Berkshire East

Powder Day

Tuesday, February 2 was a positive luck of the draw for Denise, Tim, and myself in the Covid 2021 ski season. Berkshire East in Charlemont, Mass. is requiring pre purchase of lift tickets this season, and our selected date was fortuitously the day after a Noreaster. Alas, The worst of dire predictions for the storm went unfounded, as is usually the case in Western Massachusetts. The storm still delivered 13” of new, soft powder however.

Thanks to proactively shoveling snow three times during the storm, I was able to get that all important early start. I still had to drop the Tacoma into 4 Low to get up my steep driveway, and proceeded to a beautifully clear I-91 North. A pleasant surprise!

The adage, no friends on a powder day has merit, but it’s still nice to share it with friends, I thought, as I dove into the day. Untracked snow was quickly skied up, but remained a pillowy cushion of cover, as opposed to firm packed powder. The day remained cloudy, with occasional snow squalls, which enhanced our absorption into the day.

Berkshire East provides an ample variety of terrain. Most of the area’s terrain, however, is consistent with the sensation of the 1,100ft. vertical pulling one down inexorably from the first turn to the last. An ample variety of blue and black diamond trails run from the summit to the base, with plenty of glade skiing as well. As for the latter, the spirit is strong, but my chronological progression allows for reticence.

Lift line was bumped up, and had me always conscious of its narrowness and placement of lift towers. Upper Competition begins with a steep headwall, yet smooth, with an even across hill fall line, allowing for wide arcing turns to check speed. It’s a blast to drop into this one. UMass is an old favorite of mine, but it seems a little wider now, and had some large whales. I’m not a fan of these, but I realize their value as snow storage. Big Chief, a blue square, is another Berkshire East trail with consistent vertical descent, an ultimate cruiser.

And then there is Jug. The trail first appears in the trail map gallery listed by New England Ski History on the 1964-1965 map as Hemlock. Judiciously named originally, the trail winds narrowly through a stand of Hemlocks, briefly singular in its quiet place on the mountain. Most New England ski terrain has been widened and graded, and I realize this is necessary for modern grooming, maintenance, and skier safety. Yet when I find a trail that has appeared to avoid these changes, it is a treasure to me. One caution I will offer is the final drop of the trail is a small ledge, with an accompanying exposed rock or two. One my second run I avoided these, but the bailout was into the woods. Faceplants are fun when they are only into a blanket of three feet of fresh snow, but I won’t forget that section.

My friends left about 3pm, leaving me with choices for the final runs of the day. I’m always conscious of safety, particularly on the last runs. At the same time, nothing for me compares to the sense of giving everything and leaving my best effort on the hill. An opportunity to fully immerse in what is a metaphysical experience for me.

The final runs: On Lift Line, I tried to just take what the trail gave ,me, seeking to use the tops of the moguls to turn, and bursting through the soft, loose snow in the troughs and sides. Competition had continued its day long evolution as the loose snow gradually formed soft moguls.. Delightful.

Grizzly was my last run of the day. By now, I had to admit I was tired. I had the benefit of watching a very proficient skier ahead of me arc her turns through the moguls and soft snow on the steep pitch. Her gracefulness prompted me to at least try that approach. I was able to achieve a rhythm of easy turns on the newly formed moguls, tracking loose snow, and I wondered why I hadn’t tried Grizzly sooner. But if the last run is new, and the best one, who can ask for more.

Rick Payer