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No reason to leave New England

20 ways to keep winter enthusiasts busy - and happy

By Eric Wilbur
Globe Staff / November 15, 2009

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You can’t do it all. Or can you? Your life checklist may include a heli-ski trip in Alaska, or a summer vacation to South America. But there’s plenty to keep skiers and snowboarders busy right in New England. Here are 20 things every local winter sports enthusiast should see or do.

1. Take an avalanche course Yes, they can happen in New England, which makes it imperative that you have the knowledge should you explore the backcountry. Tuckerman.org provides a list of the many courses in the Mount Washington Valley area. www.tuckerman.org/safety/courses.htm

2. Witness “Oh my gosh’’ corner Driving north on Maine’s Route 27, Sugarloaf will peek at you from time to time, offering a suggestion as to what’s to come. But when you come to that corner, and Sugarloaf is suddenly staring at you with snowfields glistening in the early morning sun, you’ll probably utter the same words that prompted locals to give this corner its nickname.

3. Swap the boards Experience how the other half glides. Ditch the skis or snowboard for a day, and become a knuckle dragger or a two-planker. Whether you take a lesson, or make a go of it on your own, you’re likely to come away with new appreciation for your alpine cousins.

4. Enter the Hannes Schneider Meister Cup Race A New England classic, this annual event at Cranmore Mountain pays tribute to the grandfather of ski schools with a race in which all entrants are encouraged to don vintage skiwear. That even includes the neon CB Sports jacket you have lying around someplace. www.skimuseum.org/hsmcr.html

5. Ski the Front Four You may be able to handle the relatively tame Liftline, but once you tackle the remaining three trails of Stowe’s famous Front Four - National, Starr, and Goat - you’ll truly get a sense of why the mountain is a one-of-a-kind destination.

6. Master Castlerock The debate as to whether or not Sugarbush’s Castlerock area poses a greater challenge than the Front Four can rage forever. What cannot be debated, however, is that Castlerock contains some of the gnarliest lift-service terrain in New England, and on a powder day, it’s tough to imagine a more challenging set of trails.

7. Ski Tuckerman Ravine On spring days at Wildcat, it stares at you across the way, beckoning you to make the hike in order to enjoy one of New England’s most famous backcountry pleasures. Eventually, you just have to take the plunge to experience the steep headwall, the party atmosphere at the lunch rocks, and the unparalleled Mount Washington corn snow that can last late into May and beyond.

8. Enter the Thunderbolt 75th Anniversary Race You have to act quickly to make this one a reality. The Feb. 20 race is only available to the first 120 entries. There will be four categories: alpine, snowboard, telemark, and vintage. www.thunderboltskirun.com

9. Descend the Wildcat Valley Trail This challenging, scenic trail in New Hampshire drops 3,245 feet over about 11 miles from the summit of Wildcat Mountain to Jackson Village, where cross-country skiing’s popularity will make you think you traversed all the way to northern Europe.

10. Ride the Cat at Sugarbush Heli-skiing hasn’t exactly caught on in New England, for obvious reasons. But Sugarbush offers the next best thing: a 12-passenger snowcat that will bring you to areas of the mountain before the lifts start spinning. It runs most Saturdays and holidays, but the time to keep a keen eye on the schedule is when there is powder to be had.

11. Go pond-skimming Sure it can be kitschy, but there’s also a certain art to this spring activity. At the very least, consider it practice for your summer water skiing attempts.

12. Pamper yourself Splurge on a ski vacation worthy of the Beaver Creek crowd, and just this once, don’t worry about the bill. Topnotch Resort in Stowe, Vt., and the Mount Washington Hotel near Bretton Woods in New Hampshire both offer luxury accommodations, with spa and countless other amenities.

13. Go bumming Sometimes we need to remember the days when we scrounged every dime for a day on the slopes. Spend the night at one of New England’s many hostels, and you’re liable to spend the evening deep in alpine conversation with newfound friends.

14. Rent for the season Forget the long drives on those day trips, and end the stress of securing hotel rooms by renting a cabin or condo in ski country.

15. Hike to Mittersill - while you must This season, Cannon Mountain will run a weekend-holiday shuttle from Mittersill, the nearby former ski area that it inherited last year from the White Mountain National Forest. That could mean some increased traffic on the slopes, but nothing compared with next season, when Cannon is expected to have a new chairlift up and running.

16. Ski somewhere new every year We all have favorites, but mixing it up can suggest new ways to enjoy the sport and introduce us to different vibes - as well as teach us which mountains to avoid. This winter, discover lesser-traveled Black Mountain and Bolton Valley.

17. Enter the Stowe Derby This race from the top of Mount Mansfield to the village of Stowe 10 miles away has attracted hundreds of contestants every year since 1945. The combination of downhill and cross-country tests the overall ability of a skier, with the added challenge that entrants can use only alpine or Nordic skis for the entire race. Coming up on Feb. 28. www.teammmsc.org/StoweDerby.asp

18. Join a ski club Do your research and you might have a bed for the season and make new skiing acquaintances. Not all clubs require that you be a member of the house. Many throughout New England simply offer the benefits of camaraderie and discounted lift tickets. www.skishoppingguide.com/skiclubs.html

19. Return to your roots Chances are it’s been years since you skied on the mountain where you learned to snowplow as a child. For a little nostalgia, visits to King Pine, Butternut, and Ski Ward are in order. Let the memories come flooding back.

20. Ski on closing day Sure, a resort’s opening day brings the giddy anticipation of making first turns, but for true camaraderie among skiers and snowboarders, nothing beats waxing poetic with fellow diehards about the season that was while navigating spring corn on a mid-April closing weekend. There’s a certain melancholy to it, but these are the days when we truly appreciate our sport. Let the others play golf.

Eric Wilbur can be reached at ewilbur@ boston.com.