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Stratton Mountain: Just 2-1/2 hours to the best early-season snow.

Byline: Shaun Sutner


Skiers and riders, start your engines.

Make sure you tuned your boards and stowed them in the family vehicle the night before, and that you've packed a lunch as well.

Get up at 5 a.m. Maybe make some coffee, grab breakfast at Dunkin' Donuts, and have the car running at 5:30 a.m.

For you Worcester-area people, head due north on an empty and eminently drivable Route 122 through the country towns past Paxton. Soon enough, you're on Route 2, the east-west corridor that becomes a mini-superhighway across the roof of Massachusetts at this early hour.

If you know a few shortcuts, such as the one over the mountain and through Erving State Forest and a couple of tricks in Brattleboro, you'll be on southern Vermont's charming but snaky ski access boulevard, Route 30, in just over an hour.

Forty-five minutes later, right around 8 a.m. (if you timed it right), you'll be pulling into Stratton Mountain Resort, southern Vermont's biggest ski area and the one with the most reliable early and regular-season snow. And that's with a couple of stops.

That's what my teenage son and I did last Sunday. Our plan was to meet up with a friend from Sterling and shred Stratton's 175 acres of open terrain - the most in Vermont at the time - on a super-early December day with no crowds, cheap early-season ticket prices, and amazingly good snow.

We succeeded.

At the start, all three of us were on short, high-radius slalom skis, which are amazingly fun, even if you're not a racer - as my son and our friend are. You can whip them around really easily, and with their wide shovels and stiff tails, they can handle everything from Eastern boilerplate to soft manmade, spring-like snow as Stratton had to offer Sunday.

Later, we switched to longer skis and opened up the speed a bit, though it's probably best to stick to the shorter ones in December.

Stratton had at least five top-to-bottom trails fully open, along with two high-speed six-passenger chairlifts and the resort's gondola, the only one in southern Vermont. That made for a lot of laps and innumerable great turns in early-40s temperatures with a cool breeze.

Brightening our runs was Stratton's irrepressible young communications specialist, Meryl Robinson, a New York native and ex-ski racer with impeccable carving technique. She told me about some of the following changes as we ascended the hill on the insanely fast Ursa Express six-pack.

New for this year, Stratton - a high-end destination with commensurate prices - has introduced more bargain offerings in an attempt to broaden its customer base.

"Kids" 17 and under ski free with any adult ticket bought online at least 24 hours in advance before Dec. 21.

There's also the "One Day, Two Night" package - two days of skiing, two $20 dinner credits, and one night's lodging, starting at $199 per two persons. It's available every day early and late season, and non-holiday midweek days during the regular season. Check out for details, including deals on kids' lodging and skiing.

Like many New England ski areas, Stratton also has done a lot of work on its glades, thinning them out and cleaning them up so everyone from intermediates on up can enjoy tree skiing in less risky environments.

Stratton also has a completely new run this year - Sunbeam, in the cruising-friendly Sun Bowl area.

This run, nicely pitched at top and with a long flat run-out, used to be a glade.

Wachusett Mountain air bag

Closer to home for Central Mass. snow sports mavens, Wachusett Mountain Ski Area is boasting the state's only freestyle soft-landing training platform - the "Sun Drop Big Air Bag."

Coinciding with the Princeton ski and snowboard mecca's 50th anniversary, the bag - sponsored by Sunkist brand of soft drinks - opens Saturday, Dec. 22.

A similar bag had a brief stay at Wachusett last season and is sure to be a hit with the younger set on a full-time basis during the 2012-13 season.

The huge air-inflated bag allows rippers and jibbers to grab big air hang time and try out potentially risky new tricks without worrying about crunching, painful, hard-snow landings.

Prices are, in addition to a lift ticket: two-jump trial, $10; session fee, $25; 2012-13 season pass valid anytime bag is open, $125.

Hours of operation are 2 to 8 p.m. Fridays, noon to 9 p.m. Saturdays, noon to 7 p.m. Sundays. Starting Jan. 2, they are 2-8 p.m. Monday to Thursday. Holiday hours are noon to 8 p.m. Dec. 26-30, noon to 10 p.m. New Year's Eve, noon to 10 p.m. New Year's Day. Also, noon to 9 p.m. Jan. 19-20, noon to 7 p.m. Jan. 21, and noon to 9 p.m. Feb. 16-22 (vacation week).

Waivers and helmets are required. No ski poles are allowed, and you must be able to gain enough speed to launch off the ramp.

Shaun Sutner can be contacted by email at

Snow sports calendar

Today - Ski Ward, Shrewsbury, scheduled to reopen after closing Tuesday and Wednesday.

Today - Nashoba Valley Ski Area, Westford. Preseason mini-terrain park opened Dec. 1 with five features available for hiking on Pow-Wow trail, and is expected to stay open until ski area opens for season.

Saturday - Pats Peak, Henniker, N.H., scheduled to reopen.

Wednesday - Wachusett Mountain Ski Area, Princeton, race clinic and NASTAR warm-up.

Dec. 15 - Demo Day at Mount Snow, West Dover, Vt. Free ski demos from major manufacturers with credit card and license deposit.

Dec. 15 - Okemo Mountain Resort, Ludlow, Vt. Donate five nonperishable foot items, a child's toy, or a new piece of clothing and receive a coupon for a $39 lift ticket good for that day.

Dec. 15 - Waterville Valley, N.H., ninth annual Rome Premature Jibulation snowboard contest.

Dec. 22 - Wachusett Mountain, opening of Sun Drop Big Air Bag, freestyle ski and snowboard training feature that allows safe landings for jumps.

Dec. 22-23 - Stratton Mountain (Vt.) Ski Area, Heavy Metal Boardecross Camp with Vermont Olympians Lindsey Jacobellis and Ross Powers, for riders ages 10-18.
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Title Annotation:SPORTS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Geographic Code:1U1VT
Date:Dec 6, 2012
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