Blue Hills’ “Harper”

Blue Hills (partial) review ’15: Announcing “Harper”; Awaiting Snow

In early September 2015 – it was Labor weekend to be more specific – I visited Blue Hills just outside of Boston. It was my second visit to this charming facility. The first occasion was to introduce my youngest grandson Henry, to the great sport of skiing. As I recall, it was a Ski Patrol fund-raiser, and my son-in-law, Mike generously sprung for our feast: hot dogs, chips and yes, even brews.

Well, on this my second visit, I was doing my best to pretend I could be of assistance in ushering and welcoming my newest grandchild into the world! So here we “men” were, nestled in the shadow of the highest peak of the bay area, Blue Hills Massachusetts -635 feet high! (exact IPhone elevation, not true vertical).

Blue Hill review ’15 (er … almost)

OK, OK. It’s not a 1-K, and I still haven’t skied it … but …

Blue Hills Ski Area is located maybe 10 miles outside of Boston in the suburban Milton community. It is just off I-93 which turns the beltway traffic flow south toward the Cape. My heart is enraptured by this tiny facility: 60 acres of skier and rider terrain; a vertical drop of 309-feet; with 90% snowmaking coverage; offering 12 trails and a terrain park.

Yes, Blue Hills has night skiing. So close to urban based career households and suburban families, under the lights and solid instruction are critical and accomplished here. Indeed the view of Boston from the top of Hills, especially as the night lights twinkle, is worth a stop.

Blue Hills features a double-chair, magic carpet, wonder carpet and a handle tow. The lodge was warm and cozy as were all the patrons and staff. Now this is a family-friendly, learn to love, local operation! It might even rival my home-town “hide-out” the Buffalo Ski Cub.

So I have yet to ski Blue Hills. I did chat extensively with a fellow instructor and a Patrol-person. It was a pleasure. We saw a lot, and what we saw (and heard), we liked. They are excellent instructors embodying a heritage established by past instructors with Olympic and World Cup credentials.

Lesson of life:

Henry returned with his parents (not me) the following season to glide a short distance, the “beginner’s mile” on his plastic, infant skis. He liked it. He loved it. But as we’ve learned, always exit at the peak of the experience. This leaves a burning thirst in their spirit, craving more and eagerly anticipating their next visit. Don’t push a good thing to exhaustion. Things can wear down, even break. Timing is everything.

Been there, haven’t done it

Needless to say, on this hot late summer day, we were not at the Blue Hills Reservation to ski. We instead fully utilized the expansive playground at Houghton Pond and meandered on the sand beach lapped by the waters that pool the run off melt of the Hills.

Yes, Blue Hills Reservation is a pristine state park with an informative Visitors Center, a neat little zoo of rescued local wildlife, and miles of hiking tails –  all within minutes of the city!

We shall return, hopefully this winter season, to release our grandson upon the ski world and finally personally ski the hill.

Here she is!

Oh yes, one more item of personal delight: That night Kiki released “Harper Elizabeth”, 7-6#, 20.5″, healthy as God can create, baby girl into the world. Mother Kiki and father Mike, are all doing well. But now we’ve got another skier in the making!

Come. Ski With Me!

Brown Bagger

Let’s clarify something before we go too far and confuse the issue. There a a few definitions of “brown bagger”.

  1. brown bagger (n) in it’s broadest it refers to a ski area/resort so labeled because of it’s lodge and perhaps its patrons. REAL brown baggers do not merely allow, they accommodate the practice of “packing in”.
  2. brown bagger (adj) describes a lodge, room, cafeteria or deck where the public, especially penny-stinkers, can pack-in their own snacks and food, set-up and enjoy life as such without offending others, breaking the rules, or (heaven forbid) the law!
  3. Brown bagger (n) a lodge, room, cafeteria or deck as outlined above
  4. brown-bagger (n)  someone who wraps his beverage, which he smuggled in, under the cover of a brown bag (starts to get a mite dicey, pushing the limits of public discussion)

So for this discussion let’s apply the first definition, fully cognizant “brown bagger” is fully a function of the second. But, the fourth is not up for study here, during normal business hours.

A brown- bagger is my kind of ski slope. It’s family friendly, it’s warm and welcoming. To me a brown-bagger is an area I’d term a “home away from home”. It’s a welcoming, receiving, accepting area where I immediately feel comfortable, like I belong.

It’s an area where children, parents and seniors blend in an area of fun. OK it is often a playpen, but playpens exude love and they’re always warm! Non-skiers enjoy brown-baggers as much as we devotees of “God’s” sport.

I have to emphasize there’s never been a brown-bagger I didn’t like. They’re immediately on my list ’cause my very neologism is a term of endearment. But wait! Note the term is subjective and consider this:

  • I look for things you may not think important.
  • Most of my visits are cursory, brief by local standards.
  • All my visits and reviews are effected by to weather & snow.
  • I seldom hit all the five critical periods: 1.pre AND 2.post lifts, + 3.lunch AND 4.dinner +5.evening.

