The Northeast Multipass Wish List, Part 2

Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine

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This is part two of a two-part series on remaining Northeast multipass free agents. Read part one here, and let me know your thoughts on which ski areas would best fit which passes.

MASSACHUSETTS:

Already on a multipass:

  • Indy Pass: Berkshire East, Catamount

Top free agents: Jiminy Peak, Wachusett

Fairbank Group: Jiminy Peak (plus Bromley and Cranmore)

I’m going to break format here and toss the Fairbank Group’s Vermont and New Hampshire ski areas in with Jiminy Peak, its Massachusetts flagship. All are well-maintained and well-run mountains built around a sense of place and community. Brian Fairbank built Jiminy Peak from a shoestring operation in the late ‘60s into one of the Berkshires slickest ski hills. The group went on to revitalize aging Cranmore, which can get lost amid its larger neighbors surrounding North Conway, and Bromley, which has the same challenge in a southern Vermont dominated by Stratton and Mount Snow.

Optimal pass: Ikon

Why this pass: The company is likely not for sale, ruling out an Epic Pass addition, and the ski areas are a bit tony for the Indy Pass. But with their built-in bed bases and strong management, the ski areas would be ideal five- or seven-day Ikon Pass partners. Jiminy Peak, like recently signed Windham, would be a strong draw for day-tripping city skiers looking to tack on a vacation or two at Ikon’s larger mountains north and west. Cranmore would help boost a New Hampshire lineup that only includes one mountain (Loon), to Vail’s four. The big winners here would be passholders at these three ski areas, who would likely be able to add an Ikon Pass on at an enormous discount, as passholders at current Northeast partner mountains Killington, Sunday River, Sugarloaf, Loon, and Windham can do. Jiminy Peak and Bromley have two of the most expensive single-mountain season passes in the Northeast, and this would be a significant benefit. The probable sticking point in an Ikon deal is Bromley. The mountain is clearly visible from almost every point on Alterra-owned Stratton, which is probably not eager to share a pass with its cross-valley competitor. Crowded Stratton skiers, however, would likely welcome an overflow mountain for days when the snow and city crowds converge.

Wachusett

This is probably the best-run city-adjacent ski area in the country. It’s profitable and up-to-date in everything from its snowmaking to its rental fleet to the trio of express quads running up the mountain. This is a mostly blue mountain, but a solid thousand feet of vertical an hour-ish from Boston is an enormous asset to any pass.

Former multipass participation: M.A.X. Pass

Optimal pass: Ikon

Why this pass: Like Jiminy Peak, Wachusett is probably not for sale, ruling out Vail. But like Windham, it is a sizeable ski area close enough to a big city to draw skiers who may otherwise be waffling between an Epic and Ikon Pass. How many Boston skiers would toss an Ikon Pass in the cart if their access to Loon and Stratton and Sunday River now included bonus days at Wachusett? Two big obstacles may preclude such a deal: 1) Wachusett is hardly in need of more skiers, and, 2) the number of days offered on an Ikon Pass may cannibalize season pass sales. What may negate that is, again, the kind of Ikon Pass add-on deal that Killington, Boyne, and Windham arranged, which wraps a Base Pass into the premium version of their season passes and would likely be highly attractive to Wachusett’s well-heeled passholders.

VERMONT:

Already on a multipass:

  • Epic Pass: Stowe, Okemo, Mount Snow

  • Ikon Pass: Sugarbush, Killington, Pico, Stratton

  • Indy Pass: Jay Peak, Bolton Valley, Suicide Six, Magic

Top free agents: Smugglers’ Notch, Burke, Mad River Glen

Smugglers’ Notch

Smuggs is big, snowy, gnarly, and fun, three peaks of starkly divided terrain fed by a fleet of antique Hall double chairs. It’s great for families, great for shredders, great for everyone. The ski area sits adjacent to and five decades behind Stowe, the crown jewel of Vail’s Eastern empire.

Former multipass participation: Champlain Valley Ski Card

Optimal pass: Epic or Indy

Why this pass: Lower your pitchforks. If Vail were to buy Smugglers’ Notch, the company would almost certainly revitalize and improve the dormant ski link between the two ski areas, instantly transforming it into the largest ski area in the Northeast. A connected Stowe and Smuggs would be the closest the Northeast has ever seen to a Euro-style ski circus, and Vail would almost certainly upgrade the lift system. Barring a sale, however, the current pokey Smuggs, with its vertiginous Madonna terrain and back-of-the-woods feel, would be a hearty and appropriate addition to the Indy Pass.

Burke

Goddamn I love this underrated, isolated, beautiful little NEK mountain. The glade skiing is unspeakably good, the crowds are somewhere else, and a high-speed quad lets you rack up ridiculous vertical. Burke is often called a mini Jay Peak, and the comparison is apt, even if it gets far less snow.  

