Early last week, I was surprised to learn that Mount Wachusett was planning to open a week earlier than planned. While this news was both surprising and exciting, it also left me scrambling to capitalize on one of my favorite times of the year: the pre-season. It could be argued that the magical few days (sometimes weeks) before and after Mount Wachusett opens and closes are the best times to ski the mountain. What you trade in for the convenience of the lift, groomed trails, and–more often than not–base depth, is gained in solitude, adventure, and as many runs as you are capable of skinning/hiking.
After watching the snow guns blasting for roughly twenty-four hours, I headed to the mountain Thursday afternoon hopeful to make my first runs of the season. Scouting around the mountain’s base, it was shocking how much snow they had managed to make on the mountain. Two trails running off of the “mid” lift seemed to have total coverage, looking as if the mountain only need to run a groomer over them in order to be ready for the public. I sampled both trails that afternoon and found them to be as I expected: some parts of the trail were fantastic with soft, spring-like snow, while other parts of the trail were beset with minimal coverage or snow that more closely resembled ice. In the end, I was grateful for the good parts and willing to overlook the bad parts. As I left the mountain that afternoon, I had already begun planning my return the following day.
As I pulled into the parking lot on Friday morning, I was shocked to see the lifts spinning, the runs groomed, and a few people schussing down the mountain. Having checked the Wachusett web site before leaving the apartment, I knew that the planned opening day wasn’t until Saturday, so I assumed they were just getting the mountain ready for the big day, donned my skins, and proceeded to head up the mountain. About three quarters of the way up, I was met by ski patrol and told that the mountain was open and I would have to turn around. Not wanting to make a fuss, I turned around and resigned myself to the fact that I would be sharing the mountain with the masses. Back at the lifts, I learned that the lifts were running for the mountain’s staff; however, ski patrol had told them that it would be okay for me to ride the lifts as well.
While the mountain was far from one hundred percent open (they only had two trails open), the weather was fantastic (sunny and near sixty,) the snow was good, and there were fewer than ten staff members out on the hill. I rode the lifts for a couple hours, enjoying every moment of the pre-season…and while this year’s pre-season was a few days shorter than some in the past, the addition of the lift certainly aided in the piling up of early season runs.