STORY BY BENJAMIN LERNER
PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY SUGARBUSH RESORT
As you make your way towards Sugarbush Resort on State Route 100, the winding turns of the country road gracefully carve through the peaks and valleys of central Vermont like a skier through freshly fallen powder. Standing at the southwestern edge of the Mad River Valley, the glinting tops of the snowcapped trees that cover Sugarbush’s twin mountains serve as an inviting beacon for approaching skiers and vacationers. Though Sugarbush’s diverse array of ski trails provides thrilling recreational opportunities for skiers and riders of all skill levels, a trip to the charming towns surrounding Sugarbush Resort is every bit as memorable as a spirited ride down the slopes.
Sugarbush is well known for its exquisitely-developed trail system and varied ski terrain. The trails on the two mountains at Sugarbush – Lincoln Peak and Mount Ellen – are all organized into smaller sub-regions. Instead of relying on a singular lift that leads to the top of each peak, Sugarbush uses an intelligently-designed lift system that efficiently moves skiers around the mountains with minimal lift lines. All of Sugarbush’s 16 operational lifts are purposely placed in locations that allow skiers of all different skill levels to explore the mountains with optimum ease and comfort. Novice skiers will no doubt flock to the “Welcome Mat” surface lift at the bottom of Lincoln Peak. The Welcome Mat is a perfect place for first timers to perfect the fundamental skiing skills necessary to progress onward to the “Village Quad” lift. From there, the possibilities are limitless. Intermediate skiers and riders will relish the breathtaking views of the “Jester” trail on Lincoln Peak, and the “Panorama” trail on Mount Ellen. Both trails begin at the top of their respective mountains, and provide spectacular panoramic vistas overlooking nearby Lake Champlain.
For skiers with an appetite for altitude and adventure, the “Castle Rock” lift area on Lincoln Peak is legendary for its classic New England-style skiing. According to Sugarbush’s Public Relations and Communications Manager John Bleh, “experienced skiers who are looking to ski on old-school style trails with natural snow and exciting rocky and bumpy terrain elements are going to have an incredible time skiing the Castle Rock section of Lincoln Peak. We don’t make any snow over there. We rarely groom it. We purposely avoid making man-made snow on a little more than a quarter of our terrain. Our clientele really enjoy the exhilarating experience of going back to the elements and skiing on that natural snow.”
Bleh says that another element that distinguishes Sugarbush from other resorts in the eyes of veteran skiers is “an area in between Mount Ellen and Lincoln Peak called the ‘Slide Brook Basin’. That area has some really phenomenal side-country woods skiing. The best thing about it is that it’s incredibly easy to access. The most popular way to access the backcountry is from the top of the North Lynx lift section on Lincoln Peak. From there, you can ski down the backside of that hill. It’s perfect for expert riders who really want to experience some challenging and spectacular tree skiing. It all funnels out at the bottom to the road that connects the two base areas of Lincoln Peak and Mount Ellen. You can catch a shuttle bus there to get back to the base areas and get another run in on a lift. It’s a great way to approach backcountry skiing – it’s like the best of both worlds.”
For ambitiously motivated trick skiers and snowboarders, the Riemergasse terrain park on Mount Ellen is well known for its innovative layout and flow. Bleh reveals that “what distinguishes Sugarbush’s terrain park from the parks at other resorts is the way that we laid out the elements. Instead of just placing one big jump after another in rapid succession, we created our terrain park in the style of a skateboard park. It’s very wide and open. We want riders to be able to have lots of space to design their own runs. At any given part of the terrain park trail, there are four or five different features that our riders could hit. We want people to be able to create a different line and hit different features every time they go down.”
