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The spectrum on display at Bolton Valley

Posted by Eric Wilbur, Boston.com Staff  February 8, 2011 09:21 AM

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Powder day? How about a powder night?

That was the deal Saturday at Bolton Valley, as falling snow coincided with the advent of that evening's skiing under the lights. Some 4-5 inches of late-afternoon snow created a surreal skiing environment, with fresh powder to be had and precious, few others fighting for it. Bump trails like Spillway, the only route that was found to be scratchy earlier in the bluebird, spring-like Vermont morning, were instantly transformed into powder-churning playgrounds. The lack of crowds on cruisers like Beech Seal allowed the few skiers and riders on the mountain to soar to the base with large, sweeping turns on the air of the new, silky surface. 

The best part was that it was only the beginning, the promise of a foot by morning dancing in the heads of the perpetually snow-hungry, eager for another fill even after a week that dumped more than a foot of snow in northern New England.

At one point during the evening, I looked up to the lodge, where the second-floor tavern windows were fogged up by the heat and joviality of apr├Ęs-skiers and shook my head. Don't get me wrong, I'm as big a fan of a pale ale after a day of skiing as anyone. But in that moment, libations and swapping tales of the day were the last thing on my mind. All I could think was, "Those suckers don't know what they're missing."

In a sense, the same can be true about Bolton Valley, the subdued ski resort 30 minutes from Burlington. Being the closest ski area to the state's largest city can have its advantages, allowing it to cater to locals - who submerge on the more basic setting of Timberline Peak on powder days - school groups, and area race leagues. Of course, being a stone's throw from destination areas like Sugarbush and Stowe, as well as the legendary terrain at Mad River Glen can also have its disadvantages, as flatlanders flock to the generally more well-known amenities while Bolton tries to carve itself a niche in a crowded skiing and riding market. On that note, their philosophy is simple: Simplicity.

You won't find five-star accommodations at Bolton, a matter that management prides itself on, preferring to offer families an affordable alternative to the posh digs down Route 100. You won't find high-speed quads either, a matter that limits traffic on the mountain's 71 trails. You will find a place that understands its clientele, leaving large portions of the mountain ungroomed - yet with the option of grabbing some cord on many of the same trails - after the blessing of a big storm. You will find no fewer than nine options for on-map tree skiing, where many flocked Sunday morning after 11 inches graced Timberline. 

If there was any weekend better to witness the full array of what it means to ski in New England, last weekend was it. Saturday morning brought bluebird skies and seemingly endless views of the Green Mountains, Lake Champlain, and beyond, as far west as Whiteface, as far south as Pico. The afternoon clouds eventually rolled in, bringing new snow, and first tracks Sunday morning through the heavy abundance of an unsettled night, when thunder snowstorms made their way into northern Vermont. The spectrum was indeed on display.

This was my first trip to Bolton since 1994, when I was a sophomore in college a quick shot up Route 89. I'm sure during my time in Burlington there were more than a few evening powder storms when I should have made the trek down to Bolton, which touts the most extensive night skiing in the state. Instead, I was probably in some downtown saloon with fogged-up windows, chalking up a stick and digging out quarters for 50-cent draft night. This sucker didn't know what he was missing. 

Now he does. And it won't be another 17 years before he forgets. 

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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.

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