February was pretty brutal for many of southern Vermont’s ski areas, as rain and record warmth knocked down the snow cover on many slopes.
But March has been a totally different story. Three major snowstorms in 11 days left up to five feet of new snow at Mount Snow in West Dover, Stratton in Winhall, Magic Mountain in Londonderry, and Bromley in Peru.
March is normally a great month for skiing. The days are longer, the temperatures are tolerable, and snow conditions are often the best of the season. However, this month has given Vermont skiers and riders more fresh powder than has been seen in years.
Skiers and riders at Magic Mountain have been particularly enjoying this windfall of late-season powder. The resort normally is open Thursday through Sunday, but it will open up on any Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday that a fresh six inches or more of snow falls upon trails.
The last couple of weeks have brought plenty of powder days to Magic, days when the resort backs off on grooming the trails to let the early birds enjoy blasting through fresh, fluffy snow.
Magic is enjoying a bit of a renaissance right now. It’s under new ownership, led by president Geoff Hathaway and a group of like-minded investors determined to preserve all the things that made the resort beloved by its fans — the informal atmosphere, the challenging terrain with its 1,500-foot vertical drop, and a totally non-corporate vibe.
With Mount Snow, Stratton, and Killington in the hands of corporations, Magic — a comparatively little ski area that was closed from 1991 to 1997 and only a few years ago was threatened with becoming defunct again — is a taste of the way skiing in Vermont used be.
“I think whenever ski resorts go through corporate consolidations, they can lose a bit of their character and start to look the same,” Hathaway said to me and my wife, Joyce Marcel, during an interview last month for Vermont Business Magazine.
“So skiers think that everyone’s got high-speed lifts and everyone grooms everything 100 percent. There is a certain feel to how the ski industry has evolved. And I think what we’re tapping into is a yearning for an authentic experience that harkens back to a golden era of skiing.
“Not everything here is meticulously groomed. We have our groomed trails. We’re expanding snowmaking. But we’re offering a less crowded alternative, one that’s a little more challenging but also a lot more fun.”
Others seem to agree with that assessment. With nearly two seasons of ownership under their belts, the Magic team saw their resort named the Best Overall Ski Area in North America in a poll taken by the Web lift-ticket sales site, Liftopia, because “it has a great old school vibe and a great mountain community.”
And, last November, it was listed by The Wall Street Journal as one of “The 5 Best-Kept-Secret Ski Resorts in the U.S.”
Joyce and I were there on a “powder day” last month, and the Northeast’s skiing grapevine got the word out. The parking lot was filled with cars and trucks from as far away as Virginia, looking for a great day on the slopes.
The community vibe is all around at Magic. There are no slopeside hotels or condos, no spas, no restaurants except for its own Black Line Tavern, and no amenities other than a ski rental area.
If out-of-towners want to ski Magic, they can stay in Londonderry’s small hotels and B&Bs, or go to Manchester and enjoy its upscale amenities, or sleep in their van and cook on a Primus stove.
But it’s not Mad River Glen, the ultra-traditional ski area in Waitsfield. While Mad River dares you toski its mountain (as their bumper sticker famously proclaims, “Ski It If You Can”), Magic wants you to have fun on their mountain.
They also want to give you some elbow room. Magic limits ticket sales to 1,500 per day, so that the mountain isn’t overcrowded. And if you want to really go old school and climb up the mountain instead of riding a chair-lift, Magic will let you do that for free.
Londonderry is not like other ski towns in Vermont. The town and the ski area peacefully co-exist, and the ski area doesn’t try to dominate the town the way other resorts do elsewhere in Vermont. A small town, a small ski area, and a big mountain experience — just like skiing used to be in the Green Mountains.
End-of-season party at Dutch Hill
• Speaking of skiing like it used to be, on March 31, the Dutch Hill Alliance of Skiers and Hikers (DHASH) will be celebrating the first season of skiing returning to Dutch Hill, the abandoned ski area in Readsboro that is now part of the Green Mountain National Forest.
Over the past year, DHASH volunteers worked with the U.S. Forest Service to clear and maintain some of the old ski trails at Dutch Hill — once a popular ski hill in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s — so they could be open for non-motorized recreation.
Meet at 2 p.m. in the parking lot to join guided tours of the slopes and trails that have been reopened at Dutch Hill. There will be tours for backcountry skiers with skins, intermediate nordic skiers, and snowshoers. Or just come enjoy the sledding hill.
DHASH got permission to have a bonfire at the bottom of the sledding hill, which will kick off at 4 p.m. They also plan to fire up a grill or two in the parking lot.
Dutch Hill also shared in the five feet of snow that fell on the Green Mountains from this month’s three Nor’easters. So, while the snow may be gone around Brattleboro by the end of March, it lingers long at Dutch Hill, and the DHASH folks say if they still have snow, the celebration is on.
Where is Dutch Hill? On combined Routes 8 and 100, just south of the village of Heartwellville in Readsboro. Check their website before coming out: www.dhash4vt.org.
Spring sports season gets started
• The fields are still snow-covered, but local high school athletes around Vermont started practicing this week for the spring baseball, softball, track and field, tennis, and lacrosse seasons.
In Brattleboro, it looks like the baseball and softball teams will have to grind through a couple of weeks of “gym ball” before anyone can get onto a field.
The lacrosse teams are scheduled to be scrimmaging this weekend. The Colonel boys will be in Amherst, Mass., on March 24, while the Colonel girls are scheduled to play in a preseason tournament in Keene, N.H., on March 25.
The boys’ and girls’ tennis teams are scheduled to scrimmage against Keene on March 29.
Unified basketball opens this week
• There is one spring sport that will be in full swing this week — unified basketball. Once again, Special Olympics Vermont and the Vermont Principals’ Association have teamed up to offer this sport to students who might not ordinarily have a chance at playing a varsity sport.
Brattleboro — the defending state champions — begin their season on the road with games at Rutland (March 20), Springfield (March 22), and Mill River (March 27).
Leland & Gray also starts its second season of unified basketball on the road with games at Hartford (March 26) and Brattleboro (April 2).
A handy primer to how unified basketball is played can be found at www.vpaonline.org/cms/lib/VT08001199/Centricity/Domain/13/Interscholastic%20Unified%20Basketball%20Adapted%20Rules.pdf.
Senior bowling roundup
• After getting snowed out the week before, the Brattleboro Senior Bowling League was back in action on March 15 at Brattleboro Bowl. Team 10 (40-10) was undefeated to keep its spot in first place after Week 10 action. Team 4 (37-13) had a 4-1 week to hang on to second place, while Team 2 (34-16) stayed hot with a 5-0 week to stay in third. Team 5 (29-21) is in fourth, followed by Team 8 (28-22) Team 7 (26-24), Team 9 (23-27), Team 6 (22.5-27.5), Team 3 (21-29), Team 11 (15-30) and Team 1 (11.5-38.5).
Margaret Dowley had the women’s high handicap game (233), while Sally Perry had the high series (656). Fred Ashworth had the men’s high handicap game (267) and Ken Chamberlin had the high handicap series (701). Team 10 had the high team handicap game (878), while Team 6 had the high handicap series (2,495).
In scratch scoring, Ashworth (685) and Robert Rigby (604) led the men with a 600-plus series. Rigby had a 225 game, while Ashworth had a 265 and a 213.
Josie Rigby (567) was again the lone woman with a 500-plus scratch series. She also rolled 214 and 204 scratch games.
Six men had a 500-plus scratch series: Gary Montgomery (542), Warren Corriveau Sr, (531), Peter Cross (538), Marty Adams (503), Charles Marchant (571), and Bob Wistrom (523)