The 3rd Season: The 3 Seasons of Ski Season

The 3rd Season: The 3 Seasons of Ski Season

By: Dave Hatoff Comments: 0

Ski season is just not one season.  It is defined by many including yours truly as having three seasons, segments or tiers.  Let’s break it down and define what each season means and represents.

The 1st Season- Pre-Season

Photo: Aaron Rice

Skier: Ryan Darlow

This is one of my favorite times of the year to ski.  No ski resorts or areas are open yet and your season can start as soon as the first measurable snow fall takes place.  Sometimes your can get your first day in in October, other years it’s a safe bet to say sometime in early to mid-November.  Regardless of when it is you are sliding on snow, grass, rocks, roots and stumps depending on what your own definition is on “proper conditions.”  You are negotiating water bars, open water and any other hazards that you can see or not see that are lurking underneath the snow.  One thing is for sure, as soon as those first flakes hit the ground someone will be up on Mt. Mansfield claiming they got the first tracks of the season. It seems like every year this claim gets pushed to a new limit.  Sometimes people are not even skiing on snow, just fast grass with some frost and dirt and rock mixed in.    

For me I wait till there is a little bit of a micro- base, usually 6” or more of dense snow to head up for my first turns.  I love pre-season skiing because everything is flat and smooth.  They may not be another time during the regular season where you get to ski your favorite run with a perfectly white and bumpless palette beneath your skis.  Some of my most memorable runs have been early season when the stars align and we get a few feet of snow like we did in early December this year.  In years past I can recall one run that I will never forget.  Top to bottom on Starr with two feet of dense snow and late fall foliage still on the trees.  Not a rock was hit, or even a scuff in my basses as I skied from the top right to parking lot.  It was the prefect coverage for what was to be a perfect run with a beautiful backdrop of colorful leaves still sticking to the trees.  That run will be etched in my mind forever.  “Snowliage” skiing at its finest.

Regardless of when you choose to ski and on what type of conditions you subject your skis too, you get day number 1 in the books and it feels oh so good to be back on skis!   Just remember to take it slow up there, ski with care and watch out for the dreaded snow snakes.  PS: Rock skis are always recommended for the 1st season.

The 2nd Season- The “Official” Ski Season

Photo: Scott Braaten

Skiers: Dave Sautter and Dave Hatoff

Skiers that don’t choose to earn their turns pre-season start their season when the lifts start turning.  Here in Stowe this usually starts the week before Thanksgiving conditions permitting.  For those willing to jump in the car and drive a bit, Killington and Sunday River always seem get going earlier than anyone else, which could be late October to the beginning of the November depending on snowmaking temperatures and what Mother Nature has in store.  Depending on where you ski the most, most larger New England resorts start their season right before or at Thanksgiving and go until mid to late April.  Killington usually runs the Superstar lift until end of May or mid- June depending on how long the snow lasts on the Superstar Glacier. 

On the other side of the coin, ski season for some does not include having a ski pass and riding lifts.  Earn your turns resort skiing for many gets old by fighting the pre-season crowds for first tracks, so they look to the backcountry.   But in order to ski the BC, we need to have built up an adequate base.  This could be one or two feet depending on the density of the snow and where you choose to ski.  Low angle glades or logging roads are usually your best bet to start.  Each and every year this boundary gets pushed to ski sketchier conditions as more and more people are chomping at the bit to get out and escape the crowd scenes of the resorts and ski areas.  Rock skis are always recommended for your first trip in to the backcountry, as well as taking it slow and watching out for all of the hazards that come into play when skiing in the woods.

Then there is of course all of the side country stash that exists here in Stowe from the Spruce side and above tree line from the Chin that funnels down into the Notch.  Skinning the Notch Road and accessing some of the steep chutes by skinning and then boot packing is another draw that lures steep skiers from near and far to test their skills on the numerous rock lined options that exist in Smugglers Notch.

For both woods skiing at the resort, backcountry and side country adventures, we like to use the old barometer of having at least 50 inches at the Mt. Mansfield snow stake before heading into these coveted zones.

The 3rd Season:

Photo: Dave Hatoff

Skier: Jerry Jones 


When the ski resorts and ski areas shut down, most lift serve skiers call it good and end their season.  But there are many skiers like myself that look forward to this time of year to harvest corn and sometimes, get another powder day or two under their belts to keep their season going.  We look forward to this time of year for the perfect corn cycles, freezing at night so the snow sets up and lasts, then sunny and warm to find that elusive peel away corn snow.  Or what I like to call “Poor Mans Powder.”  Like powder skiing, you can see your tracks when looking back up at the snow and see your line choice and roundness and rhythm of your turns. It allows you to see you skiing signature and shows you how well or not so well you stayed in the fall line.   It’s a smooth and sublime feeling to ski 5 star corn conditions and is what many earn your turn spring skiers live for.  You can find flat smooth corn to ski on flats or steeps or look for corn bumps that are still there from a season’s worth of lift service skiing.  Many times the bumps shrink in size and become just the prefect post season zipper lines to bump, grind and wiggle.  There are also always a core group of skiers that break out their shovels and build a kicker somewhere to session under the sun and dial in their tricks or work on new moves for next season.  

As with many spring days, the sunshine brings out parking lot parties with portable grills, coolers filled with your favorite beverages and tailgating.  It’s a great time of year to wear minimal layers, load up on sunscreen and have skin wax and a scraper handy in your pack for when the wet and warm snow starts to glop to your skins. As the snow base starts to deteriorate over time, usually from temperatures not freezing up at night anymore or just warm temperatures and rain in general, water starts running underneath the snow and starts eating away the snowpack quickly.  This is called undermining and once it starts and bare spots occur, it’s a lot like cancer, it just keeps growing and growing. Top to bottom skiing ends, and for those who are still motivated, boot packing to the snow line now becomes a reality.  From there , those who still have the motivation will boot pack far and wide just to get to a patch of snow to get a few turns in. 

This is also the time of year when the White Mountains of New Hampshire beckon earn your turns skiers.  Tuckerman’s Ravine and the surrounding Presidential mountain ranges offer up the steep and deep and are a rite of passage for the Eastern skier.  Depending on the year, you may have to boot pack in if the snow line is burned out on the Sherbie Trail or Cog Rail Way to access the goods.  Windows seem to be getting more fickle each and every year for good coverage down low and getting that high pressure weather system for Grade A corn snow.  If you want to truly test your skiing and mountaineering skills, this is the place that separates the men from the boys. 

In closing, wherever you choose to ski and whether you choose to participate in all three seasons, or just choose one or two, anyway you slice it, it always about the skiing.  That in conjunction with ski the culture, the comradery and the feeling that eternal ski stoke firing is what always keeps us coming back for more. There is an old saying that says, “Good things come in threes,” and in this case, we could not agree more!  As we begin to see an end to our 3rd season of the 2023-24 season, we can begin to turn our attention to the next season. And with every new season, the hopes and dreams of a deep and bountiful year give us eternal optimism.    See you on the slopes.

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