By Heather Burke, Boston.com Correspondent, Photos by Greg Burke
The Green Mountains of Vermont offer some of New England’s most beautiful ski scenery, and Sugarbush is in the heart of this spectacular setting. From Mt Ellen’s 4,083’ summit skiers enjoy sweeping vistas across Lake Champlain Valley, the Adirondacks, and up the spine of Vermont’s highest peaks including Camel’s Hump and Mt Mansfield to the north and the rolling hills of the Mad River Valley to the east.
If you’re tired of boring groomed boulevards, Sugarbush only grooms about one third of its ski terrain, opting instead for a more inherent classic alpine experience. Here you get gutsy, ungroomed trails like Spillsville, Exterminator, and Hammerhead (these trail names should serve as indicators) that generally sport natural snow, bumps, twists, drops, and turns.
Sugarbush is a two-for-one resort - two distinct ski areas – Lincoln Peak and Mt Ellen, connected by the Slide Brook Express. You don’t even have to take your skis off, just enjoy the two-mile high-speed ride. Adventurous skiers and riders get a third bonus, the 2,000 acres of Slidebrook off-piste terrain.
Sugarbush is authentic Vermont. First chair on a powder morning brings out the Mad River Valley locals, including the resort’s owner Win Smith (since 2001) who skis more than 100 days a season. Sugarbush has wiped off its “Mascara Mountain” moniker as dubbed by Vogue Magazine back in the 1960’s. Today it’s genuine Vermont.
Castlerock is pure skiing the way it used to be. A comfy double chair takes you to narrow trails like Middle Earth and Rumble that still humble hard-core skiers and riders. Castlerock is 100 percent natural snow, black and double black diamonds, and no grooming or corduroy is served here.
Warren Miller, the legendary ski filmmaker helped put Sugarbush on the map with his ski films in the 1970’s and 90’s, and discovered local bros John and Dan Egan, and Doug Lewis. This season as a tribute, Sugarbush is renaming a ski trail in honor of Warren Miller’s 90th birthday.
The legendary Stein’s, named for Gold Medalist Stein Erikson who directed Sugarbush’s ski school in the 1960s, is a must-ski mogul run for those that want a long bump fest.
Like trees? Sugarbush has some of the most wood skiing in the East, from well-spaced birch and sugarbush (sugar maples) glades to the expansive 2,000 acres of the Slide Brook side-country terrain lift accessed between Lincoln Peak and Mt Ellen.
Get first tracks via Limousine, Sugarbush’s Lincoln Limo is a 12-passenger cat that takes eager skiers out early in the morning for freshies, a memorable experience for $75. Don’t be surprised if Win Smith jumps in. Or sign up for “Adventures with John Egan,” where this phenomenal local skier, and 14-time ski film star, will guide you into the backcountry.
The Clay Brook Inn, conveniently located in the heart of the Lincoln Peak Village, looks like a big red Vermont barn complete with silo. However, inside are sumptuous condo suites, with mountain views, ski concierge, underground parking, an outdoor heated pool, and hot tubs. Clay Brook is surrounded by Sugarbush’s Lincoln Peak Village, which is cleverly designed to resemble old Vermont farmhouses, barns, and even a schoolhouse that contains the kids' ski school programs.
It’s not just the ski terrain and architecture here that is authentic Vermont. The cuisine at Sugarbush captures the local harvest. The menu in the round barn "Timbers" features locally sourced produce as well as farm-raised meats and artisan cheeses from nearby Vermont farms. Across the pedestrian plaza, join the natives at Caslterock Pub for an après ski brew and some bravado tales of ripping up Castlerock’s trails. Or venture over to Chez Henri, celebrating its 50th year at Sugarbush, for a French flashback. Like Castlerock’s terrain, this café hasn’t changed.
By Heather Burke, Sugarbush Photos by Greg Burke