There continues to be a misconception that western resorts have unlimited vertical drops. The vertical has absolutely nothing to do with how steep the trails are. It’s the difference in elevation between the summit and the base. Yes, the large resorts of the West are large. But the vertical drops of the great, open western resorts are far closer to those of the major eastern areas than is generally supposed.

Only one ski area in North America has a vertical higher than 5,000 feet - Whistler/Blackcomb, in Canada. Jackson Hole has a vertical of more than 4,000 feet. Less than a dozen areas in the United States have a vertical drop of more than 3,000 feet. Two are in the east - Killington and Whiteface.

Don’t be confused by the fact that the base elevation of western resorts may be 7,000 to 8,000 feet, while it’s 1,500 to 2,000 feet in New England. The average vertical, whether in the Rockies or the Appalachians, is around 2,500 feet.

When Skiing magazine searched out the “dirty dozen,” the 12 longest and steepest regularly maintained trails in the nation reachable by ski lift, 5 were in the East, 7 in the West.

Eastern resorts have substantially widened and added to their trails in the past quarter century. Except for a few saved as souvenirs, long gone are the narrow, icy paths through trees that the heroic skiers of the 1930s and late ’40s struggled to ski down.

Struggle is a mild word. I fought to navigate Roundabout, the narrow, never-groomed souvenir-of-yesterday trail at Killington. After bumping, turning, and twisting my way to the bottom I can only look with admiration upon anyone who managed to survive skiing it on wooden skis with metal edges wearing double leather boots locked into bear-trap bindings.

When Powder magazine fondly reviewed the few ancient New England trails that have managed to resist constant efforts to widen and groom them, it came up with an additional seven:

• Antelope and Fall Line Trails, Mad River Glen, Vermont;

• Robin’s Run, Smuggler’s Notch, Vermont;

• Wildcat Trail, Wildcat Mountain, New Hampshire;

• Goat, Stowe, Vermont;

• East Bowl, Burke, Vermont;

• Rumble, Sugarbush, Vermont.

Ski them before they disappear.

On the other hand, the dramatic powder bowls and wide-open slopes of the West will never disappear.

Three times America has played host to the Winter Olympics. Once at Squaw Valley, in the impressive Lake Tahoe region of California, and twice at Lake Placid and on the runs of nearby Whiteface. Squaw Valley has a vertical of 2,850 feet; Whiteface, 3,216 feet.

Utah will host the Winter Olympics in 2002. Congratulations. You gotta have it to host it.

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