Two criteria will weigh heavily upon skier and snowboarder choices for time spent in the mountains this winter: proximity and value. The rising costs of air travel, energy and across the board increases in the cost of living have most everyone adjusting life styles to suit a new and unprecedented economic environment.
Proponents of winter sports are not likely to give them up. They just might restructure their choices and their frequency of participation. According to a recent Ski Industries of America (SIA) Consumer Panel, high gas prices to date have not affected participation in snowsports. People still love their sports of choice, and need the release provided from an increasingly stressful work environment. A good snow year will surely help, as well as a few resorts close to home.
Area proponents of winter sports should be most proud to have two mid-sized areas that combine economy and value with proximity. These areas, Ski Butternut in Great Barrington, Massachusetts and Catamount near Hillsdale, New York provide both, with many added bonuses to boot. Within a short distance, (Catamount is 55 miles from Hartford, whereas Butternut is 49), both offer a great deal for your hard earned and ever shrinking dollar.
Plan this season’s ski week or weekend close-by in Great Barrington and experience most of what big resorts have to offer, albeit at a smaller scale, but with the added bonus of a much friendlier, down to earth feel. Those added bonuses include a remarkable cultural setting in the Southern Berkshires, including inns, restaurants and many varieties of places to stay. Make home base in this historic small city and you are just a stone’s throw away from either area. With an average snowfall of 70 inches in Berkshire County (the ski areas averaging 100 to 110”) and the Appalachian Trail running through, the whole area has something for all. Film festivals, antiquing, outlet shopping, and art galleries all provide an experience that does not end after the lifts close down or when the weather does not want to cooperate. For a wealth of additional information on the area connect with the Southern Berkshire Chamber of Commerce at www.greatbarrington.org
Ski Butternut bills itself as the Berkshires affordable family mountain. The area has made several improvements over the last two seasons. A new pump house, miles of new 8 and 12 inch air and water snowmaking pipe, accompanied by the installation of 30 more tower snow guns, will increase snow making capacity by 225%. Three new Magic Carpet lifts will provide a more enjoyable experience for beginners accessing terrain for the first time. A new Bombardier BR350 grooming machine has been added to the fleet along with a new and much longer progression terrain park which was added to provide those just learning to catch air and slide rails with a less intimidating place to play than the popular and more challenging Twisted Terrain Park.
Add these improvements to a mountain offering a vertical drop of 1,000 feet, 100 % snowmaking, 12 lifts (including 3 quads and now a total of 4 carpets), a five lane 500 foot long tubing center, and a longest run measuring 1-1/2 miles, and we have a mountain full of amenities very close to home. Next year we can look forward to its cross-country center re-opening.
For an extensive list of ways to save $$$ visit www.skibutternut.com. A few examples include an adult season pass with no blackout dates, repeat, no blackout dates, for $229. It drops significantly to $99 for anyone over 70. You can save $15 per ticket by purchasing a three pack of lift ticket vouchers. Vouchers are valid any day this winter. There are even better values for scout troops, college students, military, EMS, firefighters and police personnel. There is free racing on their timed racecourse midweek, and reciprocal discount ticket agreements for season pass holders at many NY, Massachusetts, Vermont, Quebec, and Colorado resorts.
Ski Butternut and Catamount have teamed up on a few great offerings for their guests. Both areas offer $20 lift tickets valid 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. every Monday through Thursday, (excluding their holiday periods). In addition the areas have worked with local lodging to offer Midweek Ski & Stay packages that offers a lift ticket and a restful nights lodging with prices starting as low as $45 per-person, per-day based upon double occupancy. Learn more on either of the areas web sites.
Catamount owners, Don Edwards and Bill Gilbert have seat of the pants experience with managing a ski area. They acquired Catamount in 1973. Improvements for this season include expanded night lighting and snow making improvements to improve energy efficiency and function.
Catamount has a bonus of more than four miles of night skiing on 15 trails and terrain features, including the half pipe and The Park. Catamount is similar to Butternut with a 1,000 foot vertical. It has 6 lifts, 98% snow making coverage, and a 2-½ mile run (Ridge Run to Upper and Lower Promenade). The “Cat” has four groomers, a winch cat for the steeps, and a pipe dragon to keep surfaces well managed on its 32 trails and park areas.
Plans are in the works for a three-phase, three tiered, compact expansion project at its beautiful valley base, focusing on a pedestrian village campus. The concept includes condominiums, a hotel, pool, a skiers’ plaza level, retail spaces and a new lift. Approvals for the extensive development are in place and owners Don and Bill, like most business owners, are anxiously waiting for a better lending climate.
For rates and ways to save at Catamount visit www.catamountski.com. When you purchase a private lesson any Monday through Thursday, non-holiday, your lift ticket is FREE! Another great deal at Catamount is the 4s & 5s Club. Its purpose is to encourage kids to put down their video controllers and get some exercise. The program is free to 4th and 5th graders on weekends and holidays providing a paying adult accompanies them. An application form is available on line. An adult season pass is $399 after the end of November ($359 before). Seniors are $149 (70+) and children 6 and under are $99. Nights only, military and college rates are also available.
Both Butternut and Catamount are close to major roadways making it easy to get there. And both provide an experience and economy essential for the continued success of winter sports in the Southern Berkshires.