With evening plans back in the Hub, a morning/afternoon on the snow was the right move to make for the last day of skiing in 2008.
NYE there was snow in the forecast. The radar loop early on Wednesday morning confirmed what all the weather people were saying. The heaviest bands of accumulation seemed aimed for southern NH. This all added up to the perfect opportunity for a day trip.
Day Trip Rule: I like to tell people that a day trip is worthwhile if you can spend more time at the mountain than in the automobile. Accomplishing this will realistically limit drives from Boston to about 5 hours, round trip.
From the parking lot - looking at the Base Lodge (left) with the peak in the backgroud.
Destination: Pats Peak! Located in Henniker, NH it is an easy drive from downtown Boston. It takes a little over an hour (with dry roads & no traffic). Better yet, 95% of the trip is all highway driving.
Conditions: The mountain was gearing up for their own New Years celebrations. Mother Nature and Old Man Winter were cooperating. By the time the cars transmission was in park for the day, there were a couple of fresh fluffy inches on the ground. It was cold. Temperatures hovered around the low twenties all day. This snow was all falling on top of terrain listed as 100% open.
The rain from earlier in the week had done its share of damage. The edgable surface underneath the coat of new snow was very firm and littered with variable hazards (ice, rocks, twigs, etc.) but with up to 6 inches in the forecast by the afternoon, it was apparent the skiing would continuously improve throughout the day. It certainly did.
Last season when compiling criteria on ski day trip from Boston, Pats Peak came out on top. Here are the attributes which were taken into consideration.
Drive time and distance
Terrain for all abilities
On mountain options other than skiing/riding
We already touched on the first bullet earlier in the entry.
The most expensive lift ticket sold at Pats Peak is $52 for a holiday/weekend adult full day. There are plenty of different price point options and package deals to choose from, depending on what you are after. I recommend looking at the website.
The mountain has a lot of character. Pats Peak has been around for a while. A family that understands and loves the ski culture independently owns it. For decades, they have worked in unison with the town of Henniker and New England College. What this translates to for you is an on mountain experience that is loaded with moral fiber.
Pats Peak has a trail system that will appeal to someone learning for the first time. There is a dedicated beginner slope right in the middle of the base area, free from other ski/ride traffic. Intermediates looking to raise the bar should head to the skiers left side of the mountain where a separate trail system of blue squares is serviced by its own lift. A race junkie (or parent of one) will do just fine. The front face of the Peak is steep. Not a lot of vertical, but a good pitch that allows you to work turns at speed. There are always courses set up and some are open to the public. If you just like to get out and do your own thing know this, Pats Peak has 100% coverage for snowmaking and night skiing.
SG Note: not entirely sure if this is true, but I was speaking with another guest up there and they told me that the mountain operations have even been blowing snow into the woods for the gladed trails.
For the non-Skiers and non-Riders in your group there is Snow Tubing and that is always a great outdoor winter option, especially for children.
The base lodge is one of the best in New England. The structure is a large multiple level building. Several fireplaces provide a good spot for anyone to grab a book and enjoy the view of the slopes. The food is good. The bar is better, if a Hot Toddy is your thing. The friendly staff takes pride in this building, it is clean and has a decor that screams traditional New England skiing. The is also another large structure in the base area that supports services like ski school, rentals, race programs, offices, etc.. You will find everything one would expect from a mega resort all tucked into a functional and easily manageable set up.
People of all ages are welcome to enjoy the free popcorn!
S.G. Shout Out: I needed to get the wax ripped off my bases/edges from summer storage. I went into the ski shop looking for a tool to do it myself. One of the employees insisted that he do the work. For Free. I had to force him to take a fin ($5) for a tip. For me anyway that pretty much sums up what Pats Peak is all about.
S.G. Ego Check: As I was walking across the front deck to make my way to the lift I took a huge digger. The decks are that new plastic substance that looks like gray wood and is virtually indestructible. It also happens to get very slippery when covered with a film of snow. My ski boots did not provide the best traction. Skis and poles went everywhere. People were asking me if I was hurt.
A slippery, snow covered deck!
As snow continued to fall, the skiing at Pats Peak continued to improve. By lunchtime, the S.G. was hooting and hollering his way down some of the steeper trails on the front side like Tornado, The FIS Race Trial, Vortex, and Hurricane. The painful sounds of the scratchy terrain below the fluff, abundant earlier in the morning, were all but gone.
Overall, the day was an absolute winner. Only part that was lack luster was the long drive home, the roads were busy with holiday traffic and still suffering from the snowfall. It took two and a half hours to get back to Boston. It was well worth it, spent more time on the snow than in the auto.
Next time you are thinking of a day trip with friends, family or both do not be scared to give up some vertical feet and windshield time to find a lot of fun at Pats Peak.
pics - S.G.
The S.G. finding a little powder on Twister
Eric Wilbur is a lifelong recreational skier who spends most of his winter and spring in the mountains of New England. He does not ski in jeans. You can read more of Eric's work here.
Heather Burke is an award winning ski journalist with over a decade of ski news coverage. As a former ski instructor and a ski parent, she knows the ski biz from the inside out. She and her family visit New England ski resorts, as well as the West and Canada, to report on the latest trends and their best family finds. Her husband Greg takes all the accompanying photos, and their work can be seen at www.familyskitrips.com and www.luxuryskitrips.com.