Hancock, MA – The charm of a “low speed” lift has always
been decidedly lost on me. Lets get to the top … now! That was the only concern.
Intolerable twelve- to fifteen-minute lift rides always seemed to be cruel and
unusual punishment, especially those first few chairs of the day. If I wanted
to sit down and enjoy the scenery, I could hop in the car and save forty or
fifty dollars at the same time. Now, however, there is a very effective cure
for this impatience problem residing in the humble hills of Western Massachusetts’
Berkshire Mountains: Jiminy Peak.
You see, the good folks at Jiminy have been kind enough to install the new
“Berkshire Express,” an incredibly fast six-person (yes, six) chair that gets
you from bottom to top in five minutes. Five minutes! This thing is going to
give the “doing laps” expression a whole new meaning. Twenty five thousand vertical
feet is now possible … while night skiing.
I challenge you to try to take it easy while utilizing Jiminy Peak’s new high-speed
detachable lift chair. The wife and I barely had time to warm each other up
between runs. Two hours of sliding suddenly seems like a full day. Of course
my aging body has nothing to do with that …
OK, so what’s the catch? There seems to be none. The biggest question most
regulars had regarded the placement of the thing. Prior to the new lift, Jiminy
was effectively a mountain with two sides. You either rode the triple to access
the western half of the mountain, or you went over to the exhibition double
(or Q1 quad) to utilize the eastern half of the hill. No more. The new Berkshire
Express drops you off near the heart of some of Jiminy’s steepest terrain, yet
still provides access to virtually the entire balance of the mountain with a
minimal skate along the summit ridge.
Of course any ride up is only as good as the ride down. The question begs:
Is it worth it going down?
A LITTLE SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE
Jiminy’s official trail count is 40, and the vertical drop is listed at 1,150
feet. In addition to the high speed six, Jiminy Peak offers two fixed-grip quads,
three triples, one double and two surface lifts. The marked terrain includes
everything from a true “bunny hill” to double black diamonds, wide cruisers,
glades, a halfpipe and a terrain park. On the surface, it would certainly seem
that all of the on-hill essentials are in place.
Do the stats lie? This called for a little field investigation.
Our inspection began modestly with a comfortable warm-up on West Way, a run
designated as low intermediate, sporting a green circle inside of a blue square
on the trail map. The trail is a wide cruiser that wraps itself down around
the western rim of the area. It’s the kind of trail that predictably invokes
a cerebral transformation. Measured slalom turns involuntarily morph into adolescent,
high-speed super-G turns. We simply cannot help ourselves, and why should we
Few things compare to the first run of the day. A final inventory, boots locked
down, pole straps adjusted, goggles in place, a deep intake of the cold clean
air … then away. A series of quick, piercing turns through the impeccable
man-made snow – some nice, some sloppy. Rapture.
For our next course we sampled North Glade to Upper Slingshot to 360, a fun
little combination that starts with one of Jiminy’s high intermediate trails,
then a green circle and finally a blue square. This alpine delight offers a
little something for every ability level in a single passage. Pretty cool.
warmed up, it was time to explore the “heavy stuff.” Whitetail, a marked black
diamond, is a good place to begin. Anticipation. Silence engulfs the chair.
Our senses heighten as we prepare for the moment. For some it’s powder, for
others it’s bumps or glades, but for me the steeps are the insatiable desire.
Whitetail, though certainly not elevator-shaft steep, provides plenty of acceleration
potential. The almost lackadaisical early morning turns will no longer be tolerated.
Trip here, and be spit down the hill.
Almost immediately, the “feel” kicks in with the pop of each tight slalom
turn. Down, up, down … over and over again for ten, then fifteen and twenty
little slashes. The heart muscle begins to pump faster, and then race; thighs
feel lactic acid begin to seep in, grunts and laughter emit in unison. Forgotten
is anything that may have been important earlier in the day. Now the only thing
that matters is the next carve.
In years past this would be a nonstop top-to-bottom exercise of joy. Now,
it is broken up somewhere in the middle of the run for a blow. We sheepishly
rationalize this break in the action as a function of the first day of the season
and that super-fast chair that we’d been riding.
