While skiing at Mammoth Mountain Resort last season several of my west coast ski friends and I were talking about different resorts and which ones we liked best and how close they were to our homes. While Mammoth is truly huge as resorts go it is more of a destination mountain. It is about a five-hour drive from both Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay area. That's too far for a day trip. During the conversation I posed the question which state has the most ski areas, "California", one person said. Wrong, "Colorado" said another. Wrong again. It's New York that has 50. California and Colorado are fifth and sixth with 29 and 28 resorts respectively.
While many western states offer the "Big Mountain" experience they tend to not be easily accessible to large population centers.
The Capital District area is a great location for day skiing/riding. With a drive of less than two and half hours one can get to 20 areas. Mountains in the Adirondacks, Berkshires, Catskills, Taconic and Green Mountains offer a variety of size, terrain and hospitality. Each area offers its own experience.
Essentially all areas have invested in snowmaking covering most of their mountains. Grooming is important too. Mountains that want to attract skiers and riders need to have a combination of both. They cannot survive without it. The 20 areas close to the Capital District area measure up in maximizing the mix of technology, equipment and weather to ensure the best conditions.
Easy access to the New York State Thruway, Adirondack Northway and Route 7 make getting to most areas relatively easy. Once off major roads traveling is often good on secondary roads. Winter activity is a driving economic force in many of these areas so roads are usually well maintained providing for a safe, pleasant and scenic drive.
Terrain varies from the smaller, but great beginner area, Maple Ski Ridge in Rotterdam New York with 400 feet of elevation to Whiteface outside of Lake Placid, New York with 3430 of elevation with everything in between.
From the Capital District area seven areas, Maple Ski Ridge, Willard, Jiminy, Bosquet, West, Royal and Catamount are accessible in under an hour. While these areas are on the smaller side they are good for learning and partial day adventures. Don't rule out a full day of skiing or riding though. Depending our your ability there is more than enough terrain to satisfy all levels.
Traveling just 30 minutes more will get you to the larger mountains of Bromley, Hunter, Windham, Mount Snow, Stratton, Magic, Plattekill, Oak, Gore and Okemo. This seems to be the sweet spot. The difference in terrain and overall skier/rider experience within a 90-minute drive is vast. These areas also have lodging available which provides a more robust experience. With lodging often comes a larger diversity in dining options too.
If you are willing to make drive of a little over two hours one can get to Killington, Pico and Whiteface. While these mountains are more of a drive is it often worth it when conditions are good. Whiteface Mountain Ski Area offers the highest vertical drop east of the continental divide in addition to the that special flair that comes from the 1980 Olympics. Killington, nicknamed "the Beast of the East" with its large number of trails and dining and lodging amenities and its vast snowmaking capabilities is usually able to keep their season going the longest in the east often offering skiing and riding into May.
Distance and length of drive are usually proportional. However, this is not always the case with those mountains that do not have significant portions on an interstate. For example, Jiminy Peak is only 33 miles from Capital District but it takes 50 minutes to drive there. On the other hand Gore Mountain is 86 miles but takes about 1:20 to arrive. This is due to 75% of the drive being on the Adirondack Northway.
Regardless of whether you drive thirty minutes or two and a half hours it's important to get out and enjoy the skiing and riding that is so close to the Capital District.