After four months of snowboarding all over Vermont, I have realized two things: (1) By March, I am ready to hang up my boots and board; and (2) I am still a mess when it comes to getting ready. These realizations came to me recently as I loaded up my car for yet another trip south on Interstate 89, this time to knock Northeast Slopes and Suicide Six off my list.
As I tore through my apartment looking for my snowboard pants, my grump-face firmly in place, I realized I’d left them at the laundromat two days before. Awesome. It reminded me of the time — four days ago, actually — when I arrived at a mountain and realized I’d forgotten my jacket. Doubly awesome. These are clearly signs that I’m ready to do something different with my time, like draw hopscotch squares on the sidewalk with the neighbor children or complain about how I don’t look good in a bikini. But I must soldier on. The project is nearly complete.
First stop was Northeast Slopes in East Corinth. Don’t know what I’m talking about? You’re not alone. If you don’t live in the neighboring shires of West Topsham, Orange or Goshen, you have no reason to go to the tiny roadside ski area.
Northeast Slopes is a nonprofit ski hill with three surface lifts, one of which is run by an old Ford truck. It has been open every winter for the past 73 years and boasts the oldest continuously operating rope tow in the United States. What it does not boast is a snowmaking system. So the ski area is completely weather dependent.
This winter, Northeast Slopes was open just 15 days, board member Genevieve Faherty told me during my visit. Normally, they’d have at least double that. But they’re not sweating it. The patrons of Northeast Slopes are devoted to the ski area, Faherty said, and when it comes to fundraising, the nonprofit does pretty well. They recently raised $190,000 to buy a new T-bar.
Since Mother Nature was stingy with the snow this season, Northeast Slopes’ last open day was in mid-February. When I visited, the 12 trails were a crazy quilt of dirty snow and brown grass. I was not going to be riding Northeast Slopes this season. I’m not sure if this constitutes a project fail, but it does mean that no matter what, the weather in Vermont will always find a way to screw you up.
I bade Faherty good-bye and headed down the road to Suicide Six, the menacingly named ski area just outside Woodstock. (Its founder joked that it would be suicide to ski down hill number 6, a slope that would become part of the resort, hence the name.) Suicide Six, which is part of the Woodstock Inn & Resort, prides itself on its own collection of superlatives. Youth ski racing got its start on the hill, and legend has it that the ski area was the first in the east to install a rope tow.
While the trails were losing their coverage on the day I went, there was still enough snow on the ground for me to get a few good runs in. Only the 2000-foot double chair lift was running, so I rode that to the summit and was deposited in a spray of gummy snow. I started with a gentle cruise down Bourdon’s Bowl, which swings out along the back side of the hill. In no time, I was at the bottom. With only 650 feet of vertical, Suicide Six is far from a quad burner.
Next, I hit the Face, the ski area’s main race trail. Half of it hadn’t been groomed, making for a rippled crust that was tough to cut through. When I found the groomed section, it was speedy and wide as a California freeway. The Face doesn’t look steep when you’re sitting on the quaint wooden lift chairs, but it has some serious pitch to it. After going down, it’s easy to see how youth ski racing got its start here.
A few more runs down Skyline and Bunny’s Boulevard, named for founder Bunny Bertram, and it was time to pack up and go home. The finish line is in sight. Seventeen down, three to go.