Finding Snow on Pico, Killington, Mendon, Sugarloaf & Mt. Ellen
by Amy Patenaude Outdoor/Ski Writer
The New England Highest Hundred Peaks include some that are the home to a ski resort. I made it up Pico, Killington, Sugarloaf and Mt. Ellen while there was still enough snow to be able to ski.
Pico closed for the season many weeks ago. I skinned up and tagged the summit and skied down. There was so much snow that they easily could have remained open like its sister resort next door, Killington. But as one friend in the ski biz said to me, “This time of year we run out of skiers before we run out of snow.”
When I left home it was sunny and clear but when I arrived at Pico it was cloudy and then I realized it was melting snow fog. I had hoped it would clear but it didn’t. As I was headed up the trail I met a man skiing down with a baby on his back.
On the summit the fog swirled and I had a brief view of the top of the Killington. Just as I was heading down another fellow reached the summit. I wasn’t even aware he was behind me since I could only see a short distance in the fog—about the distance between one set of lift towers. The ski down I had fun making big wide turns
Just a couple weeks ago I headed up to Killington early and there was still plenty of snow in the woods. I skied past the Cooper Lodge on the Long Trail. I sat on the summit for a good spell and two snowshoers that had come up the Bucklin Trail arrived while I was enjoying the view.
A couple days later I saw a post on the NEHH’s group Facebook page that a fellow had left his glasses on the summit of Mendon Peak. Mendon is a trail-less peak that is just south of Killington. I decided I should ski up and fetch them. But when I arrived at the Bucklin Trailhead to access the camp road that would bring me near the start of the bushwhack I discovered that the snow had all melted away on the road.
I left my skis in the car and I tied my snowshoes to my backpack and I hiked up the mud and ice covered road. To start the whack to the Mendon Peak required crossing a roaring brook. I was able to hop across on submerged rocks that kept the top of my boots above the water. On the top of the bank I put on my snowshoes; the north side of the mountain was covered with lots of snow. The snowshoes kept me on top of the soft snow and their crampons made it easier to climb up the steep slippery mountainside. Bushwhacking through wide open hardwoods was nice and the snow was more than a foot deep.
On the summit Joe’s glasses were hanging on a spruce tree branch just like I saw in the photo he had posted. I put them in my pack and then headed over to the open ledge. I ate an orange and then I let gravity help me scoot down the peak while bounding down making new snowshoe tracks. This was the next best thing to skiing.
I mailed Joe his glasses and he is quite pleased to be able to see again.
Marylou was game to join me skinning up Sugarloaf and then maybe snowshoe over to Spaulding. I spent the night at her camp on Cupsuptic Lake in Maine and there was still ice on the Lake. We heard Loons! The weather forecast forewarned that there was a good chance of rain in late afternoon but the day looked promising.
We skinned up the Tote Road and the ski slope was still covered edge to edge. We had a big view of the nearby Bigelow Mountains but to the west we could see dark clouds. Half way up we could see that the dark clouds were coming right for us.
Just as we neared the top it began to rain hard. We tagged Sugarloaf’s highpoint that was bare rock and mud. Thankfully soon the hard rain turned into a light sprinkle and then it got foggy. We made the smart decision that visiting Spaulding could wait and we hastily descended. Marylou was on snowshoes and I skied. We stayed together until we were half way down then I took off. I didn’t have to wait long for her to join me back at the car. It felt great to change out of our wet clothes.
Marylou and I had a delicious lunch at the Thai restaurant in Rangeley.
Charlie was hot to ski one more time so we went off to Sugarbush on Saturday on their last weekend to be open. We didn’t quite make the first chair but our friend Jeremy did. We skied on nice groomed snow and Stein’s Run was quite good too. We finally caught up with Jeremy for a couple of runs before the crowd showed up and a lift line formed. We skied straight without taking a break until 11 am.
We left and drove around to Sugarbush’s other mountain. Mt. Ellen was closed but its trails had snow and was open for skinning. The bottom third of Mt. Ellen was mostly bare and we all hiked up until we reached the good snow.
Charlie and I put on our skins and skis and Jeremy snowshoed. The sun was hot and bright and we wore short sleeve shirts and sunglasses. Nearing the summit from the Rim Run Trail the clear panorama wound around from the White Mountains, up the spine of the Green Mountains and to New York’s Adirondacks. It was an excellent day to be on top of a mountain.
Going back down was a blast. Charlie and I skied and Jeremy ran down on his snowshoes. We passed a few more people skinning up the mountain as we descended. When Charlie and I reached the bottom third we did our best to connect the patches of snow. I bet we took off and on our skis at least a dozen times.
Jeremy joined us in the parking lot just ten minutes later than us; he ran fast. Maybe after he saw how much fun we had skinning and skiing that he will leave his snowshoes at home next time and join us on skis.
I can’t promise I won’t write another column about skiing this year since I hear that Tuckerman Ravine could be skiable maybe into July.