February 9, 2011

The Magic of...Magic




Every outdoorsman has his secret stash; a hidden riffle that always holds trout, a stretch of singletrack untread by other mountain bikers, or a stand of oaks too far from the road for the casual deer hunter.  Each stash is a testament to hours of diligent reconnaissance, success after repeated failures, or just plain dumb luck.  Powderhounds are no different.  The hardcore riders at any given mountain will quietly slide away from the lift and disappear into the trees only to be seen some time later in the lift line completely dusted with snow, twigs protruding from their helmets, and ear-to-ear grins plastered across their faces.  The powder connoisseur may spend a lifetime accruing knowledge of which groomers will soften first in the morning sun, which tree lines will go untracked for days after a dump, and which lifts will be empty when others are crowded.  When experienced riders flock with birds of a feather, the conversation inevitably turns to the goods that each mountain has to offer, and the result is a strategic mental map of the best snowboard beta around – unwritten tribal knowledge of the most refined caliber that no Internet forum or ski area marketing campaign can hope to match.

And like the fisherman or deer hunter, the powderhound is wise to keep his mouth shut about his favorite stash unless in the company of trusted companions…loose lips may not sink ships in Vermont but will result in burned-out glades a la Jay Peak.  Therefore, it is with understandable trepidation that I am about to reveal not just a favorite tree run, but an entire ski mountain.

Tucked away in a quiet corner of southern Vermont,  just past Okemo but not quite as far west as Stratton, lies a timeless nugget of ski-dom, a throwback to a better era of low-key lodges, slow-as-molasses chairlifts, bare-bones bars with good beer on tap, and flat-out challenging terrain.  A skier's mountain that refuses to bow to the pampered needs of the ski glitterati.  A place where folks clad in duct-taped snowboard pants, neon CB parkas, greasy Carhartts, or pre-"parabolic" skis are more likely to share a ride on the Red Chair than someone decked out in the latest waterproof/breathable threads with late-model, crud-busting, vibration-dampening, toe-warming, torsionally-rigid yet laterally-compliant (?), ego-inflating gear.  The initiated will instantly recognize my description of Magic Mountain in Londonderry, Vermont, and the uninitiated would do well to take notice especially if they have grown weary of the relentlessly-groomed low angle boulevards that the neighboring mega-mountains pass off as ski trails. 

Here's the deal.  Magic is the ski experience stripped of all the bullshit.  You buy a ticket at a price that most ski areas blew past a decade ago, you ride a slow double chair to the top (the only lift option), and then you shred narrow, winding trails that test your mettle run after run.  Snowmaking covers only a fraction of the mountain so you are forced to develop your skills to maneuver on mixed conditions.  Magic has one functional groomer, so many trails are allowed to mogul up giving the hardcore an on-piste playground.  The payback for your testicular fortitude is a powder day.  The mountain is basically closed during weekdays unless a snowfall of 6 inches or more occurs.  So, you can show up on a Saturday after a Wednesday dump and ride fresh pow if you know where to look.  Even if there is a weekend crowd, the lift capacity is so minimal that the goods take a long time to get tracked out.

The true hardcore will get off the lift, close their eyes, and point to any patch of the woods on the mountain and will be guaranteed a sick tree line if they have enough sack to bash though eye-gouging pines, schwack through stands of striped maple saplings, and drop the occasional cliff.  Most other mountains would sanitize such tree lines so that even the greenest greenhorn  might take a run with little hesitation.  Magic leaves the woods as woods should be and they don't give a shit if you don't have the ability to ski them.  You must raise your game to ski Magic, because the mountain will not lower the bar to cater to your self-inflated "skillz".  Oh, and if you're looking for a "terrain park", keep driving.  If you want to ride some the steepest in-bounds REAL terrain in SoVT that is guaranteed to pucker your sphincter, park your car and come on in.  The snow is great.

If by some chance you desire to take a break from all this madness at lunch, feel free to kick back in the parking lot with a few beers from your own cooler...no one will bat an eye.  Don't feel like buying their meager offerings of horseburger and fries?  Bring your own sandwich and belly up to the bar with a cold pint of Switchback Ale.  Or Longtrail.  Or Magic Hat.  Or any number of other fantastic Vermont brews.  Watch a replay of the last UVM Catamounts game (pick a sport) while discussing the snow conditions with the nearest flannel-clad bearded brewhound.  Only then may you fully enjoy your afternoon, fully fed and hydrated.

Inevitably, the afternoon will slide past like a dropped Telemark ski without a tether, though your legs will be well aware of every passing foot of vert preceding the witching hour of 4:00 that signals the last ride on the Red Chair.  High-fiving like the teenage boys that you still are inside the adult shells, you and your buddies retire to the car and begin the trek home, wherever that may be.  Unlike Okemo or Stratton, you will not be encumbered by ski traffic exiting the mountain.  The Connecticut-bound travelers would be wise to stop at exit 2 in Brattleboro and grab a pulled pork sandwich at the Vermont Country Deli and eat it at McNeil's Pub with a pint of Dark Angel Imperial Stout.  Or, stop at the Scottish pub in Chester just past the gas station on Route 11 and have yourself a sit-down with all the atmosphere that the "apres-ski" scene at a bigger mountain couldn't hope to touch.

