by Paul Maraschiello

Thor had smacked his hammer hard and the snow came down hard. There was a foot of powder when I arrived at Pico and it continued to snow all day long. The place had changed little since I had been there a few years ago. The only inkling to Pico's recent new connection to Killington was the Killington ski jackets on the instructors and other staff.

I have a long-time connection to Pico Peak and every time I go there I'm reminded of the theatrical group I was in that brought winter-stock theater to that part of Vermont, many years ago. A group of us put on 10 plays over two ski seasons and added a little culture to the area. It was fun performing in front of all those people. I had the lead role in "Come Blow Your Horn". I played the part of Allen Backer, a 35 year old ski bum. Things haven't changed much, as any fool can plainly see. Having been type-cast as a ski bum, I remain one to this day.

Where the Natives Play

After a little reminiscing as I put on my ski boots, I was out the door. I rode up the Gold Rush chair and rode to the middle of the mountain, where I took one quick run and rode up again and cut over to the chair that went to the summit.

The first thing I noticed was the complete absence of lift lines. As fast as I could ski to the chair, I was on without a wait. It was snowing and I gazed at the giant S marks made in the snow by other skiers and riders. There were a few people on the hill and plenty of tracks in the powder. I had to do a little running around that morning, so first tracks would allude me.

When I got off the chair, I pointed my Völkl Snowrangers downhill and let those "fat boys" do the thing they were designed specifically to do, ski the powder. I made big GS turns right under the chair, stopping every few hundred yards to catch my breath. As chair A and B were not running, I stayed on the one chair that went to the top and began to explore the powder-covered trails at Pico. I pretty much had the mountain to myself. On most runs I didn't even encounter any other skiers. My roommate Jesse was on the mountain someplace but I never did find him.

I skied 49er and the trails that branched off that trail and had a real blast skiing the first real powder I'd encountered that season. It continued to snow as I skied down medium-wide slopes and narrow trails that had not changed in 20 years. You get a real sense of what skiing in New England was like years ago when you ski at Pico.

The Empty Lodge

After a few hours of skiing, I was hungry, so I skied all the way to the bottom and went into the lodge for some food. There were very few people in the lodge having lunch when I went in to eat. It was a Monday and it was snowing but I expected to see a few more people than I encountered. Most of the long tables in the base lodge only had one or two people sitting at them. This is a far cry from the crowded base lodges I had encountered at every other ski area. I chomped on a grilled chicken sandwich and washed it down with some hot chocolate and headed back to the slope.

I road up the chair again, cut over to the other chair and rode up to the top. When I headed down 49er, I noticed that things were beginning to get bumped up. I followed a snowboarder down through the moguls. We both stopped at about the same time on different bumps. I looked at him and we both smiled because we knew that this is what it's all about. Carving turns in the newly fallen snow, riding over the moguls and taking a little air and being completely in tune with your inner self. Some times I think that I have very little in common with "shredders". At times like this, I know that skiers and snowboards have a lot in common. The only real difference is the wood that's attached to the bottom of our shoes. We are all totally in tune with our bodies, getting off on the sensation of flying down the mountain, both grooving on the view as we become one with nature and find our center while experiencing the majesty of the mountains.

Down Narrow Trails

I found some really narrow trails down from the top of the mountain and had a blast making short-swing turns on these narrow trails. As I came out into the open, under the chair, I found some untracked snow and made my mark. As I rode up, I looked at the marks my skis had made in deep snow at the edge of the trail.

The snow continued to fall and blow. We got around 18 inches that day and the skiing was GREAT! I had skied hard on trails I haven't skied in many years. Now I know why so many of the locals I know ski at Pico. You can have the mountain all to yourself. Yes, there are other people there. Yes, there may have been a lot more people there than I would have imagined BUT they were spread all over the mountain.

Pico has a reputation as a "family" mountain. That may be true but the truth is that it is a place for real skiers to get away from the crowd and enjoy a solitary commune with nature on a mountain that hasn't lost its old New England charm.

There is a Snowboard Fun Park where riders will be able to catch air and take big hits in their baggy cloths and funny hats. In the middle of the Lower Pike trail, just up from the Alpine Learning Center Building, is a new state-of-the-art Race Arena developed by Reliable Racing of Glens Falls, N.Y. This Race Arena has a dual race course for head-to-head racing with instant time results displayed on the big board following each race.

When you want to get away from the crowds, head to Pico Peak, like the locals do. Pico sometimes gets lost in the shadow of its big brother Killington but when you find it, you have found a real treasure. It is a place that all the locals know is a really great place to ski and get back to basics.