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Little Areas that Rock

Every Friday afternoon in college, I would throw my skis in the back of my cancerous old jeep and sputter two hours north to Ski Liberty, jut over the Maryland border in Pennsylvania. Lift tickets were around 16 bones, I think, and for that you’d get five hours of night skiing on snow that had been scratched, scraped, and abused since 9 that morning. Lift lines averaged about 20 minutes, and the longest run would take 90 seconds max. Total vertical: 600 feet.

I never, ever, would have thought that the memories of 600-vetical-foot Ski Liberty would rival the ones I have of 4,139-vertical-foot Jackson Hole or 3,100-vertical-foot Snowbird, but they do. It’s odd—that a ragged collection of creaky old lifts could give major resorts a run for their money. But that’s the fact: Thinking back to those nights on that little hill gives me the warm and fuzzies in ways that days at Jackson and Snowbird don’t.

How do you explain it? Dropped on my head as a baby? Too much beer in college? One too many days working at the insecticide plant? You certainly can’t say it was the skiing—the runs at Liberty were lame by comparison. It wasn’t the amenities, either—the most extravagant “extra” at Liberty was a novelty vending machine in the men’s john.

The reason I get so nostalgic over Liberty, I think, is that little resorts touch us in ways that big resorts can’t. We feel more connected to skiing—the whole experience of skiing—at little areas, while at big areas we feel more connected to…I don’t know what. The mountains, maybe. The business of skiing, perhaps. Something that makes you feel smaller.

At little areas, you almost always feel like you belong, even if you’re there for the first time. Call it the “Cheers” Syndrome—not everyone knows your name, but they know a lot about you just by your being there. And because there are fewer skiers and a smaller hill, you all feel like you’re in it together. Like it’s a block party where you know everyone, as opposed to the college kegger where you know only the friends you brought along.

Too, you quickly find the best skiing on a small mountain, and before long you know intimately your favorite runs, your favorite places to turn on those runs, your favorite air hits, and your favorite tree lines. The mountain is small enough to be manageable on a human scale—unlike a lot of big ski areas—and it doesn’t take long before you’ve personalized it and made it yours by where and how you make laps.

Much as I’d like to blame all these thoughts on hyper-excessive introspection, I’m apparently not the only one who really digs little areas. You do, too: Of the thousand or so reader response cards we got back from the March issue, nearly 700 of them recommended stories on little areas/local hills/home mountains. I wish I had a buck for every time someone wrote “XYZ resort kicks ass!” It was overwhelming how many of you wanted coverage of small resorts—we now have enough story ideas to last well into the next century.

So, although we’re usually about as receptive to outside direction as your average elected representative to Congress, this time we listened, and the result is this issue, “Little Areas that Rock.” The stories may make you feel nostalgic, and they may make you feel warm and fuzzy. If you’re like us, though, mostly what they’ll make you feel is the urge to ski.

First published in Powder Magazine, issue 23.2, October 1994. Copyright Steve Casimiro 2001. All rights reserved.

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