Jiminy Peak Ascends to a Full-Scale Destination Resort
By Karen Rubin
There was a warm and cozy feeling as we arrived at Jiminy Peak, in the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts. We had always enjoyed skiing at Jiminy Peak-the lovely views of the New England countryside laid out below, the well-laid trails from the summit, the blizzard of snowmaking which virtually assured a good base regardless of snowfall, and the fact that it is one of the most easily reached major ski destinations, at about 3 hours drive from the Throgs Neck Bridge in New York City. But with all the changes and improvements, Jiminy Peak has really come into its own, from a day-trip area to a total ski destination.
This year, with the addition of the state-of-the-art six-passenger high-speed detachable lift, the Berkshire Express which whisks you to the summit in just five minutes (compared to 12 minutes before), Jiminy Peak has easily become elevated to one of our favorite family ski destinations (which has a lot to do with the ease of getting here). The $2.2 million lift, which spans 4,300 ft. (more than ¾ mile) is one of only three in the East (it is so state of the art, it is the first to use fiber optic cable for communication) has made all the difference in the skier experience here.
Jiminy excels at being user-friendly, and takes great steps to provide Tender Loving Care to novice skiers-everything from having a special line at the rental shop to low-cost learn-to-ski packages, to a GetSkiing incentive which rewards a friend with a free lift ticket for bringing a new skier/boarder to the mountain. Novices and beginners will also appreciate the separate area for novices, just outside the SkiWee/Ski School East Lodge door, and the new "magic carpet" that takes the grunt work out of learning to ski for tiny tots. Novices can purchase a special ticket, Cricket, at $25, valid for the beginner area only. What is more, the instructors who teach first-timers specifically volunteer so they are well suited. (SkiWee, for kids 4-8 and Explorers for 9-12 year olds are full-day programs, 9:30-3:30 p.m. available daily, which include lessons, lift tickets and lunch for $70/day or $130/two days; rental is an additional $23/day; reservations are recommended, and can be made by calling 413-738-5500, ext. 368).
Another nice feature is that you can pick up your equipment rentals the night before, which will significantly expedite getting onto the slopes the next morning. We found the rental shop to be extremely well organized and very service oriented (they actually measure your feet!).
Once over the hump of learning to get on and off the lift, beginner skiers will feel comfortable taking the new Berkshire Express to the summit (the detachable is so easy to get on and off), where there are gentle trails, like Glider connecting to Winding Brook, and Azalea Path connecting to John Hancock, which ring the mountain and provide lovely, long trails with wonderfully scenic views. There are slow-skiing zones and patrollers will lift a ticket from a reckless downhiller.
Last year, a whole new peak with seven trails, accessed by the new Widow White's Quad (named for the woman who used to own the land that the new peak sits on), were opened up. Off to the eastern fringe, they are relatively empty, and it is possible to enjoy a nice long run by taking Panorama to Scooter, to the Left Bank or through the Hot Wheels Glade (a great place to try skiing through the trees) and on down to the base.
The layout of the mountain, which offers 40 trails (18 lighted for night skiing) for a total of 156 skiable acres, is ideal for families because all the trails funnel to the base area (and a large clock tower helps keep everybody organized), and the trails are well marked, so you can feel comfortable letting older children and more advanced skiing children go off on their own. We found it easy to meet up with one another at the Crane Lodge for lunch.
Another delightful new feature this year is the new Hendricks Summit Lodge at the summit, at 2,380 feet, just where the Berkshire Express lets out. This is an entire log cabin that was once the home of Bart and Mary Hendricks, who originally owned most of the land that is now the ski resort. It is a delightful lodge where you can get hot chocolate, coffee or snacks and overlook the most incredible view of the mountain. The mountain offers a 1,150-foot vertical rise from the base.
This year, another pleasant difference is that many of the staff on the slopes, in the Country Inn, and the eateries are college students on summer break from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa and enhance the enjoyment of being here.
