“You can ski in Ohio?”
It’s a question Thomas Conti hears regularly.
“When people think of skiing, they think of mountain ranges or specifically going out West,” says Conti, brand manager for Boston Mills/Brandywine, a ski resort in Peninsula.
For those who want to get involved in winter sports like skiing or snowboarding, opportunities abound — without a trip to Colorado. There are resorts like Holiday Valley and Peek’n Peak in Western New York, and Seven Springs in the Alleghenies just east of Pittsburgh.
In fact, there are five ski resorts in Ohio, including several in Northeast Ohio, that provide different experiences to skiers.
“The difference is terrain,” Conti says. For example, Boston Mills has a steeper pitch on its hills; Brandywine has longer ski runs but less pitch.
The two resorts were built independently in the 1960s but have been under the same ownership since 1990. They were sold to Vail Resorts in 2019.
A ski trip doesn’t have to go out of state — or break the bank.
“It can be expensive, but it’s not that expensive to get into,” says Sebastian Wagner, a manager at Village Ski & Snowboard in North Olmsted. “You’re always able to find used gear. In fact, you can rent them at most resorts.”
Wagner, who skateboarded as a youth and picked up snowboarding as something to do during the winter, says kids can start skiing or snowboarding as young as age 3.
“They make skis and snowboards pretty small,” he says. “You just want to make sure they have a sense of balance.”
If you’re into the sport enough that you want to buy your own equipment, Wagner’s store has a trade-in program for youth equipment.
“We also have a fleet of constantly changing youth products,” he says.
All people need to have when they come to Boston Mills/Brandywine, Conti adds, are coats, snow pants, face masks and gloves. There’s even a beginner package that includes a lift ticket and rented equipment.
“It doesn’t commit you to the sport,” he says. “You can try it once or twice before you purchase your own equipment.”
With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, safe outdoor activities are even more important this winter, Conti says.
“As winter is coming, it can be harder to get outside, to go for a walk or a bike ride,” he says. “During a year of so much uncertainty, winter is certain in Ohio. We want to make the most of it and give people an outlet to embrace it.”
As an individual noncontact sport, skiing requires little adjustment to the pandemic, Conti says.
“Skiing, by nature, is a socially distant sport,” he adds. “You’re at a distance from other people. You’re wearing face coverings, gloves, goggles. It’s a safe environment for something like this.”
However, changes have been made to the customer experience at Vail’s resorts, which include Mad River Mountain and Alpine Valley in Ohio, in addition to Boston Mills/Brandywine, to eliminate as many points of contact as possible.
To limit capacity, the resorts are selling tickets online, Conti says. On-site transactions are cashless, dining options are limited to to-go boxes, and the lodge is no longer a hang-out spot. Skiers are encouraged to get equipment and get out to the hill, where they can only ride the lift with people in their own party. Masks are required at all times now, on the slopes or off them.
“We had to reimagine every touch point, from the purchase of tickets to the bar to the lift line,” Conti says. “But the ski resort will still be a comfortable place in the winter.”
The ski season in Ohio, unsurprisingly, is throughout the winter months, but Boston Mills and Brandywine start manufacturing snow in the fall. It’s made from frozen water run through a blower, which uses a scientific process to turn it into snow. The resort opens in November, ramps up around Christmas and stays open into March.
If downhill skiing seems a little too ambitious for you, Lake Metroparks also has a Nordic (cross-country) ski trail, and rents equipment for that. Seth Begeman, chief of outdoor education for Lake Metroparks, says Nordic skiing requires a different boot and ski than downhill skiing does.
“It’s a little more aerobic,” Begeman says of cross-country skiing. “If you can walk, you can ski.”
Like Brandywine/Boston Mills, Lake Metroparks is changing its experience. Rentals of skis — and snowshoes, which can be used on any of the park system’s trails throughout Lake County — was first-come, first-serve. Now reservations are required. The ski center, which previously included a lounge and lockers, is now only open for picking up and dropping off equipment.
Conti notes that even before the ski season started, interest was high — likely due to the pandemic.
“People are just excited to get out and remain active,” he says. “They want to go out, get fresh air, be with your family and embrace winter.”
Vince Guerrieri is a journalist and author in the Cleveland area. His work has appeared in a variety
of places, including Cleveland Magazine, Ohio Magazine, Lake Erie Living, Politico, Smithsonian and Popular Mechanics.