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Sugarbush

By Bill Pennington
December 21, 2008
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(800) 537-8427 or (802) 583-6300; www.sugarbush.com

The Sugarbush secret is out. Long respected by industry insiders as one of the Northeast???s best mountains for overall terrain, Sugarbush spent much of the 1990s living in the shadow of its Vermont brethren, especially Killington, which was owned by the same company. Sugarbush added high-speed lifts in this period, but its base lodges were small and accommodations outdated. People who had skied there as children or college students remembered that Sugarbush was a great experience; they just didn???t remember to come back ??? not when every other resort seemed to building new hotel or slopeside condos, something Sugarbush did not have.

But under new ownership in the past several years, Sugarbush has earned newfound attention and made a dramatic comeback. It moved to No. 2 in Ski magazine???s rankings of Eastern United States resorts in 2008-9. Just three seasons ago, Sugarbush was No. 8 in the same ranking. Sugarbush has succeeded in upgrading its lodging and services with a new base village without losing its New England authenticity. Nestled in the Mad River Valley, where there still isn???t a single traffic light or fast-food joint, Sugarbush also appealed to those with a purist???s soul. The good news is you can now ski and ride at 50-year-old, splendid Sugarbush and also sleep in a plush ski-in, ski-out hotel or luxuriate in a spa.

Sugarbush has three diverse peaks: Lincoln <script>writeMapLink("http://www.nytimes.com/imagepages/2008/12/19/travel/escapes/sugarbush_map1.html",1);</script>, Castlerock <script>writeMapLink("http://www.nytimes.com/imagepages/2008/12/19/travel/escapes/sugarbush_map2.html",2);</script> and Mount Ellen <script>writeMapLink("http://www.nytimes.com/imagepages/2008/12/19/travel/escapes/sugarbush_map3.html",3);</script>. Lincoln is closest to the base lodging and principal services and has lifts that serve groomed steeps, some bump runs and various intermediate blues and beginner greens. Mount Ellen is the underused jewel with some expected cruisers and beginner trails but surprising challenges and glades. Castlerock is raw, ungroomed, take-no-prisoners and beloved by the hardy.

Sugarbush is not as far away as people think ??? it is south of Stowe, for example ??? but it is about a 70-minute drive north past the Killington, Stratton and Okemo resorts. There is no question this extra trip time has kept many thousands away from Sugarbush over the years, but that???s not all bad. Sugarbush is uncrowded compared with its rivals, even in recent seasons when it has seen more visitors than it has in a decade.

So while the Sugarbush secret may be out, the good news is it has the terrain and the room to grow with its popularity.

STATS
Vertical Drop: 2,600 feet
Terrain 35 percent expert; 45 percent intermediate; 20 percent beginner
Trails 111 covering 508 acres with 11 wooded areas
Lifts 16: 7 quads (5 high-speed), 2 triples; 4 doubles; 3 surface lifts
Price $72 for a full-day adult lift ticket
Rentals $38 for a ski/board package with boots
Average Season Dates Mid-November to mid-April

BEST MORNING RUN While everyone else is making a stampede to the Castlerock chair lift <script>writeMapLink("http://www.nytimes.com/imagepages/2008/12/19/travel/escapes/sugarbush_map4.html",4);</script> or charging toward the iconic Stein???s Run <script>writeMapLink("http://www.nytimes.com/imagepages/2008/12/19/travel/escapes/sugarbush_map5.html",5);</script>, take the Super Bravo quad chair <script>writeMapLink("http://www.nytimes.com/imagepages/2008/12/19/travel/escapes/sugarbush_map6.html",6);</script>, slip to skier???s right on Valley House Traverse <script>writeMapLink("http://www.nytimes.com/imagepages/2008/12/19/travel/escapes/sugarbush_map7.html",7);</script> and take a left into Twist <script>writeMapLink("http://www.nytimes.com/imagepages/2008/12/19/travel/escapes/sugarbush_map8.html",8);</script>. It has a double fall line, some funky bumps and gets a ton of snow. But no one is ever on Twist at this time of day. You???ll be by yourself. Old-timers remember when the trail was known as Lixie???s Twist, named for Lixie Fortna, an original Sugarbush employee whose daughter, Rosi, raced in the 1968 Winter Olympics.

