Whether they boast big or small verticals, 5 acres or 200, they also breed a surprising number of competitors, including National Champions and Olympians.
“Local hills” run the gamut in services, from bare essentials of a tow and trails to full-fledged ski schools, tubing, and updated lifts, snowmaking, and grooming. Most lack on-site accommodations and villages and a few even lack a base lodge.
However, they can be surprisingly successful and some have survived for 50 and even 75 years.
With convenient locations, a family vibe, lower-cost tickets, and night skiing common, many pack a wallop when it comes to teaching, coaching, and skier visits.
That’s because, no matter how big or little, they exude the spirit of Alpine — the spills and thrills that hook us in the first place.
Here are some eastern hills you’ll want to visit:
Ask a family in New Hampshire if they’ve skied Pats Peak and you’ll hear “great place for families and kids” over and over again.
Founded and still operated by the Patenaude family, the area has grown to 26 trails, 11 lifts, and 103 skiable acres with a 770-foot vertical. Large enough to include steeps and bumps but definitely geared toward families with an emphasis on being a “teaching mountain.”
When the destination-resort movement boomed in the 1980s, the Patenaude family decided to focus on learning programs instead of hotels and becoming a destination resort, and the area just grew from there, explained Ski School Director Bertie Holland. With a staff of 300 instructors, Pats teaches 8,000-plus students from 100 local schools and rec clubs annually. There’s also Cub’s Club (ages 3-5), Bear’s Den (6-14) instruction programs, adult clinics, and snow-biking lessons for the public.
With 8 glades, 3 terrain parks, tubing, night skiing, snowmaking, ski team training (ages 7-18), and adult/corporate racing night leagues (complete with après-videos in the pub), Pats has kept the area updated while maintaining its family-fun vibe.
New Hampshire has many hills smaller than Pats. Community-owned and operated Abenaki has 7 trails (18 acres), 2 lifts, 200-foot vertical, snowmaking, night skiing, terrain park, and very affordable resident and non-resident rates. McIntyre sports 10 trails (37 acres), 5 lifts, snowmaking, and 200-foot vertical while Granite Gorge features 20 trails (75 acres), 4 lifts, 525-foot vertical, snowmaking, and tubing. Arrowhead and Storrs Hill also serve local communities.
In Maine, where small community areas with vertical drops of 500 feet or less are as numerous as those far larger, Ski Maine’s Greg Sweetser sees “a theme of a reawakening interest in local hills.
“Enthusiastic ski clubs are running local areas like Baker Mountain (460-foot vertical, 1 T-Bar, 5 trails and night skiing) and young children are becoming an increasing market which bodes well for the future. Today’s focus on kids and outdoors activities is contributing to the local community area being seen as a valuable recreational resource. Maine is also having one of the best winters ever, and this feeds into the cycle of families supporting the sport,” Sweetser told SnoCountry.com.
Additionally, he noted “time-crunched people are discovering the convenience of an area being in their backyard. Powerhouse Hill in South Berwick is open Wednesday nights and gives kids and adults a break in the fresh air. It’s a healthy activity during long winters and with today’s time poverty, being local makes it possible to participate. Plus community areas are affordable so it’s a nice convergence of factors.
“Young kids don’t seem to need a lot of vertical to have fun,” Sweetser added, noting he saw “teenage boys having a great time skiing ten runs” at Powderhouse. The rope tow area has a 150-foot vertical, 3 trails (five-acres) with lights on 2 of them — no rentals or ski school services.
“Another positive element comes into play, as larger Shawnee Peak sends equipment and instructors for ‘learn-to’ days, and this year they sent some snow guns to Powderhouse as well. Such generosity helps keep feeder areas an important part of the sport,” Sweetser said, noting Lost Valley with a 243-foot vertical was where Olympian Julie Parisien learned to ski.
