Ever wonder what is was like to be on Hoth, from Star Wars? Well I think I know after skiing Okemo Mountain this week.
A wonderful little winding trail at Okemo
When I left my house at 6:30 am, it was a balmy 5 degrees (F) out, by the time I arrived at Okemo, two hours later, the temperature had fallen to -5F under a wonderful bluebird sky. Not a particularly encouraging temperature. The parking lot reflected this, as there were a total of maybe 40 cars just after the lifts opened at 9 am.
After managing to put on every single piece of thermal I owned at the same time, and grabbing a park pass, I headed up the lift. I must say, Okemo has one of the strangest layouts as far as their lifts are concerned I have ever seen. From the lodge, you have to take one of two identical quads across the mountain to get anywhere. They are literally the same length, and separated by about 50 feet. Once you get to the top of those you have the option of jumping on four different lifts to get around the mountain, including two that are designed primarily to service the park and pipe. I imagine it probably does a pretty good job at mitigating what must normally be absolutely massive crowds.
As with all mountains I have never been to before, I headed straight for the summit. Upon getting about halfway up the 'Northstar Express', I soon realized that on top of it being somewhere in the range of -10 to -15 at the summit, there was also a 20+mph wind that was just brutal and constant. If my math is right, that put the windchill at somewhere near -25 or so. I've had some cold days in my skiing career, but this one is right up there for one of the coldest. Frostbite was a major concern.
Keeping with their strange lift layout, in order to reach the highest point on the mountain involves taking 4 different chairs, none of which seem particularly speedy, leaving me to contemplate just why exactly I am doing this when its so ludicrously cold out as I sat on the lift. Upon reaching the true summit of Okemo, I was greeted with a hell of a view. After waiting around for several minutes for someone to come up to take a picture of me, I finally bugged the lifty to get one of me, as it was clear no one else was nutty enough to be on the top of the mountain exposed to the jet stream that seemed to be hitting it.
Okemo Mountain Summit
Other than the cold, conditions were excellent for the most part. Nice freshly groomed snow with very very few tracks anywhere to be found. I found some great looking glades rated at double black that looked super awesome, but unfortunately were closed due to lack of coverage. They looked like a hell of a ride. There were even a few glades that I peered into over the closed ropes, wondering where exactly one was suppose to ski. I wish I could have found out.
One of Okemo's many closed double black diamond glades. I wish I could have skied them.
From the summit of Okemo, I weaved my way across the mountain, heading for Jackson-Gore, eventually making my way over to the base. The lodge at Jackson-Gores base seemed to actually be substantially larger than the main one at Okemo, although I could have been missing something. As I rode up the lift to the summit. I found myself wondering if it was actually getting colder as the day went on. Jackson-Gore seemed to be exposed to the wind much more, and the trails reflected that, as they were substantially more icy. After bothering some snowboarders to take a photo of me, I headed off skiers left to go as far out as I could when I was surprised with this sight.
Big Bang, Double Black on Jackson-Gore and the only hard trail I found open.
Summit of Jackson-Gore
I was super excited to have found something hard that was open! 200 yards later, I was regretting my enthusiasm. This thing was was not overly steep, but was essentially glare ice, edge to edge. Between that and being on park skis with no edges under boot, it was a terrible and needlessly exhausting trail. I suspect that under normal conditions it was likely a mogul trail. After that, I felt I had had enough of Jackson-Gores icy slopes and brutal winds, and headed back for Okemo to take my first break of the day. I hit the lodge and made my way straight to the bar to enjoy a delicious adult hot chocolate loaded with coconut rum. I usually won't pay for anything, but 4 and a half hours of sub-zero temperatures, and I needed something to warm me up. It certainly did the trick.
Headed back to Okemo from Jackson-Gore, cold-smoke billowing
Delicious Coconut Rum Hot Chocolate at the Sitting Bull Bar.
With lunch over, I headed back up and straight for the park. As with seemingly all of my mid-week visits, one of the parks was closed, but luckily they had 2 and a half more for me to entertain myself with. I started out with this little park located on 'Hot Dog Hill', right near the base of the mountain. It was almost a text book perfect progression park. My only complaint? Why are all of the features in a horizontal line so I can only hit one at a time? There was plenty of room and I would have much rather hit all 6 features in a row than have to hit one and hike it. Either way, I spent a while hiking the rail before moving on. I love a nice flat bar.
From there, I moved on to the 'Rockstar Super Park on Noreaster'. This is the half a park I was referring to. Granted the half that was open was larger than some mountains entire parks, but only half the trail was open, so Ill count it as a half. Getting into it involved a little luck, as I had to take a few trails at random before I found the entrance. Excuse the lack of video this week folks, It was so cold that I did not want to leave my hands exposed for the time it would have taken me to get down the trail. I probably would have gotten frostbite. Here are the features in order top to bottom.
After getting the shots from the main park, I headed next to the 'Progression Park' Only to find several feral snowcats roaming the trail, reshaping the park. I moved on to the pipe. When I took the pictures there was a snowboard comp going on. I find it amazing how basically no one can get over the lip of this massive beast. I am guessing the pipe had 18-20 foot walls on it. If no one can get out of the pipe in a comp, why not just make a smaller pipe? I hadn't been in a pipe in years and years, as none of the mountains I regularly frequent have one. Later in the day when I got to get into it, I was please to find how much fun I was having, even if all I was doing was small airs back and forth in it. I need to go someplace with a half-pipe more often.
With all the pictures taken care of, I cruised around for awhile more. When I returned to the main park to take a lap down (that's what I tell my self, most of the stuff in there was way above me.), I was pleased to find a free-skiing comp going on with some local private schools. I am sure there were some Newschoolers in there for sure, but I didn't want to mess with anyone's mental game by bothering them so I staked out on the first main jump next to the judges to watch for awhile. Props to the mountain staff for not giving a shit about the weather and judging the comp in howling winds and blistering cold. I saw some pretty huge spins off the jumps and it was nice to be able to watch this stuff in person from right up close on the knuckle of the jump. By the time I was done watching, the light was super flat. When I went in to change lenses I realized it was already 3:30, and with Okemo's strange lift pattern, I probably wouldn't make it back up top. Being cold as hell from watching the comp, I decided it was probably better to call it quits. I headed out quite happy to have visited.
I have to say, I was very impressed with my new camera on this trip. It is a FujiFilm Finepix X60 Camera designed for extreme weather usage. Around 11 when I stopped in the mountain top lodge, I found my cell phone which was 3 layers down in my outerwear, had frozen and died. There was literally frost on the screen. The Fuji camera had only a single wind-proof layer between it and the biting cold, and had a full battery and shot great all day. It takes great photos to boot.
The plan for this Sunday (1/26/14) is to head up to Cannon Mountain. Unfortunately they are currently reporting that all of their glades are closed, and they have nothing on their website about current parks that are open. Still, most of the mountain is open, and I would much prefer to go there than a huge mountain I have never been to that is only reporting 60% open (like Mount Snow, where I was originally planning on going). If anyone is going to be at Cannon, let me know asap and we can ride together!
One final side note, for anyone who has not seen it, here is the edit made from the NS meet at Loon. Check it out!
Keep on Shredding!