Jiminy Peak very much bears the stamp of its President and CEO, Brian Fairbank, who started off as the general manager (31 years ago) and then lead a management takeover. A visionary, Fairbank was an early proponent of snowmaking and at Jiminy Peak, this is elevated to a fine art, much like winemaking. A stickler for detail, he insures the high quality of service maintenance, which directly impact on the guest experience. He has also made sure that the improvements and expansion on the mountain conform aesthetically in order to preserve the feeling of a New England ski village.
Because of the accessibility of Jiminy Peak and the fact it is one of the few ski places that offers night skiing (until 10:30 p.m.) it may be a day-trip for many (made easier because of two bus companies that bring people up and include a lift ticket in the bargain for $52 or less, as well as an innovative four-hour ticket, $5 less than an eight-hour ticket). But those who stay just for the day will miss out on the experience of a total vacation-retreat that Jiminy Peak offers.
The Country Inn, an all-suite hotel, offers a very welcoming atmosphere and spacious rooms with kitchenette, TVs equipped with cable, VCR and Nintendo. The Inn has a small heated outdoor pool (it is really fun to be soaking in it and watching the downhillers coming in at night); however, it is not usable when the outdoor temperature falls below 20 degrees. There is also an outdoor Jacuzzi and an indoor one, and a fitness center. Coffee was set out in the morning, and at 3:30 p.m., hot chocolate and cookies were set out in the second floor lounge (on holidays, there sometimes are special activities for children, as well), and we so enjoyed sitting in front of a roaring fire and chatting with other guests. There is also an arcade room, and a new Internet room, where you can pay a fee and can access the Internet and network games.
The Country Inn also offers a marvelous restaurant, the Founders Grille. There are three different seating areas which makes for a cozy atmosphere. We had dinner in one room with a pitched ceiling from which antique carriages, a canoe, a toboggan and a host of fascinating antics and relics were dangling (a good way to amuse younger children is to have a scavenger hunt, but story books are also available). The menu was marvelous, with an emphasis on regional cuisine but popular Continental additions, all distinctively and delectably seasoned (the stuffed mushroom caps and the Atlantic salmon with white wine and grapes were sensational).
With the acquisition of Brodie Mountain, a popular family ski area just three miles down the road, families can now visit two mountains if they choose. Another delightful addition is that Brodie now offers tubing nightly, from Wednesday through Friday and all day and night on weekends and holidays (there is snowmaking on the tubing hill, so you can go all winter long).
Brodie Mountain is well known to generations of skiers who learned to ski here. The new owners (Jiminy Peak) are investing a great deal of money to upgrade (snowmaking has been improved, so that 95 percent of the trails can get blasted), and will be developed into a full resort in the future (today, there is only a motel at the base of the mountain, but loads of land on which to build).
Brodie, with a vertical rise of 1,250 feet, offers 40 trails (18 miles and 250-skiable acres) accessed by four double chairs and two rope tows; the longest run is 2 ½ miles.
Jiminy Peak is in the heart of the Berkshires, which offer an incredibly rich array of attractions (so much so that summer is the busier time of the year for visiting).
We love to spend time in Stockbridge, Norman Rockwell's quintessential American village and visit the new Norman Rockwell Museum (Rte. 183, Stockbridge, 413-298-4100, www.normanrockwellmuseum.org), where there is a new exhibit of Rockwell's 322 Saturday Evening Post Covers which span 47 years of work (kids visit free).
There is an excellent new Prime Outlets center in Lee is fantastic (and no sales tax on clothes), right at the entrance to I-90 Exit 2 in Lee, with such designer factory outlet shops as Anne Klein, Gap, Geoffrey Beene, J. Crew, Polo Ralph Lauren, Perry Ellis, Reebock, among others (413-243-8186).
