There is no guarantee anyone will experience weather as perfect as it was for my first drive to Bristol Mountain last March. Bluebird skies exposed a warming sun that made traveling easy and the skiing comfortable while leaving the snow firm.
However, such conditions aren't necessary for you to feel, once you are on the mountain, as if you have traveled much farther than the 105 or so miles it takes to get to the resort that is southwest of Canandaigua. Bristol doesn't have the size of the more renowned resorts in eastern New York and Vermont, but it does have a big-mountain feel.
The ski area has been on a growth spurt for the past decade, filling out into a resort that will satisfy most winter sports enthusiasts. It already was the tallest ski mountain in the region: Its 1,200-foot vertical drop is the biggest between the Adirondacks and the Rockies. The big addition was the Morning Star "pod" -- or trails served by the quad chair of that name on the mountain's southern face. This increased the skiable terrain at the resort by 35 percent to 40 percent, according to general manager and president Dan Fuller, and provided slopes for newer skiers and riders.
"The new terrain added a substantial amount of beginner and novice terrain," Fuller said. "We didn't have enough of it. It was a good addition. All ski areas want to address the needs of all skiers. We can address all abilities now."
The resort claims 33 percent of its 34 trails now are novice, 49 percent are intermediate and 18 percent advanced.
After a nearly two-hour drive to reach the resort, this newer terrain is a great place to loosen the legs. It is accessed by riding the Comet high-speed quad and taking an easy run to the Morning Star lift. A ride up drops you at the top of Milky Way, Nova and shooting, green trails that afford great views and surprising variety. This is only part of the attraction.
The first thing the kids will notice from the Morning Star lift is the terrain park that is fashioned on the intermediate slope below. A series of ramps and table tops launches riders on one side of the trail while a progression of rails of various shapes and lengths challenges them on the other. At the bottom awaits a 450-foot halfpipe with 14-foot walls.
These features are not for beginners. The halfpipe is the largest in Western New York; the drop into it is a long one. However, watching the skiers and riders swirl and soar on their way through the park is a reminder that our region produces winter athletes with the best of them.
For the less accomplished, there is a progression park off the adjacent Shooting Star trail for polishing skills.
People who like to cruise will notice one thing rare in the runs of Western New York: Length. There is a continuous run from the top of the Morning Star lift to the resort's base area that is two miles long. This allows skiers to link enough turns to imprint them on their muscle memory. And, there are many other runs that will test your quads.
A new addition is the Morning Star Cafe, which is near the top of the lift. This small breakfast nook was constructed last year on top of one of the two new pumping stations. The cafe specializes in waffles and sausage -- incentive for getting to the slopes early.
The pumping stations provide snowmaking capacity for the planned addition of two more pods. Bristol is not in a snow belt, so it does not get the natural snow that falls on Cockaigne, Holiday Valley or Kissing Bridge. It relies on extensive snowmaking -- many of the snow guns are on towers and are remotely operated -- that covers 98 percent of its terrain and routinely extends the ski season beyond 120 days. During our early March visit near the end of a cold winter, my wife and I were skiing on a 6-foot base of soft snow.
The main face of the resort is served by four lifts. The newest of these, the Galaxy express quad, reduces the ride from 13 minutes to four, even though it is 600 feet longer than the chair it replaced. The terrain off the Comet and Galaxy quads and the Rocket triple chair varies from intermediate to advanced, often on the same run. The lower part of the mountain is less steep than the upper half, except on the Galaxy run, which closes with a steep drop.
To provide an intermediate run from the top of the Galaxy chair to the bottom, Bristol cut a new trail this year to extend North Star to the base of the mountain.
The most challenging trail at Bristol is Quantum Leap, and it is the only one without snowmaking, so this narrow run is open only after heavy snowfalls. The resort announces on its website when the trail is open, quickly attracting thrill seekers much the same way as surfing beaches do when the big waves are coming in. In two days of skiing (and part of one night under the lights, which cover 96 percent of the trails) there was hardly enough time to try all the runs.
We passed on Alpine skiing on our last morning to try some cross-country skiing from the Nordic Center at the top the Comet chair. The Nordic Center is paired with the Summit Demo facility; they are housed in a yurt. You can pick out alpine skis to test before you buy (the main rental shop is at the base lodge) or rent cross-country skis or snowshoes on which to traverse the 3 kilometers of groomed trails that fan out at the resort's summit.
We took a one-hour private lesson, which was helpful in learning how to ski in and get out of the tracks that are set in the snow.
Rental packages for snowboarding or skiing are $26 for adults (13 and up) and $18 for children for a full day. Demo rates are $15 for two hours and $35 for eight hours. A full day lift ticket is $55 for adults, $45 for children, or $135 for any three consecutive days for adults and $125 for children. A family of three can ski or snowboard Saturdays from 4 to 10 p.m. for $69, with additional skiers $23 each.
At the Nordic Center, a trail package that includes ticket, rental and group lesson costs $35. A snowshoe ticket costs $10 and a rental adds $14.
The center is accessible from a road that serpentines up the back side of the mountain. It is the starting point for one of two new events. When there is a full moon (Jan. 19 and Feb. 18) there will be an evening of cross-country skiing that will begin with yoga for stretching and end with a cookout.
Bristol's other new event this year is called the Mountain Match-up. Single people 30 and up (space is limited to the equivalent of 20 couples) will get three 45-minute speed dates -- matched by age and skiing ability -- followed by a wine and cheese party at the Morning Star Cafe. The next match-ups are Feb. 12 and March 12; register in advance.
Bristol comes up somewhat short in slope-side facilities. There is plenty of paved parking, a large lodge with a restaurant, an event center that reduces crowding in the lodge, and Northstar Village, a cluster of 20 very nice and generously sized townhouses.
Seven of the townhouses can be rented; two-bedroom units with a loft can sleep up to eight people. Rates start at $240 per weeknight (Sunday through Thursday) and climb to $435 per weekend night for the loft units. Renters can get discounts on lift tickets with a stay-and-ski package, with children 8 to 12 skiing free on weekdays and children 7 and under skiing free every day.