Spring Skiing awaits at Vermont’s Sugarbush Resort
Sugarbush Resort is located within the scenic Mad River Valley of Vermont, and averages 250 inches of snow each year. That means, no matter how nice the weather or how little snow there is elsewhere, there’s still plenty of mountain snow for those seeking that wonderful spring skiing or boarding opportunity. In fact, the resort typically stays open until the first weekend in May!
With the highest vertical drop of 2,600 feet, and a total of 16 lifts connecting 111 different trails, with everything from beginner greens to expert double-diamonds, there’s something for everyone no matter what level you’re at. In fact, one of the best things about skiing here is that you don’t even have to be an expert to experience the slopes downward from the highest elevations, as each peak is accessible via intermediate blue runs.
One Resort, Two Mountains
The resort is spread out over 4,000 acres and two separate mountain ranges, Lincoln Peak and Mt. Ellen. Although it was the first resort to have a gondola system in the United States today there aren’t any operating, just old fashion open-air chairlifts. The staggered system with separated summit and base lifts makes for a better experience on busy days, when crowds can be dispersed between choosing the upper or lower system of slopes. The two distinct ski areas are connected via a shuttle bus or the over two-mile long quad Slide Brook Express chairlift, which is an experience in itself, spanning 11,012 feet, the longest and fastest detachable quad in the world. It was once referred to as “the best chairlift to smoke a joint on” by High Times magazine.
Lincoln Peak is the more accessible of the two, offering the most runs with something for everyone, including lessons for first timers. It’s also where Castlerock Peak is located, which is best left to the experienced, with its narrow, steep, winding trails that meander down to the base. Accommodations, dining, rentals and other facilities are all located here as well. Onsite dining options include the Americana Rumble’s Bistro and Bar for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and the Castlerock Pub for late afternoon apres-ski libations and pub grub.
Mt. Ellen is third highest peak in Vermont that’s serviced by the highest chairlift in the state. It has a 2,600 vertical foot drop from the summit that towers over 4,000 feet above, and can be reached via a network of chair lifts. From here, skiers and boarders can opt for the blue Rim Run or the more experienced can jump on black double-diamond routes to make their way back down. The runs are quite a bit wider, less busy, and offer amazing views. Be sure to check out Green Mountain Lodge at the base for a great selection of burgers, beers, and bourbons. Walt’s at the Glen House (named for Mt. Ellen founder Walt Elliott) is located mid-mountain and is quite well known for their gourmet grill cheese sandwiches, grain bowls, and craft beer offerings. There’s a terrain park here as well for those more adventurous types.
The 2.000 square foot Side Brook Basin is nestled between the two mountains, and isn’t trail marked on the official map, meaning you’re primarily doing this on your own accord making tracks as you wind your way through the wild treeline. However, for those that do attempt this, you aren’t entirely on your own, as there is a shuttle pick up at the bottom that will bring you back to base camp. Snowshoeing is offered by way of either self-guided access to designated terrain, or guided tours into Slide Brook Basin. Although not available onsite, cross-country skiing is offered at a variety of places within Mad River Valley, as are Fat Bike rentals.
Town of Waitsfield
Waitsfield is a small town located just 15 minutes from Sugarbush. There are a variety of fast food and full service restaurant offerings here, and Clearwater Sports is where you should head for any of your outdoor adventure needs. Although small in size, there are currently three different craft breweries here. The largest is Lawson’s Finest Liquids, who recently opened their own tap room to sample all their beverage offerings, along with a wonderful snack selection. The other two are quite smaller, and less fancy, but are definitely worth stopping by for a brew at either Collaborative Brewing or Cousins Brewing.
Mad River Distillers is also located here, but doesn’t allow visitors to their production plant at this point. However, for those interest in sampling some, be sure to visit Mad River Taste Place. A unique concept that allows visitors to try before you buy, with a wide ranges of products from alcohol to preserves, chocolates, and a great selection of Vermont hand-crafted cheeses from one of the nearly 50 farms and creameries who are producing locally. Be sure to try the Barr Hill product line of whiskey and rye put out by Caledonia Spirits Inc. out of Montpelier.
