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Best of Vermont skiing

November 19, 2009

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Looking for a few inside tips? The Globe has surveyed the scene from top to bottom and taken notes:

Best comeback
Last February, for the first time in four years, skiers soared off the 90-meter jump at historic Harris Hill in Brattleboro, one of only six Olympic-size ski jumps in the country. Thanks to a $300,000 community fund-raising effort, world-class jumpers will once again take flight at the storied venue, which was forced to close in 2005 but has since been upgraded to international ski jumping specifications. Built in 1922, the natural-hillside jump has hosted 18 national and regional championships, and Feb. 13-14, the 86th Harris Hill Ski Jumping Competition will serve as the launch pad for a new generation of United States Ski Association athletes.

- T.D. THORNTON

Best use of technology on a ski slope
Smugglers’ Notch Resort and Stratton Mountain might be on to something with their personal GPS technology, which records distance, elevation, speed, and the locations of trails conquered by kids enrolled in ski and snowboard classes. Each child is fitted with a Flaik GPS unit, and at the end of the day they can review the data to chart progress and share their adventures. Smugglers’ Notch makes the units available to students signed up for Snow Sport University camps (ages 3-15), while Stratton reserves the units for pupils 12 and under. The technology can also be used as a location device, and the GPS units will also be available for rental to guests at both resorts.

- T.D. THORNTON

Best way to earn bragging rights
If you think you can live up to Mad River Glen’s famous “Ski It If You Can’’ slogan, then mark your calendar for the Feb. 6 kickoff to the 2010 Mad River Glen Triple Crown. The grueling series begins with the Unconventional Terrain Competition (steeps, cliffs, jumps, rocks), followed by the Feb. 26 Vertical Challenge (runs restricted to the expert Chute and Lift Line trails only), and the March 20 Mogul Challenge (described by organizers as “knee-pounding fun’’). The men’s and women’s winners get prizes, but who needs swag when you’ve got bragging rights?

- T.D. THORNTON

Best chance for X-C to get extreme
Cross-country skiers can get air in the grassroots terrain park at Grafton Ponds Outdoor Center. Outside the main lodge at the base of Bear Hill, the park is about 150 yards long and consists of a series of rollers, a couple of tabletop jumps, and two rails. Opening is anticipated in early December.

- TONY CHAMBERLAIN

Best ongoing expansion plan
Part of a continuing expansion at Jay Peak, a February opening is planned for the 57-room Tram Haus Lodge. Rooms contain a kitchen, dining area, and fireplace while the hotel houses a restaurant and bar, coffee shop, store, and fitness center. A second hotel (with a water park) is scheduled for next summer, which means the worn Hotel Jay is coming down. They’ve already broken ground on a new indoor ice arena. It all sounds a bit more upscale than the dorms at Grampa Grunts.

- MARTY BASCH

Best way to enjoy a throwback sport
The “primitive biathlon’’ goes back only 15 years, but if you attend or participate in one of the region’s premier tests of backcountry athletics, you might think you had stepped back a century or two. Both the Smugglers’ Notch Primitive Biathlon (Jan. 30-31) and Southern Vermont Primitive Biathlon (Feb. 13-14) will feature trail racing and target shooting using wood-frame snowshoes, antique powder horns, and muzzle-loaded muskets. Racers vie for speed and accuracy while decked out in historic garb, and the competitions attract a diverse mix of antique firearms enthusiasts, out-of-season hunters, historical reenactment hobbyists, and modern-style Nordic biathletes. Both events welcome curious newcomers and novices.

- T.D. THORNTON

Best value for manual labor
It’s no secret skiers cut and tweak trails at Mad River Glen. Management knows they can’t stop them, so they give those skiers a free lift ticket after they spend a day cutting, brushing, and hauling in the forest. When the lift was running, about 50 volunteers turned out. Skiers can also score a three-day Mad Card for $129 until Dec. 15, good for any day.

- MARTY BASCH

Best tail-wagging excursion
Want an offbeat, outdoors family option during school vacation week without battling the crowds at commercial resorts? How about the Burke Mountain Sled Dog Dash Feb. 27-28? There is no admission fee, you can get close to the action, and kids can sign up for complimentary sled dog rides. Spectators who want to incorporate a workout into the festivities can snowshoe alongside the racing trails to scenic vistas that feature gorgeous Willoughby Gap backdrops. Local chefs will provide hot breakfasts and lunches on both days. A spectator guide and schedule is available www.sleddogdash.com

- T.D. THORNTON

Best place to watch snowboarding on TV
Grizzly’s at Stratton, the mountain where some of snowboarding’s big names learned their craft, such as Ross Powers, Lindsey Jacobellis, Luke Mitrani, and Lizzy Beerman. Grizzly’s has a monster TV, core munchies and libations, and is full of folks who really know the sport (and are willing to explain the tricks and scoring to you).

