I didn't get to Hickory at all last winter, so the last time I skied there was six or seven years ago, prior to their shut down in 2005. My 6-year-old son Daniel and I had the afternoon free, so we headed up to see what has changed since Hickory's re-birth last year and what's still the same.
In a nutshell, all of the changes are for the better: spruced-up lodge, upgraded lifts, new terrain park. The things that have always made Hickory a fun and special place to ski haven't changed a bit: friendly relaxed vibe, natural snow, and outstanding expert terrain on the upper mountain.
I knew that Daniel would enjoy the woodsy terrain and classic narrow trails at Hickory. I wasn't concerned at all about his ability to ski the steeper trails: it's his third year on skis, he's fearless, and when the going gets tough he's got a strong wedge that'll get him down anything.
I figured that Daniel would have fun with the surface lifts (T-bar and two Pomas), but Poma 2 gave him a bit of trouble. At 50 pounds he's just not big enough to handle the high-speed poma. On his first try, he made it about a third of the way up before it threw him. About an hour later we tried it again and the launch lifted and spun him, and he crashed. Poma 1 had been shut down due to low skier traffic around the time we arrived, and Daniel convinced himself that he'd be able to handle that one better, so we'll give that a shot next time.
So we stuck to the T-Bar, riding double, which was fine because we found plenty of terrain that was fun for us both to ski. All of the lower mountain trails served by the T-Bar are intermediate or beginner runs, similar to the terrain served by Gore's North Quad chair. All had been groomed or rolled and had great natural snow coverage. In many places an inch or two of untracked powder lay on top, with deeper powder along the sides. And between the trails: plenty of short woods shots with great snow, even untracked in places.
Near the end of the afternoon, Daniel did a run in the terrain park while I rode Poma 2 to the summit and skied down Hare, Grand Teton and Honey Run. These, and all of the summit trails are classic steep, narrow, fall-line trails. Advanced skiers will find these trails, with their natural snow bumps, to be as challenging as anything in the East. Hickory is often compared to Mad River Glen, and that comparison is a good one. These trails had just enough coverage for them to be open, and there were thin spots between moguls and sticks and rocks lurking beneath the surface. I skied cautiously and had a great run down.
To be clear, Hickory isn't for everyone. If you are expecting manicured slopes with deep snowmaking bases and high-speed chairlifts, you'll be disappointed. The surface lifts can be challenging for some skiers and especially for very young kids. But if you are an advanced skier seeking some of the best lift-served expert terrain in the East, if you have a sense of adventure, or if you're a family simply looking to enjoy an afternoon of relaxed skiing without the multi-hundred dollar commitment of the big resorts, Hickory may be just the place.