Optimal pass: Indy

Why this pass: Even though it’s just seven miles off I-91, Burke is forever cursed by its off-the-Spine location in the state’s Northwest corner. It’s probably not quite big or accessible enough to attract Vail or Alterra, even with the stately hotel now seated at its base. Still ensnared in the EB-5 visa scandal that sent Ariel Quiros to jail and landed the mountain (along with Jay Peak) in receivership, Burke will eventually have a new owner. And that new owner ought to consider dropping onto the Indy Pass, a marketing tool that has proven very effective at driving skiers to areas that they have otherwise overlooked.

Mad River Glen

One of the most unique ski areas in the country, Mad River Glen is at once a museum to skiing’s rickety past and a damn fine mountain, with some of the most tenacious terrain in New England. Home to the region’s only single-passenger chairlift, spare snowmaking, and bunched ski clubs outposted at its base, the place has a homey, intimate feel despite the screaming fall-line skiing lurking off the summit. It’s also a polarizing place, one of three in the United States to retain a snowboard ban.

Former multipass participation: Champlain Valley Ski Card

Optimal pass: Indy Pass

Why this pass: Because it couldn’t be anything else. Mad River Glen is owned by a cooperative of a couple thousand skiers who would not sell for any price. Yes, they share a college pass with neighboring Sugarbush, but that is a testament to local bonhomie and not an indication that a Park City/Canyons-style combination would ever be possible between them. General Manager Matt Lillard told me on The Storm Skiing Podcast earlier this year that the mountain would consider an Indy Pass partnership once Covid burned out, and the spirit of the mountain fits Indy’s template perfectly.

NEW HAMPSHIRE:

Already on a multipass:

  • Epic Pass: Wildcat, Attitash, Mount Sunapee, Crotched

  • Ikon Pass: Loon

  • Indy Pass: Pats Peak, Black Mountain, Cannon

Top free agents: Bretton Woods, Waterville Valley, Ragged Mountain, Gunstock

Bretton Woods

The largest ski area in New Hampshire, low-angle terrain, (mostly) unintimidating glades, the Omni Mount Washington Hotel, an excellent lift system: this about as resorty as ski resorts get in the Northeast. Dropping this mountain - one of the region’s best remaining indies - onto any multipass would be a really big deal.

Existing multipass participation: White Mountain Super Pass

Optimal pass: Ikon or Epic

Why this pass: Alterra is way outgunned in New Hampshire: Vail’s four mountains are unlimited on the ultra-affordable Northeast Local Pass, while Ikon offers just five or seven days at Loon. Snagging a partnership with Bretton Woods would balance things out a bit, while giving Ikon skiers access to yet another of New England’s top mountains. Vail, however, does not have such a monopoly on New Hampshire’s 30 ski areas that it couldn’t feasibly add another. A limited partnership similar to the pass’ agreement with Telluride, Snowbasin, and Sun Valley, with seven days of access for full Epic Pass holders and zero or two days for Epic Local Pass holders, would add the kind of resort experience that’s less defined or nonexistent at Vail’s other New Hampshire mountains.  

Waterville Valley

Here’s another large, well-run indie with a loyal following and huge appeal for families. And it’s only going to get better with an enormous expansion that will finally connect mountain and town and create the sort of ski-in, ski-out base village experience that’s rare in the East.

Existing multipass participation: White Mountain Super Pass

Optimal pass: Ikon or Epic

Why this pass: The logic here is largely the same as Bretton Woods: Ikon could really use some more Live Free or Die firepower, but Vail isn’t so dominant in the state that it couldn’t justify adding another mountain, particularly a ready-made resort of Waterville Valley’s quality.

Ragged Mountain

This is one of New England’s most glorious sleeper ski areas. Overlooked perhaps because of its modest 1,250-foot vertical drop, the mountain has everything else any kind of skier could want: solid terrain balance, huge stocks of interesting glades, a pair of high-speed lifts servicing twin summits, and the best season pass value in the Northeast, with a $299 starting price that comes brimming with reciprocal tickets and perks.

Optimal pass: Indy

Why this pass: It wouldn’t fit anywhere else – it’s likely too small to interest Vail or Alterra, and it’s understated terrain, anonymity outside of diehard ski circles, and focus on value fits the Indy ethos perfectly. Interestingly, a deal with Ragged would also likely bring its fellow Pacific Group Resorts-owned mountains onto the pass: Powderhorn, Colorado; Wintergreen, Virginia; Wisp, Maryland; and Mount Washington Alpine, British Columbia.

