What Kind of Ski Snob Are You?

If you think about it, we are all ski snobs of one sort or another. Some are terrain snobs and care about nothing else but lapping the steepest, gnarliest, longest, and most consistently-pitched lines they can find.

Hickory Ski Center

Others are snow snobs who don’t bother leaving the house unless there’s a decent amount of powder waiting for them; and if the lift-served ski areas don’t have it, they’ll go off-the-map for their fix. Of course, for most people, the best situation is getting both powder and great terrain at the same time, but hey, this is the northeast and we have to deal with whatever’s on the menu for a given day and not whine about it.

I’m an ambiance snob. I’ll happily make tradeoffs in the other two categories if I can find a place that feels right: an atmospheric lodge or base village with pleasant people, lots of elbow room on the mountain, and no lift lines or cookie-cutter terrain.

In short, I’m looking for a place that doesn’t feel like a tourist trap. And if conditions are good or great, that’s gravy. With that as my baseline, here are my top two ski experiences of 2010-11.

Best in New York State: Hickory Ski Center

With my two favorite abandoned joints in the Catskills, Bobcat and Highmount, off the table for lift service anytime in the near future, the Adirondacks stepped up and brought Hickory and Big Tupper back from the dead. Due to its far-flung location and bad timing, I didn’t make it to Big Tupper this season. Luckily, my day at Hickory in early March scored on pretty much every level: a palpable old-school vibe, great spring conditions, vintage surface lifts, a variety of fun terrain, a cozy lodge filled with friendly people, and no crowds whatsoever.

Hickory Ski Center Fireplace

As Powderqueen mentioned in her February trip report, Hickory feels like a friendly community center. It’s a place that immediately makes you feel at home, whether you drove five minutes or five hours to get there. The omnipresent general manager, Sean, is tough to miss. He’s the gracious host who’s always smiling and chatting with everyone in the lodge, out on the hill working the t-bars, or skiing next to you while pointing out a great line through the trees.

Harvey and I sampled all of Hickory’s classic terrain: a gentle beginner’s area at the bottom, some rolling cruisers in the middle, and a nice selection of steeper stuff on the upper half, including lots of bumps and glades. Whether you stayed on the groomers or went into the trees, the snow was soft spring perfection.

They say that you should always strive to live in the present, but Hickory proves that the past is also a nice place to visit occasionally.

Best Outside New York State: Grand Targhee, WY

Even though they’re only an hour or so from each other, it’s tough to get more yin/yang than Jackson Hole and Grand Targhee. Jackson Hole has the world famous badass terrain, the big vertical, the hardcore bro-brah scene, and some high-falutin’ restaurants and hotels spread around Teton Village. Grand Targhee is on the other side of the proverbial tracks: mostly intermediate terrain, piles of powder days, no liftlines, and a compact base village with the right amount of services to keep everyone happy, but not enough to mess up the ambiance.

Grand Targhee certainly attracts some destination visitors, but most people add it as a daytrip from Jackson Hole. With no pretension, no liftlines, no powder frenzy, and no particular sense of urgency, it feels like a friendly local’s joint: my kind of place. Every time I’ve gone to Targhee, I’ve nailed at least a foot of fresh snow and my mid-December visit was no exception.

The first day was spent floating through the knee-deep inbounds goods and the second day was my first-ever cat skiing experience. Getting nonstop untracked powder from bell-to-bell without having to traverse, bootpack, or skin for it was, well, it was incredible. In addition to being really professional, the guides on our cat, all from New England, knew how to keep the party rolling the entire day and encouraged everyone go to town on any lines they saw fit (no snow farming).

What’s great about crossing the state line into Idaho is that it’s completely lacking the industrial tourism vibe that you often run into on the other side of Teton Pass. Everything is low-key and low-stress. While nearby Driggs and Victor don’t have a Jackson-size selection of restaurants, there are a bunch of nice eateries where you don’t need to call for reservations. I had great dinners at Teton Thai in Driggs and Spoons in Victor.

Grand Targhee

The cherry on top was the Teton Springs Resort in Victor: an extremely comfortable high-end hotel with a great restaurant and welcoming, down-to-earth staff. They not only knew how to roll out the red carpet, but also took a few hours off from the office to show me some of their favorite stashes at Grand Targhee. Nice work if you can get it.

