Take your skis and travel the world.
APPALASki - Ski USA/CANADA
March 2019 - Ski the East
THE STORY BEHIND
When the invitation to the "Global Career Services Summit" in Toronto in March 2019 reached me in October 2018, it only took me a short moment to realize This is THE opportunity! Not only to finally exchange ideas with North American Career Services professionals, but also to ski in Eastern Canada and the USA, after having been there several times during the Indian Summer. Now it's not as if Toronto is known as a ski paradise. There are many ski resorts in Ontario, but they are all very small - very small. But between Zurich and Toronto lies Montreal. And from there it is a short way to Lake Placid or Mont Tremblant. So my plan was to fly to Montreal, rent a car there, ski the ski resorts and then drive to the conference in Toronto. And that's how I did it.
The tour started at Trudeau Airport at Montreal, where I picked up my rental car, before the route led me straight to the Canadian/US border and to Lake Placid for the first night. On day 1 I headed further south to Glenn Falls (West Mountain), before I checked in the motel at Rutland, where I stayed 2 nights, before I headed north (Montpelier/Barre), crossed the border again and stayed at Mirabel and Amprior for the Quebec-Ski resorts. After my last trial (Calabogie Peaks) I had to drive to Toronto (370km) where my skiing trip ended. It was snowing 2 days, so I was happy to have a 4 wheeler. In total the trip was about 1965 km / 1220 miles, the average distance I travelled during the ski days was 300km per day. The road led me through fantastic New England villages, boring flat fields, cute hilly forests and megacities. Absolutely amazing!
WHITEFACE - LAKE PLACID
Today I get up very early - jet lag caused, I admit. But it allows me to arrive early 1000 meters below the 1460 meter high Whiteface, the mountain of the 1980 Olympic Winter Games. And it also allows me to dismiss the fear that it will become Swedish here.
What is special for me is that all the people start walking from the car with their ski boots on their shoulders. I check with the parking lot boy, and obviously there are lockers at the valley station, which is maybe a hundred meters away. I find this exaggerated and decide to put on my shoes right next to the car. But I do the calculation without the plastic: although the shoes were just in the car, they seem to be made of steel. It is -20° Celsius, but still? And so I do the same as the others and lo and behold: in the warmth I get into the shoes without any major problems. Just pick up the ticket I ordered (and paid for) in advance and I am ready. The skiing area - an alpine area (link) - consists of three areas: Two beginner's areas down below with perfect beginner's slopes, and a bowl from the middle station, which is accessible by six lifts (if you include the gondola and the two chair lifts that didn't run today). From the gondola station and the Summit Quad some pretty steep downhill runs start, from the Lookout lift only the Wilmington Trail is open - a nice and pretty long downhill run for cruising. The snow is perfect, I don't feel any of the ice that the border guard announced yesterday. I have a lot of fun at the Whiteface, so it is with great regret that I am back in the car after only two hours of visiting the ski resort. But I am not here for fun.
After about 90 minutes of driving I arrive at my second area of today. This time I squeeze into my ski boots at the car - it works. But I start to understand why the locals change in the locker room: With still minus 10° Celsius it is actually no pleasure to do all the dressing up outside next to the car.
On the skis I have the feeling that I am back in Japan, somewhere in Central Hokkaido. The same cold, the same loose snow and the same flat slopes. Gore Mountain is a summit area with two sections: North of the cable car mountain station there are two lifts with rather flat terrain, west a basin with two more lifts (Straight Brook and Top Ridge). These are by far the most interesting ones here. But a lot of it reminds me of Spindleruv Mlyn or another cross country skiing area. And the fact that I had to do the most boring lift North Quad twice because of a driving mistake still annoys me. At least I still experience a little bit of sunshine here. And I can use it when I struggle to get out of my surprisingly hard ski boots. I begin to wonder why we have to change clothes on the parking lot in Europe in all weathers.
