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Ski East: Weekend at Jiminy Peak - Ski Mag

Ski East: Weekend at Jiminy Peak

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Tens of thousands of people vacation each year in what they think are the Berkshire Mountains. They're mistaken. There is no such place as the Berkshire Mountains.

Technically, according to Webster's New World Dictionary, the Berkshires is a "region of wooded hills in Western Massachusetts." So, while the heavily forested terrain is as beautiful and unspoiled as just about any in New England, it is decidedly more round. For skiers, that means the majority of Berkshire hills have "intermediate" tagged all over them.

Jiminy Peak, though, is a surprising exception. The 49-year-old area, the largest in the Bay State, has 1,140 vertical feet and several trails steep and long enough to keep strong intermediates puffing and experts itching for another run. Last season, two gladed areas were thinned out of the forest to beef up the resort's challenge.

The charming ski area still hasn't fully dusted off all of its "good old days" appeal. It traces its history to 1943, when Berkshire ski pioneer Bart Hendricks purchased 300 acres of mountain property for less than two bucks per acre. After an opening delayed by World War II, the ski area debuted in December of 1948 with five trails and a $3 lift ticket.

When 50-year-old Brian Fairbank, Jiminy's current president and CEO, was hired in 1969 as a ski instructor, he found a mountain equipped with a pokey double chair, two T-bars and one rope-tow. Since then, Fairbank has converted the day-hop area into a year-round destination resort that draws skiers from a four-hour radius, including parts of Massachusetts, Connecticut and the greater New York metro region.

Friday Night
For those looking for a park-the-car-and-forget-it weekend, the best lodging choice is the Country Inn, Jiminy's all-suite hotel. The 12-year-old inn, a sprawling structure with distinctive New England clapboard architecture, is located a stone's toss from the Triple Chair, one of two main lifts running from the base area to the top of the mountain. While the inn looks courtly from the outside, its kitchenette-equipped units are modestly but comfortably appointed. Besides 105 units in the Country Inn, Jiminy has another 130 townhouses and condominiums. These are arranged in clusters throughout the resort area-some within walking distance, others not. A variety of lodging can also be found along Massachusetts' Route 7, about 20 to 30 minutes from the ski area.

If you're staying at the mountain, your best early Friday evening options are right at the resort. Younger kids with parents in tow usually go straight to the inn's outdoor heated pool and hot tub, while teen snowboarders and skiers head directly to the area's lighted slopes. Night skiing is a major attraction at Jiminy-the lifts keep turning until 10:30 pm. In fact, over the course of a season, the area sells as many night tickets as day tickets.

Grab a light bite at Christensen's, the rustic, octagon-shaped pub and restaurant 100 yards from the Country Inn. The building was named after Charlie "Gramps" Christensen, a local farmer and former Jiminy lift operator in the resort's early days. The interior timbers and barnwood-plus some old farm tools displayed on the walls-all came from Charlie's barn in nearby Hancock. The tavern offers a wide selection of beer, more than 20 hot drinks and a small but varied pub menu. The clam chowder, served in a bread bowl, tastes as good as anything you'll find in Boston. The grilled Hebrew National jumbo franks keep the New York crowd happy.

If you don't want to take the kids to the pub, send them to the on-mountain East Lodge, where they can enjoy the pizza at Papa Gino's and meet skiers and snowboarders their age in an informal teen center with a big-screen TV.

For more elegant fare, try the Founder's Grille, located on the top floor of the Country Inn. The dinner menu includes seasoned chicken, succulent steaks and North Atlantic salmon plus chicken and seafood kabobs. Dinners are in the $9-$17 rang

Saturday Morning
Beginners at Jiminy have it made. Last season, the resort added the Cricket Triple Chairlift, quadrupling its novice terrain and making it an ideal place for "never-evers." Set apart from the main slopes and trails, gentle beginner slopes have no surprise dips or bumps, and no cross-traffic from advanced skiers. The Novice Chair on the bottom of the main mountain services slightly steeper-but still very easy-terrain.