Magic is struggling to stay alive as a viable ski area.  This is the type of place where, when you hand over your $58 for a ticket, you can envision the clerk handing the cash to a groomer operator so he can fill the machine with diesel for the next day.  The lift needs constant maintenance and the lodge is in sore need of a spruce up.  The only way to fill these needs is with increased skier visits, and it is this very reason that I am willing to share my secret stash.  The alternative would be for this gem to go bankrupt and close down.  Any true New England rider will instantly recognize the travesty of this fate in the current age of corporate resorts that cater to a tax bracket far above my means.  So my friends, take the ride to Magic.  Love it or leave it, it's the real deal.

26 comments:

  1. Shhhhhhh dont blow up my stash man!

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  2. Great Read. We love Magic. The kids can ski anywhere because of their Magic experience. In the interest of Magic please forgive this spamming; Please consider the purchase of a share in Magic Mountain. details at www.magicmtn.com, and a great site with current and historical Magic info is www.savemagicvermont.com

    nice blog, I'll be back.

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  3. That was fantastic! Thanks for putting this up. High fives have been in full force this year.

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  4. Very well said.

    Magic Mountain has all the magic, but none of the Disney.

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  5. This post just received a flurry of comments a week after I published it. I'm just curious, how you did guys hear about this blog?

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  6. It's spreading like wild fire now that the 1st Jeff posted it to Facebook. It's now on every ski forum out there. Expect more comments. Thank you Woods Hippie!! Let us know next time you're @ Magic. You have a Switchback on me.

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  7. Word! I just might take you up on that Switchback. Pray for a late arrival of spring...

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  8. Discovered the Scottish pub on the way from Magic to Mad River Glen last Monday.. not a bad little place.

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  9. Don't know how Jeff found it other than he's a dirty Woods Hippie freeheeler too & probably just sniffed this out. :)

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  10. I board and tele, and neither group is well known for their personal hygiene :-)

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  11. Great stuff.....Magic Mtn...made a post on their FB account. I am about to do the same! Great read and great place!

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  12. Magic does not discriminate Woods Hippie.

    Apologies for a bit of spam to your blog but in case you have not seen it check www.savemagicvermont.com. We're a group of dedicated Magic skiers trying to help with the cause.

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  13. spot on sir.

    if you ever get on the red chair with a guy wearing a pink neckwarmer as a hat give me a nod, i got a shot for you since greg's got the beezo covered:-)

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  14. This where I learned to ski as a young boy in the 1970's when year after year the snow was as deep and plentiful as this winter. Wonderful memories and some of the most challenging terrain in the NE. Took my 13 year old daughter there last year and now it's her favorite.

    Thanks, Pete H.

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  15. Magic is the sh!t. Really nice write-up. And the Scottish bar in Chester is MacLaomainn's Scottish Pub. Like, Magic it has a great atomosphere & great beers on tap, plus the added bonus of great food!

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  16. Awesome post you have the magic vibe down!

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  17. I have been going there for a few years now with my daughter, hadn't been for almost 20 years. I had forgotten how nasty-good that place really is. The kid is turning out to be a really good skiier now. The early season was grasstops, treetops, rocks and other natural obsticles, but she loved it. She will be able to ski anywhere after this season at Magic. The mountain is looking real good now. I got to jump off the cliffs on blackline last week. We love the place. Oldschool baby..

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  18. So well written and so true. Magic is a soulful place and would be painfully missed if it didn't exist. There's just nothing like it South of Mad River. Long live Magic.

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  19. Magic- A place where I can let my two young boys ski and not worry about them getting lost on some mega mountain. We fell in love with the place a few years back and truly hope it can remain for generations to come. Pleaase come and feel the Magic....

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  20. Incredibly well written, and so true! I experienced Magic as a snowboarder of 15 years for the first time ever this year, and it was the BEST riding I have enjoyed thus far. It may not be a big mountain, but it makes up for it in it's technicality, and glades. You can spend 8 minutes getting down or you can spend an hour, your choice :)

    AND THEY HAVE SWITCHBACK ALE!!!

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  21. I couldn't have have said it better dude...You hit the nail on the description....Shhhhhhhhhhhh don't tell too many people:)

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  22. Just tell 88 more people with $3000

    -GD

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  23. One correction: the Red Chair, for a fixed grip chair, is about as fast as you will find. - SG Cole

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  24. Willis SchweitzenheimerFebruary 17, 2011 at 10:52 AM

    I'll be filming this weekend. Look for me in bright orange & do something special.

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  25. Great read Woods Hippie

    Love Magic too. Once the disposable income is up a hair higher (aka after ski season)

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  26. oops...meant to say I am prob going to buy a share

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