Sweetser acknowledged there still are challenges for local hills like sometimes “having to find enough volunteers and being able to afford making snow.” But based on his recent tour of Maine ski areas, he’s “very, very encouraged,” noting 75-year-old Titcomb [3 lifts, 15 trails, 340-foot vertical] is having “a best year ever. More than a thousand people a day are visiting these community areas —that adds up for an impact on growing the sport,” he concluded.
Vermont also has several community hills that serve to introduce people to snow sports — like 78-year-old Northeast Slopes. Run by volunteers and dependent on natural snow, Northeast has 35 skiable acres, 3 surface lifts, 360-foot vertical, a snack bar and fun events. Weekend tickets are $15; half-day Wednesdays, $10; and beginner rope tow $5 adult/$2 child, making it truly affordable.
Another non-profit, Hard'ack is supported by fundraisers and volunteers. The tow-rope area has 3 trails and a terrain park and doesn’t charge but accepts donations.
Cochran’s in Richmond is operated for families and focuses on instruction. Just as Olympians Pam Fletcher and Holly Flanders once skied at Pats, all four of Cochrans’ founders’ Mickey and Ginny Cochrans’ children, became Olympians. They were taught and coached by their father, who installed a backyard rope tow in 1961.
Today, Barbara Ann Cochran, who captured Olympic Slalom Gold in 1972, directs the ski school and teaches parents how to teach their tots to ski in the innovative and popular Ski Tots programs for ages 3 to 5.
Cochran’s also has a weekly after-school program for local schools run by community volunteers who serve 500 children annually. Many youngsters who got their start at Cochran’s have become successful high school, college and World Cup racers.
Cochran’s has grown to 4 surface lifts, 8 slopes, 350-foot vertical, and about 30 skiable acres, Barbara Ann said. There’s snowmaking, night skiing, and a base lodge with food service and rentals shop. In 1998 Cochran’s became a non-profit operated by a board of directors with a “mission to provide area youth and families with affordable skiing, snowboarding, lessons and race training in the Cochran tradition.”
Massachusetts has a dozen ‘local’ hills, from the small Blue Hills (309-foot vertical, 4 lifts, 8 trails) and the far larger Wachusett Mountain (1,000-foot vertical, 22 trails, 110 acres, 8 lifts) near Boston to 75-year- old Blandford (465-foot vertical, 5 lifts, 20 trails) near Springfield and several community areas in the Berkshires.
Berkshire areas like Ski Butternut (110 acres, 22 trails, 10 lifts 1,000-foot vertical, 2 terrain parks,) and Bousquet (23 trails, 5 lifts, 750-foot vertical, 200 acres, snow tubing, night skiing) have expanded their local markets as they grew over the years. Jiminy Peak (1,150-foot vertical, 7 lifts, 45 trails, 170 acres) even expanded to offer on-site lodgings and assorted year-round resort amenities. Once community areas, they share an emphasis on instruction and family fun while still being conveniently “local.”
With over 50 ski areas, New York has many smaller gems with affordable prices like family-owned and operated Plattekill, where a laid-back family atmosphere and 38 trails, 4 lifts, 1,100 vertical, a terrain park, tubing and snowshoeing attract local families as well as those from nearby cities to this Catskills’ location.
Greek Peak has grown from a small hill to a full-service mini-resort with 32 trails (220 skiable acres), 9 lifts, 952-foot vertical, 3 terrain parks, night skiing, tubing, adaptive program, snowshoeing and Nordic skiing. Across from the area, a village of condos and Hope Lake Lodge with indoor water park have expanded Greek Peak’s appeal from the Cortland region’s college students and residents to vacationers.
West Mountain — 40 trails (124 acres), 5 lifts, 1,010-foot vertical, tubing, night skiing, kids programs —in upstate Queensbury is another popular locals’ hill. It remains open into April (weekends) this year.
With the East’s cold temperatures and snowstorms extending into spring, many local areas are still open and, with spring sunshine, remain ideal for introducing child or adult to snow sports or just working on a goggle tan.
Photo: Ski instruction at Pats Peak (Rob Bossi Photography); Bottom right: Evie Lorentz learned at Cochran's Tots Program (Jason Lorentz)