If you weren’t able to satisfy your hunger cravings in town, back at the resort the historic Chez Henri Parisian bistro is not to miss. It has been serving authentic French cuisine since first opening back in 1964. The 90-year-old owner, Henri Borel, still stops by on occasion and would be more than happy to tell you the story about how the restaurant sprung out of an idea from an elite ski group of individuals known as Ski Club 10, that included the likes of The Kennedy’s Kim Novak, and lots of New York City models and fashion designers. This Jet Set crowd became the standard for the Sugarbush scene and the resort became affectionately known as “Mascara Mountain.” Be sure to check out The Back Room, which was once a popular disco back in the 1970s, and still has that retro feel to it.
For something quite unique, book a seat at one of the monthly Allyn’s Lodge dinners, where participants can ride the snow cat up to this mid-mountain Lincoln Peak lodge, have a special dinner prepared by Chef Jim Dinan, and then ski back down the hill in the dark with only a headlamp, guided by Dinan and his team. Although a very primitive lodge setting, the meal is quite elegantly presented.
Over at the Sugarbush Inn is Fit to be Thai’d, an amazing authentic Thai restaurant that offers both take out and dining. The staff are super friendly, as is the owner, who is a musician and hosts live music jams there on weekends.
Introductory Beginner Packages
The First Timer Program allows for beginners to access the mountain with a chairlift pass, rentals, and lessons all in one set fee. There’s even an opportunity to earn a free season pass and a pair of skis or snowboard by completing a series of introductory lessons. Ski Vermont has The Take 3 Beginner Package that allows for three beginner ski or snowboard lessons at participating Vermont resorts for only $129, which includes lessons, retails, and lift pass. Once on the mountain, there’s always a friendly Ambassador to be found on and around the mountains, offering assistance and answering any questions guests might have. Just look for the red jackets.
Sugarbush Clay Brook Hotel & Residences offers guests luxury slopeside lodging for the easiest mountain access, with onsite equipment valet. There’s a game room, gym, year-round heated outdoor pool and two heated outdoor Jacuzzi tubs. The Sugarbush Inn is a more traditional Vermont country inn, a short walk from the mountain, or there’s a shuttle service as well. Between the two is the Health and Recreation Center, where guests can workout, play a variety of indoor sports, take a swim, or just chill in the hot tub or sauna after a day on the mountain.
There are still many events happening at the resort before the season ends, including the annual Pond Skim being held April 4 at Lincoln Peak, and festivities planned for the closing weekend of the season, May 1 to 3, 2020.
Alterra Mountain Company
Up until this season, Sugarbush Resort was independently owned by Win Smith, an avid skier and entrepreneur. However, he recently decided to sell his business to the much larger corporate entity, Alterra Mountain Company based out of Denver. He cites his decision was based on recent events in the ski industry, including the challenge of rising costs posed both by climate change and by doing business in Vermont, the difficulty to compete as an independent operation, and the added efficiencies by being part of a larger organization. He’s currently staying on as President and COO with Alterra during a transition period, and all employees are staying put as well. As for his future, he said he still plans to ski at least 100 days this season, and for many more years to come.
Alterra Mountain Company now has 15 year-round mountain destinations throughout North America, including the world’s largest heli-skiing operation. In January 2018, Alterra introduced the Ikon Pass that offers skiers and riders access to 41 mountain destinations throughout the Americas, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan, plus 26 global partner destinations. New for 20/21, skiers and riders in Vermont now have unlimited access days to Stratton and Sugarbush Resort on the Ikon Pass, and unlimited days with select blackouts on the Ikon Base Pass.
