Beyond the Valley of Spring Break
Spring break happens right when the conditions on most mountains are at their best – a season’s worth of snow has built up bases, lift lines are often short, and the warm March sun means you can shed layers of clothing, not to mention enjoy bikini contests.
Killington, Vermont $
Killington is the biggest resort on the East Coast (it comprises seven mountains), and in March – when temperatures have climbed from February’s subzero numbers, howling winds have subsided, and spring storms occasionally dump massive snowfalls – it can feel just like out West. Ground zero for much of the snowboarding action is the mountain’s regulation-size half-pipe (420 by 12 feet) and extensive-terrain park. In March, the Bud Light Boarder Fest attracts the East’s best riders, who vie for the Big-Air, BoarderX and Halfpipe titles. Skiers have a dizzying array of options – from Outer Limits, a true test of bump-skiing skill, to Ovation, one of the mountain’s steepest slopes and a proving ground for the area’s best talent.
Après-ski choices in Killington are the stuff of legend. The party attitude may be fueled by the surplus of free love – Skiing magazine once ranked Killington as one of the top five resorts for people looking to hook up for the night. Most of the action starts at Charities, for the town’s best happy hour and free wings, or at Outback Pizza and Nightspot, where you’ll find the local crowd and the good vibe. After that, it’s a mad rush to get into the Wobbly Barn or the Pickle Barrel, where the wait can be as long as the lift lines on the mountain. The Wobbly Barn’s drink of choice is a Turbo – a pint glass filled with Stoli Orange, club soda and orange juice – which teams of three race to finish with straws. At the Pickle Barrel, known as the House that Rocks Killington, headlining bands appear weekly.
Summit County, Colorado $$
Colorado’s Summit County offers access to four different resorts within twenty minutes of one another – Breckenridge, Arapahoe Basin (“A Basin”), Copper Mountain and Keystone – and some of the best slope-side partying in the country. Most students head for A Basin to escape family types and to challenge themselves on a few of the West’s storied runs. Gauthier, billed as the steepest chute in North America, can be downright frightening, and North Pole Plunge is peppered with big, scary rocks. If you make it to the base intact, the party begins literally a few feet away.
At “the beach,” a 700-foot row of empty parking spaces lined up against the mountain’s base, the only rule is that anything goes. Epicures bring along grills and kegs, while the more industrious have been known to set up hot tubs and moor ice sailboats to their party paraphernalia. The annual bikini contest was put on hold last year because too many contestants decided to forsake the suits, but hopeful fans are spreading rumors that it will be reinstated in 2000. As night falls and temperatures plummet, the party heads to the nearby Snake River Saloon, where the bartenders warm up the crowd by breathing fire Bacardi-151 style and bands play three nights a week.
Valdez, Alaska $$$
Valdez, by nature, is a place for serious powder hounds only. The mountains in this area, on the western edge of the Chugach Range, receive more than 700 inches of snow annually. And thanks to a phenomenon known as the maritime snowpack, it sticks to the nearly vertical slopes. To reach them, you’ll need an airlift. For seventy dollars, Alaska Backcountry Adventures will helicopter you 6,500 feet up and drop off you and your buddies with a guide. (If you’re intimidated by the altitude, fifty dollars will buy you a ski-plane lift to a tamer 4,500 feet.) This is not a trip for the novice – you won’t be able to hop off the chopper without your avalanche beacon, and it’s recommended that you also tote a collapsible shovel and a snow probe. In March, most runs are blanketed in fresh powder every day.
This tiny town also plays host each spring to the World Extreme Skiing Championships and the king of the Hill Extreme Snowboard Competition, lending what laid-back locals kindly call a Mardi Gras spirit to the place. You can raise a glass of Alaskan Amber to the environment at the Pipeline Club, where Capt. Joseph Hazelwood had his last drink before steering the Exxon Valdez into a reef.(It’s also one of the best spots to catch the local blues band Moon Doggies). You’ll find a more radical gang at the Roadway Inn, headquarters for snowboarders looking to relax before competing for the king of the Hill title.
Valdez is a five-hour drive from Anchorage (many spring breakers rent an RV for the trip) or a forty-five-minute flight on ERA Air for $172.
Ever since Gidget was released in 1959, surfing and spring break have been synonymous, so it’s only fitting that March produces some of the best conditions on the world’s great breaks.
Cape Hatteras, North Carolina $
This time of year, surfers and wind-surfers hold sway in Cape Hatteras, a slip of a town at the easternmost edge of the state’s string of barrier islands. This precarious geographical position, as far out into the Atlantic as nature will allow, puts Hatteras in the path of numerous storms and fronts, which kick up serious wind and surf. Add to this the year-round warm water (thanks to the Gulf Stream, which whisks by just a couple of miles offshore), and it’s easy to see why the town is home base for the Eastern Surfing Association and revered as Mecca for windsurfers.
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