By PARIS WOLFE
Regional ski areas are gearing up to embrace the snowy months ahead. Forecasters at NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center — a division of the National Weather Service —predict relatively normal winter temperatures in Northeast Ohio, but more precipitation at the start of 2021. If we’re lucky, that will mean more snowfall for skiers and snowboarders … especially if Lake Erie doesn’t ice over and the lake-effect snow machine kicks up.
While skiing is mostly socially distanced, all resorts have pandemic plans in place for lift rides and lodges. For many that includes giving priority access to pass holders and smaller groups for ski lessons.
“Preparation is the key this year,” says Greg, owner of Little Mountain Ltd. Ski shop in Mentor. “You must have a new game plan on when exactly you are going skiing. That means making reservations ahead of time for the days that you plan on skiing. Almost all local ski areas will be on a reservation system. Some are using a red or green day system. That means green days (usually Monday to Thursday) are open, while red days you need to be a season pass holder or have a resort lodge reservation. Plan ahead.”
Alpine Valley (72 acres) in Chesterland and Boston Mills/Brandywine (88 acres) in Peninsula/Sagamore Hills are newly owned by Vail Resorts which works to create experiences and sees growth opportunities at the Ohio locations. Season pass holders have two options this year 1) Ohio Pass for access to Boston Mills, Brandywine, Alpine Valley, and Mad River Mountain, near Columbus. 2) Epic Pass which adds access to 35 resorts in the U.S., Canada, and Australia, owned by Vail Resorts.
For this winter, skiers and snowboarders will see more safety bars on ski lifts at Alpine Valley and expanded retail shopping at Boston Mills/Brandywine. This will be the first season these resorts offer advanced-day ticket purchasing from home, eliminating ticket lines.
Don’t snub the shorter vertical. Skiers/boarders can challenge themselves on terrain parks at Alpine Valley (1), Boston Mills (1) and Brandywine (2). Brandywine also offers Polar Blast Snow Tubing which shares a driveway entrance with the ski slopes but has its own hill and lodge.
New lodge flow at the hills will help with social distancing, and face coverings are required. Guests will only ride a chairlift with people of their own party to ensure social distancing. The dining facilities will offer grab-n-go boxes and combos.
Ski lessons will continue with group and private lessons. Lesson groups will be smaller, again, for social distancing practices.
Holiday Valley Resort (290 acres), a roughly three-hour trip to Ellicottville, New York, has invested $2.9 million in improvement projects over the past year. Skiers and snowboarders there will find 60 slopes and trails, 13 lifts, 3 base lodges, slope-side lodging and dining, conference facilities, and more.
Changes include a new groomer, improved snowmaking, more LED slope lighting, additional tree-and-glades work and work on new lifts to be installed in the 2021 and 2022 seasons. Now, the resort uses 715 snow guns to make snow on 95 percent of its 300 acres of slopes.
“We are thinking positively about the future and plan to provide great skiing and riding for our customers while promoting cleanliness, safety and health of our guests and employees,” says Dennis Eshbaugh, president, and general manager of the resort.
Because of the pandemic the Snowsports School has added to its lesson offerings. Skiers can choose three-hour, morning private lessons or five-hour private lessons. These lessons can include up to 4 people, helping a family tailor the lesson and stay within their “health bubble.”
Après ski is significant here. The slope-side Tamarack Club offers lodging, a heated outdoor pool and hot tubs, underground parking, and John Harvard’s Brew House. Its larger units have three bedrooms and full kitchens for off-slope moments. The Oasis Spa located at the slope-side Tamarack Club includes massage and facial treatments as well as manicures and pedicure.
The nearby town of Ellicottville offers more lodging, shopping, spa treatments, attractions, and amenities. Visitors can enjoy horse-drawn sleigh rides and cross-country skiing among other activities.
Peek’n Peak Resort (130 acres), about 90 minutes from Northeast Ohio, in Clymer, New York, offers 27 ski and snowboard trails of varying difficulty, as well as three progressive terrain parks.
Après ski or, perhaps instead of it, snow enthusiasts, can swoosh down 14 lanes on special snow tubes. At night, the Lunar Lights Tubing experience will offer a multicolor-LED lightshow projected onto the “Magic Carpet” lift hill. The light show is synched with music from an immersive sound system.
The resort has added a Market at the Inn for grab-n-go sandwiches and salads, snacks, and beverages. The resort will also offer more outdoor dining options to make safe adjustments following the latest COVID guidelines.
Overnight stays and amenities to destress are part of the Tudor-style Inn at The Peak. The charming building is dressed up with stained-glass windows, rich hardwoods, roaring fireplaces, and a unique geode-filled bar top. An outdoor firepit roars for s’mores.
Serenity Spa offers massages and spa treatments. Nearby families enjoy indoor and outdoor pools.
Seven Springs (285 acres), about three-plus hours from Northeast Ohio, in Champion, Pa., is a self-contained resort with a 414-room lodge at the base and rental condominiums lining the top of the hills for convenient ski-in/ski-out. The “village” offers 11 restaurants from Helen’s fine dining to their Mountain Pizza shop.
Skiers/Snowboarders choose among 33 slopes and trails, seven Terrain Park and the only 22-foot Superpipe in the East. And when natural snow is light, snowmaking is steady. In fact, HKD Snowmaking was founded at the resort.
Changes at the resort this year are mostly because of COVID-19 restrictions. These require planning ahead. Most purchases – rental equipment, lift tickets, tubing tickets, ski/board lessons – must be made online ahead of arrival.
Dining will also be different this winter. All restaurants and bars can offer take-out and dine-in service as long as they follow pandemic occupancy limits. As of this writing bars were closed and restaurants were only allowed half-capacity. The resort has added multiple take-out options including Halfpipe Tacos, The Goggle Sandwich Company, Mountain Waffles and more.
When the ski day is over (or instead of skiing) Trillium Spa offers salon services, massages, and facials. Families can engage in numerous activities, from swimming and bowling to roller-skating and miniature golf. All indoors.
Hidden Valley Resort (110 acres) is just minutes from Seven Springs in Hidden Valley, Pa. With 26 slopes and trails and two terrain parks it’s a smaller venue more geared to family skiing and lessons.
The resort features an 80-room Inn that will be open for lodging every weekend and holiday. The Clocktower restaurant will be open all season to serve guests with everyone’s favorite Glaciers becoming a to-go outlet because of COVID guidelines.
Laurel Mountain (70 acres) is relatively close to Seven Springs and Hidden Valley. It offers the steepest slope in Pennsylvania – Wildcat. Laurel is a true skiers mountain and is a must for one day or a longer trip.