ll stay in slopeside condos, surrounded by a total range of restaurants from fast food to Bon Appetit Magazine upscale. And, wait till you see the bars. Tips: At 11,000 feet above sea level the air is thin. Breathing is tougher. Take it easy the first day, especially if your lifestyle is office-bound. The best buys for package trips are through area ski clubs. Check your favorite ski shop to see if they are putting together a package or can recommend one. Don’t bother taking equipment and paying baggage fees. Rent or demo when you get there.
The Laurentian Mountains of Canada and it’s prime ski resort at Mont Tremblant are about a nine hour drive from Philly. Mary and I break the trip up with a night and dinner in Montreal. As for Tremblant, it rises over a restaurant, bar and night life crammed village surrounded by rental condos and village center hotels. It stays cold here late in the season and the snow cover in most years is dependable and well groomed. The big advantage of a Canadian ski destination is the price. New England and Canadian prices may look comparable on paper, but when you convert the U.S. dollar into Canadian “Loonies”, you get an immediate 25% discount on everything, including already discounted packages. Tips: You must have a valid passport to cross the border. Liquor and beer are heavily taxed in Canada to pay for Universal Health Care. Take your own. You can bring a case of 24 ounce cans or bottles of beer, 40 ounces of liquor and 1.5 liters of wine per person across the border. If you need more, better leave the skis at home. Don’t bother converting your dollars to Canadian. They take American money at the best exchange rates. Check your credit cards for one that does not have a Foreign exchange fee (usually 3%). I only have one-Capital One. They are rare. If you are on Medicare, it does not cover out-of-country medical emergencies. Buy travel insurance.
THE NEARBY POCONOS
There’s a lot of season left in the Poconos. Nature was good to the slopes this year. But bargains at your favorite mountains are easy to find. Most resorts offer discounts for buying lift tickets on-line. ski shops frequently have “Customer Appreciation Days” that provide deeply discounted lift tickets to a partnered resort. At the mountain, first timers can buy a discounted package that includes lift tag, lesson and rental equipment. Don’t overlook seniors, military, student and other discounts. Some ski areas offer free skiing for the 70 plus crowd. The bargains get better as we get deeper into March. You can also save by bringing a picnic basket. On a sunny day, it’s a pleasure to take a lunch break on the lodge deck or even a folding table on the snow.
KNOW THE MOUNTAIN
If you’re visiting an unfamiliar mountain whether in Pennsylvania, the north country or the west, download the trail maps and resort facility guides before you go. They’ll make your movements around the lodge from parking lots and ticketing to rentals, ski school, lockers and eateries, a seamless flow. The trail maps will orient you to runs at your own ability level and the best lifts to use for the longest runs and terrain parks. Remember when a slope or trail is tagged “Black Diamond” or “Double Back Diamond” for more difficult or most difficult, the designation only relates to other trails on that particular mountain. In some cases it could be below your ability or above. Look over the info before you hit the parking lot and you’ll save a ton of time that can be used for skiing instead of finding your way around.