There’s no sugar coating it. Sugarbush is one sweet ski resort for the whole family.
Our family ski experience there started with “May I help you carry your skis?” and ended with “have a great day!” I later learned the young men and women in the blue jackets are referred to as “Sugar Sherpas,” and it’s clear their role is to ensure you start and finish the day with a friendly greeting. This is just one of the many details that go into making Sugarbush Resort one incredible skiing experience for everyone from families to couples, skiers to boarders and first-timers to old-timers.
We visited Sugarbush on Martin Luther King’s birthday weekend after a blizzard dumped two feet of snow two days earlier. We anticipated crowds, and indeed we joined the exodus of skiers and boarders making “the big schlep” from the parking lot to the lodge. Yet with its campus of base lodges, ski school buildings and ticket sales locations, once to the base we were easily able to find a place to sit, stow gear and suit up, even with six of us.
We were skiing with friends and our family which includes two “tweens”. The key to a successful day on the slopes with tweens is managing attitudes, and at that age there is plenty of attitude to go around. As long as the parents remember that the world revolves around the tweens, all is well. This means keeping kids warm, skiing where they like to go and ideally bringing additional friends along. Sugarbush makes it easy to keep them happy with short lift lines, plenty of skiing options and mid-mountain lodges for hot chocolate.
They key to Sugarbush’s family success is the variety of options off each lift. Almost all lifts access at least one if not many beginner green and intermediate blue trails, along with black and double black options too. If your family is like mine, the Mom (me) is the slower skier, and the kids and Dad want to go for it. We could all ride the chairlift together, then split up. I could take a cruiser, while the rest of the mogul hounds pounded through the bumps. This kept everyone happy; remember it’s all about managing attitudes.
Sugarbush is a mountain of split personality. It offers five distinct mountain settings including Gadd Peak, Lincoln Peak, Castlerock Peak, North Lynx Peak, and Mount Ellen, all easily accessible from one another and serviced by a network of quads, triple and double lifts and multiple base and midstation lodges. Mount Ellen, more distinctly separate yet still accessible to the rest of the trails via the Slide Brook Express quad, running in both directions, has more of a classic New England ski area feel with equally fine lifts and trails yet a smaller price tag for lift tickets, making it the value choice.
Sugarbush has multiple base buildings, including the brand new Schoolhouse kid’s ski school building offering an impressive array of murals and paintings by local artists and a state-of-the art ski school program. Touring with Sugarbush President, Win Smith Jr. and his son Win Smith III, along with Director of Marketing, Candace White and Win’s financee, I felt a bit like royalty. Smith explained that the new Schoolhouse building was designed entirely for ease in registration and all operations are designed to get kids out on the snow as fast as possible. One look at the kid’s equipment rental room made it clear this is a well-organized operation. The Schoolhouse is dominated by hand painted murals from local Vermont painters depicting wildlife indigenous to Vermont. Be sure to look closely for “Rumble”, Smith’s Bernese Mountain Dog, carefully incorporated into a few of the murals. Smith shared that recently a woman approached him and asked if the “President” on his name badge referred to his last name or his title. Upon learning it was his title, she lost no time in telling him the Sugarbush children’s ski school was the best in the country, in her opinion.
Next we toured the new Farmhouse building home to the adult ski school, ski tuning, day lockers, changing rooms and the new Sunrise Café. Another slick rental facility in the Farmhouse is the perfect way to start the learn-to-ski process and the First Timer to Life Timer Program hooks new skiers with the promise of a season pass after three lessons. Smith explained they’ve already given more than 100 season passes this year to those who’ve completed the program. We spent some time observing the Wintersteiger Trimjet machine in the Tuning Shop located in the Farmhouse. The only one of its kind in the Valley, this machine puts factory finish on the ski edge; I was amazed at the before-and-after look of the ski, especially after the entire tune-up process was complete, and made a mental note to drop off my skis that night.
We skied Lincoln Peak and Castlerock Peak the first day, taking advantage of the new snow. I was convinced we lucked out with the best conditions of the season, until we received another seven inches of snow the second day there and were treated to a bona fide powder day. Covered in new snow, the pine trees reminded me of a winter Christmas scene. They almost appeared plastic with so much perfect snow hanging from the boughs.
Always in search of powder, my husband likes to ski along the edge of the trail. An expert skier, he rarely falls, but this time he took a header into the woods, and his last fleeting thought before hitting the tree was how glad he was that he was wearing a helmet. I skied by without noticing the crowd that gathered to make sure he was alright, but managed to reach him after he called out my name. Luckily, he was fine; he got off with a bent pole and the bruise to his leg was nowhere as bad as the bruise to his ego. He managed to climb out of the woods and ski the rest of the day, testimony to his tenacious passion for skiing.
Having lost my sunglasses on the first run and sacrificed the balaclava at the base lodge, the wind and cold feet necessitated a hot chocolate stop in the Allyn Lodge at midstation. The kids were all for it too. I was impressed by the composting toilets and the commitment to eco-operations; for instance, food in the children’s ski school is carefully composted. Yet there’s still a sense of whimsy here. I spied the plastic flowers and the whirly gigs at the top of the Super Bravo Quad and had to smile.
It started snowing around noon; big fluffy flakes. It didn’t stop snowing for the rest of the weekend. The second day of our visit, we opted for Mount Ellen and we were treated to undoubtedly the best skiing day of the year. While the base lodge was crowded, we were all amazed at the ability to move people up and around the mountain.
Powder run after powder run was our tweens idea of fun until the younger one took a head plant. Sadly, that was the end of the day for her. The rest of us powered through soft bumps and powder on runs like Joe Cruiser, Rim Run, Elbow, Tumbler and Which Way. We never waited in a lift line longer than a minute or two, and on many lifts we were able to ski up and on. Part of me wished the lines were a little longer; the ride up was barely enough time to give my legs time to recover before the next run.
When asked at the end of the trip what they liked best, our oldest took no time to express that her favorite part was the moguls and the snow. A true bump buster at heart, she’s always in search for the ultimate mogul run. The youngest loved the food and the great snow, and my husband could only answer that they had lovely woods! Hitting such an incredible snow weekend was a bonus for all of us.
Keeping the Tips Up:
A few tips to make your Sugarbush family experience even better:
1) Take the Sugar Shuttle up from the parking lots rather than doing the big “schlep” or let the Sugar Sherpas help; it’s well worth it.
2) On a crowded day, try the new Sunrise Café in the Farmhouse building; it’s brand new (opened in December) so it’s still a relative secret.
3) On holiday weekends, don’t miss the Farmer’s market at Timbers Restaurant for a wonderful taste of Vermont (I tasted spicy Yak sausage).
4) They’ve hidden opportunities for delighting kids throughout the mountain. Look for culverts-turned-slides and an old enclosed gondola and you’ll see smiling faces. For adults, there are firepits and plenty of pubs or finer dining opportunities to help manage Mom and Dad’s attitude too.
5) Check the activity calendar – when the lifts close there’s still plenty to do. On holiday weekends, Sugarbush hosts torch light parades, fireworks, kids and teens night out parties, and much more. Every weekend cabin cat tours are offered, along with dinners at the midstation Allyn Lodge with guided skiing by head lamp down to the base to top off the night.