It’s the most recognized geographic feature of central Massachusetts. It’s a year-round destination for visitors and local families. And for many, it’s the place where they learned about — and learned to love — skiing.
From the first cold snap till the last patch of snow has melted away, you’ll see skiers of all ages and all proficiencies on the slopes of Wachusett Mountain Ski Area, located off Route 140 in Princeton. In fact, about 5% of those who visit the ski area each year are first-timers. Family owned and operated since 1973, Wachusett has been doing a lot of things right for decades to attract those beginners and convert them into commit-ted skiers and snowboard riders.
Sitting firmly on the highest mountain in Massachusetts east of the Connecticut River, Wachusett Mountain Ski Area boasts a vertical drop of 1,000 feet, eight lifts with an uphill capacity of more than 9,200 skiers per hour, and the only three high-speed quad chair lifts in Massachusetts. It has 25 trails and 110 skiable acres — with 100 percent snowmaking coverage.
It’s come a long way in the last 40 years or so, though its history as a tourist attraction spans well over a century. The first hotel on the mountain was built in 1882, and visitors from far and wide stayed at a succession of hotels there until 1970. With its ideal perspectives for foliage viewing, the mountain is a major year-round attraction, including in the summer and the fall, when music festivals draw crowds to the slopes.
But it was the development of the ski area by the Crowley family in the 1970s that turned the mountain into a popular ski resort. The constant addition of amenities — from those quad lifts, to the Ski Train connection with Boston, and more recently, the renovation of the old Bullock lodge into the slope-side Cider House — has gone a long way in keeping ski enthusiasts coming back.
A key to that success has been turning new skiers into dedicated skiers.
Recognizing that one of the barriers to trying the sport is often the intimidation factor, Wachusett produced a first-timer “how-to” video that walks viewers through everything they need to know about that initial visit to a ski area—how to dress, how to load a lift, and how to put a boot into a ski, among other guidelines. The video is posted on the resort’s website, wachusett.com, as well as on YouTube.
The resort also offers a six- or eight-week learning program for local fourth through twelfth graders, and some 10,000 students from 150 schools in three states participate in the program each season. Approximately 10 percent start the program on the first day Level 1 lessons, offering Wachusett a tremendous opportunity to make those first experiences on the slopes really count, says Carolyn Stimpson, Wachusett’s vice president of resort services.
The resort also launched a “Smiles Rewards” coupon program and a “bring a friend” incentive program to introduce more folks to Wachusett. All those efforts have clearly worked: Wachusett was named winner of the 2016 National Ski Areas Association Conversion Cup Challenge, recognizing its success at converting first-timers to repeat visitors.
All in all, Wachusett is doing everything it can to create a welcoming environment for beginners so they can feel at ease and have fun while learning to ski and snowboard. By making it easier for people to learn, Wachusett is making it easier for them to stick with their journey to becoming lifelong skiers and snowboarders.
Whether you’re new to skiing, or new to the region, you’re sure to find great winter fun on the mountain that looms large in the heart of Johnny Appleseed Country!