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Best of Southern N.E. skiing

Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island

December 10, 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 gathering for X-C enthusiasts
Weston Ski Track on the Leo J. Martin Golf Course is a gathering point for energetic cross-country ski racers. Under the lights in January and February, Cambridge Sports Union showcases a freestyle time trial generally 6-8 kilometers in length that attracts skiers of all levels. Many skiers stick around afterward to swap tips. They also have new lighting that enhances the night skiing experience.

- MARTY BASCH

Best shortsighted promotion
The winter solstice Dec. 21 marks the shortest amount of daylight of the year, and Wachusett Mountain is going long on “short’’ promotions. You get half-price lift tickets if you ski or ride in shorts, the shorter members of the family (meaning the kids) ski free, and instructors will be giving 10-minute, on-slope tutorials. Après-ski entertainment includes a short set of live music, short (8 oz.) beer specials, and short ribs as the featured snack.

- T.D. THORNTON

Best place to learn free-heeling
Blue Hills’s 300-foot vertical isn’t much for a seasoned skier, but it’s all a rookie needs to learn the art of free-heel skiing. The nine-trail hill in Canton is making a concerted effort to introduce people to the largely backcountry discipline of telemark skiing, where skiers are connected to a binding at the front of the boot leaving the heel free. Five telemark clinics are planned throughout the season, beginning Dec. 29.

- MARTY BASCH

Best shopping alternative for kids
Kids grow out of new equipment from one ski season to the next. To keep costs down, Mount Southington in Connecticut leases children’s packages on a seasonal basis. Setups range from $129 to $149, depending on the size of the skis.

- T.D. THORNTON

Best medium-sized challenge
Rivaling most medium-size areas further north, Jiminy Peak lays out some black diamonds that really rate highly. Front-face runs such as Wild Turkey and Jericho will get knees - and hearts - pumping. For warm-ups, cool-downs, or just a mellow run in between, cruisers such as Panorama take you for a scenic stroll in the woods.

- TONY CHAMBERLAIN

Best - and only - R.I. has to offer
Yawgoo Valley, Rhode Island’s only ski resort, isn’t a mountain. It’s a 245-foot hillside in a valley, and although small in size, it’s got a fervent following. Since 1963, the slopes near Narragansett Bay have served as a launching pad for several generations of Ocean State skiers and boarders, with a focus on night skiing and lessons. As one of New England’s most southern ski hills, it will never be confused with the major mountains, but the true spirit of the sport shines through at Yawgoo.

- T.D. THORNTON

Best community ski club
Blandford Ski Area, under the auspices of the Springfield Ski Club, bills itself as the oldest club-operated Alpine mountain in America. This year the organization celebrates its 75th anniversary of sponsoring lessons, racing programs, and ski camps for more than 2,500 members in western Massachusetts, and is extending an open invitation to any skier who wants to check out the area before signing on as a member. If you purchase a daily ticket and like what you ski, the cost will be credited toward a season pass.

- T.D. THORNTON

Best way to use the Web
Purchasing a lift ticket online is a way to save some cash. Jiminy Peak in Hancock raises it a level with e-coupons available on select dates throughout the season. Here’s the deal: visit Jiminy’s website, fill out the form, and print out the coupon at least 24 hours before the date (first date is Dec. 18) and bring it to the mountain to purchase the ticket. There are 10 e-coupon dates with deals from $25 twilight tickets to $39 full-day passes.

- MARTY BASCH

Best island adventure on skis
Sometimes half the fun of an outdoor adventure is visiting a destination that is not traditionally associated with winter recreation. The 5,100-acre Manuel F. Correllus State Forest on Martha’s Vineyard offers an inviting 15-mile network of trails and bike paths that can be jammed in summer but blissfully desolate for cross-country skiing or snowshoeing. The price is right, too - it’s free.

- T.D. THORNTON

Best time to tackle moguls
At Ski Sundown near Hartford, the 625-foot vertical skis like a much larger mountain. Especially in late winter, when the temps mellow out and the moguls get high, shaggy, and soft - ready for your best Donna Weinbrecht/Johnny Mosley impression.

