Vermont Drops Quarantine Restrictions for Fully Vaccinated Travelers
It’s not over yet but damn is that a rainbow poking out of the hurricane’s edge?
And the line of yellow license plates streamed unmolested into Narnia
I’ve been having a hell of a good season here in New York, as you’ll see at the bottom of this email, blasting up and down and across the state, following the snow in a season-long exploration of all the backwoods lost-in-time ski hills that are Vermont-far but Midwest-big, an exercise in novelty and checklist wandering that has been more satisfying than I could have imagined.
Still, a Northeast ski season without Vermont feels weird. Like if the Yankees suddenly stopped playing baseball but the rest of the MLB kept on. Those towering mountains, with their high-speed out-of-state infrastructure and their deep snowpacks and their sprawling trail networks, anchor our regional ski culture. We need them.
Some of us are about to get them back. As of Tuesday, fully vaccinated travelers can visit the state without quarantine two weeks after receiving their final dose. Quarantine requirements remain in effect for everyone else. This will not save Vermont’s ski season. The number of people who are both avid skiers and fully vaccinated is likely quite low. And there isn’t a lot of season left. But as the state with the nation’s strictest travel requirements acknowledges our progress fighting Covid and cracks open the borders, it’s creating a sunlight-through-the-clouds moment. This pandemic won’t last forever.
New case counts in the U.S. have plummeted since a January high of more than 300,000 new daily infections to less than 75,000 yesterday. It’s nothing to thump your bulletproof Uncle Sam red-white-and-blue vest about. Deaths remain high, at more than 3,200 yesterday. Vaccinations putter along, stalled by last week’s weather and other factors. But we appear to be getting there.
“There,” in this case, is back to an America where we can freewheel around in our 14-wheel drive SUVs, the state borders curiosities rather than roadblocks. And yes good people of Vermont, I realize this year-long break from weekending New Yorkers driving 80 in a 35 and doing dumbass New Yorker things like not pulling ahead to the first pump on a gas station island has in some ways been a relief. But listen Pal, we’re not always exactly fist-pumping the sky to see you either, in your green license plates and your Subarus driving 10 miles an hour below the speed limit. But we need each other and you know that. And while most of us will not be back this year, we will be eventually. So clear the left lane and re-open the sushi bar. We’re coming.
Spring and season pass offers trickle in
Most years, Mountain Creek starts bombing my inbox a week or two before Presidents’ Day with details on its spring pass, an all-access-for-the-rest-of-this-season-and-next-season passport for the amazing price of $230. It’s a terrific deal and a no-brainer pick-up, as Creek is the closest 1,000-plus-vertical-foot hill to my home.
This year, I’m still waiting for those urgent buy-now! emails more than a week after the holiday. Which is understandable. Mountain Creek is having its best snow year in eons at the same time it’s contending with the same Covid capacity restrictions that everyone else is. The mountain’s normally outstanding high-speed lift system has often been overwhelmed as single riders clonk onto a lift that is designed to hold four or six or eight. The last thing the place needs right now is more skiers.
But some mountains have pushed ahead. Three ski areas in resort-rich eastern Pennsylvania have released 2021-22 passes that include 2021 spring access. Bristol and Killington have released standalone spring passes. A few large mountains – Holiday Valley and Jiminy Peak – have put out next year’s pass details but do not appear to be offering spring access. And in a sign that some customer-centric Covid-era policies may not endure, Waterville Valley, the first large Northeast mountain to release 2021-22 pass details, states that passes will not be refundable. They are, however, offering payment plans and renewal discounts, indicating that some Covid adaptations may stick around.
We should see rapid movement on season passes over the next few weeks, as Vail and Alterra normally release Epic and Ikon pass details in late February or early March. I’m aware of at least one major Northeast pass announcement next week. How those multipasses shape their deferral and refund options and other perks and policies will heavily influence what everyone else does.
Here’s what the Northeast spring and season pass landscape looks like as of Feb. 25:
Several mountains have released 2021-22 season passes with spring access:
Waterville Valley’s 2021-22 passes are $942 (renewing passholders will get a 10 percent discount), through April 30 and include spring access. Adult passes include a free pass for a child aged 6 to 12. The mountain is offering a payment plan and renewal discounts, but passes, this year, will be nonrefundable.
Blue Mountain, Pennsylvania’s 2021-22 pass will go on sale for $599 March 1, and will include access for the remainder of this season.
Camelback’s 2021-22 passes are $599 ($529 for returning passholders), through March 8, and include access for the rest of this season.
