Originally when I decided to plan an update on where things stood on the mountain, we had 4 trails open off of Gate House. Lucky for me, I now get to reap the benefits of my procrastination with a whole heck of a lot more to talk about.
What a start to the season! For those of you who made it out this past week, congratulations. You enjoyed one of the best November storms in recent Sugarbush history, probably second only to the November of 2018. In fact this November was our snowiest in 5 years and 3rd snowiest in the last two decades. Not too shabby.
But let’s step back and talk about the season so far. As I think we’ve all started to recognize, early season weather has become more and more turbulent. We always plan to start snowmaking in the first available window after November. This year the first temperature window large enough was November 8th. At Lincoln Peak we focused our efforts on Gate House terrain. Snow was blowing on Pushover, Lower Pushover, Slowpoke, and Sugarbear Road. Why did we choose this terrain? Well a couple reasons really.
Early Season Strategy
For starters, with such unpredictable temps early season in recent years, particularly the last several, we’ve opted for a strategy of always focusing on lower mountain terrain early and often when given the opportunity. Put simply, there are just less opportunities to do so. When we have the temps down low, we blow the snow. We believe opening a fully skiable section of terrain with a lift is a much better option than downloading on a chairlift. It’s a better guest experience, and it’s easier operationally. Why Gate House and not Valley House? It was less acreage to cover in the small time we had before our projected opening day. Those trails are mostly grassy terrain with very few rocks, and we recently upgraded it all with new KLIK hydrants allowing for more flexible operations. This won’t always be the plan in future years, but when we have a small window of snowmaking temps to work with ahead of Opening Day, it’s a great option.
So there we were, open and running with 4 trails. It was a beautiful Opening Day with free hats, free breakfast sandwiches, and soft conditions. Temps weren’t particularly consistent over the next 10 days. Snowmaking focused up high on trails like Jester and Organgrinder before eventually moving down through the traverses, Murphy’s Glades, Birdland, and then out to Coffee Run when it cooled down in the base. We were close to opening another big chunk of terrain when the incredible happened: Snowvember hit.
21″ landed between Sunday night and Wednesday morning. On Monday, the Gate House Quad, like many of us in the Valley, experienced a power outage. What many people probably don’t know is that Lincoln Peak receives its power from two separate sources, roughly split at the left and right sides of the mountain. So while Gate House was down, our ops team was able to open Super Bravo a day early and get folks out and enjoying the fresh snow. That was no easy task. Building snow ramps for the lifts, marking and roping terrain with patrol, and shifting staff over there. The results, though, were well worth it. A powder day with trails like Stein’s, Murphy’s, Birdland, and even Domino and Lower Domino.
The good news then kept rolling. The following day, we opened up Heaven’s Gate with most of its terrain including Ripcord, Lower Paradise, and Spillsville. The day after that saw us drop ropes on most of what remained around Lincoln Peak outside of the Valley House pod including the rest of the Gate House terrain. But the highlight had to have been opening Castlerock for hiking access. I made the trek over with one of our new snow reporters and a few others from marketing and weren’t disappointed. That was earliest I had skied Castlerock in years.
A Little Down, Then Right Back Up
But Mother Nature loves to play her little tricks. By Saturday morning, the mountain radios were buzzing with additional closed terrain while rain encased the mountain. Over a dozen trails closed, including Castlerock. But it wasn’t all negative, as our snowmaking and grooming teams completed the opening of Snowball and Spring Fling. This gave us another great cruiser run that can withstand the warmups.
Then, in a complete reverse from how things went last season, the warmup was immediately reversed by another 16″ of snow into Monday and Tuesday. Just like that, we’re back at it with now 63 open trails including Castlerock hiking again. Our snow total is now at 51″, something we didn’t hit last season until Christmas Eve! For all of you who could only be here this weekend, I feel for you, but know that the mountain has recovered impressively and awaits your next visit. The snowmaking crews are now hard at work building depths on a number of trails like Downspout, Lower Jester, Gondolier, and Lower Organgrinder. Plus, in a couple weeks we’ll welcome Mt. Ellen to the fold, where we’ve been making snow for the last several weeks. Snowmaking investments over there have really paid off and early operations are in good shape.
It’s been a strong start to the season. Here’s to it being a sign of things to come. But if there’s one thing we’ve learned in recent years, it’s get up here when the getting’s good…you never know what’s just around the corner.