The Beast

Charlemont, MA – Exiting Interstate 91 at exit 26 in Greenfield, Massachusetts,
Route 2 (a.k.a. the Mohawk Trail) climbs steeply out of the Pioneer Valley,
then down to the Deerfield River. The road follows the river through several
sleepy hamlets before arriving at one more: Charlemont, Massachusetts, the home
to Berkshire East. I shared the parking lot with only 15-20 other cars as I
headed for the lodge.


Berkshire East (photo Marc Guido)



Click on the image to open a full-size trail map in a new window

Click on the image to open a full-size trail map in a
new window


(photo Berkshire East Ski Area)


This place rocks! There were times that, aside from the fact that it was night
skiing, that I forgot that I was still in Massachusetts. Tight, twisting classic
New England terrain is on the menu here. It’s unfortunate that most of the really
interesting looking stuff wasn’t illuminated, but the place is filled with double
fall lines and other character builders. I was truly impressed.

A quad chair services 1180 vertical feet that just don’t quit. No runouts here
– the vertical is consistent from summit to base. The main mountain is serviced
by a triple chair and a double (the latter not running on the evening of my
visit, as the place was deserted), and a second exposure has an old diesel-powered
double with the old Riblet erector-set towers (when was the last time you saw
a diesel-powered chair, Mad River Glen notwithstanding?!). The lift offerings
are rounded out by a novice j-bar (I had to ride it, just ‘cuz it’s been so
long since I’ve been on a j-bar) and a rope tow which doesn’t show up on the
trail map.

After booting up in a spacious but decidedly unpretentious base lodge, I headed
outside. On the first ride up the triple, a Poma model with the cushioned seats,
I couldn’t help but notice that nearly every chair had a torn and ripped seat
cover. Money isn’t exactly flooding this place. It was still lightly snowing,
but I was only on the fringes of the blizzard hitting southeastern New England
this evening, a storm which would make the skiing better on the dunes of the
Cape Cod National Seashore than in the mountains of the northeast. There was
about a half foot or more of old natural on the ground (which is a half foot
more than the 1/2″ on the ground at Jiminy Peak
the prior evening), topped by a couple of inches of sticky new snow. The unlit
Liftline trail looked intriguing, with a decent pitch and no more than 30′ wide,
narrowing to less than 20′ between snow-laden pine boughs in some sections).

My first run was the steep Upper Competition to Competition, a delight in the
fresh ungroomed chowder. The next run was down Flying Cloud, under the Diamond
Express double chair. I arrived at the top and…what’s this? An honest-to-goodness
bump line? Toto, are we still in Massachusetts? The bumps even had good lines,
unlike I’ve ever seen before in southern New England. Alas, the bumps were bulletproof
under the minimal new snow, so I bailed to the groomed half and did a high-speed
cruise back to the base.

The only other illuminated route from the summit was Big Chief, a true intermediate
trail with character. It was a blast cruising the gentle initial pitch between
huge pines, then dropping through turns with unique fall lines before returning
to the base. I then headed over to that old diesel-powered double, dubbed Exhibition
View, which serves roughly 2/3 of the total vertical of the main mountain. Exhibition
is a huge, wide slope marked with a green circle from top to bottom. The slope
was populated with kids on snowboards, catching air off of every terrain feature
that they could find and playing in a halfpipe under the chair which really
didn’t have enough snow to ride in. That was fine by me, because they were all
following the exact same route from one terrain feature to the next water bar,
etc. This left the entire rest of the slope to enjoy, and provided the surprising
gem of the day: untracked directly under the chair from top to bottom. This
was fun stuff, folks.

I repeated these options for the rest of the night. I paused for a brief respite
from the skiing for a microbrew in a nearly deserted upstairs bar before heading
back out. The walls are hung with abandoned trail signs giving testament to
Berkshire East’s history, and plaques adorned the bar from grateful ski groups
participating in Berkshire East’s corporate challenge series. The place had
a true down-home feel to it. By the time I returned to the slopes, youth groups
such as the Northampton Recreation Program had left for the night, and I had
the mountain nearly to myself. Even when the kids were there people filled only
every fifth or sixth chair, but when I changed for the drive home at 8:30 p.m.
I was literally the only customer occupant of the base lodge.

Berkshire East is a quick 52-mile, 1 hour drive from Springfield, and
only 18 miles west of I-91 on Route 2. It’s really the first significant
ski area coming up I-91 from points south, and makes a great night trip
or short day trip if you don’t have a lot of time on your hands. Don’t
write this place off!

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