Remember that old mantra, Go big or go home?
Well, it seems a lot of ski resorts these days subscribe to that saying, with mega this and epic that. And it’s particularly endemic in the West, where the mighty Rockies and Sierra and Cascade ranges allow for resorts of such magnitude.
You know, the Whistlers, Jackson Holes, Park Citys, Big Skys and Mammoth Mountains of the world, with their huge verticals, craggy skylines, extensive acreage, narrow chutes, cliff drops and mighty powder dumps.
But just because you don’t have a big mountain doesn’t mean you can’t have a resort that skis like one. For a number of reasons, many undersize hills ride much bigger than they look.
The following are five examples of small mountains that ski big.
Way up there in northern Vermont sits that snow-catcher known as Jay Peak. With an average of 349 inches of natural snow per year, the resort has the goods to sufficiently cover its 485 acres (100 of them gladed), 78 trails (40 percent of which are considered black diamond) and 2,513 feet of vertical. Back- and sidecountry terrain abounds, and Jay invites riders to poke around to find the hill’s many nooks and crannies.
A great old-school kind of place on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula — think lots of yurts and no grooming machines — Mount Bohemia is a powder hound’s best friend. Situated directly above the shores of Lake Superior, the 583-acre resort receives an average of 273 inches of light and dry per year. The 10 runs of the 900-foot vertical Extreme Backcountry portion of the ski hill are rated triple black diamond; there’s another couple dozen double-diamond runs spread across Mount Bohemia.
The site of two Winter Olympics (1932 and 1980), this 314-acre Adirondack Mountains resort in New York has the biggest lift-served vertical in the eastern U.S. (3,166 feet). But it’s the nearly 300 additional vertical feet of hike-to terrain that gets Whiteface on this list: The Four Slides runs are 1,250 vertical feet of 35-40 degree slopes that feature variable terrain with waterfalls, cliffs and huge rocks.
Located in Maine’s Western Mountains, Sugarloaf features the Northeast’s only above tree-line skiing and snowboarding. With a respectable 2,820 feet of vertical, the resort is striped with 162 runs — 43 percent of which are rated advanced or expert — spread across its 1,240 acres; another 1,000 acres are dedicated to gladed skiing.
Stretching over four peaks and 1,000 acres of Minnesota’s Sawtooth Mountains, Lutsen may be the biggest resort in the Midwest, but it’s still less than half the size of many moderate-sized resorts out West. Being near the north shore of Lake Superior, lake-effect snowfall regularly refreshes the Lutsen’s 95 runs — 35 of which are rated black or double-diamond — and 858 feet of vertical. Check out Moose Mountain and Eagle Mountain for some steep fall-line runs.