1. See and ski the roots of the sport. You don’t need a high-speed quad, a fleet of groomers and a four-star restaurant to have fun. You just need a mountain, a lift to take you to the top and the right attitude.
2. Powder days. Some small hills are only open a few days a week, and when they’re closed, all that snow piles up.
3. Home-style cookin’. There’s often something homemade on the menu — maybe a big pot of stew or chili or a fresh-baked pie for dessert. Sometimes the food is a big part of the attraction of a small hill. You get a hearty meal for a good price.
4. Exploring. You likely can see the whole mountain in a day, and possibly the nooks and crannies in between runs. It’s a fun way to see new scenery and ski terrain you might otherwise miss or ignore.
5. No crowds. Hit them at certain times, like weekdays or nights, and it can feel like you have the whole mountain to yourself. By the end of your trip, you’ll be on a first-name basis with the lift operator.
6. Cheap lift tickets. Don’t expect small ski areas to give away their tickets, because they have overhead, too. But when lift tickets at top resorts are getting dangerously close to triple digits, a small hill is a bargain by comparison. Many have discount days, two-for-one deals or other specials to make skiing even cheaper.
7. Laid-back vibe. Nobody goes to a small resort to impress people or show off fancy ski gear and designer clothes. They’re there to have fun, and it shows. Not to say people are grumpy at larger resorts, but smaller ones are more casual, and it’s contagious. Expect to have a conversation with the person on the chairlift and see them repeatedly throughout the day.
8. Old-style lodges. Some are rustic charmers and others are so boxy they look like they were designed by former Soviet architects, but they have a warm, comfortable feel. There usually are lots of picnic tables and cafeteria tables strewn with clothes and sack lunches. Some have small pubs that feature local brews. You can’t go wrong there.
9. Discovery. Going off the beaten path lets you find a cool mountain that doesn’t buy full-page ads in ski magazines. Knowing you found it on your own makes the trip a little more satisfying, and you can add it to your list of places you’ve skied.
10. Take the whole family. Maybe you can’t afford a ski vacation at a major resort, but you might be able to afford a weekend at a small hill. It gets you and the family out of the house during the winter, and it feels like a mini vacation. It’s a great experience for young skiers, who typically don’t care how big the mountain is or how many lifts it has. They just want to slide on the snow and giggle.
Via McClatchy-Tribune News Service.