- TONY CHAMBERLAIN

Best program for adaptive athletes
With 20 years of service, nearly 400 active volunteers, and an eclectic support base of clients, donors, and friends, Vermont Adaptive Ski & Sports provides empowerment and inspiration for New Englanders with disabilities. As the only year-round organization of its kind in the state, the program features six full-time staff members located at Pico Mountain, Sugarbush, and Bolton Valley who offer private instruction, group outings, and the use of modern adaptive equipment. Lessons and clinics are available by reservation, and volunteers can fill out an online application or check the list of upcoming training classes. The group’s website (www.vermontadaptive.org) has pricing and details.

- T.D. THORNTON

Best attempt at truthful marketing
Marketers have long frustrated consumers with a “more is better’’ mentality when it comes to reporting the number of open trails. Last season, Mount Snow opted out of the trail-count race in favor of reporting acreage and the percentage of skiable terrain. This year, the resort offers a redesign of the mountain’s trail map, eliminating a number of “upper,’’ “middle,’’ “lower,’’ and tiny connector trails so the official number of runs is now 80 instead of an artificially inflated 107. Here’s hoping more resorts follow suit.

- T.D. THORNTON

Best stage for aerial superstars
Okemo Mountain is billing its Feb. 6 Match My Trick competition as H.O.R.S.E. on a halfpipe. The first snowboarder performs an aerial maneuver, which the next participant must match or exceed in difficulty to become the new leader. Miss the trick and you’re out of the game. The contest will take place in the Ross Powers Superpipe, and a $20 entry fee gets you a crack at the $1,000 grand prize.

- T.D. THORNTON

Best rookie contracts
Sugarbush is unveiling a free season pass for first-time skiers and snowboarders while incorporating online video lessons. Newbies in the $220 First Timer plan receive three lessons and a season pass as a graduation present. After each lesson they receive a video postcard from their instructor, highlighting areas to improve.

- MARTY BASCH

Best rustic getaway
A short stay at The Inn at Mountain View Farm in East Burke might launch this rural Northeast Kingdom gem right to the top of your list for peaceful, scenic lodging. Built in 1883, Mountain View Farm features free doorstep access to a 440-acre network of cross-country skiing and snowshoeing trails, an animal sanctuary, stunning sunset views, and top-notch breakfasts and dinners. The courtyard is a study in agricultural architecture, and the property’s landmark cow barn remains one of the largest farm structures in Vermont. You’re also just several minutes from cruiser-friendly Burke Mountain, so the location is ideal if you want to split a weekend between downhill runs and pristine, undulating backwoods trails.

- T.D. THORNTON

Best Après ski activity
First, enjoy food and a beverage while watching a movie at The Big Picture in downtown Waitsfield. Then slide over to the bonfire at The Skatium, an outdoor rink where locals have nightly broomball games. In last year’s league championship, the Mad River Glen team beat Sugarbush. Said one winner, “We took the big boys down.’’

- TONY CHAMBERLAIN

Best way to light up Sunbowl at night
Stratton’s Sunbowl, largely dormant at night except during the US Open, is getting reenergized. Big Ben will be the site of a four-lane, lift-served snow tubing park. Shuttle service will go from the village to the Sunbowl area, and The Loft, the third-floor base lodge bar, will stay open for après ski and night tubing (snowshoe tours, too) starting in mid-December. Sunriser Supertrail hosts a huge terrain park, and Lower Middlebrook houses a 1,500-foot jib park.

- MARTY BASCH

Best enticement to learn
Nearly 20 ski areas and Nordic centers in the state will offer free beginner’s lessons for all ages Jan. 4-10. The lesson includes rentals and a novice terrain lift ticket. Pre-registration is mandatory at www.skivermont.com starting early next month.

- MARTY BASCH

Best milk runs
Stowe’s ForeRunner Quad starts humming at 7:30 a.m. on mid-winter weekends and holidays, which is good for spreading out runs on those busy days. Enjoy a fresh corduroy run down Hayride or one of the Front Four as you watch the sunrise.

- TONY CHAMBERLAIN

Best change in degree of difficulty
The 450-foot-long Ross Powers Superpipe at Okemo Mountain is getting a facelift. Powers, a two-time halfpipe Olympic medal-winner and hopeful boardercross racer in Vancouver, suggested making the pipe steeper to allow for greater amplitude. The pitch will be changed to 16 degrees.

- MARTY BASCH

Coming next Thursday: The “bests’’ of New Hampshire.