Montage’s 2021-22 passes are $399 ($349 for 2020-21 passholders) beginning March 1, and will include access for the rest of this season.
Butternut’s 2021-22 passes are on sale for $339, and include skiing for the rest of this season beginning March 1.
Otis Ridge (which is owned by Butternut) is selling 2021-22 passes for $179 and also including March access.
New York’s Cazenovia Ski Club has “memberships” on sale for $470 until April 30.
Two mountains have also released standalone spring passes:
Here’s the big one: Killington’s spring pass is $249 and provides unlimited access to Killington and Pico through the end of their respective seasons. I have no idea if Killington will try and make a run for late May or June this year, but I wasn’t sure if they’d do this product at all, and seeing it back is a really good sign that Killington believes it can push the season at least through April.
Bristol’s March Madness pass is $299 and is good through the end of the season, which will definitely not be in June.
We also have a pair of season pass releases that do not appear to offer spring access:
Jiminy Peak’s 2021-22 pass goes on sale March 1 for $898 for adults. The price won’t rise until July 15, when it will increase to $961.
Holiday Valley has 2021-22 passes on sale for $979 ($923 for daytime only). The mountain is offering no-questions-asked deferrals to the 2022-23 (why does that sound too futuristic to be real?) up to Nov. 30.
Two mountains have promised to release pass prices next month:
Toggenburg’s pass details will be out on March 1 (sister mountain Greek Peak would presumably follow).
Yawgoo is promising that passes will go on sale in “early March.”
Pocket Outdoor Media, which owns Ski magazine, changed its name to Outside after acquiring Outside Magazine. Whaleback and Bousquet finally get their summit lifts spinning, but Magic faces further delays on its Black Chair and Big Squaw’s lift remains down. I wish I could get more optimistic about community efforts to revitalize Big Tupper, but the property needs major investment. New York Ski Blog hits Song, Gore, Bristol, and West. Sutner at Black, New Hampshire. New England Ski Journal at Gunstock and Burke. Ice Coast visits Titus and Magic. Lee Cohen’s top five pics of all time are rad but I don’t know man they just aren’t the same on the webernet. New Wintry Mix pod.
This week in skiing
Thursday, Feb. 11 – Victor Constant
Victor Constant pops off the banks of the Hudson, 500 vertical feet of pure fall line served by an antique yellow triple chair. It’s 45 miles north of the George Washington Bridge and no one knows it’s there. It’s part of West Point and managed by the Army but it’s open to the public and lift tickets are $27. The terrain is serviceable but the few inches of fresh snow had been paved into blacktop by inept grooming, and so I lapped the wild lumpy natural-snow trails through the trees for two hours. This tiny kingdom was guarded by the most amazing ski patroller I’d ever seen, an absolute zipper bombing tight lines all over the mountain and I could almost see the cartoon bubble popping out of his brain saying Goddamn I can’t believe I’m getting paid to crush it like this.
Friday, Feb. 12 – Toggenburg and Four Seasons
Like its Central New York neighbors Toggenburg sits on a ridge edging out of the countryside, visible from a distance and serviced by a fleet of slow old lifts doddering up the incline. The main face is like a vast groomed ballroom that spirals beneath and around islands of trees and snowmakers and lift towers and since no one is there the corduroy stays intact for hours and hours and at 2 p.m. a groomer ran up the barely skied blacks beside the triple and re-buffed them before that lift opened for the evening. There is one marked glade and plenty of unmarked ones but those are stuffed with little gullies that make linking more than half a dozen turns difficult. Far skiers left sits a clutch of tangled narrow runs plunging through the trees like something hand-hacked from the wilderness and forgotten and left to fill with snow. If these are not the greatest run on the mountain it’s Ole-T Alley, a narrow track cut hammering straight down the fall line between the trees skier’s right of the double chairs, a run marked closed that I skied anyway because the snow was good and deep and soft and it seemed to be a bullshit closure anyway.
In the evening I drove 20 minutes north to Four Seasons, a double chair rising eighty feet up a knoll and terminating short of a hilltop neighborhood. The skiing believe it or not was interesting and for two or three turns the place felt like one of those little islands that rise off the terrain at Snowbird, little unmanaged dodges through trees and off little drops. The place was throttled with kids of course and the lift stopped all the time and the lift ticket was $20 and it was just a remarkable scene and a complete joy to be there.
