It's been a long-time since New England had anything like a vintage year for snowfall and skiers were able to hit the slopes on any given winter day and expect good powder conditions. And except for one short cold-snap, the weather thus far this fall has only been kind to a few of the northernmost ski areas in New England.
But--and mind you it's a big but--there's been a lot of collaborative testimony that the latter half of this winter may bring skiers their long-awaited paradise. The U.S. Weather Bureau's six-month forecast, and almost all of the various Almanac's that purport to give accurate weather forecasts have predicted that February and March could degenerate into a series of heavy blizzards--something about the Gulf Stream and polar air masses.
Yet, even more convincing evidence that winter could run right into spring this year is found by a look at nature. Most of New England's furry creatures have delayed their winter's bedtime this year. As late as last week, large numbers of New England black bears were still roaming around the White Mountain National Forests stuffing themselves for the upcoming winter. The bears, usually among the first to sack out, may just think the weather's been too warm to sleep, but they might just know that they've got a long rest ahead of them, too. In addition, the experts say our little friends have very thick coats this winter. A trapper in Easton, N.H., showed me the pelt of a golden red fox he trapped last week, and carefully compared it to similar pelts he's taken in previous years. "The weathah's been tricky foh the pahst coupla wintahs," he told me, taking a big piece of a pine branch out of his mouth. "But, t'ain't gonnah suhprise me if that theha fella is tryin to tell us somethin of this wintah."
At any rate, if you've got the money this year, it's probably the right time to buy equipment because once again it's a buyer's market; the best opportunity in years to get new, top-notch equipment at drastically reduced prices. The sales of recent weeks have been phenomenal and they are continuing. A lot of factors have led to the creation of this market, not the least of which is the overflow from the tremendous flood of new equipment models and accessory styles in the last few years.
The ski manufacturers completely redesign their ski models each year, thereby forcing dealers to unload surpluses at reduced prices. But this year, because of the general tightening of money and the dim fuel prospects, manufacturers and dealers have found themselves sitting on huge inventories of both last year's and this year's equipment.
Sales have become increasingly better since the summer--usually the dealers can unload all leftover stock before getting their new lines in, but since they couldn't this year, they have been forced to keep on lowering their prices.
The huge discounts have created an interesting situation for the shopper. List prices of manufacturers' comparable skis are generally within a few dollars of each other and the consumer often goes through a series of agonizing and conflicting measures to decide between them. But this year the consumer might come out best by simply letting the market decide because the discounts for similar models are highly uneven.
Many ski shops still have large inventories of last year's models--still guaranteed and unused--and these provide the opportunity for the best savings, if one is content to forego the dubious distinction of having the "very latest." Look for name brand equipment which is marked way off the list price and choose the best discount. This can easily be done by shopping the ski shop advertisements in the Boston papers.
The same procedure with a little less price discrepancy can be followed for new equipment. It is unusual to get the latest style at sale prices, but recent weeks have seen an outbreak of a price war between ski shops trying to pawn off their over-stocks of 1974 models.
Except for the most advanced skiers, the differences between recreational skis in similar price ranges are not all that important. Some may develop a particular preference for metal, fiber glass or epoxy skis, but this is more a personal matter. Consult with the expert at the ski shop to decide which models are best suited for you and then compare the prices.
The same goes for other skiing accessories, except even more personal preference as to color, style and model is involved.
To help ease the prognosis of dwindling skiers this winter--especially the weekend droves--many areas are providing daily buses from Boston to the slopes. Waterville Valley has already announced the schedule for its daily buses which start Dec. 8. They will leave from six pick-up points in the Boston area and arrive at Waterville Valley at 10 a.m. The cost for the round trip ticket is $9.
For years Boston area skiers have been more inclined to drive a few hours longer to get to Vermont's "biggies"--Stowe, Mt. Snow, Killington, et. al.--leaving New Hampshire as the Green Mountain State's little sister. But last year, the ski operators in New Hampshire intensified their campaign to pull a larger chunk of the New England ski dollar into their coffers.
Sugarloaf Mountain in Maine has been the luckiest of new England ski areas so far this year, logging over two-feet of natural snow. In addition, Sugarloaf has expanded its snow-making capacities and now boasts top to bottom skiing on artificial snow. Sugarloaf is a four and a half or five hour drive from Boston, but more and more die-hards each year are discovering just how worthwhile the trip can be. They say that the mountain never gets too crowded--a blessing for anyone who has tried Waterville, Stowe, Snow or Killington on a Saturday. And Sugarloaf's got enough apres ski goings on to entertain the rowdiest college groups. The area's group five-day package is among the best offered by any resorts. Finally, if you happen to get there on a day when the East's only snowfields are open, well, that's heaven.
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