Lifts 3 09/03/2019
Another hour further south is a bigger agglomeration with Glens Falls as the largest city. On the western edge of this catchment area is the West Mountain ski resort. Two chairlifts provide access to a good handful of surprisingly good downhill runs with around 300 verticals - some still almost untouched, and that at 16.00 hrs! There is also night skiing here and just about everything a town could wish for as a home ski resort. Very cool here!
Day 1 Short summary: Actually I had expected that everything here looks more or less the same. But today there were three completely different areas, which all together resulted in a great skiing day. I'm curious if I haven't already started with the best area on this ski trip.
Lifts 8 08/03/2019
The jet lag wakes me up this morning as well. And that's a good thing, because according to the plan I should start at 8:15 am in Okemo. I'm not so tired that I don't question this planning: Does the ski resort really open so early? Most resorts open at 8:00 am on the weekend. But does Friday count as a weekend? A quick check shows: No! Okemo does not open until 9.00 am today. Minus 30 minutes of driving, that still leaves a lot of free time. So much so that I will be a few minutes late.
The parking lot is already well filled when I arrive. But in no time I am in my ski boots and at the Mainlodge. I see a queue in front of the cash desk. And at the cash desk the epic signs. It rings: I uploaded the ski pass online to the Epic-Card while still in Zurich. But in the meantime I forgot that this was for Okemo. Put the skis down, get back to the car and luckily the ski pass is there - it could also have been in the luggage I left in the motel 40 kilometers away. I sweeten the double walk with the thought that I can leave the queue to the left. And indeed, 5 minutes later I am on the elevator.
Okemo is one of the biggest ski resorts here, since this winter only in the portfolio of Vail Resorts (and therefore part of the Epic empire). The serious lifts all go up from the northeast side to the mountain, through forests consisting of deciduous trees, which now, without leaves, looks very interesting. Through these woods, countless ski runs run. I didn't find anything really steep, but there are several slopes for carving. When I can carve my turns into the grooves of a perfectly flat, perfectly groomed and empty slope, and all in the morning sun - these are moments that make me feel euphorically happy. Okemo is now also on the list of places with these feelings.
Especially interesting are the slopes at the Quantum Gore lift in the Jackson Gore sector and at Sunburst Six, the main lift, so to speak. Unfortunately the whole section at Okemo Mountain is closed with two more lifts, so I'm surprised to find that I've already skied all the lifts. At least this way I can catch up on my planning.
Lifts 7 08/03/2019
The drive to Stratton takes me through a beautiful landscape of rivers, forests, hills and small towns, somewhere between vintage chic and decay. A hill builds up in front of me with some tracks in it, but the navigation system points in a different direction. As I find out later it is the Magic Mountain area. A short side trip to an area discovered by chance is not possible here in the USA, the day ticket costs 74$ even in small areas like Magic Mountain and half-day or hourly tickets are not common. To my relief, I then see another mountain with ski runs. The slopes in Stratton are a bit more winding than in Okemo, more challenging and icy. The Sunrise Express and Snow Bowl Express lifts are very exciting with countless variations. It's cool here as well, although a bit similar to what we had before.
Lifts 7 08/03/2019
Finally, I reach Mount Snow, the southernmost of my areas on this tour, 3 1/2 hours from New York City. The mountain is the flattest one today, but it is not the lowest (1095m), Okemo is only 1019m high. But the flat mountain surprises me with two exciting backbowls: on the north side North Face on the south side Sunbrook. And with the biggest fun park I ever saw at the Nitro Express lift. Finally I experience black ice on the slope for the first time here. I've heard a lot about this and after watching a lot of falls I take it seriously: I surround these areas on a large scale, but it's not easy: The ice is not the same as in Europe, where it is mainly found in the most crazy places. The ice here was formed by freezing rain and can therefore appear everywhere. Without a fall I finish my skiing day and make my way back through this lovely landscape back to my motel in Rutland. Another interesting skiing day comes to an end.