Other Mountain Offerings
Not far from Sugarbush is Mad River Glen, a skier-owned cooperative that originally opened in 1948 with a single chairlift, one of the first major ski areas in Vermont. Today that single chairlift is the last remaining in the country, with three double chairlifts since being added. The trails were cut to follow the mountain’s natural contours, and are only naturally snow-coated. On the one hand skiers can descend the entire 2,037 feet of vertical on true expert terrain with absolutely no run-outs, or there are plenty of blues and greens to satisfy every level of skier. Sorry, skiers only here, no boarding. As well, Bolton Valley is a great little mountain range that offers snowshoeing, Nordic back-country skiing, fat biking, and downhill, and is one of the only slopes in the area that has night skiing. There’s also an indoor skate and bike park, pool, sauna, hot tub, and exercise equipment to enjoy off the hills.
This past February saw one of Vermont’s other mountains over at Stratton, play host to the first ever Pride Winter Summit, presented by Get Out And Trek (GOAT), and LGBTQ outdoor adventure organization. As owner Keith Oberlin states, “We are a multi-season, multi-sport adventure group working to expand LGBTQ engagement outdoors, and to build better, more authentic representation in the outdoor industry.”
The inaugural event drew approximately 100 attendees, and the goal is to be the premier east coast winter event for the queer community focused on winter sports with programming across all of southern Vermont. The organization offers a wide variety of outdoor activity events all year round.
During summer, under their larger campaign, #TakePrideOutside, June is one of the biggest months with many outdoor activities happening around NYC, that includes the annual ClimbOut for Pride event at an outdoor bouldering area overlooking the Manhattan skyline. The long range goal is to have a single weekend of Pride events at several southern Vermont outdoor areas that can host downhill skiing/boarding, as well as snowmobiling, x-country skiing, snowshoeing, and more.
Stowe Mountain Resort also has Winter Rendezvous, an LGBTQ event that has been operating for a few years now, and is part of Stowe Winter Carnival that takes place in January.
Ski Vermont is a nonprofit trade group representing 50 Vermont ski areas (20 alpine and 30 cross country) that advocates and educates. They publish a tourism type magazine and a quarterly newsletter that highlights more of the advocacy angle. The organization also offers their own Learn to Ski & Ride program, with the Take 3 Beginner and Fifth Grade Passport.
Getting to and from Sugarbush by air is serviced by Burlington airport, about an hour’s drive away. Transfer service can be arranged via the Resort. It’s about an 8-hour drive from Toronto, and two hours from Montreal. Once there you can get around Mad River Valley on the GMT Bus, a free winter-seasonal bus service, operated by Green Mountain Transit that connects Sugarbush Resort with the town of Waitsfield, making several stops enroute as well.
Lincoln Peak Stats
Trail Count: 72
Terrain Parks: 1
Wooded Areas: 17
Summit Elevation: 3975’/1212 m
Base Elevation: 1575’/480 m
Vertical Drop: 2400’/732 m
Lifts: 10 (including 2-way Slide Brook connector to Mt. Ellen)
Mt. Ellen appeals to the casual skier with a low-key feel to the mountain. Mt. Ellen has the highest chair lift, a variety of terrain, woods and terrain parks. The lodge is a throw back to the old-time ski experience.
Trail Count: 39
Terrain Parks: 2
Wooded Areas: 11
Summit Elevation: 4083’/1245 m
Base Elevation: 1483’/452 m
Vertical Drop: 2600’/793 m
Lifts: 7 (including 2-way Slide Brook connector to Lincoln Peak)
About the Author
Bryen Dunn is a freelance journalist based in Toronto with a focus on tourism, lifestyle, entertainment and community issues. He has written several travel articles and has an extensive portfolio of celebrity interviews with musicians, actors and other public personalities. He’s willing to take on any assignments of interest, attend parties with free booze, listen to rants, and travel the world in search of the great unknown. He’s eager to discover the new, remember the past, and look into the future.