When the temperature drops, a special breed of people doesn’t hunker down, TV remote in hand. These people look up to the sky and pray for white flakes, lots of them. Fortunately, New Yorkers fare well when it comes to skiing and snowboarding: According to the National Ski Areas Association, the state boasts 48 such areas, the most in the U.S. This gives Long Island snow sports enthusiasts quite a few options. Add some southern Vermont powerhouses and a couple of family-friendly areas in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, and a wide selection awaits not far away.
Avoid the crowds
Most New Yorkers who are into skiing have heard of the Catskills’ Hunter Mountain, which is exactly why it can be a problem on weekends and holidays: The place gets so crowded, it’s as if you haven’t left the LIE. For a more relaxed experience, drive half an hour west to Belleayre (181 Galli Curci Rd., Highmount, New York, belleayre.com). Admittedly, it’s smaller, and sure, the Overlook Lodge is, well, rustic. But Belleayre is a lot less crowded and a lot more chill than Hunter.
If you’re lucky enough to be in the area on a snowy weekend (the resort’s open Friday-Sunday and holidays), you may want to hop over to neighboring Plattekill (469 Plattekill Rd., Plattekill, New York, plattekill.com), a throwback to simpler, mom-and-pop times with prices to match: Last year a day pass was $63 on weekends, $45 on non-holiday Fridays.
To make the most of your day, search for resorts with extended hours — Windham (19 Resorts Dr., Windham, New York, windhammountain.com), for instance, keeps nine of its 54 trails open until 8 p.m. As fans know, night skiing has its own kooky charms. Yes, it can get chilly, and the visibility can be less than optimal, to say the least, but there’s something to be said for zooming down white slopes as floodlights break the encroaching darkness. Another cool Windham program: the women-only Off-Piste Prep clinic, which teaches skiers intermediate and up what to do when leaving groomed trails.
You don’t have to trek all the way to Lake Placid to find snow in the Adirondacks: Gore Mountain (793 Peaceful Valley Rd., North Creek, New York, goremountain.com) is a fine option in the park’s southern section: With 14 lifts (including an eight-passenger gondola), 108 trails and 2,537 vertical feet, Gore is a large, fairly unsung marvel. Be warned that only 10 percent of the runs are green, so it’s not ideal for beginners.
Bring the kids
Going off to the mountains with little ones can be a challenge, but the Poconos’ Camelback (193 Resort Dr., Tannersville, Pennsylvania, skicamelback.com) has you covered. Advanced skiers may get a little frustrated by the friendly terrain, but this is a great place to learn and/or work on your intermediate skills. Camelback is also a popular summer destination, with a large water park, so the resort is well equipped to handle families of all sizes and ages year-round.
The Berkshires aren’t exactly the place to go for steep thrills, but they are just what the doctor ordered for a relaxed weekend.
Like Camelback, Catamount (78 Catamount Rd., Hillsdale, New York, catamountski.com) is a particularly good place to get acquainted with skiing or snowboarding: The crowds are sparse and the runs gentle — like the lift prices (last season, it was $36 on weekdays for an adult, $66 on weekends). The funky little town of Great Barrington is 20 minutes away, for family members who prefer shopping and dining.
The Vermont resort closest to New York is Mount Snow (39 Mount Snow Rd., West Dover, Vermont, mountsnow.com), which spent time and money over the summer to expand its snowmaking abilities. This is a fairly large resort, with 20 lifts and 85 trails, long blue cruisers as well as excellent tree skiing, so there’s something for everybody. And not just when it comes to skiing: When you’re done on the slopes, activities include a multi-lane tubing area, dog sledding and sleigh rides.
Like Belleayre, southern Vermont’s Magic Mountain (495 Magic Mountain ACC, Londonderry, Vermont, magicmtn.com) eschews crowds and highfalutin’ amenities in favor of a rootsy experience — but the terrain is more challenging than in New York. Under new ownership, the resort spent the summer improving its snowmaking, renovating its lodge, the Black Line Tavern, and installing two new lifts. Still, Magic Mountain holds on to its traditional vibe and challenging off-piste ethos, not to mention friendly pricing — its website claims: “We make winter affordable” (an adult day pass was $69 last season). Note that Magic Mountain is open Thursday-Sunday, but will run its lifts any day it gets more than six inches of fresh snow.
A little farther north is Okemo (77 Okemo Ridge Rd., Ludlow, Vermont, okemo.com), where the terrain is spread almost evenly among beginner, intermediate and advanced runs. Okemo is perfect when you want to try different things during your stay: Park fiends will enjoy the many features, as well as the East’s longest superpipe; for thrills of a different kind, the Timber Ripper roller coaster makes its way up and down the woods on 3,100 feet of tracks.
Even if you have a car, it’s great to let someone else do the driving after a long day on the slopes. Many Long Island bus services offer a flat rate that includes transportation as well as a lift ticket (usually discounted from the advertised day rate).
Starting in November, for instance, Sundown Express (516-796-1565, sundownbustrips.com) goes to resorts such as Hunter, Windham, Jiminy Peak, Okemo and Stratton. There’s a pickup in Suffolk County, followed by one in Nassau. Last year’s rates started at $90, with Okemo costing $105. Expect a modest hike for the new season.
A good resource to meet like-minded aficionados is the Metropolitan New York Ski Council’s directory of Long Island clubs (metnyski.org/longisland.html), which often organize local day and weekend trips.
For a better deal, take a pass
Multi-resort passes have exploded in popularity in the past few years, often replacing single- resort season passes.
One of the best deals for avid skiers is the M.A.X. Pass (themaxpass.com). This season, an adult pass costs $679 ($39 for kids five and younger, $379 for kids 6-12; $479 for teens 13-17) and gets you five days at each of 44 resorts all around the country, with no blackout dates. The local selection is strong and includes New York’s Belleayre, Gore, Windham and Whiteface, as well as Vermont powerhouses Stratton, Killington and Okemo.
Another option is the Peak Pass (peakpass.com), which includes seven mountains in the Northeast:
New York’s Hunter and Vermont’s Mount Snow, plus two in Pennsylvania, and three in New Hampshire. There are five types of passes, ranging from $60 (unlimited access for children 6 and younger) to $799 ($599 until Oct. 18; unlimited access for adults 30 and older).