You don’t have to trek to points north to access slope-side fun this winter. The Blue Hills Ski Area in Canton offers South Shore residents plenty of snowy opportunities just a short drive away.By Colby Radomski Photography by Scott Eisen
It’s an unusually warm day in February at the Blue Hills Ski Area in Canton; the temperature wavers between the high 40s and low 50s, with only a slight wind chill. It’s an ideal day for spectators at the mountain’s 2014 Boston Open, and a welcome break from the bone-chilling cold days of the region’s seemingly never-ending polar vortex.
Excitement flows through onlookers as skiers and snowboarders shake off their anxious nerves and prepare themselves for a fun downhill battle. Speed and finesse are put to the test as they shred their way through an obstacle course of metal rails and manmade snow jumps, trying their best not to fall, or worse, “yard sale,” before crossing the finish line.
On your average winter day, it’s an enchanting scene at the Blue Hills Mountain base: seasoned skiers and snowboarders gracefully carve their way down from the summit leaving behind trails of white, powdery clouds. Those who are newer to the slopes slide a little more carefully, relishing in their small, but sweet victory when they make it to the bottom.
The Blue Hills Ski Area took form initially in 1935, with its main lift and lodge built in the 1960s. A decade ago, the ski area had lost its momentum and draw as a local attraction. Enter the Blue Hills Management LLC, in 2007. Teaming up with the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (the state of Massachusetts owns the Reservation); the management company has since made it its mission to overhaul the mountain and revamp its infrastructure to attract a new generation of ski culture.
Improvements included the addition of a valuable new leader, Vero Piacentini, in 2011. Though the Blue Hills was looking for a new ski school director, Piacentini, then a sports-related projects consultant, proved himself more valuable as part of the mountain’s management team. He is now in his fourth year as the mountain’s general manager.
Aside from his knowledge of business, Piacentini brought his love of skiing to his leading role. Having suffered from polio as a young child, Piacentini found skiing as an outlet. It was also one of the only sports that could accommodate his disability.
“When I was 18, I went out to Colorado because they had a disabled ski program—one of the first in the country. I learned how to ski on two skis, but to be honest I really wasn’t enjoying it too much. I decided to lose that extra ski, and just ski on one ski with outriggers like an amputee would, and it made all the difference—that was life changing.”
Though Piacentini says creating a program that caters to disabled skiers is on his radar, implementing such a program has proven difficult: limited space and the mountain’s outdated design are among his greatest challenges.
“As much as I would love to have a program at the ski area, right now we are not physically capable of implementing a program. But it’s our goal that in the future we can [make those accommodations]. I know what skiing did for me and I know what skiing can do for others,” Piacentini says.
Still, there have been numerous improvements, including the addition of new snow lines and snow guns that make snow production faster and compensation for natural accumulation, as well as another groomer to help their already busy fleet keep trails in tip-top shape. Customer-friendly accommodations have also been at the forefront of Piacentini’s agenda, including updating the lodge and its amenities this winter and improving the quality of rental equipment available to guests.
One thing that hasn’t changed though is the mountain’s family-oriented atmosphere—something that Piacentini and Blue Hills Manager Molly Ross reiterate as one of the reasons why Blue Hills has remained successful.
“Everyone [that works] here is very interactive with the guests. [Many of] the people that come here have come here for years—we know them all by name. It’s like a fun winter family,” Ross says.
“We constantly get stories all the time—from grandparents who tell us that they used to bring their kids here and now their children are bringing their children here. People have such fond memories of the ski area,” Piacentini adds.
The ski area offers a number of different programs for child, youth and adult skiers and snowboarders taught by certified instructors and that are held 7 days a week. Whether guests like being taught in a group atmosphere or prefer one-on-one instruction, there is something for every type of learner and for all skill levels. In addition to those offered at the mountain, Blue Hills has teamed up with several local recreation departments, including Quincy, Weymouth, Milton and Braintree to offer residents the same types of lessons and programs priced at a more nominal rate. Blue Hills also plays host to many of the area’s high school and collegiate ski teams including the Boston College and Harvard University ski teams.
The closest mountain to any major metropolis in the United States and only a short distance from the South Shore, the mountain has become an obvious choice for families looking for a day-trip to the mountain.
“To get to Blue Hills is simple,” Ross says. “Pretty much anywhere you are on the South Shore; you’re no more than a half-hour away, versus driving up north and battling through traffic.”
Piacentini also adds that while the ski area is nothing like what you’ll find north or west of the hub, it is still a sizable mountain and has plenty of challenging trails for seasoned snow bunnies and those new to the slopes.
“We are almost outgrowing ourselves because the ski area has become so popular,” Piacentini says proudly.
BREAK OUT] Encompassing more than 7,000 acres in six towns, including Quincy, Braintree, Randolph, Canton, Milton and Dedham, the Blue Hills Reservation has been a public recreation destination since the late 1800s. With 22 hills along its chain, the reservation offers guests year-round opportunities to explore more than 125 miles of varied-terrain trails.
The Boston Open 2015
The Boston Open is the Blue Hills Ski Area’s signature event—a slope-style competition for skiers and snowboarders through ‘Old Iron Sides Terrain Park.” This year’s event features 3-parts, where participants must qualify at one of the first two events before competing in the main event. Those interested in learning more about the competition can go on the Blue Hills Ski Area website for registration and waiver forms.
February 8: The Shot Heard Around the Hill – qualifying event.
March 1: The Boston Open– main event.
The ideal temperature for snowmaking at the Blue Hills Ski Area
8.5 million gallons
The amount of water the Blue Hills uses annually (give or take a few gallons) to make snow!
The number of visitors of Blue Hills annually
The number of snow guns used to make snow along the mountain’s trails
The number of trails the ski area has
The vertical height of the mountain
The number of lifts the mountain has (1 main lift and 1 carpet lift)
Blue Hills Mountain Ski Area
4001 Washington St., Canton