That being said, I have some picks, some notables, my favorites: my recommendations of brown baggers:

Monarch has a designated room for picnickers with its, “own” entrance,  restrooms, bins, and elevator up to the “watering hole”.

Elk Mt has “picnic Lodge” complete with fireplace, but it’s small and tucked away. You have to know where and get there early to secure a spot.

Killington has a neat cabin used on the hikers of the Long Trail in summer, but a neat spot for skiers when its warm enough.

Many or any area that maintains a southern facing broad deck is noteworthy. But most areas of the west excel under more frequent sunshine and the stronger UV rays of higher altitudes. And most “milk” this advantage with aromatic bar-b-cue  and open fire fineries.

Two summit huts and warming cabins of note are those at Eagle Point and Sundance.

The “Sitz” lodge at the Buffalo Ski Club has to be singled out for its “total” atmosphere based around an elaborate calendar of BYO social events. Here the brown-bag is more like grocery bag or more appropriately a picnic basket. Save the grocery bag for garbage and be prepared to share with all. It is a festive party crew. Stop in when you’re in the neighborhood.

Come, Ski With Me!

 

Kissing Bridge – “KB”

Kissing Bridge (KB) review ’15
Kissing Bridge in Glenwood, is a day-area a short distance from Buffalo, NY. What lacks in vertical drop (550 feet) is ameliorated by girth.  A total of 700 acres includes the one-time adjacent competitor know as Glenwood Acres. This is story unto itself. The area is affectionately addressed by the locals of Western New York as “KB”

The annual natural snowfall of 180 inches is generously supplemented with an efficient snow making system. And after years of operation the grooming has been perfected into a science. The only challenge now is maintaining the equipment and finding dedicated, skilled staff the be consistent operators.

The ski school is sizable and the racing program commendable. My children are products of the racing program at Kissing Bridge, It all begins with the “Bridge Busters” which gobbles up the young ‘n’s at age five. The Martha, who in and of herself has become an institution at the area runs the “Gate Busters” for per-adolescents to feed into the racing program.

Ski racing: age group program
KB is a member of the Niagara Council of NY State, a circle of like constituted areas all of whom operate and promote snow completion for our youth of our region and state. Like any youth program, parental support is the real engine that pulls the train forward. Chauffeurs, food sources, cheerleaders, gatekeepers, timers and officials are required to pull the weekend events across the finish line.

Our group in those days gelled well. We even attempted to form a club to ski, socialize, and promote the cause. But it never got off the ground, or should I say “into the ground” since we sought to erect a club facility on the readily available banks of Cazenovia Creek that runs below the base road of KB. It may have been myopic of management, but I prefer to view it as all the attorney’s fault. They were probably concerned about liability or other legal balderdash. Or maybe they weren’t seeing enough fees to justify their efforts. At any rate, it didn’t happen, so we joined the Buffalo Ski Club just up the road and actually 5 miles closer to home.

When my little urchins were gears in motion, the parental support “team” was strong and pretty well organized. In the heyday, we used to charter a yellow school bus on race days to deliver up to 30 or so racers of various ages to the circuit of completion. As the kids qualified the late season numbers were reduced, the distances increased and the competition ever so much more keener. And it was more exciting, fun and (need I whine?) expensive.

We had good coaches. Ron, Fuzzy, and Martha immediately come to mind. They knew their stuff and most importantly the kids respected, just loved ‘m. We got to know them pretty well. Martha isthe younger sister of one of my “teacher’s pet” students at my real job in those days, a social studies (American history) teacher at Williamsville’s Mill Middle School). Martha is still a practicing attorney in WNY. Ron went on to I believe manage White Tail resort in PA (Baltimore Washington market). Fuzzy recently retired from his notable career with a tech firm. Best of wishes Fuzzy, Gail and the three “Little Fuzzets”!

Many of the KB racers contained on in the ski industry. Eric Schlopy skied with the U.S. Olympic teams for several seasons. Others serve as sales reps, instructors, or coaches either as career decisions, part-timers and of course parental-volunteers. Wouldn’t a reunion be a great experience?

My entry into snowboarding
While serving as the family chauffer and chaperon for the two youngest, I took up snow boarding, or should I say “tried”?  at KB. It was early 90’s (1990’s!) season. We, my oldest son and I had picked up a broad “on the cheap” while grabbing the early November snow at A-Basin.” I had a choice: I could drop the 2 youngest off, return home with barely enough time to eat , say nothing of enjoying diner, then drive back for pickup duty, or I could ski for a couple hours before returning home thus saving time, effort and gas money. Having skied every nook, cranny and square inch of KB over many years, I sez to myself, “Self, why not try out that new snow board?” So I did, but without the benefit of lessons; like always: self-taught. They say the dumbest instructor on the hill is the one who has himself as a student.