Gunstock

Roughly the size of Ragged, with a slightly larger vertical drop and slightly less interesting terrain, Gunstock is one of the few U.S. ski areas owned by a local government entity. Its position in southern New Hampshire (not far from Ragged), is enviable outside of the fact that both mountains sit just south of the towering cluster of resorts that define New Hampshire skiing, including Cannon, Waterville Valley, Loon, and Bretton Woods.

Optimal pass: Indy

Why this pass: The ski area’s profile – a varied terrain layout, a loyal following, and a history stretching to the 1930s, but lesser-known and probably in need of some marketing oomph – make it a prime Indy Pass candidate. Indy Pass founder Doug Fish told me on The Storm Skiing Podcast that 90-some percent of Indy Pass visitors to fellow New Hampshire bump Pats Peak were first-time visitors, a fact that ought to appeal to that mountain’s competitors and assure them that two days on a multipass is not going to cannibalize season pass business.  

White Mountain Super Pass

Optimal pass: Ikon

Imagine this: Cannon, Waterville Valley, Bretton Woods, and Cranmore team up to offer five or seven days – each or combined – on the Ikon Pass, instantly upsetting New Hampshire’s Epic/Ikon balance. If this seems unlikely, rewind your time machine to 2016 and ask if you saw Vail owning Stowe and six other New England resorts, and a competitor offering access to the three Boyne mountains, Killington, Sugarbush, and Stratton on a single pass.

MAINE:

Already on a multipass:

  • Ikon Pass: Sugarloaf, Sunday River

Top free agents: Saddleback, Black Mountain of Maine, Shawnee

Saddleback

Back after a five-year slumber and outfitted with a new high-speed quad, committed owners, and a deeply experienced management team, Saddleback instantly drops into the upper tier of the multipass wish list. This is a mountain with serious terrain and serious snowfall, natural attributes counterbalanced by a multi-decade hard-luck story that’s made Saddleback the rickety backwoods cousin of sparkling Sugarloaf and Sunday River. With new lifts coming and expansion throughout the mountain’s massive land holdings a real possibility, Maine’s big two may have to make room.

Optimal pass: Indy

Why this pass: This is a serious and seriously big mountain, but it doesn’t quite fit the Colorado-based megapasses (yet). Ikon is already partnered with the state’s Boyne-owned big boys. Vail is more likely to seek partnerships with the more stable independent resorts in New Hampshire (though Vail would certainly be a possible suitor if Arctaris makes the mountain sustainable). The Indy Pass, though, fits perfectly. It provides marketing exposure for a mountain that needs it after five years out of the public domain. Its demanding terrain and what-am-I-invisible posture in the shadows of its big-money neighbors echoes the circumstances of Indy badasses Cannon, Magic, and Bolton Valley. Jay Peak – which has a two-free-day reciprocal agreement with Saddleback for its passholders – recently became Indy’s flagship Northeast resort, and if that goes well, they could make a powerful argument for Maine’s resurgent mountain to join them. Listen to my Storm Skiing Podcast interview with General Manger Andy Shepard to gauge his opinion on Saddleback joining a multipass.

Black Mountain of Maine

If Saddleback is off the grid, Black Mountain of Maine is off the map, a little-known and less-traveled comeback story with a season pass so cheap you’ll wonder if they forgot to add a zero at the end. Just over half an hour down the road from sprawling Sunday River, the ski area cuts the price and the crowds in exchange for low-speed lifts and a low-key vibe. The skiing can be lights out though, with extensive and ever-expanding glades culled by a dedicated group of forest ninjas who dub themselves the Angry Beavers.

Optimal pass: Indy

Why this pass: The Indy Pass was made for mountains like Black: community-serving, cheap-ticket bumps lost in the rapids of nearby resorts but laced with memorable and unique terrain. The ski area could use the exposure – this is a ski area that had 390 Twitter followers as of Dec. 25 (Sunday River has 26,500; Sugarloaf nearly 36,000). It could probably also use the revenue, and with a top lift ticket price of $45, it would probably find Indy Pass’ yield quite favorable.  

Shawnee Peak

Roughly the size of southern New Hampshire’s Ragged and Gunstock, Shawnee Peak is laced with a similar diverse terrain mix and double base areas that help spread people out. Unlike the rest of Maine’s ski areas not named Sunday River or Sugarloaf, Shawnee Peak is a stable, well-run operation that didn’t need the cavalry to save it from extinction. Just half an hour from the ski cluster buffeting North Conway, it gets a bit lost amid the larger resorts to its north and west, but has a strong local following and solid race programs.

Optimal pass: Indy

Why this pass: Shawnee Peak is a perfect fit for Indy in every way: size, terrain, community, atmosphere, and price. After nearby Mt. Abram briefly joined and dropped off the Indy Pass (I left Mt. Abram off of this list for that reason, as it has nowhere left to go), it leaves an opening in Sunday River’s orbit for a more low-key multipass opportunity.


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