Lifts 12 09/03/2019
Today the real king's stage is on the program and the weather plays along - that's what I had ordered. 8am sharp I am at the parking lot of Killington. The skiing area is building up impressively as you drive into the valley basin on the road, from where most of the lifts on different sides are going up to the peaks. Shortly after picking up my ticket - it's valid also at Pico! - I'm on the lift and have a nice chat with a volunteer who is on the mountain 20 days a season helping people, answering questions and early in the morning making the first tracks into the freshly prepared slopes - for free and a season ticket.
I start at Ramshead and then want to get to Bear Mountain as soon as possible, right at the far end of the ski area, which is faster than expected. I arrive and am thrilled. The ski area consists of a whole series of small sub-areas, each with its own character: Bear Mountain has a steep slope including a mogul slope, the corner at Jerk Jamaica is rather flat through the forest, the slopes to Snowshed are purely beginners area, the slopes from Killington Peak are steep, especially steep is the Ovation, which is even steeper than the Superstar, which is the World Cup slope here. And the slopes at Snowdon Mountain and Ramsheed Mountain are beautiful carving slopes. And all of this in the best snow and weather conditions with deserted slopes at the beginning. When I get back to the car, things look different with the people Killington even exceeded my expectations. And could be the number 1 area on this trip - or could it?
Lifts 2 09/03/2019
Pico Mountain is a few miles away from Killington and the ski pass is valid here as well. Pico Mountain actually consists of one long slope that leads diretissima from the very top to the very bottom (can you find it on the picture above?) and is decorated with four lifts that lead to all directions. But actually, the Summit Lift would be enough. It is much more here cosy than in Killington. And more sporty: When I get in line at Little Pico, about 30 young racers* gather. Who knows if a future Shiffrin is underneath? In any case I see suits with the Burke Academy inscription on them. Let's leave them in Pico for a few more years.
After 30 minutes we reach the resort Sahoro via the Karikachi Pass. There are no skyscrapers far and wide, only a Club Med (!), but it is also discreet. After having bought the 2-hour ticket we take the gondola up to Mount Sahoro-Dake (1059m) and experience this amazingly versatile area, which Tomamu tops in all aspects: More interesting, varied and steeper slopes, open tree-ride terrain all over the mountain, no (!) off-piste limits, faster lifts, the only ski lift in Japan and a pretty impressive view of the Obihiro area. We don't understand why Tomamu has the better standing than Sahoro and simply attribute this to Tomamu's marketing investments. We are very impressed by this small but nice destination.
I'm driving again on the Highway 100 (VT 100 S), which I already loved yesterday. This time I just get in north and soon I'll be the only one on the road again. Highway is a big word for this bumpy, 2-lane, winding road, but it is beautiful. I absolutely have to drive it in Indian Summer. After about an hour I turn off towards Sugarbush Resort. The mountains seem amazingly massive, although they are not higher here. They are steeper than in Killington and much more forested, maybe that's where it comes from? Sugarbush actually consists of two areas Lincoln Peak and Mt Ellen. The two are connected by a spectacular chairlift: The Slide Brook Express Quad is 3.2 km long and connects in both directions. There are sources that describe the lift as the longest chairlift in the world. Both areas are similar in their characteristics: much more steep than flat slopes. And much more altitude difference than Killington, which is considered the No. 1 altitude difference in Vermont, but only because there is a feeder lift that extends the actual 670 meters by 300 meters, but only with green slopes. The 790 meters in Sugarbush are straight. The chairlift Castle Rock is especially worth mentioning: From there only narrow mogul slopes lead through the shady forests, this lift really has something adventurous that I have never experienced before. But also all other lifts at Lincoln Peak have a lot of steep slopes to offer. At Mt Ellen it has both: steeper but also a less steep one. The last highlight is the last lift, the Valley House, where I am allowed to sit on the last chair at all, after that the lift is closed.
