One of the consequences of New England’s restrictive COVID-related interstate travel mandates is altered, long-held habits for skiers and riders. The result is that winter sports enthusiasts are discovering (or re-discovering) new stomping grounds and creating opportunities for properly positioned ski resorts.
In Massachusetts, many folks who traditionally flock to Vermont, New England's undisputed king of skier visits (4.1 million in 2019) are sticking closer to home. With Vermont’s Inter-state Travel Requirements currently requiring a 14-day quarantine for out-of-state visitors (or 7 days followed by a negative test) many residents of the Bay State are re-thinking their plans and considering in-state options.
This has been a boon to resorts in the Berkshire Mountains of western-Massachusetts. While they are certainly smaller than their neighbors to the north in Vermont’s Green Mountains, the Berkshires has a long and proud ski history of their own. They offer ski experiences in a relaxed atmosphere with classic New England scenery that represents a tremendous value.
Mountains throughout the region are seeing increased interest from skiers and riders who are sticking closer to home. Berkshire East Mountain Resort and Catamount Resort (just over the Mass. border in Hillsdale, New York), are owned by the Schaefer family which is unusual in this age of corporate skiing. When the pandemic began to take hold last March, Berkshire East was the first ski area in the nation to close positioning them as an industry leader. Both resorts offer exceptional terrain within a couple of hours of the Boston metropolitan area.
Jiminy Peak is the biggest player in the Berkshire market in terms of skier visits and is also the largest resort in terms of vertical in southern New England. Jiminy Peak is owned by the Fairbanks Group that also operates Bromley in Vermont and Mount Cranmore in New Hampshire.
Some of the smaller mountains are also enjoying a resurgence. Ski Butternut in Great Barrington began in the 1960s as a partnership with the state’s Department of Environmental Management. Since then the resort has succeeded in maintaining a proper balance between growth and intimacy, remaining an island of protected natural beauty in the southern Berkshires.
Bousquet Mountain, Massachusetts’ oldest ski area founded in 1932,
Is also seeing lots of renewed interest. This much-loved ski area began by attracting skiers on the railroad from New York City to Pittsfield and has remained popular for generations.
Smaller, often overlooked areas like Otis Ridge, Blandford (operating since 1936) and the Mount Greylock Ski Club are also popping up on the radar of Massachusetts skiers. These diamonds in the rough have storied histories and offer a more “down to earth” experience, something that is increasingly appealing to families in the ever-consolidating ski industry. These more diminutive hills also tend to be far more affordable than their bigger neighbors.
The pandemic has also encouraged skiers to take an interest in backcountry skiing. The Berkshires are home to Mount Greylock, Massachusetts’ highest peak and the Thunderbolt Ski Trail is the region's most well-known backcountry locale. The recently updated bible on the topic, Backcountry Skiing in the Northeast by David Goodman is a great way to learn more about backcountry opportunities in the Berkshires and beyond.
Like resorts everywhere, the Berkshire areas have had to alter their operational plans and have implemented various protocols and requirements designed to keep visitors and staff safe. Skiers and riders should be sure to learn about them prior to heading out. They are all prominently linked from their respective websites.
Skiing and riding are a great way to get outside and are recreational activities that we can participate in during these difficult times. If you have never skied or haven’t recently, be good to yourself. Get out there and experience the most exhilarating thing you can do this winter.