So I fell a lot. One time while boarding under the double chair, I yard-saled; totally wiped out. KB is noted for its plethora a young patrons. It’s often compared to the local shopping mall on a school holiday. Well, the lift had a line that night, so every chair was occupied and everyone awake who kept their eyes open witnessed my tumble. Hoots and guffaws echoed though the hollow and reverberated down the glen jeering my ineptitude. Any I deserved it. A light dusting of fluffy powder framed the scene of incompetence. The bright lights illuminating the slopes spot-lighted the crime scene.

If I recall, it was a still, silent evening, one of those classic winter nights with crisp air, deep, clear sky peppered with twinkling specks of stars, when the soft snow absorbed the dim “clickety-click” of the ascending, aging chairlift. Only the boisterous hecklers with their thunderous challenges to my manhood could successfully piece the tranquility- and penetrate it did. But just as suddenly as the hoots began, all  plunged back into silence; instantly; an eerie silence; a sustained silence. Creepy … As I slowly picked up the pieces and attempted to shake off my newly donned blanket of snow.

Finally – an eternity passing – a small, innocent, dismayed, whisper captured the moment: “WOW! Did you see how old that guy was?” Nothing followed.  Nothing needed to follow.

Respect for their elders.  This kids were raised right!  The polite reticence extended on while I snaked and humbly slithered to the bottom.

Did I report or recount to the kids on the way home? Certainly not. Humble, yes. Stupid, no!

To be forthright, might jeopardize any creditability I might ever hope to garner! … Come, SKI WITH ME!

BSC (Buffalo Ski Club)

BSC (Buffalo Ski Club) review ’15

It’s a semi-private hill meaning it’s a area that is open to the public but largely funded my the private members. (Lower prices are all the more likely.) I hope you know this is my “home plate”, so I’m partial. If I didn’t love the area, I wouldn’t be a member.  It is one of [My Favored] so get a couple [impartial reviews] from onthesnow.com. And let’s look at for the big guys say:

Onthesnow:

Just outside of West Falls, New York, Buffalo Ski Area brings together three clubs:  Buffalo, Sitzmarker, and Tamarack Ski Club. With each club representing comfortable lodges at each of the bases, they share 300-acres of skier and rider accessible terrain. Two chair lifts, two T-bars, and two handle lifts transport skiers and riders across 43 trails and a vertical of 500-feet.

Liftopia:

Buffalo Ski Club is a ski area near Buffalo, New York with 41 trails, 7 lifts, and 300 acres. The area has been divided evenly between easy, intermediate and more difficult runs. There is one black diamond run, Granny’s Evil Twin, which can be quite a challenge, and a terrain park with some small features. Buffalo Ski Club is very close to Buffalo, and is easy to reach from anywhere in the metropolitan area.

Now I’ll say  speaking from the “inside edge“.

 

Resorts v Areas

Resorts? Areas? Slopes? Mountains?  Heck, what’s the difference?”

So that’s a good question that is best answered by “facilities”, but immediately followed by “prices”. Realize these concepts are general and less than pure or fully distinct. But there are some important attributes that are worthy of discussion if not even thorough study. So let’s go!

 Area facilities: Areas are perhaps areas are best defined by what they don’t offer rather than what they do have.

  •  Areas don’t charge for parking
  •  Areas don’t have shuttle buses
  •  Areas generally don’t have over night accommodations slopeside, at the base or onsite.
  •  Café rather than full-service best defines the food service.
  •  Areas usually don’t have ridiculous costs & price gouging
  •  Areas don’t form long lines and waits.

But areas do have offer some unique amenities

  • Brown bag areas or picnic rooms are often available
  • Storage racks are not uncommon
  • Areas have drive up and/or drop-off spots
  • Areas have dedicated, loyal, hard-nosed skiiers.
  • Friendly, smiling, helpful patrons

Resorts have some desirables:

  • Resorts are larger. Some encompass a thousand acres or more, but most cover hundreds of areas.
  • So resorts generally have higher verticals.
  • Resorts have more variety and often provide the best expert runs.
  • Resorts tend to offer more steeps.
  • Resorts can afford to make more snow.
  • Resorts tend to groom more.
  • Resorts trend toward longer seasons.
  • Resorts are major corporations involved in entertainment, retail shopping and real estate supportive of but perhaps even deeper than their sports interests.
  • Resorts are full vacation destinations that offer attractions above and well beyond skiing & riding.
  • Resorts charge more & offer stingy discounts for military, children & seniors!
  • Several resort operators are absorbing (saving?) more distant areas to feed their massive marketing programs.

And of course there are local slopes, smaller ski areas less than 1k of vertical.

So which do I prefer? What is my recommendations?

  • The one where I have family and friends
  • The place I can make new buddies
  • The one I can best afford
  • I prefer the least crowded.
  • I relish easy access: that’s mountain, lodge, lift as well as runs.
  • But, I like steeps and good snow. Grooming is not significant.
  • All-in-all I generally favor ski areas at mountains – you know- the 1k or more the 1K“plus”.

But I love them all: mountain resorts, ski areas, as well as local slopes.  And the one I choose Plus recommendations are relative to my position. But the one I choose is the one that has the bet snow, and that’s usually the one I’m skiing on.

Come, Ski With Me!