24 comments on “What Kind of Ski Snob Are You?

  1. If you are going to be a snob, James, you have picked the best kind to be. I don’t think eastern skiers can afford to be too snobby. I’m happy to ski anywhere, any time, any conditions (well, almost).

  2. This is a great piece, on this 95 deg day..

    James, I’m with you when it comes to the vibe of a place and no crowds.. I leave my house mega early so I can get a front row parking space and a empty lodge to change in..If I see cars with skis, I’m certain they are going to the same place as me..

    My best day last year was at Massif du Sud, a single lift area in the middle of nowhere..

  3. I’m a terrain snob (except for early season) and a wannabe snow snob. I would love to be one of those people who wakes up and says “Ehh . . . It’s only 3 inches, I’m going back to bed.”

    Definitely can’t have that attitude in the east, though . . .

  4. I’m a vert snob. I grew up in the midwest and skied the garbage dump hills – now living near whiteface i have all the vert i want and then some. Can’t be too picky about conditions as we had great year but also some really crappy days too – if its white I’ll slide on it.

  5. Old school narrow, windy and steep terrain gets me jazzed. And trees are important to me. But ultimately my favorite hills are about skiing, not fashion, money or conspicuous consumption.

  6. Powder Baby, Powder. Bluebird corn snow is great too. I can have fun ripping GS arcs if it ain’t boiler plate. I want good terrain and I want trails that are not boring. I dig ambiance. But it is one of the few skiing related things that I am not snobby about. But on the flip side, ambiance that I find distasteful is the reason that I almost never ski at Sugarbush. So for me, lack of ambiance is not an issue but the wrong type of ambiance is a major problem. Of course, the ultimate way to solve all of those snobbery issues, especially ambiance, is just to head to the BC.

  7. I am a ski more talk less snob. I can talk on the lift but when I am on the snow I just want to ski. My highlight this year was A-Basin now in my top three (maybe tied for #1) James great piece on a hot summer day! I prefer powder or soft spring but will ski anything…as long as it’s skiing. Summer Sucks.

  8. Never understood “ambiance” and “vibe” as a deciding factor. It’s all about skiing to me so terrain and conditions are the only considerations. It always seems that the people who talk about “vibe” like the same type of ski area – MRG, Hickory, Alta, etc. Rather than talk about “vibe” why not just say what it really is you like: Places filled to the rafters with bearded, counter-culture type folk and marinating in left-wing politics. You’re insecure and simply need to be surrounded by people who look and think like you. You never hear people who like Snowbird or Squaw get on their high-horse about the superior “vibe.” They go, they ski, they leave. They don’t worry too much about who the guy they rode the chairlift with supported in the last presidential election cycle.

  9. Ambiance snob is a label you can wear proudly. A few places I’ve been to in recent years that had an ambiance I liked were Mad River Glen, Arapahoe Basin, Alta, Wildcat, Le Massif, and Blue Knob, PA. All tend to attract avid, no frills guests, seeking interesting terrain. Not so many tourists.

    I’m a little bit of a variety snob. Even though I don’t log a real high number of annual ski days, I often get to visit about 10-15 different ski areas each winter, and in a good year from different locations around the country.

  10. I’m a “never understood ambiance and vibe” snob! I’ve skied all those places you think are filled with bearded counter-culture type folk and I don’t think I’ve ever discussed politics much less left wing politics(and just for your information I’m a conservative redneck,with a beard I might add!) with anyone. I don’t think any of us are any more insecure than you or the average person and we certainly don’t need to be surrounded by anyone but we have lots of friends and enjoy their company.

    As for the people that ski Snowbird or Squaw there’s a reason they go, they ski, they leave. They are both great ski areas but they don’t have any character or vibe, just cookie cutter areas, nothing to seperate them from the rest of the bunch. But I think the real point I’m trying to make is that you need to lighten up! I think that this article and comment thread is supposed to be tongue firmly in cheek, a JOKE you know! PS. My horse is most certainly not high!

  11. You don’t have to discuss politics with the patchouli drenched, dirt-eating druid you rode the lifts with at MRG; They’re implicit and understood. And when I say people “leave” after skiing Snowbird or Squaw I certainly don’t mean they leave before having drinks and food at one of the many fine restaurants and bars at those places. There’s nothing “cookie-cutter” about Snowbird or Squaw. K-mart? Mount Snow? Sure – those are pretty generic and uninspired but not the Bird or Squaw. Get a clue. The article wasn’t tongue-in-cheek. How did you manage to reach that conclusion?

