When nature doesn’t provide the powder, snowmakers step in to make sure the slopes are ski-ready. (Photo: Grafton Smith/Corbis)
The mercury has finally dropped in the East, and some natural snow has fallen. Gone are the muddy trails screaming out “You will not ski or ride!” to Easterners hankering to get out there. Now, for resorts, it’s time to pull out the big guns and make the season happen.
And, yes, some resorts are better at it than others. While most resorts have modern and quality snowmaking equipment, making snow is kind of an art form. And, yes, some resorts are faster, better, and just plain more awesome at it than others. Here are a few resorts we suggest you head to first as the winter ski-and-ride season gets going for real in the East.
Mount Sunapee, N.H.:
Located just 90 minutes north of Boston, Sunapee has a crew of snowmakers and groomers who keep their trails spiffy sooner and longer than even some at mountains well to their north. How do they do it? The first ingredient is history.
Perfectly groomed slopes at Sunapee. (Photo: Moira McCarthy)
Sunapee has been blowing snow since 1984. Since then, they’ve tweaked and learned and adjusted until they know just the right way to blow the snow, groom it out, and then let it sit. Sunapee has snowmaking on 97 percent of its terrain and a great water system to draw from when they need to power up the guns. Look for Mount Sunapee to have lots of well-covered terrain very quickly this year.
Who needs natural snow? (Photo: Moira McCarthy)
Sunday River, Me.: One might say that snowmaking was invented at Sunday River. It was the first mountain to ever blow snow, in 1970, and the snowmakers went on to invent their own guns. Today, the River has an army of 2,000 guns, 2,000 hydrants, and more than 100 miles of hose that can crank up and completely cover a long trail in 24 to 26 hours.
Now that’s what we call a manmade blizzard. (Photo: Sunday River)
And just to be sure the snow is where they want it to be, this beast of snowmaking took extra precautions this season and rented an HKD Raptor fan gun. A Raptor is capable of producing almost 225 gallons per minute, a whopping amount. This is to be sure the River is ready for its Jan. 8 “Frozen Rush” event, but all skiers and riders will benefit.
Sunday River is bringing out the big guns this year. (Photo: Sunday River)
Bretton Woods, N.H.: Home of the immaculate and breathtaking Omni Mount Washington Hotel, Bretton Woods doesn’t just insist on the posh in their lobby and rooms: They demand it on their trails as well. Usually an early opener and late closer, Bretton Woods and its snowmaking and grooming crews are masters at keeping the ice away and the easy-edging snow on all of their trails. For them, it’s not just about having the power to blow snow. It’s about doing the right thing with it once you do. Ski magazine readers — a persnickety bunch — have taken notice, ranking them No. 1 in grooming three years in a row.
Okemo, Vt.: Once famed for the wickedly fun “Guns and Hoses” ad campaign, which put their snowmakers front and center at their resort, Okemo still does just that.
An early season shot in 2015 when natural snow was still rare. Snowmaking makes it true winter here quickly. (Photo: Moira McCarthy)
Their snowmaking team and groomers are heralded locally as heroes. After all, they focus on getting their large mountain skiing and riding well quickly, and they do so with the entire ski-and-ride community in mind. Their excellent blog goes into detail on exactly where they will be blowing snow and grooming and why, keeping guests in the know. And they spare no expense, often placing groomers out on the hills on standby to take action at the very moment it is needed. Okemo owners Tim and Dianne Mueller are sticklers for perfection, and that carries over to their staff.
Stratton, Vt.: With multimillion-dollar upgrades in guns, fans, and groomers in recent years, Stratton provides improved snow coverage in any weather and can cover all trail levels quickly once the temperatures are lower. With three snowmaking ponds to draw from (two right up on the mountain), they can let many guns run while still being gentle to the environment, something important to them. The new snowmaking guns are so effective, just one replaces 10 of the older guns. That’s power.
Serious snowmaking at Stratton. (Photo: Stratton)
Look for trail counts to soar over the coming week and for these resorts – and others – to take advantage of colder air, better equipment, and true Eastern snowmaking artsmanship to get the season going for real.
WATCH: Racing Through Alaska With the Iditarod Champions