Jiminy's "Peak" is actually a broad, flat summit with three lifts strung across it. The Triple Chair, closest to the Country Inn, puts you on the west side of the mountain. The Exhibition Chair, a double chair based near the Crane day lodge, runs to the center of the summit. You can also reach the top by riding the short Novice Chair next to Exhibition and skiing down to Jiminy's Q1 Quad, which takes you to the east side of the mountain. The top stations of all three lifts unload onto a broad, flat staging area, but it takes some skating and poling to get around; it's very common to see parents towing their young ones with a ski pole.

A good way for advanced skiers to warm up and become familiar with Jiminy's terrain is to hop on the Triple Chair when the lifts open at 8:30 am and ride to the top. Ski over to West Way, a low-intermediate trail that leads to Grand Slam, a similarly pitched slope. Save the trails that break off to the right of West Way for later in the day. Instead, bear right at the bottom of Grand Slam and ski to the Exhibition Chair. At the top, ski to the left for a long warm-up run down the 2-mile Left Bank. If the Exhibition queue is too long, ride the Novice Chair, and transfer to the Q1 Quad for your second ride to the top.

Better skiers may want to pass on the second warmup run after seeing Whitetail, which runs beneath the Quad. In a bit of hyperbole, Jiminy claims Whitetail is "New England's steepest, longest black diamond lighted run." Take away the lights and Whitetail is a doe to Stowe's Nose Dive buck, but it is one of three trails that put Jiminy in the ballpark for skiers craving steep pitches.

On either side of Exhibition are the two other reasons why strong skiers stopped turning their noses up at Jiminy several seasons ago: Jericho to skier's left and Upper Whirlaway to skier's right. Jericho is Jiminy's toughest and is often sprinkled with big bumps.

Don't be confused by the name changes you see on the trail map. Upper Whirlaway becomes Exhibition East on the lower half, but the two are really one connected trail from the top of the Quad to the bottom. The best skiers on the hill are here, and some spend the entire day just yo-yoing the Quad.

When it's time for a change of pace, ski down to the Triple Chair, ride to the top and get back on West Way. This time, check out the trails that drop off to the right. The first two, North Glade and Lower Glade, are impostors. They may have started out as glades, but they are now wide, treeless runs with a decent pitch. Both of those trails lead onto the easier Upper Slingshot, which, in turn, leads to a trail fork. From the fork, take Lower Slingshot back to the bottom of the Triple Chair.

If you pass on West Way's North- and Lower Glade cutoffs, you'll come to the Jiminy's new glades-Riptide and Willie's Gulch. They're not exceptionally long, but they are true glades in the New England tradition.

Snowboarders in your group will be drawn to the Grand Slam Chair near the Country Inn. Grand Slam services Jiminy's Alpine Terrain Park, a separate area with bumps, rails, hits and a quarter-pipe for riders (and skiers) to use. Last season, a Mitey-Mite tow called Easy Rider was added to the park, eliminating a big runout to the bottom of the mountain.

Après-Ski
A lot of Jiminy's appeal, especially to those who want to get away from the city, is in the things it doesn't have: There's no access road lined with restaurants and no wild après-ski spots.

Christensen's, though, is lively enough at night. It often has live radio promotions that keep the after-ski crowd around. The next best place for evening entertainment is the Blarney Room, located at nearby Brodie Mountain resort, about 5 miles away. The Blarney Room features a variety of live music on weekends, including Irish bands, country groups and folk singers.

Another good bet at night is the Old Forge Restaurant, about eight miles away in Lanesboro. It's an eatery with lots of brew choices upstairs and a pub with Saturday night entertainment downstairs. The aptly called Brewery is on Depot Street in nearby Pittsfield (15 miles) and offers dancing until 1 am on Friday and Saturday nights.For a more traditional evening, drive 15 miles to the Williams Inn in Williamstown. The privately owned inn on Williams College property features a guitar player in its cozy tavern on Friday nights and a four-piece jazz band on Saturday nights.

If it's snowing hard, stay at Jiminy; to reach Brodie Mountain, Lanesboro or Pittsfield, you have to drive over the Brodie Mountain Road, which requires a tricky bit of navigation in bad weather.

