There’s “Snow” Time Like Ski Season!

  • Visit North Central

By Shaun Sutner

wachusett women's dayWith the first forecasts of plummeting temperatures, ski enthusiasts begin dreaming of sparkling white trails and the adrenaline rush of heading downhill in a hurry. Fortunately, those dreams don’t have to be clouded by thoughts of long drives to distant slopes.

Cradled on the verdant flanks of Mount Wachusett in the heart of North Central Massachusetts is a national-class ski area with a rabidly loyal ski and snowboarding following from Boston, Worcester, and across southern New England.

Wachusett Mountain Ski Area is a prized rarity in the era of corporate ski area chains. It’s independently owned and operated by the Crowley family— who also own Polar Beverages, the nation’s largest independent bottling company — and is the largest seasonal employer in the region.

Wachusett boasts three high-speed chairlifts among eight lifts total, 27 trails on 110 acres of varied terrain, a state-of-the-art snowmaking system and snow grooming for a consistently excellent customer experience, and a ski and snowboard school. An expansive base lodge boasts three restaurants and bars, and a full-service ski shop.

Those amenities, along with a prime location accessible to big urban population centers and affordable lift tickets, make Wachusett one of the busiest ski resorts in the country by volume. Yet it’s easy to find uncrowded slopes on early mornings, weekdays and at night.

With a morning-to-night, seven-days-a-week schedule, Wachusett pulses with its own rhythm that wakes with retirees and work-from-homers, slides into school bus groups on weekday mid-afternoons, and finishes with evening festivities that kick off at dusk with the arrival of the 20-something after work group. Weekends flaunt their own style, with fun paramount, tunes spilling from the loudspeakers, special events and skiers and riders sunning themselves on the heated deck.

“The mountain,” as it’s affectionately known locally, puts the fun in winter for an astoundingly diverse crowd that ranges from novices and families to teenagers performing acrobatic tricks in the terrain park and grizzled adult night league racers who speed down the Challenger race trail clad in colorful skintight race suits.

Bullock LodgeAnd Mount Wachusett really is a mountain, not a hill. At 2,006 feet, it juts handsomely on the Princeton-Westminster line over the valleys between the Pioneer Valley and Boston, with lovely views of Wachusett Lake and New Hampshire’s mighty Mount Monadnock to the north.

As a feeder area to bigger resorts, Wachusett is tasked with a critical mission: onboarding newcomers to snow sports. In industry parlance, it’s called “conversion,” as in converting newbies into regular skiers and snowboarders who will buy season passes and their own gear and make sliding downhill on snow a lifetime family pastime and passion.

This the ski area does expertly, with more than 100 trained instructors recognizable in their red ski school jackets. Inexpensive learn-to-ski and ride programs cater to first-timers and experienced riders seeking to hone their skills. Beginner packages come with gear rentals and even lift passes for those who love sliding on snow right away and want to try on their own. The Polar Kids program is for 4-8-year-olds, who then graduate to the Arctic Aces for ages 9-12. Customizable group, semi-private private and group lessons are available on demand.

Beyond the ski and snowboard school, Wachusett provides more specialized programs for school groups, disabled skiers, women skiers and riders, aspiring adult racers, and youth racers and ski and snowboard freestylers.

For that youthful freestyle community – one of the most vibrant and fun segments of the snow sports industry – Wachusett’s terrain park complex is a magnet for ski and snowboarders who push the limits of on-snow creativity in a designated area set aside for them equipped with massive jumps and funky features.

With roots that date to the early 1960s with a couple of T-bar lifts, the modern history of Wachusett began in 1968 when the late Ralph Crowley and an associate won the bidding for the state lease to operate the ski area.

Today, Wachusett Mountain is a modern, professionally run ski resort that promises to stay under family control for many years into the future with the arrival of a third generation of Crowley managers on the scene and a lot more fun to come.