After Whitetail it’s Upper Whirlaway, which connects to Lower Exhibition and
Exhibition East, another diamond run. They are still blowing snow on these trails,
making the run erratic and interesting. As they are directly below the new chair,
it predictably is the location of my first yard sale of the season. Anything
to entertain the crowd above!
You may have noticed that many of these runs are combinations of trails. The
map count of forty runs is a bit inflated by the “upper and lower disease,"
as is the case at most resorts. Additionally, the gladed runs Riptide and Willies
Gulch need a lot of help from above to have the ropes drop. When open, however,
they are not to be missed by the bark aficionados.
A ROOM WITH A VIEW
Several more laps on the diamonds, and it’s time for a break in the action.
Back to the base, right? Wrong. New for last season is the Hendricks summit
lodge, conveniently located right next to the high-speed six’s top terminal.
It’s a cozy little haunt named after Bart and Mary Hendricks, who had previously
called the building home when it was at the base of Jiminy. The building was
actually moved from the base area to the summit and refurbished. So how did
they get it from the bottom of the mountain to the top? Very carefully. Actually,
it was driven the two miles up the Left Bank trail on a flatbed truck and with
the assistance of five bulldozers.
Inside, the lodge is nicely appointed with glass three-quarters of the way
around, delivering excellent views of the surrounding valley. A deck on one
side provides a great place to take it all in on those weather-permitting days
of winter and early tanning days of March.
Two hot chocolates later, the mayhem recommenced, working our way over to
the two-year-old Widow White’s Peak area. Keep this portion of the mountain
in mind if you find yourself at Jiminy on a crowded day. It is fundamentally
a self-contained section of the resort that’s serviced by its own fixed grip
quad. The additional terrain was a tremendous enhancement to the mountain. Skiing
the Widow White’s area instills a sense of remoteness, even though you can easily
get back to the base lodge by simply heading past the quad.
Some of the most picturesque scenery at Jiminy can be found
on the trails in the Widow’s area, particularly the aptly named Panorama. Immediately
upon exiting the quad chair, turn left. Mt. Greylock, Massachusetts’ tallest
peak and home to the storied Thunderbolt trail, spills out in front of you,
framed nicely by several trees remaining on the trail. Panorama itself is a
gentle intermediate that also offers generally good protection from the elements
on a windy day.
If you are feeling so inclined, and the snowfall totals are cooperating, you
will find yourself escorted to the Hot Wheels glade from most of the trails
off the Widow White’s quad. This little tree field offers a brief but terrific
playground to begin or enhance your bark-eating palette.
We finished off the morning with alternating samplings of Noreaster and Cutter,
two expert runs. Although both are relatively short shots, they do offer a nice
pitch, well-spaced trees and bumps that are generally decorating about half
the width of the trail.
Speaking of bumps, Jiminy can be a little aggressive with the groomer, so
finding the knee knockers can be a little challenging in the early season. But
as the base depths increase you can generally beat yourself up on Jericho, Wild
Turkey and Whitetail. They may not have wall-to-wall moguls, but half of the
trail will usually be left alone.
FOOD, FUEL, LODGING
By this time our bellies were beginning to make their presence known. It was
time to refuel, and there are any number of very attractive options available
to replenish yourself. In addition to the aforementioned summit lodge, the Crane
base lodge also offers all of the usual menu choices in very comfortable surroundings.
Its large stone fireplace is an extremely popular place to meet and regroup
with friends and family. Brown bagging it is perfectly acceptable in the East
Lodge, an older building that provides a nice glimpse of Jiminy’s adolescence.
Those seeking a more refined dining experience may prefer the Founders Bar
and Grille in the Country Inn at the base area. We ate on the bar side, which
is adorned with an attractive combination of ski memorabilia on heavy wood,
and high and wide windows all the way around, rendering wonderful views of the
lower hill and extending skyward. The buffet available during our visit included
a nice sampling of lunch options and everything was delicious.
