News of Eastern glade skiing hitting critical mass came to me from my friend The Gypsy. We were skiing Big Spruce, Stowe's satellite mountain, on closing weekend. The snow was corning up nicely, and he was in an expansive mood.
He'd just been in New Hampshire, on a hill I remembered largely for cruisers and condos. Clearly, though, he'd found something to excite him. "It's about 15 feet wide," he said, "maybe 900 vert. They call it 'Bart's Still Here.'" About a half-hour hike from the area to a drainage, he said. A mix of well-spaced hardwoods and evergreens.
"Hard to find?" I asked. "Tight entrance? Wormholes?"
"Without an escort you couldn't find it," he said with evident satisfaction.
Suddenly glades seem to be everywhere: little swaths of tiny, piney icons on trail maps. According to area associations, there's hardly a resort in New Hampshire or Vermont that hasn't added them. And then there are the secret stashes-inbounds or out. Tracks leading into walls of wood beyond which lie the local gems, the result of woodlot management where skiers have taken matters into their own hands, moving deadfall, cutting back brush, tending the understory. A dank, oozing ledge in November becomes an aquamarine pipe organ of powder and ice come January.
The argument could be made that it's tree skiing, not the inevitable, insufferable tag of "boilerplate," that's the defining characteristic of Eastern skiing. It's the powder we're after. And the woods are where it's found. Back there, snow often piles up boot-top to pants-pocket deep. Knock off 1,500 vertical feet worth of floater turns in open hardwoods and you'll cancel your plane reservations out West.
It's a point I try to get across to my occasional Colorado skiing partner, who's never skied the East. "Pretty good, no?" he says, puffed up with pride after he introduced me to the Mushroom Bowls at Vail.
"Nice," I say, "but it's about a B-minus for Stowe."
The latest in sylvan culture
Sugarloaf U.S.A., Maine
Recognizing that skiers were ducking into the woods all over its 1,400 acres, in '96, Sugarloaf concluded that a Western approach would work in Maine-and opened the area up boundary to boundary. Last winter, though, one beyond-the-dotted-line tree shot on the east side became so well traveled that the resort herniated its boundary and put it on the map. Known by locals as (depending on whom you talk to) Source of the Nile or Source of Denial, the glade was widened so patrol could get a sled in and renamed Cant Dog in honor of the region's logging history.
As might be expected, high-speed lifts and swanky lodges are part of Okemo's 16-trail Jackson Gore expansion. But there's skiing on the shaggier side, too, with 55 acres of gladed white-birch forest coming soon (10 acres are opening this winter). Access to the trees is being cut in such a way that skiers can "gauge the invitation," to co-opt some of Okemo's marketing speak. Essentially, that means the entry is reasonably tight and the first few turns a little more open, with an "escape route" that lets novice skiers shimmy back to the groomed trails.
Jay Peak, Vermont
Including a couple of boot-pack-accessible tree-lined chutes (with steep powder in the woods), there are now two dozen glades on the Jay map. Last year they opened Deliverance, a narrow, 40-degree shot on skier's right of Can Am. That's all they're advertising, but Jay's woodchucks have been expanding the western edge of the resort as well. This year, skiers can go beyond the Beyond Beaver Pond glade to the West Bowl (or Ullr's Bowl), which will eventually see a couple of lifts, trails and glades. It's a thrash, but you end up in a wind-protected powder cache, so the scars are worth it.
Bretton Woods, New Hampshire
Glading out 12 lines on the Weest Mountain side of the resort three years ago added some challenge to an area known for oh-so-mellow cruising. Some, like the inviting Aggassiz, are wide open enough to permit occasional grooming (think of it as an intro to tree skiing). Just don't assume everything is that easy: The east side of the mountain saw 30 acres of glades cut last year between Rosebrook and Stickney mountains in Rosebrook Canyon. Here you drop in off one of two high lines on the ridge into forests that are decidedly tighter, steeper, and considerably more dense. This year a new high-speed quad makes for faster access.
Gore Mountain, New York
Skiers have been navigating the trees at Gore since ski trains took skiers to the now-abandoned North Creek Ski Bowl (which eventually will be resurrected as part of the resort). So Gore's recent forays into the forest have been dubbed "progressing to the past-to the roots," by management. Whatever. Over the past six years, Gore has been taking advantage of natural chutes and bowls and cutting shots like the mile-long Twister Glades. With the installation of the new Top Ridge Triple from Straightbrook Canyon to the top of Bear Mountain, skiers can sample 10 acres between balsam and spruce at the top and yellow birch and maple at the bottom.
Tree skiing's a tradition here-Stowe's trail maps from the '30s are marked with glades and Smuggs is laced with venerable local lines. In the last two years, Stowe has upped its woodland maintenance of old shots like S-53 and the Nose Dive Glades. Smuggs recently added three moderate (compared with the tree diving available on the Madonna side) glades off the Sterling Mountain lift. But it's the steep sides of the Notch itself (between the two areas) that comprise what may be the East's wildest skiing. Powder-filled but forbidding, the Notch offers cliff-outs, mandatory airs, and imposingly narrow chutes.