Sunday
From mid-February on, don't cook breakfast on Sunday morning. Instead, put the family in the car and drive a mile to the Ioka Valley Farm on Route 43. The farm's Calf-A restaurant, new last season, serves pancake meals on weekends from 8 am to 4 pm with genuine maple syrup. The kids will love watching the entire syruping operation in the farm's Maple Barn. And if you get there when the Calf-A opens, you can eat and be on the slopes by 9 am.

If you don't want to drive, Founder's Grille serves a fabulous brunch at the base of the mountain. For those staying in Williamstown, The Williams Inn offers an equally satisfying Sunday feast.

Since most of them don't have a long ride home, Jiminy skiers tend to stay late on Sundays. Aggressive skiers may find themselves covering the same ground as they did the day before. Those up for a change might consider trying snowboarding-the beginner area is an ideal learning garden.

Better yet, if you like to dance, try it on skis. Jiminy has a fleet of super short Gauer Snowblades (80-100 cm) that are used for "snow dancing." The little skis have hard edges like ice skate blades and convex bottoms that allow skiers to easily spin in any direction. If you're lucky, you might see couples waltzing around in matching outfits.

If the weather is uncooperative, go to Pittsfield. The town has a big mall with a multiplex theater. If you're looking for an entertaining cultural experience, try the Hancock Shaker Village, a restoration town that recreates an 1830s period Shaker town. There are 22 buildings to explore and various interactive lifestyle demonstrations. No matter what you choose to do, you'll leave Jiminy feeling as if you've had a big-mountain, New England vacation. But remember: You did it all on a hill.ely enough at night. It often has live radio promotions that keep the after-ski crowd around. The next best place for evening entertainment is the Blarney Room, located at nearby Brodie Mountain resort, about 5 miles away. The Blarney Room features a variety of live music on weekends, including Irish bands, country groups and folk singers.

Another good bet at night is the Old Forge Restaurant, about eight miles away in Lanesboro. It's an eatery with lots of brew choices upstairs and a pub with Saturday night entertainment downstairs. The aptly called Brewery is on Depot Street in nearby Pittsfield (15 miles) and offers dancing until 1 am on Friday and Saturday nights.For a more traditional evening, drive 15 miles to the Williams Inn in Williamstown. The privately owned inn on Williams College property features a guitar player in its cozy tavern on Friday nights and a four-piece jazz band on Saturday nights.

If it's snowing hard, stay at Jiminy; to reach Brodie Mountain, Lanesboro or Pittsfield, you have to drive over the Brodie Mountain Road, which requires a tricky bit of navigation in bad weather.

Sunday
From mid-February on, don't cook breakfast on Sunday morning. Instead, put the family in the car and drive a mile to the Ioka Valley Farm on Route 43. The farm's Calf-A restaurant, new last season, serves pancake meals on weekends from 8 am to 4 pm with genuine maple syrup. The kids will love watching the entire syruping operation in the farm's Maple Barn. And if you get there when the Calf-A opens, you can eat and be on the slopes by 9 am.

If you don't want to drive, Founder's Grille serves a fabulous brunch at the base of the mountain. For those staying in Williamstown, The Williams Inn offers an equally satisfying Sunday feast.

Since most of them don't have a long ride home, Jiminy skiers tend to stay late on Sundays. Aggressive skiers may find themselves covering the same ground as they did the day before. Those up for a change might consider trying snowboarding-the beginner area is an ideal learning garden.

Better yet, if you like to dance, try it on skis. Jiminy has a fleet of super short Gauer Snowblades (80-100 cm) that are used for "snow dancing." The little skis have hard edges like ice skate blades and convex bottoms that allow skiers to easily spin in any direction. If you're lucky, you might see couples waltzing around in matching outfits.

If the weather is uncooperative, go to Pittsfield. The town has a big mall with a multiplex theater. If you're looking for an entertaining cultural experience, try the Hancock Shaker Village, a restoration town that recreates an 1830s period Shaker town. There are 22 buildings to explore and various interactive lifestyle demonstrations. No matter what you choose to do, you'll leave Jiminy feeling as if you've had a big-mountain, New England vacation. But remember: You did it all on a hill.

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