Monday, Feb. 15 – Titus
It was a holiday and on a holiday I care only about dodging the crowds and you can do that at Titus because there are no crowds. The whole sprawling operation was open, three interconnected peaks stitched together with winding trails and Hall double and triple chairs. It snowed half the day and the glades were open and they have blue glades which more mountains ought to cut. The terrain is not steep or intimidating but it is varied and fun and interesting and the snowpack was deep and it was just kids all over, a vast kingdom they could wander unsupervised and without fear. But man this place was far and if I’d fallen off the wrong side of the summit I’d have ended up in Canada. It’s 339 miles from Brooklyn and I did it as a daytrip, waking at 3 a.m. and arriving after 9 and skiing all day and driving all the way home to collapse in a heap of stupidity and exhaustion as the clock swung toward midnight. This is a thing that dumb people do and I’m a dumb person and I did it.
Thursday, Feb. 18 – Plattekill and Holiday Mountain
Plattekill is as deep as I’ve ever seen it, the past month’s steady snows slowly filling in and building up the trees, expanding the size of the mountain by five times and transforming it into a vast zone of freewheeling adventure. Unfortunately a quarter hour’s worth of freezing rain had frosted the whole thing a couple days before I’d arrived, turning weeks of work by nature’s snow machine into an impenetrable layer of fossilized rock. It snowed half the day but it didn’t matter. It needs feet, not inches, to bury nature’s blasphemy. There were no liftlines and no crowds but by lunchtime all the steeps had been skied off and it was time to go.
A boomer snowstorm was hammering across the landscape to the south, and I drove an hour down to Holiday Mountain, a ramshackle operation that feels on the edge of insolvency, its triple chair creaking up the main rise above the lodge. Near the resort’s entrance, through a sort of fun park gate that feels cut-and-pasted from a Simpsons episode, a crippled double rises above a long-abandoned pod that once crawled with surface lifts. Past this another double, still active on the trailmap but idled due to Covid, stands over more dormant trails. It was snowing heavily though and it’s a beautiful little hill, its three remaining active trails plunging through long rows of evergreens and more narrow paths secretly cut off the summit and linking the active ski pod with its deactivated neighbors. I think I was the only person over the age of 14 skiing there and despite the rinkydink collapsing hokiness of it I had a nice time and then drove home through the snowstorm.
Friday, Feb. 19 – Willard
This is a steep little hill poking out of the flats north of Albany, a narrow summit encircled by dramatic views of the farm-laced plateau spreading below. The place is busy and brimming with families and yet lines at the pair of summit double chairs were rare. The terrain is rough-hewn and undergroomed, with bumps and impromptu jumps lumping out all over the trails. It snowed fat fluffy flakes for half the day but the ice layer that had paved Plattekill had also reached north and an NHL-quality icerink lurked three inches below the powder. I skied with my daughter and we skied mostly greens and blues and Willard like Titus had blue-graded trees to ski through and this should be required like safety bars on chairlifts or lift tickets to ride them.
Sunday, Feb. 21 – Royal Mountain
This is an amazing little mountain perched north of Johnstown, family-owned and with $45 weekend lift tickets, a pair of doubles ambling toward the summit. The place is compact but they use it all, every tree island thinned, a third of the trailmap glades but the trailmap not capturing half the gladed runs. Everything is skiable. Everything. The pitch runs consistent top to bottom and the mountain is neatly sorted black-blue-green from skier’s right to left. It had stayed cold at Royal and the trees had been packed out and so unlike Platty and Willard the snow was crisp and carveable and the grooming was outstanding and the place never got icy or tracked out, even on a Sunday.
Hit Toggenberg this last Tuesday during a lake effect event, and I had a blast. It was sort of a private little ski area pretty much all to myself, with just the main chair running. Agreed that the trees are difficult with those gullies.
Too bad the Vermont restrictions are down for the vaccinated at this time. I get my first poke on 3/2, so, if all goes to schedule, I will be "safe" by the first week of April. Vermont will need some big snows this month to make that palatable after this warm up right now. I am not a Superstar Spring bump skier. Maybe a plane to Summit County in Colorado is in order. Nothing like ABasin in mid April, although their snow cover is kinda meh right now. As we know, that can change.
How the modern skier evolves, in four stages:
Stage 1 - I love this local mountain! I love this outdoor activity, this is so much fun!
Stage 2 - Look at that huge shiny mountain! The trail map! The speedy mass transit to the top!
Stage 3 - Why is the mass transit station so busy? Why am I standing in so many lines? Where did all these people come from? I just want to ski!
Stage 4 - I love this local mountain! I love this outdoor activity, this is so much fun!
I am now at Stage 4.