If you are not first, you are last. This is the mantra around my competitive family. It applies to suppertime, and certainly skiing. On a powder day, or a perfect corduroy morning, there is nothing that compares to being on that first chair, looking down at untouched snow, knowing you are about to beat everyone else to the goods. You will get to leave your signature in the snow before the bed heads and the stragglers hit the slopes.
I am hooked on first tracks at Sunday River; it is like having your private ski mountain. I have experienced first tracks in perfect cord, on squeaky talcum powder snow fresh from the Sunday River guns, and last Friday six inches of dry light fluffy snow. The conditions for first tracks are usually the best of the day, and the camaraderie is high quality too. You are in company with others who prioritize skiing, and you get to meet Sunday River management – perhaps even the GM. Dana Bullen is one of the nicest guys you will ever meet, and a great skier to boot.
Sunday River charges $25 per person for First Tracks on weekend and holidays, you must have a lift ticket or season pass as well. Once you have signed up at least 24 hours in advance, you get to load the Chondola to North Peak at 7:15am for 45 minutes of privileged skiing, typically on Spruce Peak, prior to the lifts opening to the public at 8am. First Tracks skiers and riders also get a cool sticker for bragging rights, and a coupon for hot cocoa in the lodge. When you take a break at 10am, after ten laps, you see the sea of skiers arrive. You can just imagine they are wondering who tracked up the trails already, while you reflect on your early exclusive runs.
Saddleback has Ski with Management at 7:30am on Sundays, no charge, no sign up, just show up with a valid lift ticket or pass, enjoy freshly groomed or freshly fallen snow, followed by coffee and pastries with your new friends.
Sugarbush has first track cat skiing at Lincoln Peak for $75, up to 12 skiers and snowboarders board the Lincoln Limo snow cat at 7am for private skiing prior to the lifts opening.
First Tracks is like the backstage pass of skiing, you should be an expert or advanced skier or rider to keep up with the enthusiastic group. You will be on the mountain with patrol and usually some major players from ski area management. Of course, you have to drive to the ski resort at dawn, but when you board that first chair and the early sunlight is sparkling off the fresh snow awaiting your ski signature, it’s worth every second stolen from your pillow.
Photos by Greg Burke of Sunday River First Tracks
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.