Sugarbush ski resort offers one of the premier ski experiences on the East Coast. Nestled in the picturesque Mad River Valley of Northern Vermont, Sugarbush is only a 3 hour drive from Boston and 5.5 hours from New York, but feels like a world away.
Sugarbush may not be the biggest, the tallest, or snowiest ski resort in the East, but it may just be the best. From lifts to terrain to ambiance, Sugarbush delivers an across-the-board experience that is difficult to match in New England. Long views from two of Vermont’s highest peaks across the majestic Mad River Valley compliment Sugarbush’s consistently top notch snow conditions.
When it opened, Sugarbush earned the nickname “Mascara Mountain” because it attracted so many movie stars and celebrities. Drawn by the ski area’s well-earned reputation for consistent snow and first class terrain, the Northeast’s social elite (including the Kennedy family) frequented the resort. Sugarbush even went out and attracted a celebrity to run its ski school, hiring the legendary Stein Erickson to found its ski school in the 1960s.
While the crowd may have changed a little since the resort’s first golden age in the 1960s, the skiing has not. With over 53 miles of trails spread across 2,600 vertical feet on peaks that top out at over 4,000 feet, Sugarbush is big time skiing. 250″ of snowfall blanket Sugarbush’s outstanding mix of rugged advanced terrain and well-groomed trails each year, making it easy to see why so many people fall in love with this charming Vermont resort. And speaking of golden ages, it’s plain to see Sugarbush is in the midst of a renaissance of sorts as owner Win Smith continues to reinvigorate the resort with new lifts and an exciting new base village at Lincoln Peak. Sugarbush’s village is highlighted by the new Claybrook hotel, one of the best ski in/ski out hotels in New England.
The ski area is actually comprised of two entirely separate ski complexes – Mount Ellen and Lincoln Peak. The two areas are connected by the world’s fastest express chairlift (the Slide Brook Express Quad) and by a shuttle bus from each parking lot.
Both Mount Ellen and Lincoln Peak provide skiing for all ability levels, but Lincoln Peak, the larger of the two areas by acreage, is considered by most to be the “main” base area and is home to Sugarbush’s new Claybrook base village and the legendary expert-only “Castlerock” area. Mount Ellen, however, is actually the taller of the two mountains and offers 2600′ of vertical drop compared to Lincoln Peak’s 2400′.
The highlight of any advanced skier’s visit to Sugarbush is Castlerock, an advanced skier’s paradise with no snowmaking or grooming. Skiing Castlerock is like taking a step back in time to an era when skiing was more primitive and natural. Or put differently, Castlerock offers a taste of the experience at neighboring Mad River Glen without forcing a guest to commit to an entirely throw back experience. Sugarbush has taken special care to preserve the character of this special section of the resort, even going so far as to replace Castlerock’s aging double chair with a new double chair that had the exact same uphill capacity. Modern technology permitted a quicker ride, but Sugarbush decided to space the chairs farther apart to ensure that the terrain receives the same number of skiers as it did prior to the replacement. That type of attention to detail is the hallmark of the Sugarbush experience.
Intermediate skiers will find Sugarbush offers a great variety of terrain on both Lincoln Peak and Mount Ellen. Intermediates can take the Jester trail from the top of Lincoln Peak or the Rim Run trail from the top of Mountain Ellen to ski the full vertical drop of each mountain. The views from the top are simply stunning and well worth the trek for solid blue skiers. Intermediates can expect each run to take at least 10-15 minutes. Another great blue square option is the Birch Run off the Lynx Triple at Lincoln Peak. Birch run is a groomed slope sprinkled with trees that offers high speed turns in the morning sunshine.
Beginner skiers won’t be able to get to the top of either Lincoln Peak or Mount Ellen, but should be sure to take the Green Mountain Express to the Glen House for a fantastic on-mountain lunch. The views and the food are fantastic and the Northway trail is a great novice cruiser on the way back down.