- TONY CHAMBERLAIN

Best drop where you’d least expect it
You don’t often find headwalls on the cruiser-friendly ski hills of western Massachusetts, but Otis Ridge has a surprisingly steep drop-off on the expert run named Slalom. It can either catch you off guard or allow you to catch some nice air if you hit it at just the right clip.

- T.D. THORNTON

Best snowmaking enhancement
Ski Butternut in Great Barrington has added 120 18-foot tower snow guns and over a mile of new air and water lines since last season, a decent upgrade for a mid-sized Massachusetts mountain.

- T.D. THORNTON

Best turn for tubing
Instead of sliding the rails or carving turns on the slopes, go to Nashoba Valley for a low-skill, high-thrill tubing adventure. The four lifts and 15 groomed lanes (when in full operation) are adjacent to the Westford ski hill in Littleton and provide easy outdoor recreation for the family, day or night. Link your tubes for a group run.

- MARTY BASCH

Best promotion for women
At Ski Sundown in New Hartford, females 18 and older can join the Women’s Evening Club, which offers eight weekly clinics for skiers of all abilities. Female ski instructors lead the Thursday sessions, beginning in January under the lights at the 15-trail, 625-foot vertical ski hill.

- MARTY BASCH

Best loop in the backcountry
Not only is John Morton a former cross-country Olympian, he also is an international trail designer whose imprint is found from New England to South Korea. Morton has designed a 2.8-kilometer loop (about 1.7 miles) for Hilltop Orchards in the Berkshires. The moderate circuit heads through the orchard located in Richmond, which also is home to a winery.

- MARTY BASCH

Best chance for eager rookies
Mohawk Mountain in Cornwall, Conn., is offering first-time skiers and riders a day of free lessons, rentals, and a lift ticket that does not provide access to the entire mountain. Learn to Day is Dec. 19. Group lessons will target adults (14 and older) and juniors (6 to 13).

- MARTY BASCH

Best variety for competition
By day, Wachusett Ski Area in Princeton is busy with organized training and race meets among high school teams. By night, it becomes a family ski area, with plenty of amateur racing clubs as well. The best time for seniors is weekday mornings.

- TONY CHAMBERLAIN

Best bet for morning glories
Almost every mountain has half-day rates, but only a handful allow you to buy a half-day ticket that is good for the morning portion only. Mohawk Mountain in Connecticut has Friday ticket deals for $20 that allow you to get in unlimited runs between 9:30 a.m. and 1 p.m.

- T.D. THORNTON

Best new trail at a small area
Ski Bradford may feature only 248 feet of vertical drop, but this season it’s opening a black-diamond trail called Hugh’s Run that was cut over the summer. Folks who have walked it report that it’s fairly steep and challenging for a modest hill not exactly known for intimidating terrain.

- T.D. THORNTON

Best workout in Weston
Weston Ski Track will host two stops of the New England Winter Triathlon Series 2010 - the Winter Duathlon Jan. 10 featuring a 4-kilometer run and 6-kilometer ski, and the Massachusetts Winter Triathlon (run, mountain bike, and cross-country ski) Feb. 6, all on snow if conditions permit.

- MARTY BASCH

Best Boston-based vacation camp
For kids close to Boston, Blue Hills Ski Area has snow sports camps scheduled for school vacation weeks (Dec. 27-31, Feb. 18-22). Children 7-15, of all abilities, get to ski or ride with an instructor from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. each day, with unlimited, unsupervised runs before and after. Enrollment is limited, and packages can be tailored to include rentals and other pass options.

- T.D. THORNTON

Best price point for once-a-weekers
Southern New England skiers and boarders who hit the slopes only once a week are usually caught between price points - it can be too costly to buy daily lift tickets, but not quite justifiable to purchase a season pass. Ski Sundown in Connecticut bridges the gap by offering a once-a-week pass option for $229 (the daily adult lift ticket rate is $52; a full-season pass is $579). You can also combine the pass with any of the mountain’s clinics or lesson programs.

- T.D. THORNTON

Best homestyle pub food
After a day of snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in one of Massachusetts’s most beautiful wilderness areas, head to McCarthy’s Pub in Belchertown. Infused with an Irish pub atmosphere, McCarthy’s features all the comfort food of ski season - from chicken pot pie to squash lemon bisque to a rip-roaring pot of chili.

- TONY CHAMBERLAIN