On this ride I'm slightly out of breath. I would not have expected that: That in my eyes Sugarbush is the best of the areas visited so far.
Another tip for overnight stays, if you want to go there as well: I was stationed in Rutland. Much closer to Sugarbush, and then also to Mad River Glen - another ski resort nearby - and also to Stowe is Irasfield.
There are such days that start in one direction and end in a completely different one. Today was one such day. Today ends the way I actually thought it would begin: with tons of snow. And cars getting stuck.
I have just finished breakfast and it starts to snow. And when Ramon Zenhäusern shows his great run, massive sleet showers are coming over the country. So here it is, the announced bad weather front. The drive to Stowe in the most beautiful snow flurry is without any difficulties, and as I arrive at the parking lot I am not as alone as I would have expected. Everything is normal.
Stowe has been recommended to me by several people in the last few days, and on the websites this area regularly appears at the very top - so I'm excited! And at first glance I'm disappointed: The mountains are not as impressive as in Sugarbush. The slopes are not, and the gondola lift, which was closed due to wind, could not have made up for that. I am rather surprised about the old slow lifts. I ask myself more than once whether the words stowe and slow have any connection. Exception in all respects is the Fourrunner Quad - this chairlift is fast and at the top there are several fairly steep descents. The other lifts are rather flat, Toll House is even very flat. What is impressive, though, is the ticket price - Stowe is my most expensive area, which is also because I didn't buy the ticket online. Nevertheless: There is also little offered for the online price.
Lifts 4 10/03/20193
The way leads me through a lonely north Vermont. Okay, Sunday and weather like that, I wouldn't go out there either. After some questions the border official lets me back to Canada. The crossing is less complicated than in the USA, but the officer showed less understanding for my ski plans than Moretti. Quebec is not so much different from Vermont, but what strikes me are the people who are on foot. Also in Bromont, this small town at the foot of Mont Brome, which welcomes me with a completely different ski culture. In the middle of the city, the valley station to the ski area is located, colored like in Legoland. On this mountain I feel like I'm in another world: like in Kungsberget, Yubari, Ancelle. The whole hill is a playground in summer and in winter, night skiing until 22.00 o'clock included. It has a lot of people, even when I leave in the evening new ones arrive. The wind also has an effect here, so the lifts on the southwest side are closed, which is a pity, but well, see Smugglers's Notch.
I drive from Bromont 90 minutes, I pass Montreal and arrive at Mirabel. The snowfall becomes thicker and thicker. Even though I am equipped with 4WD and winter tires I have a lot of trouble to make the small ascent - maybe a meter of altitude - to the motel. At the supermarket I only get away from the parking lot with swinging the car: The wheels immediately dig themselves into the snow. And so the day ends with technical challenges on flat roads, although I would have expected them more on the way to the ski resorts.
Les Sommets are 4 small ski resorts around the town of Saint Saveur, about 1 hour north of Montreal.
The snowfall has stopped during the night, the sun pushes through slightly. However, the snow masses in Mirabel remain impressive.
Today is divided into two parts: In the morning I visit smaller areas around Saint Saveur, in the afternoon the last highlight is on the program: Mont Tremblant, the largest area in Quebec.
The visit to Saint Saveur begins with a surprise: my ski ticket is valid in 5 areas, all within a stone's throw of each other. The areas are small and have short lifts. Saint Saveur is a bit bigger, but the attraction of these areas is mainly their statistical value.
