Beyond the Top 60

From the Top
From the Top-Andy

One of my favorite ski areas doesn't stand a chance of making the list of Top 60 resorts featured in this issue-and probably wouldn't rate even if we expanded the survey to include the Top 600. I stumbled upon the Woodbury Ski Area a half dozen years ago, when SKI's offices were still located in Manhattan and I was itching to get a jump on the ski season. I'd heard stories about a place tucked in the rolling hills of Litchfield County, Conn., and figured I'd check it out.

Inside Woodbury's cramped lodge, packed with an assortment of odd equipment, I found proprietor Rod Taylor manning the cash register. With stout legs, a barrel chest and a penchant for speed, Rockin' Rod started skiing at age 16 and was racing in the Hahnenkamm three years later. More than anything, he was known for his large...well, let's just say he was fearless. After a stint with the U.S. Ski Team, he returned home to Connecticut to manage his dream ski resort, as it were.

Woodbury is hardly a thing of beauty; it kind of looks like an accident waiting to happen. But the slightly unkempt Rod is unfailingly passionate about the sport, and his ski area has a soul and a history of innovation that corporate resort managers should envy.

Woodbury's 300-foot hill, served by a rickety double chair and a couple of ropetows, is riddled with pipes and parks and miscellaneous hits; Rod leaves shovels out to encourage jump construction. One early Saturday morning, he informed me that I was going to be a judge for the Connecticut State Aerials Championships that very day, an event that had no official sanction beyond the owner's imagination. The jumps kept growing larger as the noon start approached, and soon there were four dozen talented and diverse kids going big. This was all happening at Woodbury well before the world caught its current freeskiing bug, but that shouldn't come as a surprise: Rod also built a skateboard park 20 years ago-one of the first in the Northeast-and he just hosted his 30th annual reggae fest.

I've been fortunate to count revered resorts such as Colorado's Breckenridge and Aspen and Vermont's Sugarbush and Mad River as hometown hills, but tiny Woodbury goes down as my most rewarding experience. The point is, you don't have to be at a Top 60 resort to enjoy an unforgettable ski day; you just have to alter your expectations.

I bumped into Rod this past summer at the Palmer Snowfield on Oregon's Mt. Hood. He told me that he'd just lost a lawsuit and might have to close the ski area, that it could end up as a housing development. The ski world doesn't know it, probably doesn't care, but losing a place like Woodbury would be a big blow for all that's good about our sport. Long live Woodbury.