One of the perks of being The Ski Diva is that from time to time I get invited to media events at various ski resorts. These are days that the PR people set aside to familiarize members of the press with all the stuff they have going on. You go on mountain tours, sit through presentations, eat at the various restaurants. It’s actually very nice.
Recently I went to one here in Vermont for Okemo Mountain Resort. Okay, you say, isn’t that your home mountain? It is. But it’s good to hear from management about the new stuff that’s going on, their plans for the future, and so on. And with press people coming from all over the place, it’s nice to have the chance to see the mountain through new eyes. Kind of gives me a new slant on things I see all the time.
So with that in mind, I thought I’d devote this week to giving you my perspective about Okemo: the stuff I really like — I mean, besides the fact that I can be there in about 7 minutes, which is very nice, too.
1) It’s a cruiser’s paradise: If you love rippin’ the groomers, Okemo is for you. These trails are designed to make you feel positively giddy. If you’re not smiling by the time you reach the bottom, then I’m sorry, there’s no hope for you at all.
2) The Bubble Lift: The official name is The Sunburst Six, but everyone just calls it The Bubble. To be honest, when they first put it in a few years ago, my initial reaction was man, how decadent. What do we need this for? But seriously, on a cold day, when the wind is blowing and the wind chill is below zero, this is the lift that everyone heads for. Not only does it offer protection, but did I mention that the seats are heated? This Can. Not. Be. Beat. Extra Okemo fact: there’s a second bubble lift at the Jackson Gore area. No, the seats aren’t heated, but it’s a godsend on cold days.
3) Friendly employees: I’ve skied at a lot of places, and I have to say the employees at Okemo are the best by far. They always, always act like they’re happy to see you. This can’t be easy, but somehow they manage to pull it off. It may seem like a small thing, but it really makes a difference.
4) Food: I’m not talking about food in the cafeteria at the base lodges — though the food at the Jackson Gore base lodge is actually pretty good. And to be honest, I’m cheap; I usually bring my lunch. But if you want a treat, try Epic, the sit-down restaurant at the Solitude base area. I’ve eaten there a few times, and it’s excellent.
5) Women’s Alpine Adventures: Okemo’s women’s ski clinic is very well known. In fact, I wrote a review about it here. If you’re a Mikaela Shiffrin, or aspire to be, the WAA, as it’s known, probably isn’t for you. But if you’re looking to gain confidence, have a terrific time, make new friends, and pick up some pointers, you’re definitely in the right place.
6) The Magic Carpet: Little known fact: the Magic Carpet conveyor lift at Okemo is FREE. For everyone! Which is great for beginners. Oh, don’t think I don’t know the score: the idea is to get you hooked so you want to pay the big bucks for the lift. But it’s a great way for newbies to learn the basics so they can ski more safely before they go up in the chair.
7) Ice Skating: Okemo installed its skating rink in 2006, and this year they’ve improved it with a new refrigeration system that can make ice at temperatures well above freezing. A lot of fun when you don’t feel like skiing.
8) The Timber Ripper: Okay, you’re there for the skiing. But honestly, how can you resist taking what’s essentially a roller coaster ride down the mountain? It starts with a five-minute, 1,600-foot climb followed by a 375 vertical-foot descent along 3,100 feet of track that follows the contours of the mountain, at speeds of up to 25 mph. And it’s open all year long.
9) Summer concerts: Okemo has a lot of stuff going on in the summer. But to me, the best thing by far is the free Friday night concerts in the Jackson Gore base area. People pack picnics, bring lawn chairs, and just enjoy being out on a summer evening. Everyone loves it.
10) Ludlow: This is the town that’s at the base of Okemo. I’ll be honest: if you’re looking for a picture-perfect Vermont town, this ain’t it. But Okemo is the only ski area in the state that has a town right there. And that does have some advantages. For example, in addition to the ski shops right on the mountain, there are five in town (plus one shop just for boarders). And, love ’em or hate ’em (I’ll leave that up to you), there are lots of restaurants and places to stay. Which weighs heavily on the convenience factor.
11) Hey, it’s Vermont! What can I say. There’s something special about the Green Mountain State. The rolling hills, the quaint villages, the lack of suburban sprawl, the state’s no billboard policy…it’s New England at its best. All I know is that when I tell people I live in Vermont, it’s like I’ve told someone I live on a tropical island; I get the same sort of reaction. No, it doesn’t have the gnarly terrain as Utah or Colorado. But it’s pretty unique, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.