Lunch also brought a very pleasant surprise, our introduction
to a new beverage. One of the local microbrewers has created a wonderful concoction
named Widow White’s Brew after the expansion area on the mountain. The drink
is a smooth and creamy combination that went down far too easily. That we kept
to only one apiece is a staggering accomplishment.
Another eating and (heavy emphasis) drinking option is Christopher’s Tavern
situated at the base along side the triple chair. When night skiing or following
a day of bedlam on the outside this is a very comfortable joint to raise a little
havoc on the inside.
For those looking to do more than a day trip, there is a nice assortment of
on-hill lodging options available, all of which are either new or nearly new.
Condominium development began at Jiminy in 1980 and continues today. However,
the pace of development is not overwhelming or intrusive at all. The base area’s
“Country Inn” offers all-suite accommodations, a heated outdoor pool, the above-noted
restaurant, Jacuzzi, exercise room and lounge. Each suite includes a king size
bed, a living room with queen size sleeper sofa, cable TV and VCR, and a fully-equipped
The surrounding Berkshire towns of Great Barrington, Pittsfield and Williamstown
(just to name the larger ones) offer an impressive assortment of distractions
for non-skiers and those in need of a recovery day. The entire Berkshire region
is a short drive to and from any point within itself. It’s an area that does
not rely on skiing as a major income source by any stretch of the imagination,
and is therefore arguably one of the most developed corridors for off-hill amenities
and diversions that the East has to offer.
In 1947, John Clark, John Drummond and John Fisher founded Jiminy Peak, installing
the first T-Bar built in Massachusetts. A full day ticket went for a mere $3.
In ’59 a second T-Bar was added along with the first primitive snowmaking efforts.
By ’64 sliding was extended to the summit of the mountain and the first double
chairlift was installed. The resort has continued to snowball until reaching
its present form.
We asked Sally Johnstone, Jiminy’s Director of Public Relations, why she thought
Jiminy had been so successful. She had two words: “Brian Fairbank.”
Brian H. Fairbank is President and CEO of Jiminy (and recently acquired Brodie
Mountain), as well as the elected president of the National Ski Areas Association.
Asked to elaborate, Ms. Johnson continued, “He has more energy than a dozen
eight-year-olds and is passionately dedicated to improving both his mountains
and the ski industry. His entrepreneurial spirit inspires everyone who works
for and with him to do their absolute best with everything that they do. Continuous
quality improvement is a way of life here.
“Brian’s drive is like nothing I have ever seen. He’ll be up at 4AM to make
snow, shower, change, meet with a member of the planning board for New Ashford
about the plans for Brodie at 7AM, take a couple of runs with our maintenance
manager at 8AM, check with me in marketing about our promotions, call his partner
in the new Vortex Snowmaking Gun for an update …” Well, you get the picture.
The man is not sitting back waiting for the flakes to fly.
Fairbank came to Jiminy in 1969 as the general manager and was elected president
in ’74. A robust and gracious character, Fairbank displays his obvious love
of the sport. Under his watch, Jiminy has grown from a small day area to a year
’round destination resort.
And he’s not finished yet.
With the acquisition of Brodie, the plan for additional development will be
focused at and around this Berkshire classic. The goal will be to have the two
areas, which are virtually right around the corner from one another, complement
the relative strength of each. Brodie will see immediate change with the addition
of a new snow-tubing center and a 40% increase in snowmaking capabilities.
Future plans for the Brodie area include the development of approximately
fifty acres of land around the base area, to be transformed into a New England-style
village. A golf course situated on land between the two areas is also on the
wish list, pending environmental and local government approvals.
Fairbank also enthusiastically discussed a patented new technology to enhance
snowmaking operations that will reportedly make a drastic improvement to conditions
when Mother Nature doesn’t quite cooperate. The new “Vortex Technology,” which
Mr. Fairbank developed in conjunction with physicists at Universal Vortex, was
eight years in the making. This new system is said to increase the ability to
convert water by more than 350%, improving energy efficiency and allowing for
more cost-effective snowmaking.
“Our snowmaking production capacity this winter has gone way beyond my wildest
dreams because of the new Vortex Snowmaking Technology," Fairbank offered.
