“There are no coincidences.” –Master Oegui (Kung Fu Panda)
My quest started in the fall, when I got a really nice email from Ski Butternut in Massachusetts. The email told me that Ski Butternut was a “True Family Mountain” and a “Family Gem” according to SKI Magazine.
I was intrigued. But I wanted to confirm this with a Butternut ski mom.
I posted requests on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. “Anyone out there ski Butternut?” I asked.
The only responses I got were from several dads who grew up skiing Butternut.
And then I visited Squaw Valley.
My son and I were boarding the Shirley Express Lift at Squaw when a friendly looking woman joined us. I asked her if she was having fun, and yes she was. She, too, was at Squaw skiing with her family and enjoying Spring Break.
I asked where she was from. “New York,” she answered. Then I asked “Do you ever ski at Butternut?”
Her smile grew larger. She is a Butternut Ski Mom.
It was no coincidence.
Ski Butternut: The Real Deal for Northeast Families
When June Sidwell Fenniman and I spoke again by phone in April, I asked her why her family skis Butternut.
“Butternut is ideally situated for us for weekend. We live just north of New York City and Butternut is only 2 hours from New York and 2 hours from Boston.”
She told me about the nearby villages of South Egremount, Great Barrington and Stockbridge. It turns out that this part of Massachusetts is a beautiful, historic year-round tourist destination.
Great Barrington has been ranked the #1 Town in America by Smithsonian Magazine and one of the Top 10 Resort Communities in the World by Forbes.
Tanglewood is nearby for summer concerts. Norman Rockwell had his studio in Stockbridge. And in the winter, many people have ski homes, which makes for a fun, vibrant ski community.
But mostly we talked about the skiing.
“Butternut is an excellent family mountain,” June told me. “The resort has a great learn-to-ski program and can teach kids from an early age to be skilled and safe skiers.”
Butternut is a small mountain, with about 1000 feet of vertical. There are 110 acres of skiing, with a total of 22 trails. Butternut makes no pretension toward being something it isn’t.
“No one is coming here to bash bumps,” explained Matt Sawyer the resort’s Director of Marketing and a ski dad himself. “Some skiers won’t be overly challenged, but they will have a great experience. Butternut is a great place to learn, and everyone leaves feeling good.”
That Good Community Feeling
As June and I continued talking, I realized that “feeling good” as Matt put it, is important to the Ski Butternut experience.
“Because Butternut is small, little kids can ski around with their pack of friends. You don’t have to watch them every second of every day,” she explained.
Everyone knows everyone at Butternut.
Kids love the freedom and so do the parents. In fact, when I asked June if there was anything at Butternut that she would change or improve she laughed and told me that the resort needs a bar.
“Right now, we can’t have a party at the end of the day. But other than the lack of après ski, it’s perfect!”
Now this is not necessarily the complaint of a one- or two-time per year skier. To be concerned about where to party, means you have a lot of friends. You have to be a part of the Butternut community.
Youth ski racing is the glue that holds this community. Butternut has a strong tradition of racing, and currently about 100 kids compete on their ski team. As part of this program, kids learn to race on Saturdays and interclub competitions at other mountains in the Berkshires on Sundays.
The competition level steps up as the kids get older and join the Tri-State team, with racers from resorts in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut. At the highest levels, Butternut racers compete against the very best youth skiers from across New England.
Parents provide all the support and labor and keep the race club going. They’ve even created their own adult league. Spending this much time together at a small mountain, traveling together for competitions, all the while searching for a place to party; it’s no wonder they’ve become friends.
Finally, I asked June what advice she would give other families visiting Ski Butternut.
Plan on having a nice friendly time and don’t worry about letting your kids go off on their own. Just tell them to meet at the pine trees if you can’t find each other. And, definitely put children in lessons. Butternut is a great learn to ski place – go for it!
As for the lack of après ski, June and her friends have found a way around this.
“We have a great group of friends and we started our own informal ski and wine group!”
It’s all part of being a community.
When You Go…
Ski Butternut is located near the village of Great Barrington in the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts. A family owned resort, it’s known for being friendly, low-key and affordable.
Midweek lift tickets are $25 for adults and $20 for juniors, while non-holiday weekends are $55 and $45. An adult season pass is $300. As Matt Sawyer put it, “ We don’t want skiing to be expensive. It is such a great sport that we want to share it with the masses. We encourage people to play hookey.”
The ski school is extensive with over 350 instructors and as June explained, Ski Butternut is a learn-to-ski destination. Again, there is an emphasis on affordability. First time lessons are $75 and include a lift ticket, equipment rental and instruction. This price is good any day of the season.
And, because Ski Butternut has extensive snowmaking, you can bank on the snow being good any day of the season, as well. “We don’t have to rely on snow, just cold weather,” explains Sawyer. “Ski Butternut is usually the first resort in this area to open, with a larger percentage of open trails than other mountains.”
Grooming is another Ski Butternut specialty.
“Grooming makes our skiers feel better, so we groom everything every night into miles of corduroy. Our guests constantly tell us they enjoy the good snow quality and that our grooming is spot on,” according to Sawyer.
For more information on Ski Butternut including lodging, dining, terrain parks and tubing, please visit SkiButternut.com.
Thanks to June Sidwell Fenniman for chatting with me on a chairlift and then spending a very enjoyable half-hour chatting over the phone. June is a lot of fun and I only wish we could ski together!
In addition to being a ski mom to two boys, June is a talented graphic designer.