Operating a ski hill used to be easy. You simply put in a rope tow or lift and charged folks to ride it. But, as the industry grew, things got dicey. The highway system freed people to head for bigger mountains, civic groups became less involved with local hills, and insurance rates skyrocketed. No wonder that more than 600 ski areas have closed in New England alone. Adventurous skiers – like the guys behind the New England Lost Ski Areas Project – go out in search of ruined resorts because they know empty hills offer the wildest rides imaginable. Here are the best of the bunch.
Mt. Shasta Ski Bowl, California
Shasta, at 14,162 feet, is the second tallest volcano in the continental United States (after Mount Rainier) and was once a storied ski bowl – but it has been closed since an avalanche took out several lifts in 1978. Its 2,300-foot descent is one of many routes you can take in what is now the Shasta backcountry. The area's chamber of commerce woos skiers with the promise of virgin powder.
Berthoud Pass, Colorado
The onetime home of Colorado's first double chairlift (circa 1947), Berthoud closed in 2001 but maintains a small, rabid following of backcountry skiers. Must have something to do with the 1,530 feet of vertical, the 1,200 skiable acres, or the fact that you can hop out of your car and hit some runs right off the highway. There are even trail maps.
Thunderbolt Ski Trail, Massachusetts
Located on the east face of Mount Greylock – Massachusetts's highest peak at 3,491 feet – this legendary Berkshires slope hosted elite ski races in the Thirties and Forties. Although it hasn't had an operating lift since the Fifties, intrepid New Englanders still hike and ski or snowboard its 1,800-foot vertical drop. Local hikers who have mapped the area return every winter.