BEST AFTERNOON RUN Jump on the North Lynx Peak lift <script>writeMapLink("http://www.nytimes.com/imagepages/2008/12/19/travel/escapes/sugarbush_map9.html",9);</script> and head to skier???s right and you???ll run into south-facing Birch Run <script>writeMapLink("http://www.nytimes.com/imagepages/2008/12/19/travel/escapes/sugarbush_map10.html",10);</script>. It gets good sun and also tends to be under the radar in terms of traffic flow. The North Lynx Peak <script>writeMapLink("http://www.nytimes.com/imagepages/2008/12/19/travel/escapes/sugarbush_map11.html",11);</script> is a nice little hideaway spot to end the day. If you???re tethered to Lincoln Peak, Murphy???s Glade <script>writeMapLink("http://www.nytimes.com/imagepages/2008/12/19/travel/escapes/sugarbush_map12.html",12);</script> is a popular pleasure.

INSIDER???S TIP Sugarbush gives guided outback tours of the Slide Brook Basin <script>writeMapLink("http://www.nytimes.com/imagepages/2008/12/19/travel/escapes/sugarbush_map13.html",13);</script>, the pitched forest descent between the Lincoln and Mount Ellen peaks. The tours are for skiers and riders over 10 years of age with black diamond trail ability and perhaps some experience in trees. You???ll receive some expert coaching in off-piste terrain. Tours last two to two and one-half hours. Call (888) 651-4827 ($68 a person; does not include lift ticket). Tours on weekends and holidays are 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. and on weekdays 10 a.m. (conditions permitting). There???s also a guided snowshoe tour of the area (same hours), which is home to bear, moose, lynx, coyote, bobcat, deer and turkey. It costs $47 and includes snowshoes and one lift ride to the area, but you have to be in good physical shape and have warm clothing and snow boots. A daypack is recommended.

FAMILY INFORMATION There are a variety of children???s programs depending on age and interest. Day Care Cubs is an indoor program for children 6 weeks to 6 years old (full day, $84; morning only, $58).

Microbears is an on-snow day care program that introduces potty-trained children at least 3 years old to skiing or riding. Mini Bears is designed for kids ages 4 to 7; Sugar Bears is for kids ages 7 to 12. The full-day price for each of the ???bear??? programs is $109 and includes lunch and lift ticket; half day is $79. Rentals are an additional $21 per day. Multiple-day passes are also available at reduced rates.

Additionally, adventure programs are offered during holiday weeks. In these programs, the morning is still dedicated to skiing or riding, but in the afternoon younger children may don snowshoes and go hiking, or build snow forts and shelters, or enjoy scavenger hunts, tree identification, animal tracking or letter boxing ($109 per day). Older children ??? 7 to 17 and comfortable on intermediate trails ??? can choose an adventure camp that will introduce them to backcountry and advanced skiing while exploring the steeps, bumps, air and trees in some of Sugarbush???s wildest terrain. A freestyle camp is available to kids 9 to 17 with the focus on switch riding, carving, basic rails and straight airs before progressing to bigger air and linked maneuvers. Two- and four-day Junior Holiday Race Camps are for kids 7 to 14 who train with top coaches (camps are $236 for two days, $404 for four days). Kids??? private and semiprivate lessons are available every day, weather permitting (for snowboarders under 7 years of age, it???s the only instruction offered). Private lessons run $100 for the first hour and $75 for each additional hour. Semiprivate lessons are also available ($25 for an additional child). For reservations call (888) 651-4827 or e-mail skiandrideschool@sugarbush.com.

Web site: www.sugarbush.com/vermont-skiing-snowboarding/kids-programs-lessons.

DINING

Breakfast Easy Street Cafe & Restaurant (6163 Main Street Waitsfield; 802-496-7234; www.easystreetmarket.com). You can create your own egg wrap or choose the homemade granola. Omelets, buttermilk pancakes and home fries are popular, with a price range from $3.50 to $7.95. Breakfast hours are Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 11 a.m., weekends, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.

If you are a little pressed for time, make a stop on the access road a quarter mile before the Lincoln Peak base area at the Paradise Deli and Market (802-583-2757; 2367 Sugarbush Access Road, Warren). Get the breakfast burrito with Joe B???s Sauce ($4.69). That will hold you over well past lunch.

