Byline: Shaun Sutner
COLUMN: SNOW SPORTS
Skiers and riders, start your engines.
Make sure you tuned your boards and stowed them in the family vehicle the night before, and that you've packed a lunch as well.
Get up at 5 a.m. Maybe make some coffee, grab breakfast at Dunkin' Donuts, and have the car running at 5:30 a.m.
For you Worcester-area people, head due north on an empty and eminently drivable Route 122 through the country towns past Paxton. Soon enough, you're on Route 2, the east-west corridor that becomes a mini-superhighway across the roof of Massachusetts at this early hour.
If you know a few shortcuts, such as the one over the mountain and through Erving State Forest and a couple of tricks in Brattleboro, you'll be on southern Vermont's charming but snaky ski access boulevard, Route 30, in just over an hour.
Forty-five minutes later, right around 8 a.m. (if you timed it right), you'll be pulling into Stratton Mountain Resort, southern Vermont's biggest ski area and the one with the most reliable early and regular-season snow. And that's with a couple of stops.
That's what my teenage son and I did last Sunday. Our plan was to meet up with a friend from Sterling and shred Stratton's 175 acres of open terrain - the most in Vermont at the time - on a super-early December day with no crowds, cheap early-season ticket prices, and amazingly good snow.
At the start, all three of us were on short, high-radius slalom skis, which are amazingly fun, even if you're not a racer - as my son and our friend are. You can whip them around really easily, and with their wide shovels and stiff tails, they can handle everything from Eastern boilerplate to soft manmade, spring-like snow as Stratton had to offer Sunday.
Later, we switched to longer skis and opened up the speed a bit, though it's probably best to stick to the shorter ones in December.
Stratton had at least five top-to-bottom trails fully open, along with two high-speed six-passenger chairlifts and the resort's gondola, the only one in southern Vermont. That made for a lot of laps and innumerable great turns in early-40s temperatures with a cool breeze.
Brightening our runs was Stratton's irrepressible young communications specialist, Meryl Robinson, a New York native and ex-ski racer with impeccable carving technique. She told me about some of the following changes as we ascended the hill on the insanely fast Ursa Express six-pack.
New for this year, Stratton - a high-end...