  12. First off at MRG I generally only ride the single so its hard to discuss anything with anyone. Have you ever been there? Second, I don’t know any dirt eating druids, LOL! Third, the article and responses didn’t seem to be real serious until you enlightened us with your use of such big words and phrases.

    You fired the first shot I’m just responding. I don’t really care where anyone skis and your certainly entitled to your opinion but you seem to be taking the whole thing way to serious and harbor deep seated resentment for anyone that doesn’t think like you. To bad, there’s a lot of good people out there with different viewpoints but I expect you wouldn’t understand that. You need to put on some patchouli oil and relax!

  13. Once you past the venom and bile, I actually agree with part of what Anon #1 says, about how many people want to ski with those who think and act similar to them. I, meanwhile, side with the old Woody Allen line: I’d never want to belong to a group that had me as a member. I like going to places that have no clear demographic one way or the other. For example, as much as I love MRG the ski area, the hippie vibe kinda creeps me out. And for the record, since the angry guy brought it up, I voted twice for Guiliani and was ready to vote for McCain in 2000, before GWB hijacked his campaign. If you recall, McCain was a pretty compelling candidate back then, nothing like the sad mess he became in 2008.

  14. I think the title of this article is provoking, making people say negative things about what other people like about ski areas. The whole idea about “snob” really came through and now it has come down to politics. Ridiculous! I am a ski snob in that I prefer to ski over just about everything else, and it doesn’t matter what kind of skiing or snow it is…as long as it is skiing.

  15. This was supposed to be the annual “best ski days of the season” post, but I went with the “snob” title as a goof. Hey, it’s off-season and we need some excitement around here. Still, we all have our preferences, and that was my point. If I asked PDQ if she’d prefer to ski Killington or Whitewater, she’d say that the main reason for choosing wH20 was the terrain/snow, but that there were other reasons (off-the-beaten-path, undiscovered, relaxed, etc).

  16. I used “big words and phrases?” Who knew? Care to point them out? Perhaps you’re just intimidated by anyone who can arrange ordinary words in such a way that they actually make a point. You could do the same if you went back to high school and actually paid attention this time. Jamesdeluxe, yeah I laid it on a bit thick but you seem to get it. I actually really like MRG but you don’t need a doctorate in sociology to realize what’s goin’ on there. Birds of a feather and all that. That’s all I was saying.

  17. That is true James, and if you asked me Whistler or Whitewater, I would have said Whitewater too, but you can’t argue that the terrain at Whistler isn’t spectacular. I just prefer the smaller ski areas over the large resorts. I prefer going to places where more people hold seasons passes than go for vacation (ski and leave), as long as there is decent snow and interesting terrain. Though I admit, I choose places to go on vacation for the powder potential as well. It may also have to do with my demographic. I do not have a high income so a ski vacation needs to be done on the cheap. For the most part, the big resorts break the bank for me and I get much more value for my dollar at the smaller and lesser-known ski areas.

  18. I’m all about the small, no crowds areas..i don’t like dodging people and waiting in line. I’m there to ski and I’m only slightly impatient about it.

    Would LOVE to check out Hickory sometime next season if I can get a travel buddy..I ski often by myself, but not when it comes to overnights.

  19. I would have thought my point was obvious, but I’ll state it as plain as I can. In my opinion it’s somewhat ignorant to state that people who mention vibe are insecure and only want to be in a place filled to the rafters with bearded counter-culture type folk who are marinating in leftwing politics. That’s all. But as I said before were both entitled to our opinion. That’s what makes America great. Also this will be my last comment on this thread as we seem to be getting away from the good-natured intent of this article. PS. It really is just about just about the skiing! Enjoy your next run no matter where it is!

  20. “Vibe” is in the eye of the beholder. It’s all good. However, comments by James or other experienced skiers on the vibe or personality of a ski area represents useful feedback for prospective visitors weighing where and how much to invest in a ski outing.

  21. Good point jj. I think the vibe or feeling of an area means different things to different people and some people look for the laid back vibe of MRG while some go for the high society vibe of Vail say. As you said its all good as long as we can ski!

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