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Oct 23, 2014

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Beer & skiing: East Coast edition

By Gregg Smith

The first two parts of this series examined some great places to ski and beer hunt in the west. Now with prime season almost upon us it's time to take a look at the east coast. The western ski areas were covered first so that people heading out for vacation could lay some rough plans.

If you can ski the east coast you can ski anywhere. Eastern skiing is like training for an athletic event, the practice on eastern slopes is so intense that getting in the game elsewhere seems like a cakewalk. Lift lines are the longest anywhere and ticket prices the highest. Weekend slopes are littered with bodies like pylons on a race course pushing you into slashing turns quicker than any hockey player is forced to make. If that weren't enough the east coast is also home to it's famous blue snow (ice) resulting in edges honed to scalpel like sharpness. Out west when the locals complain about it being icy the eastern veterans just laugh, to them it's eastern powder.

Closest to home is Vernon Valley, New Jersey with a 1,000 foot drop. The old Vernon Valley Brewery was located across the street but now the nearest is also one of the best. North east of the slope is Mountain Valley, gold medal winner for porter at the Great American Beer Festival. A new bottling line is installed so you should soon be seeing the beers throughout northern New Jersey.

Also nearby are the New York "thruway" areas at Hunter and Windham. These offer vertical drops of near identical 1,600 feet and a variety of terrain to suit all ability areas. Of the two Hunter has the better snow making, lifts, and is closer to the city; thus, it's also more crowded. Nightlife begins in the base lodge before moving out into clubs and bars of the surrounding area.

For beers there are the New York contract favorites such as New Amsterdam along with the ubiquitous Sam Adams products, and the line of Saranac from F.X. Matt. For local flavor try the Hudson Lager and Big Indian Porter from the Woodstock brewery of near- by Kingston, NY.

Also nearby is the Catamount area which spans two states. Located a few miles east of the Taconic, it's easily accessible and a popular family area. Get on the lift in New York and 1,200 vertical feet later you're in Massachusetts. As you ski down the unload ramp you have a choice; turn right and you ski back into New York or go left and stay in Mass. You can even see Connecticut directly in front of the chair but don't try for a third state, it's quite a distance off. Back down at the base several micro brews await including, what else, Catamount.

A bit farther north the fun really starts. Vermont boasts more breweries per capita than any other state, and with its traditions dating back to the colonial days it might also make that claim in regards to homebrewers.

Whenever visiting the Green Mountain State try the established micro beers of Mountain Brewers, from Bridgewater, makers of Long Trail Ales. In Middlebury the brewery is Otter Creek, and don't miss the brewpubs in Brattleboro.

At the southern end of the state are the slopes of Mount Snow. The 1,700 feet of mountain serves beginners to advanced with an incredible 22 lifts and an additional 3 surface lifts. More than 80% of the area is covered by snow making which guarantees that the winter fun will last well into spring.

A bit further up state is the combination known as Sugarbush and Mad River. The Sugarbush complex is actually two areas, plainly called North & South, with each offering approximately 2,500 feet of vertical. Limited snow making can cause some problems although the winter of 1993- 94 provided a deep base lasting throughout the season. Just a bit further north up route 17 is Mad River Glen. Its bumper sticker which reads "Ski it if you can" should be sufficient warning to novices; be sure you have more advanced skills before venturing there. Afterwards make a stop at the Mad River Barn in Waitsfield where the apres ski crowd meets and Vermont microbrew is on tap.

Killington, is the nearest thing to what east coast skiers might consider a ski mecca. Indeed, with the exception of bowls it could be thought of as the east coast's equivalent to Vail. A vertical drop of over 3,100 feet, second only to New York's state run Whiteface, and 20 lifts serves skiers of all ability levels. One of the best features is topographical maps which let you know exactly what to expect on any run.

An often overlooked area is Stratton, but with 2,000 feet, 12 lifts, and comfortable base facilities it might be a good place to try. At the top try dumping over to ski the "back side" it's usually much less crowded. In the evening try the establishments known as the Bear's Den or Mulligan's, a list covering more than 50 beers will surely include something to please.

Stowe and Smuggler's Notch conjure up images of skiing's early days, but lately there couldn't be more contrast between the areas. Stowe's old romantic image has yielded to high tech and big bucks while Smuggler's retains the simplistic approach of strap on your boards and throw yourself down a slippery hill. Lumped in with these is the less crowded, and more Canadian filled, Jay Peak. "The Chronicle" recommends trying these areas but suggests staying elsewhere. Specifically, visit these areas in a mini-vacation with Burlington as the base of operations. Why? Simple, Burlington is home to the Vermont Pub and Brewery, one of the premier brewpubs of the east. Generous pub food isserved in the best combination of Big Apple deli, old world pub and traditional New England heartiness. Even better are the beers. Renown brewer Greg Noonan shows his best there, if they're serving the Wee Heavy or Vermont Smoked Porter do not, repeat - do not, leave town without sampling. Also give a try to Burlington's newest beers from Magic Hat, and let us know what you think.

Vermont may indeed have the big name but don't overlook the Granite state of New Hampshire which beckons you to "ski 93". The areas available off interstate 93 have a lot to offer. Try the slopes at Attitash where you can opt to pay by the vertical foot instead of a set lift ticket, or try Loon which has an incredible ski conditions guarantee (with no questions asked). Each have approximately 2,000 feet of down hill heaven. Want less crowds? Keep going north where Cannon Mt. has some of the more challenging runs in the east. After a day skiing in the notch check out the Red Parka for a good selection of premium taps and 50 or so bottles. If you're closer to Waterville check out the microbrew taps at the Granite Bar in the Mountain Club along with another 50 bottled beers.

Finally, let's not overlook Maine. Sunday River has long been one of the nicer but unsung areas in the east. One visit to its 2,000 feet coupled with 95% snow making on 500 acres "The Chronicle" is confident one visit will get you hooked. Better yet, Maine is keeping pace with the rest of New England as a friend of micro brewed beers. Proof is no further away than the nearby town of Bethel where the large and inviting Sunday River Brewing and The Moose's Tale Bar provides solid food and even better beer. Don't stop in without trying the porter.

Further up country in Maine is the massive area known as Sugarloaf. A bit out of the way it never-the-less is a worthwhile visit for skiers trying to get away and pack in lots of runs. 2,800 feet of mountain, 400 acres and 14 lifts provide something for every level while keeping lift lines to minimum. For nightlife head to route 27 and the Carrabassett Yatch Club for local color. Closer to the slopes try the Windowmaker or Sugarloaf Inn. There are almost too many Maine microbrews to list but don't miss Geary's Hampshire Special Ale, don't pass it up too often it's "Only available while the weather sucks". As a winter warmer it's hard to beat how good it feels to kick back with after a day of burning out your legs. For the uninitiated watch out, it's a strong beer.

Got other favorites in the east? Tell us what you think by dropping us a line at "The Beer & Tavern Chronicle", 244 Madison Avenue, Suite 164, New York, NY 10016. Next issue this series concludes as the season hits prime time, join us then for a review of Colorado, a state where it's never to far from the lift to a beer.

Gregg Smith

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