Have you ever re-visited a ski resort and been completely surprised, in a good way? It's rare.
Most resorts seem smaller the second time around, or go the way of overdeveloped and discovered. That's what made our trip to Sugarbush this week so sweet. Of course, it didn't hurt that 24 inches of soft, new snow and March sunshine coincided with our reunion.
Sugarbush is just as beautiful as I remembered, with pastoral Vermont landscapes stretching below the birch-lined ski slopes with a panorama of Lake Champlain, Stowe, Killington, and even distant Mt. Washington. Thankfully much of Sugarbush's 111 classic trails remain unchanged too; long, scenic Jester and sunny Spring Fling, gutsy, natural knolls on Castlerock, and big bumps on Stein's and FIS.
But Sugarbush feels even bigger now with many more glades, some of which make the trail map but the best of which do not. We skied everything from groomed, confectionary sugar-like cord on Snowball and Sleeper, gentle to gritty glades filled with fresh pow from Eden to Paradise, Castlerock's long, twisty natural runs, and then the exciting adventure of Slidebrook's backcountry .
That's right, you can now ski Sugarbush's Slidebrook backcountry - 2,000 acres between Mt. Ellen and Lincoln Peak. You can hire a guide, like extreme ski film star turned resort ambassador John Egan, or explore on your own this unbelievable, outback tree skiing. Of all the backcountry I have skied in the East, this is the biggest and best-spaced, eclipsing Smugglers' back bowls and Jay Peak's off-piste. (Mind you, I haven't skied Sugarloaf's much-ballyhooed Brackett Basin yet.)
We bumped into owner Win Smith, who was out skiing his product, about which he later Facebooked, and blogged with "Win's word" on Sugarbush.com. That's what I call "owning up." After 28 years on Wall Street, Win seems very happy in his 4,000-acre playground encompassing the six peaks he purchased in 2001. Win proudly points out that from southernmost Spring Fling off 3,975-foot Lincoln Peak to 4,083-foot Mt. Ellen above Inverness is as many ridge miles as Vail.
As our legs got heavy, we were happy to valet our skis and stay slopeside at Clay Brook, the classy, country barn-style inn that serves as the lodging centerpiece of the new Lincoln Peak base area. Lincoln Peak's skier plaza is modeled after a Vermont-style village with a schoolhouse, farmhouse gatehouse, and Timbers Round Barn, all tasteful and functional.
Clay Brook's steamy, outdoor Jacuzzi, with a view of the slopes was the frosting on this sweet ski day. We didn't even get to ride the Lincoln Limo - a first tracks cat ride to ski pristine powder or cord. Of course, we found untouched snow all day long riding just a few of Sugarbush's 16 lifts, with no lift lines - just a few vacationers and locals. Sugarbush is under-skied, under-visited and just unbelievably sweet, worth some vertical if it's been a while since you skied this Vermont stash.
Photos by Greg Burke. For more of Heather’s ski tips, go to www.familyskitrips.com
Eric Wilbur is a lifelong recreational skier who spends most of his winter and spring in the mountains of New England. He does not ski in jeans. You can read more of Eric's work here.
Heather Burke is an award winning ski journalist with over a decade of ski news coverage. As a former ski instructor and a ski parent, she knows the ski biz from the inside out. She and her family visit New England ski resorts, as well as the West and Canada, to report on the latest trends and their best family finds. Her husband Greg takes all the accompanying photos, and their work can be seen at www.familyskitrips.com and www.luxuryskitrips.com.