Updated Winter 2014-15 – David B. Cronheim
Sugarbush is actually two ski areas, Lincoln Peak and Mount Ellen, connected by an express quad. Both areas are quite large, and in fact were operated separately during Sugarbush's early years. Lincoln Peak has more skiable terrain, but is the shorter of the two peaks, with a summit elevation of 3975 feet and a 2400 foot drop.
Mount Ellen soars to over 4,000' (one of only four 4000' peaks in all of Vermont) and offers 200 more vertical feet than Lincoln Peak. Each mountains offers plenty of terrain to keep any level skier occupied for at least a day or two. Skiing the whole resort takes a few days - perfect for a short ski week or a long weekend.
Experts will love Sugarbush's challenging steeps, particularly the famous Castlerock area. However, many less well known steeper options are just as challenging. Upper FIS on Mount Ellen is a stern mogul examination conducted under the watchful eye of skiers riding the Summit Quad. Stein's Run on Lincoln Peak, named for ski school founder Stein Erickson, is often groomed and provides over 1000' of steep pitch before mercifully renlenting in a short runout to the base.
Intermediates have a wide range of options and will enjoy being able to ski off the summits of both peaks. Long blue cruisers are also a favorite amongst advanced skiers who enjoy carving long turns from top to bottom. Beginners might find the offerings slightly limited as the summits of both peaks offer only blue and black runs.
On the whole, Sugarbush is one of the East's top ski resorts. It is less crowded than competitors like Stowe and Killington with a rustic Vermont ambiance that feels entirely authentic. The terrain is perhaps the most varied and interesting in New England and the rapidly-expanding base village offers a convient and luxurious slopeside bedbase that appeals to an increasingly affluent demographic.
+ Castlerock and guided backcountry terrain for advanced skiers
+ New village with stong Vermont ambiance
+ Excellent snow quality
+ Modern lift network
- limited beginner terrain
At Lincoln Peak Base, the Super Bravo and Gate House Express Quads whisk skiers from the base village to the upper reaches of the mountain. At Mount Ellen, the Green Mountain Express Quad is the main uphill option, taking skiers to the base of the Summit Quad. Alternatively, the fixed grip Inverness Quad services some excellent intermediate terrain.
To connect from one mountain to the other, simply hop on the Slide Brook Express. The chair loads from both mountains, but usually only runs on weekends. Shuttles run regularly between both ski area bases 7 days a week.
No trip to Sugarbush would be complete without a ride on the Castlerock Double. Although the original chair was recently replaced, the new chair maintains the historic feel of its predecessor. The chairs are spaced roughly twice as far apart as on a normal double chair, keeping the number of skiers on Castlerock Peak very low. Just be sure you're an expert - there's no easy way down from the top.
Liftlines are generally reasonable, but when things get a little crowded, the Valley House Double at Lincoln Peak is rarely crowded, but still acccesses some great terrain like Stein's Run, a favorite of many an advanced skier.
One notable flaw in the lift system is that there is no top to bottom lift at either peak. Skiers looking to ski the mountain's complete vertical must take at least two lifts. Despite this drawback, the mountain is relatively easy to navigate and learning the lift layout is not difficult.
Sugarbush offers both single and multiday tickets. Discounts are available by purchasing online in advance directly from the resort's website. A joint Mad River Glen and Sugarbush "Ski the Valley" season pass is also available as is a severely discounted season pass for skiers still in their 20's.
If Sugarbush has a weakness, it is its relative lack of beginner terrain. Novice skiers will be disappointed to discover that Sugarbush does not have the type of top-to-bottom green cruiser runs offered by other Vermont resorts like Killington, Stowe or Smuggler's Notch. Most of the resort's beginner skiing is clustered around the base areas and at lower elevation. The beginner runs that Sugarbush does have, however, are impeccably groomed and always well-covered due to the resort's snowmaking power and the 250" of natural snowfall each winter.
At Lincoln Peak, there are a handful of easier runs off the Gatehouse Express quad (Pushover or Sleeper) but many of the blue runs at Lincoln Peak are better suited to intermediates and are not advisable for beginners looking to progress.
