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
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,
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
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