In Williamstown: Clark Art Institute, opened in 1955 by Singer sewing machine heir and China explorer Robert Sterling Clark and his French born wife, Francine, is renowned for its outstanding collections including French Impressionist, American and Old Master paintings (admission is free November-June; 413-458-2303, www.clark.williams.edu and the William's College Museum of Art, which houses 11,000 works that span the history of art (413-597-2429, www.williams.edu/WCMA/).
North Adams has the Mass MoCA (The Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art), which is housed in what had been a 19th century factory (www.massmoca.org), the country's largest contemporary art center.
Hancock Shaker Village, in Pittsfield (www.hancockshakervillage.org, 800-817-1137), is a 200-year old village with 21 historic buildings. Also try to visit Arrowhead, the home of Herman Melville (413-442-1793, www.Mobydick.org). Also, the Berkshire Museum, Rte. 7 in Pittsfield, is a family museum and aquarium with its own Mummy (413-443-7171, www.berkshiremuseum.org).
More information on attractions is available from the Berkshire Visitors Bureau, 800-237-5747, www.berkshires.org.
In addition to the all-suite Country Inn, which we have enjoyed during our visits, there are various condos and townhomes scattered throughout the resort, like a village. Timeshare units available in the Country Village through RCI, and Eastern Resorts is building Bentley Brook at the base of the mountain. Bentley Brook is a timeshare resort with about 50 units completed of over 100 planned. In addition, some custom private homes are going up on the eastern slope beside the Left Bank trail.
There are also marvelous inns and lodges in the area, as well as the magnificent Cranwell Resort (800-CRANWELL, www.cranwell.com), in Lenox (about 30 minutes away), which affords cross-country skiing; and the charming Red Lion Inn, in picturesque Stockbridge (made famous in Norman Rockwell's painting of Main Street, USA; 413-298-5545, www.redlioninn.com). Both of these are members of Historic Hotels of America (800-678-8946, http://historichotels.nationaltrust.org) and offer a very special experience of staying in "history."
Ski and Stay
Ski and stay packages, which also give you time to enjoy the many attractions in the Berkshires area, are available at the 105-suite Country Inn at the base of the mountain, or in one of many two and three-bedroom condos located slopeside and throughout the property. The best value is the Jiminy Peak Midweek Escape, affording two days of skiing and one night lodging at $99 pp/double (Brodie Midweek Escape with two days of lift tickets and one night lodging starts at $75 pp/dbl). A combination Two Mountain ticket costs a $1 extra and provides access to both Jiminy Peak and Brodie Mountain. For new skiers, a complete ski or snowboard beginner lift, lesson and rental package is $49; a GETSkiing deal gives a free lift ticket to a friend who signs on a new skier. You can also get discounted lift tickets by ordering on line at www.ticketweb.com
Jiminy has a number of different lift tickets: students (7 to 22) and seniors pay $26 for an eight-hour ticket midweek/nonholiday ($33 for weekends and holidays); toddlers (6 and younger ) pay $10 or $15; the twilight ticket (3 p.m.-10:30 p.m. is $32 anytime, as is the night ticket (6 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.). The eight-hour adult ticket is $35 midweek or $46 on weekends/holidays.
For those who prefer not to drive, two Long Island bus companies make the trip to Jiminy Peak each weekend from Long Island and points in Queens, New York: Danril Ski Tours goes every Saturday and Sunday morning ($52 includes bus and lift ticket, 631-862-9380; teenager should be at least 16 to travel alone; take advantage of first-time skier/snowboarder package at $75, includes bus ride, lift ticket, lesson and rental) and Fantastic Ski Tours goes to Brodie every Saturday morning ($45, 800-552-6262, www.fantastictours.com; passengers need to be 18 or older to travel alone).
Jiminy Peak is one of the Mountains of Distinction, which also includes Ski Windham, in the Catskills of New York State, and Okemo, in Vermont, among others; season pass holders get a 50 percent discount at the other member mountains.
For information or ski/stay packages at either Jiminy Peak or Brodie Mountain, including participating inns and lodges in the area, call 800-882-8859 (www.jiminypeak.com).
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