A typical MLK weekend at many east coast ski resorts: 45 minute lift lines, $90 lift tickets, shuttle buses from lot 29B, and the joy of skiing with 10,000 of your closest friends. Can’t wait, right? There is a better way. If you live in the Northeast and you don’t have $500 to burn on a flight out west (plus accommodations, rentals/demos, etc.), here are some tips on crowd management. These often overlooked ski areas offer great skiing at reasonable prices with limited crowds. They don’t have the fastest lifts, shiniest ski shops, most exaggerated trail maps or luxurious accommodations, but if you’re looking to make a few turns in a relaxed atmosphere, they get the job done and done well.
Catskills, NY – Plattekill
Located a few miles west of the more popular Hunter Mountain, Plattekill is just an extra 20 minute drive when traveling north from NYC. Don’t worry about the extra few minutes in the car. The driving time will be more than made up for on the slopes. Plattekill offers great natural terrain and limited crowds. A true “mom and pop” operation, owned and operated by a husband and wife, the mountain retains a small mountain feel while offering some of the best terrain in the area. A full day adult holiday lift ticket is $58.
Southern, VT – Magic Mountain
Located just about equal distance between the more popular (and crowded) Stratton and Okemo resorts, Magic has always been a small ski area. More recently, Magic has developed a certain cult-like following by a group of dedicated locals and out-of-staters (aka, “flatlanders”). The mountain’s laid back vibe, 1,700’ vertical, steep terrain, open access glade policy, and limited crowds has attracted customers dissatisfied with the cookie cutter experience found at nearby resorts. Magic had a minor setback over New Year’s weekend, when the Red Chair suffered a rare breakdown. Management informed us that the Red Chair has been repaired, passed the Vermont State inspection and has been running great for the last two weekends. We’re also told the Black Chair is on track to spin this weekend. If running, the second chair should double uphill capacity, eliminating any chance at lift lines. A full day adult holiday lift ticket is $59 ($49 if you have a season pass to any other resort).
Northern, VT – Middlebury Snow Bowl
Located about half way between Killington and Sugarbush, the Middlebury Snow Bowl offers an escape from the massive crowds at nearby resorts. Perhaps its location off of route 125 (not route 100) makes it harder to find, and therefore it’s less crowded. (Editor’s note: I literally can’t find someone who has ever waited on a line here). Operated by the nearby liberal arts college of the same name, the hill is most well-known for its ski racing history. However, in recent years a group of locals has worked with management to open up the tree skiing, providing some excellent terrain to play with. Combine good terrain, no lines, and a full day adult lift priced at $48, and you have a recipe for a great day.
Southern, ME – Mount Abram
Located in the shadow of nearby Sunday River, Mt. Abram may be one of the east coast’s most overlooked ski areas. The mountain recently joined the Mountain Riders Alliance to become the organization’s first operational pilot project. Winner of the Golden Eagle Award for Environmental Excellence (small ski area category) Mt. Abram is trying to do it right. Offering a laid back attitude, a boundary to boundary ski policy and full day adult pass priced at $49, Mt. Abram deserves a look.
Northern, ME – Saddleback
Saddleback is the biggest mountain mentioned in this article. The ski area packs a lot of punch for a $59 adult lift ticket. With an elevation of 4,120’, a 2,000’ vertical drop, and 220 skiable acres, Saddleback is a large ski resort with a small ski mountain feel. While Maine doesn’t really ever get crowded, most skiers head towards Sugarloaf, missing out on a great alternative.
New Hampshire – Black Mountain
It’s tough to find anyone saying something negative about Black Mountain. The biggest concern I’ve heard is a fear of letting too many people know about it. This Yelp review pretty much summed it up: “Black may not be quite as big as nearby Attitash or Wildcat, but what you lose in size, altitude, and attitude, you gain in 1) no lift lines, 2) solid conditions, 3) lots of terrain variety, and 4) family friendly yet still fun for the experts.” With a $49 holiday lift ticket, what do you have to lose?
Authors Note: I’m sure I missed a few other good alternatives. If you’re willing to share a good one, feel free to comment below. If you’re saving it for yourself , we understand that too.