"The new advanced approach to make snow will help insure Jiminy and potentially
the entire industry from the vagaries of winter weather.” Although natural snow
had been minimal at the time of my visit, the cover was excellent thanks to
the guns and Vortex. But let’s hope for some freshies.
When you think about it, it’s rather remarkable that Jiminy has thrived while
so many mountains are struggling. Considering its modest vertical, inconsistent
snowfall and proximity to the better-known hills of neighboring Vermont, Jiminy’s
continued development offers ample evidence that success can be achieved in
Head bean counter Jack Filieault, VP and CFO offered, “Jiminy Peak has been
so successful because every year we make capital investments. Some years it
is just a few hundred snow-guns, and some years our capital project is something
major, such as this past summer’s $2.5 million dollar investment in the new
Berkshire Express six-passenger high-speed lift. Because Jiminy undergoes continuous
improvement we have been able to keep up with the larger resorts that are a
part of the various conglomerates. The team at Jiminy is very close-knit, loyal
and hard working. With such great people there is no wonder the area has succeeded.”
REFRESHED AND READY
As lunch wound down we recalled another reason why it is that we stay away
from having a “real” lunch. It’s so dang hard to get re-motivated and pick our
lazy butts back up out of the chair. Fortunately the brilliant blue skies and
pristine white earth called out to us and our second wind kicked in before a
second round of that yummy Widow White’s Brew surfaced.
We began with a relaxing sojourn down Left Bank, a two-mile long low intermediate
run that is also lit for night skiing. Wide lazy GS turns were about all I could
manage as my stomach and legs reminded me who was in charge at this particular
juncture. Following several more less than impressive “Sunday rides” through
the countryside we finally managed to get ourselves back to some more challenging
Late afternoon was setting in and the snow quality was holding up remarkably
well. Whitetail, Whirlaway, North Glade and Upper Fox were all just about as
good as they were in the morning. The small – very small – crowd that was on
the hill earlier had vanished to virtually nothing by this hour. We discussed
this, briefly, with one of our chair buddies, a Jiminy regular, who stated that
it had been like that all year. “It’s hard to put in a full day with this chair
getting you to the top so quickly.” With that, he was gone.
Our final pair of runs for the day was on the West Way to Ace of Spades combination.
By now the sun was beginning its descent, and the view of fading orange sky
from the top of the West Way trail stretched out across the rolling hills straddling
the Massachusetts/New York border.
We had almost forgotten about Ace of Spades, a high intermediate trail that
is generally filled with moguls instead of skiers. If you’re looking to work
on your bump technique in relative obscurity, this is the place to go, particularly
when the Grand Slam chair is running.
LIGHTS, AND … ACTION!
There wasn’t even the slightest chance that we were considering extending
our day past sunset and into the night, but for those so inclined the opportunity
is very definitely available. Jiminy offers a substantial array of night ski/ride
options, including eighteen trails for every ability level. Approximately one-third
of Jiminy’s tickets are sold after the sun goes down, and night sliding is much
more than an afterthought to supplement the day business. Groomers come out
in the late afternoon to refresh some of the surfaces for the nightriders.
Late afternoon and evening programs are popular with the local schools. There
is an excellent teaching program in place for skiers and boarders. And, of course,
the lunacy of the adults blowing off a day’s-worth of work cannot be overlooked.
Lift tickets top out at $46 for a full day adult ticket on weekends and holidays
(2000-2001 season), which could be considered a little pricey for the size and
scope of the hill. But if you have a little flexibility in your schedule, there
are a number of discount options available to make your sliding more cost effective.
Two of our favorite deals are the $15 tickets offered four times during the
season, and a $10 savings off the regular lift ticket price on Tuesdays, Wednesdays
and Thursdays for residents of N.Y., Massachusetts and Connecticut, respectively.
We reluctantly dragged our sorry bodies off the hill and out to the parking
lot, satisfied in knowing that a full day was under our belt with the promise
of more to come. Jiminy proved once again to be the reliable mountain we have
come to expect and relish.
Now, if only our drive home was as speedy and efficient as that