At the recent Ski and Snowboard Expo at the World Trade Center in Boston, I stood beside wide-eyed consumers mesmerized by video travelogues, barking vendors, and photo displays of lush wintry retreats. All that was missing was a man-made snowfield to practice ski jumps. All the destinations were steeped in their fair share of hyperbole. But how does you choose the best ski area to visit?It’s a challenge. There are several basic factors to consider:
- What is your level of proficiency? Nobody wants to come home from a ski weekend in a cast.
- Location, location, location. Are you willing to invest in airfare and lugging your equipment cross country? Would you rather drive and risk inclement weather or rely on public transportation?
- Mainstream or a gay soiree? Gay ski weeks have become mammoth events. You can scope out week-long VIP packages, participate in signature events only, or create your own winter gay-away by gathering friends.
Quebec: Mt. Tremblant
Where: Mt. Tremblant, Laurentian region, Province of Quebec, Canada
Getting there: Mt. Tremblant is a 1-1/2 hour drive from Montreal and 7 hours from Boston. It is served by direct air from New York, Toronto or Montreal
Why: Mt. Tremblant celebrates its 75th anniversary this year. This means they are experienced at getting it right: upgrades have been made to lodging, ski trails and other amenities (including a vibrant pedestrian village and a casino). You can expect to bask in Anglo-French hospitality (and its famed cuisine). You can also depend on an average of 16 feet of snow that blankets the region well into the spring months.
While the contiguous United States may have a paltry snow cover or an icy man-made base, La Belle Province de Quebec boasts mounds of the natural stuff. Mt. Tremblant is picturesque, well-maintained; the terrain is rugged enough for experienced skiers yet perfect for beginners and intermediate skiers, too. There are also well-groomed Nordic trails (signs pointing to salles de fartage - are heated waxing huts) that amble through more than 15 miles of the provincial Laurentian Park alongside the breathtaking Devil’s River (it never freezes and gushes through the area with a primordial roar). Plan to stay in Tremblant village with its numerous pubs, restaurants and bistros - no shortage of tasty options - and many night spots stay open late. There are several outdoor hot tubs for soaking away the calluses or sore muscles. Or you may choose to just hang with a fortified beverage beside the numerous outdoor fireplace pits set up on the property.
Cost: Mt. Tremblant is popular, affordable, never overly-crowded, and boasts attractive ski packages. Book early for winter vacations (weekends sell out fast); spring skiing dates are attractively priced and weekend dates more plentiful.
New Hampshire: Bretton Woods
Where: Bretton Woods, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire
Getting there: Bretton Woods is around 2.5 hour drive from Boston and a 6-hour drive from New York City. The Mount Washington Regional Airport is a 15-minute drive from the region.
Why: Mt. Washington is New England’s tallest peak and the valley surrounding its base gets blanketed in snow early in the season, with the heaviest snowfalls occurring in January-March. (I have witnessed a storm dump two to three feet of snow overnight). The Omni-Mt. Washington Resort is a historic property with skiing, indoor swimming, access to the vast Nordic trails (there are more than 62 miles of Nordic trails that begin at the stand-alone Nordic center).
The hotel is now entering phase three of a massive $2.25 million enhancement which has brought a refreshed look to the 50 rooms and adjoining facilities at The Lodge. Sled dog rides take you careening across the snowy meadows. Snowmaking facilities have been increased by 54 percent, and new downhill trails have been added.
Cost: Rates at the Omni-Mt. Washington Resort are reasonable, and package deals are available. Best to avoid dates that coincide with school vacations, as the area is a magnet and becomes overcrowded. There is no night life in nearby towns; alternative dining options are scarce. Lunches can be ordered for backcountry skiers.
Where: Aspen and Snowmass, in the Rocky Mountains, Colorado.
Getting there: Aspen is 222 miles west from Denver airport; flights leave several times a day. Be advised that during inclement weather planes are grounded; the only way in or out is by bus that connects the two destinations.