Lifts 7 10/03/20193
I drive on to Mont Tremblant. The mountain looks out behind the clouds when I arrive after about 45 minutes of driving. After the small areas this morning I am looking forward to real skiing. However, at first sight it becomes clear that this ski area will not push Sugarbush from its first place. The slope is missing. Because the parking spaces on the south side are occupied and I don't feel like waiting for the shuttle bus on the overflow parking, I drive around the mountain to the north side. Still busy, but my plan works out. The area offers some steeper passages right at the summit on the south side and below the Duncan lift, but is mostly undemanding. I miss the lift "Edge" because it closes at 2:45 a.m. already, as a local tells me at 3:00 a.m. on the Soleil lift. This seems to be the "show off" lift, because his eyes sparkle when he reports on the ski routes there. Why the lift already closes at that time eludes my knowledge and, due to the reactions of other skiers who are also standing at the valley station, also eludes the knowledge of others. The lift would not have saved the area, it looks too flat for that. Positive: After the slow lifts in Stowe, I am impressed by the fact that all lifts are new and fast.
THE MISSING ONES
I was at two more resorts, but I was not able to ski them for different reasons. A reminder, that ski travelers also have to deal with the unexpected.
Smuggler's Notch is right next to Stowe. The two nearest lifts are only about 300 meters apart. Could also be connected, maybe some Austrian ski resort connector should send some Austrian skiers here. But because the road is closed in winter I drive out of the valley where Stowe is located, an arc of 1 hour drive around the mountains and back into the valley where Smuggler's Notch is located. And I see: standing lifts. The wind is actually much stronger than at Stowe. There is a lift running, but that is not enough for the 78$, so I decide to finish the USA part. So it's the wind, not the snow, that's the challenge today!
My plan was to visit a ski resort in Ontario on the way to Toronto: Calabogie. But they didn't have the crowds under control there and tried to serve dozens of guests with two ticket offices (Ski Ticket and Rental). It was, as someone had told me, the beginning of the ski vacations. That was just the anticyclical thing for me: my vacation was over in the evening, the conference in Toronto started at 6 pm. So, unlike the many Canadians*, I had neither time nor patience, so I got back in the car and started my way, which first led me through lonely woods, past lakes, small villages, which became more and more numerous, until they finally took the form of high-rise housing estates. That's also when Toronto greeted me with a veritable traffic jam that made my decision to ski Calabogie bearable - time was running out and would never have been enough with skiing. I drove to Pearson Toronto International Airport, dropped off my car - for once the deal with the empty tank paid off - and put my skis in a storage unit - I didn't need them for the conference. The way to Toronto I took the metro. Part two of the journey has begun.
HOw I got there
Flight to Montreal, rental car there. Flight back from Toronto (with a 6 hrs delay.)
HELPFUL THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT THE CAR
I ordered a 4WD car and got as an upgrade a Jeep Wrangler Rubicon. I liked the gesture and the fact, that all the other Jeep Wrangler driver were greeting, but I did not like how heavy the car is, so in the soft snow masses at Mirabel, the handling was difficult.
In Quebec, rental cars have to be equipped with snow tires by law in winter. This is a very nice difference to all the other places in Northamerica I was renting cars already.
The border between Canada and the US is massive. I was happy to have the list of participants of the conference with me, when I was crossing the border back to Canada. And I was happy that the officer was a snowboarder himself, so we had to chat during the procedure. But coming from Europe, this borders are something unusual.
About the BORDER
AND THE CONFERENCE?
The conference visit itself was a complete success. My North American peers loved the story of the Swiss guy who drops out of the plane in Montreal, on his way to a conference in Toronto to collect a few ski resorts, and so soon many people knew who I was. Getting into conversations was much easier for me. And the highlight of this trip, already rich in emotions, was the last evening when one of my besties from LA came to Toronto for a business trip. What a coincidence, right?
The skiing impressions, the serenity of New England, the many friendly people I had the opportunity to meet, the evening with Christian - I was still pretty blown away waiting for the flight. And the memories made me calmly realize that it was delayed. And that we - after we had waited for 2 hours in the defective plane - had to leave it again. And that - although the plane (no, not a 737 Max) was reported safe - we were suddenly called to another gate, from which we went back home with another plane and 7 hours delay. Calabogie's Message to keep me back? I do not know. But what I do know: I hope to be back soon skiing in New England.