Head For The Slopes In January

By: Rob Conery

Brackett Basin at Sugarloaf. JAMIE WALTER PHOTO

“Who wants to ski alone?”asks Nancy Bradford of Harwich. That's part of the reason she joined the Cape Cod Ski Club over 20 years ago. “I love meeting like-minded people, chatting about our upcoming ski trips at the early meetings, and laughing about the past ones in spring.” She lists Vermont's Killington as her favorite New England ski area and especially praises both the on-mountain grooming and the good restaurants along the access road.

Local Motion

Though the Cape has had only two snowstorms so far this year, up north they're making snow between storms and many areas have already attained decent base depths. Killington has seen 59 inches of snow, packed down to a base depth of 18 inches: not bad for this time of year. Sunday River, Maine, is skiing and riding on 23 miles of terrain. Wildcat, N.H., is open and raring to go, and this place gets my vote for best views in New England.

With cold temperatures in the hills and snowmaking filling in the gaps the real stuff didn't cover, these resorts are looking good for a January trip north.

The Cape Cod Ski Club has been a beacon for the sand bar's alpine enthusiast for decades. They sponsor a variety of day trips, overnight trips as well as several fly trips to western destinations which this year include Aspen, Colorado, and Park City, Utah.

The day trips go to places like Killington, Vermont; Waterville Valley, New Hampshire and Sunday River, Maine. For one price, $90 for members or $105 for non-members, you get bus transport and a lift ticket. Buses leave from the Exit 10 commuter lot in Harwich at 4:30 a.m. with stops in Barnstable and Sagamore before heading north. It's quiet time until the sun comes up, when they serve donuts.

Bob Jensen, 66, lives in Sandwich. Recently retired from 41 years at an international manufacturing company, he has more time to ski now and is the new president of the CCSC.

“I enjoy the camaraderie,” says Jensen.

Asked how a large group—they have over 400 members—can get along so well, even under the confined conditions of long bus trips, Jensen says with a laugh, “we don't talk politics. We have a few beers, we talk, nobody puts on any airs.” Jensen, whose favorite New England ski area is Sugarbush in Vermont, said the group is friendly and welcoming, doesn't have cliques, and that members often get together outside of skiing to enjoy some kayaking, golf or biking here on the Cape. They no longer show ski films on the trips (bus company rules) but Jensen says with a laugh that they are “not supposed to” drink beer on the bus, but, you know....

The club runs day trips every Wednesday and their first overnight trip is to Loon and Cannon mountains, departing Jan. 7.

Bonnie Hessler of Chatham thought joining the Cape Cod Ski Club after moving here in 2004 from the Mid-Atlantic region would be a good way to meet people. She wasn't disappointed. “The club has consistently exceeded our expectations.” She also mentioned the “great people” and added, “if value for money spent is important, this club has it down. The members who put time into planning the trips are awesome.”

In an era when individual lift tickets are pushing past $130/day, a lift ticket with transportation included for $90 is an undeniable bargain.

Head Up

Mike Walsh of Harwich lists Sugarloaf, Maine, as one of his favorite mountains. Walsh has been skiing for 25 years, 20 of them with the CCSC, and enjoys the camaraderie. “Many social bonds result and of course the skiing is at the center. These relationships can last a lifetime,” says Walsh.

Patti Sandri of Harwich says she's been skiing for 55 years and also enjoys Sugarloaf.

I join Walsh and Sandri in singing the praises of Sugarloaf (unofficially, it was the most listed hill in an informal club survey that I conducted).

Deep in the Carrabasset Valley looms massive Sugarloaf. This is the real deal. Superlatives include: highest elevation ski area in New England, only above-tree-line skiing in New England, only ski cat operation in the East. Sugarloaf is an adult course, though they have gentle terrain for the kiddies, too. But be forewarned, wind is a factor here. And on cool days it is a savage, Arctic cold that assaults you. Put it this way, this was the only place in 30 years of snowboarding I was ever blown back up the hill by a gust of wind! But if the wind stays down, oh boy! What a pleasure preserve: trees, steeps, views, snowfields, and powder that lasts for days, especially mid-week. And that's just in bounds.

Last season Sugarloaf introduced the only cat skiing operation in the East. For an additional charge over your regular lift ticket ($25 for one trip, $45 for two) you will board a heated ski cat—as big as a passenger van, but on lightweight tank treads—and travel into Bracket Basin and, beyond that, Burnt Mountain. This is an ungroomed, unmaintained area; a true backwoods experience. While ski patrol does “sweep” at the end of the day, it is recommended that you bring a cell phone and/or a two-way radio to contact ski patrol if you get into trouble or get lost. They recommend no one enter the zone after 3 p.m. or alone. The area offers “western style” glades, meaning tree skiing, and at the bottom you take an old logging road that leads back the ski area's base.

Gear Up

If you don't already have gear, every ski area big enough to spin a chairlift will rent you skis and snowboards once you arrive. Here on the Cape, you basically have two options, both in Hyannis: Puritan and The Boarding House.

Puritan is a full-service ski shop and they do daily, weekend, weekly and season-long rental packages. Daily rentals start at $30 or $35 with a helmet, and weekend rentals with Friday pick-ups and Monday returns starting at $50. They also offer a season-long ski lease program. This way, for one set price ($130 for juniors, $299 for adults) you can use the equipment all season long with the option to purchase the skis at season's end for an additional $100.

The Boarding House sells snowboards, boots and bindings as well as outerwear for snowboarders, though they are not a ski shop. They have some of last year's gear at steep discounts, and they sell snowboard videos and wax and accessories, too. They do in-house board repairs; waxing and edge sharpening costs $40 with slightly higher rates if you really gouge the board on a rock or picnic table and need some repairs to the actual P-Tex base. Friendly staff, too.

The Boarding House offers boards from a variety of manufacturers, including industry leader Burton (RIP to Jake Burton Carpenter, a true legend and pioneer, who passed in November) as well as Never Summer and GNU. They also offer high-end boards from Jones Snowboards. Owner and activist Jeremy Jones is a big mountain snowboarder, and his brothers Todd and Steve co-founded Teton Gravity Research—though they are now based out west, the three share Cape roots.

With some snow here—and a whole lot more up north—to paraphrase the late, great ski film maker Warren Miller, “If you don't try it this year, you'll be one year older when you do.”