Hot Spots


Frostbite got your tongue? These New England ski areas can help you beat the cold.

It happens to the best of us. You go skiing one subzero day in the heart of January. A shivering soul with frostbitten toes, you're soon swinging in the wind on a stalled chairlift, praying for it to restart. And you swear: never again.

But the rewards of skiing on the coldest of days -- crowd-free terrain and fast conditions -- can make it all worth it. So, to help you maximize your deep-freeze ski time, we've identified the best resorts to head to when it's cold enough to freeze vodka. They have sunny southern faces, wind-protected spaces, and plenty of other stuff guaranteed to keep you warmer, inside and out.

Northern Vermont gets plenty of snow -- some years topping 450 inches -- and you don't want to miss a fluffy flake of it, even on January days when the average low temperature at ski areas hovers at a brisk six degrees. (Of course, the higher the lift takes you, the cooler it becomes.) On days like these, consider Stowe, Sugarbush, and Jay Peak.

In the old days, the lifties at Stowe gave customers a blanket for the chilling ride to the summit. Today, heat-seeking experts can ride in sheltered style in nothern Vermont's only gondola, then drop into the wind-protected wooded trails off Chinclip trail for some fun between the trees. Or head to Spruce Peak for the region's warmest southern-exposed cruising terrain.

At Sugarbush, Castlerock's narrow double blacks offer shelter from windstorms, but the 1959 chairlift that accesses them (with over 10 minutes of hang time) will chill you back down. As an alternate venue, try the North Lynx area on Lincoln Peak, which catches the late-afternoon sun and is considered one of the Mad River Valley's warmest afternoon locales.

Jay Peak's new tram cars keep the drafts at bay and drop you near the warm and woolly goods: hundreds of acres of the East's best official woods skiing and snow-laden upper-mountain glades that keep the heart pumping. Because Jay features the East's greatest recorded snowfall -- 488 inches last season -- it will also keep your legs insulated in the white stuff.

Temps are slightly warmer here than in the northern reaches of the state. Manchester -- southern Vermont's gateway ski town -- has average January lows of seven degrees; Rutland is a balmy 11 degrees. In this region, your best bets are Killington, Bromley, and Stratton.

Killington became a good place to ski on a cold day when it added the East's warmest eight-passenger gondola (up to 55 degrees inside) and acquired neighboring Pico, with its sheltered lower-mountain trails. And with seven distinct peaks -- each with different exposures and elevations -- you're destined to find hot spots. Wind-swept midwinter conditions at the Killington summit, for example, can give way to sunshine and spring mashed potatoes on Bear Mountain. And on cold January mornings, Ram's Head, which faces east and catches the morning sun, is good for those creaky warm-up runs.

Bromley is renowned as one of Vermont's toastiest ski areas. Its south-facing orientation lends warmth to its 43 trails and signature cruising runs, and its base-to-summit Sun Mountain Express detachable quad keeps hang time to a minimum. On days when the wind is raising havoc up top, the four lower-mountain chairs are a good option for skiers with kids.

Farther south, at Stratton, the ski area's Sun Bowl section and 90 acres of sheltered glades are the hot spots. On the way up to the bowl, you'll exchange plenty of body heat in the country's only 12-passenger gondola. And because Sun Bowl is concave, it features high, wind-protected ridges that don't obstruct the morning-to-midafternoon sun. Stratton also has New England's only heated pedestrian paths in its Tyrolean-style base vlage.

Like Vermont, New Hampshire gets its cold snaps. Average January low temperatures range from minus 4.6 degrees atop Mount Washington (elevation: 6,288 feet) to 7.4 degrees in the town of Concord. The high peaks of the Presidential Range tend to get rocked with high winds but, thankfully for us, also pull down some heavy snowfall. (In 1997, eight feet of snow fell on Mount Washington in -- gulp -- May.) In the southwestern Lake Sunapee region, winter weather is milder, but it still can get downright frigid. So on nippy days, consider heading to Black, Cranmore, or Mount Sunapee.

Black is nestled in a notch, protected from the northwest winds that can jostle the town of Jackson, where it's located. Black also has a direct southern exposure to catch the coveted winter sun. Regulars appreciate the warm winter rays that hit the twin, center-stage black-diamond slopes -- Jackson Standard and Maple Slalom. Skiers' right of the L4 chairlift, the black-diamond Speedwell horseshoes down through a sheltered wooded area and drops you onto the protected open slopes of the base area.

Cranmore, situated in the heart of North Conway, tops out at 1,676 feet, so it doesn't usually get as wind buffeted as its higher ski-area brethren (whose summits can reach 4,050 feet). And with four exposures to chose from, there are always hot trails to be found. Although intermediate oriented, there's plenty here to rev the advanced skier, including short and sweet steeps like the Ledges and Gibson Pitch and the classic, winding, woods-hugging Kandahar.

Mount Sunapee's Sun Bowl is New Hampshire's version of Lake Tahoe with an unobstructed view of Lake Sunapee to the east and morning-to-midafternoon rays usually overhead. Although not to be confused with Western bowl skiing, the ridges on both sides of this concave trail network can serve as welcome windbreakers. Yet the bowl's best warm feature is its new high-speed detachable quad -- a vast improvement over the old double -- which gets you topside quickly.

Skiing in the Berkshires, by virtue of their lower altitude, is generally warmer than in northern New England. You'll still get those cold January days in the 10- to 15-degree average range, but the lower elevations -- Brodie's 2,700 feet is the highest you'll go -- help keep things in the red zone.

Butternut skis like it was designed with cold days in mind, from an eastern-exposed teaching slope that catches the morning sun to windless tree-lined lift lines running up the mountain to a top elevation of only 1,800 feet. And with the ski area's warm, family-oriented staff, it's hard to be cold here.

Brodie is another good cold-day choice: Even with 1,250 feet of vertical, all the runs -- ranging from a 2 1/4-mile-long cruiser named Tipperary to a handful of runs only a quarter-mile long -- bring you directly back to the base area and its famed Blarney Room Bar. The bar features romantically hot barstools for two, more libation selections than you can shake a swizzle stick at, and a Celtic esprit de corps that will make you forget the cold -- and possibly the skiing, as well.


Black: 603-383-4490;
Brodie: 413-443-4752;
Bromley: 802-824-5522;
Butternut: 413-528-2000;
Cranmore: 603-356-5544;
Jay Peak: 802-988-2611;
Killington: 802-422-3333;
Mount Sunapee: 603-763-2356;
Stowe: 802-253-3000;
Stratton: 802-297-2200;
Sugarbush: 802-583-2381;

> Take lifts that have a short hang time (the amount of time you're exposed to the elements en route).
> While on the chairlift, playing the drums on your quadriceps improves circulation to the toes.
> To keep your toes warm, change into fresh socks after traveling and before booting up.
> If you're looking for even warmer skiing, keep heading south: In New Jersey, Mountain Creek's average January temp is 18 degrees, and in Pennsylvania, Whitetail's is a balmy 26 degrees.n route).
> While on the chairlift, playing the drums on your quadriceps improves circulation to the toes.
> To keep your toes warm, change into fresh socks after traveling and before booting up.
> If you're looking for even warmer skiing, keep heading south: In New Jersey, Mountain Creek's average January temp is 18 degrees, and in Pennsylvania, Whitetail's is a balmy 26 degrees.



New Hot Spot Eateries

A delicious meal after a banner day on the slopes is one of the ski life’s greatest pleasures. Scoring a table at the town hot spot? Bonus. Put these new and newish mountain eateries on your dining hit list this season. You won’t go hungry.