Intrepid skiers who prefer a more intimate and personalized Sugarbush experience will adore an exclusive nighttime or early morning trip on the Cabin Cat, a full-track snow truck that has been modified with the addition of a fully-enclosed heated cabin. Affectionately nicknamed the “Lincoln Limo” due its comfortable plush seats and flat-screen television, the Cabin Cat is available for rent for a number of unique ski adventures. The “Sunrise First Tracks” program brings skiers to the top of the North Lynx area of Lincoln Peak for private runs before the lifts open to the public.
At night, the Cabin Cat takes on a more glamorous ambiance for the “Remote Fireside Dinners” hired event program series – which hearkens back to Sugarbush’s past roots as a fashionable winter destination for New York City socialites in the 1950s and 1960s. Groups of guests can hire the Cabin Cat for a private trip to Allyn’s Lodge, a warm and inviting refuge located mid-mountain on Lincoln Peak. Upon arrival, guests are greeted with a delicious five-course meal, complete with a champagne toast and hors d’oeuvres. After savoring every delicious bite, the nocturnally energized winter revelers can either return to the Base Lodge in the effortless comfort of the Cabin Cat, or ski down under the gorgeously atmospheric light of a wintry moonlit sky.
Mere minutes from the powder-laden inclines of Mount Ellen and Lincoln Peak, cozy and pleasant accommodation options lie just beyond the base of the mountains. With sumptuous suites, an on-site gym, and an outdoor pool for the summertime months, the Clay Brook Inn offers guests a perfect place to enjoy a rejuvenating rest after a long and fulfilling day of athletic recreation. Further down the road, the Sugarbush Inn offers a traditional Vermont country inn lodging experience, complete with charming woodland views and rustic décor. For those who wish to reserve a private residence for their Sugarbush stay, a range of stylishly-appointed condominiums are available for rental booking through the resort website.
For delectable on-site dining, Rumble’s Bistro offers an American-style menu which incorporates locally sourced produce, meats, and cheeses to create an eclectically appetizing menu with seasonally rotating options. In addition to the Sugarbush base village, the nearby towns of Warren and Waitsfield offer enticing retail and leisure options for both families and romantically-minded couples.
According to John Bleh, “there’s a common saying about the Mad River region of Vermont: ‘You come for the mountains, but you stay for the valley.’ It’s a very vibrant community. We’ve done a lot of base area development in the last 10 or 15 years at Sugarbush to be able to provide all of the amenities that people would want up at the resort, but the truth is that we really want people to go and explore the nearby towns! Warren and Waitsfield are so close by, and there are so many great entertainment options to explore. Waitsfield has a couple of great breweries. Lawson’s Finest Liquids in Waitsfield is an incredibly popular destination. They recently built a really great taproom. It’s built with beautiful traditional Vermont-style post and beam architecture. It’s the perfect place to grab a great Vermont-made beer or a tasty snack. Cousin’s Brewery in Waitsfield, and Collaborative Brewing in Waitsfield are also very popular. There’s a great beer scene there. Warren is a classically enchanting Vermont small village. It’s got a really cute general store called the Warren Store. It’s such a beautiful and memorable place to spend an afternoon.”
Bleh adds that “one of the best things about Sugarbush and the Mad River Valley is that it’s not just a wonderful ski destination in the winter – it’s also a fantastic summer getaway. We have a really fun and tricky 18-hole golf course with some incredible features that was designed by a well-known course designer named Robert Trent Jones Sr. We also do lift-serve mountain biking up on Lincoln Peak. The mountain biking scene has really exploded here recently. From our downhill bike trails at Sugarbush and the Vermont Mountain Biking Association’s network of cross-country mountain biking trails in the Mad River Valley, there is now so much varied terrain to enjoy here both in the winter and the summer. Scenic lift rides in the summer are a perfect way to take in some truly remarkable views – and don’t get me started on hiking. There are countless beautiful trails and local swimming holes around here that are perfect for family outings. At the end of a satisfying summer day, nothing beats a nice dinner with an unforgettable view. There are so many restaurants in the Mad River Valley that have great outdoor dining. It’s a feast for the senses in more ways than one.”
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