ON-MOUNTAIN DINING

Located in a spectacular round barn setting across a courtyard from the new Gate House base lodge in Lincoln Peak, Timbers Restaurant <script>writeMapLink("http://www.nytimes.com/imagepages/2008/12/19/travel/escapes/sugarbush_map14.html",14);</script> (802-583-6800) has 45-foot vaulted ceilings and a timber-and-beam construction style that melds with the views of the mountain. Local foods and products are available throughout the menu. Timbers is open for lunch on weekends and holidays, and dinner Thursday through Monday. On the dinner menu, there are a variety of steaks, and a Mad River Valley yak served with a choice of six sauces, a choice of three kinds of potatoes and a large side dish ($28 to $42). Another recommended choice is the Macallister Farms pork, which is a local pork braised slowly with grilled onions and fig demi sauce ($18).

HIGH-END IN-TOWN DINING

The Pitcher Inn (275 Main Street, Warren; 802-496-6350; www.pitcherinn.com). Situated in a tiny, classic New England village, the Pitcher Inn is a jewel of sophisticated dining off a remote rural country road. The menu, which changes almost daily, is replete with brilliantly prepared dishes, from the Nantucket Bay scallops in a saffron broth with crimini mushrooms, pancetta and grilled bread ($17) to the braised Colorado lamb shank with orzo, tomatoes and French feta for $30. This may be Vermont???s best restaurant. But if fine dining doesn???t fit into your plans, on a lower floor of the inn is Tracks Lounge, a welcoming pub with a fireplace lounge and game room. It offers a small-plate dinner menu with prices $10 to $20. The Pitcher Inn also has 11 rooms and suites.

LOW-END IN-TOWN DINING

John Egan???s Big World Pub and Grill (corner of Route 17 and Route 100, Waitsfield; 802-496-3303; www.bigworldvermont.com). Named for the famed extreme skier who calls Sugarbush home, Egan???s is a popular place serving burgers, salads and pastas with daily specials and slightly pricier entrees. The pub and grill???s motto is ???Feels like home, no matter where you???re from,??? and it does. Menu items range from $4.25 to $27.95.

NIGHT LIFE

Apr??s-Ski

Castlerock Pub (2405 Sugarbush Access Road, Warren; 802-583-6594). Doubling the size of this on-mountain apr??s-ski spot and adding a deck on top facing the mountain trails make it easy for skiers and riders to wander in from the slopes.

Another choice away from the lifts is the historic Hyde Away Inn and Restaurant on Route 17 in Waitsfield (802-496-2322; www.hydeawayinn.com). With a rustic red-barn-look and silo, the cozy tavern in the Hyde Away has been hosting rocking off-mountain parties for decades. A favorite of the year-round residents.

Apr??s Apr??s-ski

This is central Vermont; there isn???t a lot of night life. But locals, and some visitors, head to the Local Folk Smokehouse (9 Route 17, at the corner of Route 100, Waitsfield; 802-496-5623). There???s live music most weekends and 18 beers on tap.

LODGING

Frugal

The Millbrook Inn and Restaurant, 533 Mill Brook Road Waitsfield; 802-496-2405; www.millbrookinn.com). Five minutes from the Mount Ellen base area (and not far from the Mad River Glen ski area), Millbrook Inn and Restaurant has seven charming rooms with private baths in a 1850s farmhouse. There is an intriguing restaurant and quiet living rooms for book reading, but there???s also high-speed wireless. Double occupancy bed-and-breakfast rates are $110 to $130 or $170 to $190 with dinner. The innkeepers are celebrating their 30th year of ownership in 2009.

Not So Frugal

The Clay Brook, residences and condo hotel (1840 Sugarbush Access Road, Warren; 800-537-8427 or 802-583-6300; www.sugarbush.com). With slopeside residences at the heart of the base village, the Clay Brook is the lodging property that changed the feel of Sugarbush when it opened two years ago. Extremely convenient, with stylish, thoughtfully designed rooms, Clay Brook is steps across a heated walkway to the lifts. Units range from studios to five-bedroom suites. There???s underground parking, ski valet and grocery delivery service and heated pool and hot tubs. Ski-and-stay packages begin around $600 a person for two nights and a two-day lift ticket to Sugarbush.

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