If you don’t know where Magic Mountain is, you’re excused. Most people don’t. And if you happen to come across the rare person who does know where tiny Magic is — squarely in between its much larger cousins, Stratton and Okemo — chances are they’ll rave about how it’s an amazing place to go when it snows. Meaning that if there’s not fresh powder, don’t bother.
This is the image of Magic that regulars such as Greg Williams would like the resort to shake. Williams, 38, has been coming to the mountain nearly every year since 1978. When the resort was closed from 1991 to 1997 due to financial problems, Williams skied at Killington and Mount Snow. But when Magic reopened, Williams was the first in line for the lift.
To say Williams is diehard about this little old-school mountain would be an understatement. Every weekend in the winter, he drives the three hours from his seacoast home in Clinton, Conn., to Londonderry. And Williams is not alone. Many of his fellow regulars hail from Massachusetts and New Jersey. After riding at Magic on a bluebird day, I can see why.
The mountain, which has only 40 trails, has held its snow well over the season. The day I went, the snow was perfect spring corn, slick and fast.
Unlike its mega-resort neighbors, Magic doesn’t have a high-speed quad or trails as wide as boulevards. The lifts are slow — the Red chairlift was a 13-minute ride from bottom to top — and the trails are narrow and twisty.
We started the day on the easy side of Glebe Mountain — the left side, if you’re looking at a trail map. This side is full of cruise-y blues and greens. Up Your Sleeve to Wand to Show Off was the perfect warm-up.
Then it was over to the other side of the mountain. This side features Magic’s famous steeps, most of which had spotty coverage on the day I was there. The bald patches were understandable, since it was the end of the season and these are Magic’s hallmark runs. At the suggestion of a ski patroller who looked about 14, we headed down Upper Wizard, the resort’s longest run, to Talisman.
Upper Wizard was so fun that, for the next run, we took it all the way to the bottom. Its banked turns and quick direction changes made it feel like a snowboard cross course. After a few runs it was apparent that what Magic lacks in size, it makes up for in variety and sheer enjoyment. “We’re just spoiled at Magic,” Williams says.
But, like many small, independent ski areas, Magic is having problems. This season it was only open Friday through Monday and on days when the snow was dumping. The resort can’t afford to make the necessary repairs and improvements, and that makes it tough to compete with the big boys.
Last year, the owners began selling shares in an effort to raise the capital needed to keep the resort running. Think of it as the Mad River Glen of southern Vermont. Shares cost $3000 and entitle shareholders to an equity interest in the mountain and a voice in the future of the resort.
The initial goal, Williams says, is to sell 300 shares, which would generate $900,000. Ultimately, Magic would like to raise $3 million over four years. So far, they have sold 164. “I’m somewhat encouraged by that,” Williams says.
But before people pony up and buy into the resort, they have to feel it’s threatened. Since Magic has been open all season this year, and since the season was pretty successful, people ask why they need to buy a share. Williams counters that it’s not about this season, or even the next. “The real incentive is to ski Magic for many years to come,” he says.
After spending a few hours there, I can see why he and others are so devoted to the place. Not only is it affordable, but it’s classic Vermont skiing at its best. The renowned glades and the steeps are just the icing on top. Nineteen down, one to go.
Skiable terrain: 135 acres
Vertical drop: 1700 feet
Avg. annual snowfall: 175 inches
Adult lift ticket: $56