Mount Snow Chocolate Factory Tour

All week I watched its improbable trajectory, spiraling toward the New England high country, an asteroid of a winter storm set to detonate over what little remained of lift-served skiing in what had been a wet and warm spring.

I kept waiting for the storm to fizzle or transform into rain or blow north and out to sea. Instead it set a bullseye on southern Vermont. By late in the week, Open Snow was forecasting 18 inches at Mount Snow overnight Thursday into Friday.

Of course. This had been a great winter, snow falling somewhere across the region every day from mid-January to the end of February, the best un-ending stretch of real winter we’d seen in years.

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Willard Mountain: Rising Up

Willard emerges abruptly, erupting out of the flats as you approach on NY Route 40, a prominence amid the meandering farmlands 30 miles north of Albany. The suddenness of it is stunning, delivering the sort of skiing-where-no-skiing-should-be sensation common to approaches to the Midwest ski hills from my youth.

Willard Mountain view

It’s a busy place. Even on a Friday and half an hour before the lifts opened, I followed a bunched line of cars edging along the network of narrow backroads accessing the ski area. In the lodge I waited in a line for my ticket, the first time since Hunter’s opening day. It’s also a friendly place, the woman at the counter thanking me profusely for “coming out and joining us” as she handed me a pair of sticky wicket tickets.

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Ready for Maple Ski Ridge

I’ve had it with the liftlines. I’ve had it with crowds and icy groomers and high-speed mega-resort hype. So had my daughter. We wanted someplace low-speed and low-key.

Someplace cheap and out of the way and un-intimidating. Someplace where you could glide onto the lift without hovering close to the inconsistently masked skiers.

We found it. Maple Ski Ridge, a 270-vertical-foot hill, is a few miles off the Thruway and 25 miles outside of Albany. It shouldn’t, I thought, be crowded. Outside of local families, I figured most people would head up to West or Gore or south to the Catskills. And if I figured wrong – an adult holiday lift ticket, purchased online in advance — was only $39.

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