Why: Aspen is a winter paradise. The town hugs Aspen Mountain, which rises almost 12,000 feet above sea level. The ski lift is seconds away from a lively town center, packed with restaurants, hotels, condos, bistros and overpriced boutiques. You can walk everywhere. Skiing opportunities are unlimited. I have an ongoing love affair with Buttermilk Mountain where I practiced turns and mogul leaps beside other intermediate skiers.
Nearby Snowmass is less ostentatious, with fewer shops/restaurants; like Aspen, skiing begins and ends at your doorstep. There is a shuttle bus to bring you to all four mountains. The Maroon Bells, towering mountains just beyond Aspen, are glorious. Nordic ski centers are located in the towns, with additional options a short drive away. Aspen Gay Ski Week celebrates its 37th anniversary January 12-19. There are countless discounts (happy hours, contests, and rallies) as well as new friends to meet and greet. Be advised: advanced planning is mandatory.
Cost: Aspen is expensive. It is also awe-inspiring. Many visitors choose to stay in nearby towns and drive to the ski areas. It’s advisable to budget your trip, buddy up if possible, rent a condo, and enjoy the wintry festivities without feeling hampered by the high prices.
California/Nevada: Lake Tahoe
Where: Lake Tahoe, California/Nevada
Getting there: Book flights to Reno-Tahoe International Airport and arrange ground transportation to Lake Tahoe.
Why: Lake Tahoe sits in a snow belt with storms that dump between three and ten feet of powder during the season. The aptly named Heavenly Mountain is an advanced skiers’ dream come true, but be forewarned: signage is a problem, and you may find yourself skiing on the California side when you want to be on the Nevada side. The views as you climb are breathtaking. Lake Tahoe shimmers in the morning sun casting a mirrored reflection. There are numerous lodging facilities, many restaurants (some with lakeside seating and outdoor heating and, yes, bear sightings), pubs, shopping centers, casinos/betting parlors, and ski equipment shops.
Nordic skiers can find ample trails - and rental facilities -- in the state parks in both California and Nevada. My favorite Nordic center is in Kirkwood, California, a half-hour drive away from South Lake Tahoe. A gay ski week, Lake Tahoe WinterFest, takes place March 3-10.
Cost: Tahoe is affordable, but advanced planning is necessary. Weekend bookings tend to be popular. Skiing goes on well into the spring months.
Where: Stowe, Vermont
Getting there: Stowe is accessible via car on Route 89 (around four hours from Boston), via Amtrak from nearby Waterbury (a half hour away), and by plane via Burlington, Vermont (an hour away).
Why: Stowe is nestled in the heart of the Green Mountains. Early and consistent snow falls from mid-December through spring. The town has a gentle sleepiness to it, with historic homes and white clapboard churches, but don’t be fooled: a thriving nightlife, numerous pubs and party venues as well as access to all ski areas can be found on the Mountain Road. This year’s Gay Ski Week - Winter Rendezvous (celebrating its 30th anniversary) - is a weeklong event that runs from January 22-26. Reservations are recommended.
The resort is minutes away from Mt. Mansfield. Nordic skiing abounds in Stowe, and trails that begin at Topnotch connect you to a network and touring centers, including those maintained by Trapp Family Lodge. Attractive pricing is offered throughout the season, including discount packages for downhill and Nordic skiing, snowboarding and spring skiing. Even during busy weekends, Stowe never seems overwhelming or ostentatious.
Cost: Stowe is affordable, laid back and fun. Topnotch Resort has been newly renovated and features two restaurants - The Roost and Flannel - as well as outdoor heated pools lit up at night with mesmerizing torches and on-site spa facilities. When I stayed recently I marveled at the easy joviality and casual atmosphere. While eating dinner, guests who had just emerged from the hot tub bellied up to the bar dressed in their bathrobes and slippers.