At Mount Ellen, beginners will find slightly more beginner terrain. The best (and longest) beginner runs are those off the Green Mountain Express near the Glen House mountain restaurant. Beginners will enjoy the views from the Glen House, particularly since most of Sugarbush's beginner terrain at lower elevation without the excellent views afforded from the upper mountain terrain. Northway to Walt's Trail is the longest green run available on either peak.
The Sugarbush ski school has a long and proud history. It was founded by legendary Norwegian skier Stein Eriksen. There is learning and beginner terrain at both Lincoln Peak and Mount Ellen, though the learning terrain is located solely at the bases areas. Lessons can be arranged at both Lincoln Peak and Mount Ellen base areas directly through the Sugarbush ski school.
Intermediate skiers love not only the large number of blue trails at Sugarbush, but also how varied the intermediate terrain is. There are wide open slopes like Inverness or Spring Fling as well as narrow, twisty trails like Lower Jester that typify the New England ski experience.
Lincoln Peak is a blue skier's playground. Every area besides the Castlerock offers trails suited to intemediates; Castlerock is strictly experts-only and should not be attempted by even strong intermediates. The Gatehouse Express Quad serves a half dozen groomed blues run that make great warm up runs. Of those intermediate trails, Sleeper is the most interesting because it is cut through a beautiful strand of hardwoods. The more daring will duck off into Sleeper Woods for an introductory level glade.
At the summit terminal of the Gatehouse Quad is the the North Lynx triple. Many skiers inadvisably skip this short triple lift because it serves only a handful of trails. Birch Run is a wide-open slope that really catches the early morning sunshine. As the name suggests, Birch Run has a few scattered birch trees along its length - just enough to give the flavor of skiing in the wild, but not so many as to scare even the rawest intermediate. Intermediates looking to stretch themselves might consider trying either of the two advanced runs (Morning Star and Sunrise) located next to Birch Run as all three runs are of very similar pitch.
Lincoln Peak's most interesting intermediate run, and one that advanced and intermediate skiers will both love, is Jester. Twisting and turning back and forth down the face of Lincoln Peak like an out of control roller coaster, Jester's relentless curves challenge skiers of all abilities to carve around every corner.
At Mount Ellen, the Inverness Quad service a handful of long blue cruisers, of which Inverness is the most fun because its wide open face allows for high speed turns. Up at the summit, Rim Rum offers a spectacular view of the Mad River Valley and the longest possible decent at the resort. The vistas of the surrounding countryside are absolutely breathtaking, as is a look over the precipice down the double black diamond Upper FIS headwall. Skip the super steep FIS and continue down Rim Rum all the way back to the Summit Quad.
On Lincoln Peak, Castlerock Peak offers the best expert terrain (more on Castlerock below). Aside from Castlerock, Ripcord and Stein's Run are the two most challenging slopes. Stein's Run is named for Stein Eriksen, the founder of the Sugarbush ski school and Olympic Gold Medalist. It is a run befitting its namesake. Organgrinder is a long black diamond that allows a skier to ski almost 2400' of continuous steep right down what was formerly a gondola liftline.
While the rest of Lincoln Peak certainly has great steeps, the first stop for any expert (particularly on a powder day is the legendary Castlerock). If you're an intermediate looking to push your boundaries, Castlerock is not for you. Castlerock is 100% natural terrain - you find it as Mother Nature and your fellow skiers and riders left it. Sugarbush doesn't make snow here or groom any of the runs and the snow doesn't get skied off due to the slow double chair which serves the terrain. It's hard core natural skiing at it's best and offers an experience very similar to the Mad River Valley's other ski resort - Mad River Glen (motto: "Ski it if you can"). The snow can be thin, it can be icy, but it can also be simply divine. It all depends on the snow.
Liftline and Rumble are unrelenting double blacks whose steep pitches will send you hurtling directly down the fall line. But our favorite run is Middle Earth, a long, narrow and winding bump run with a double fall line that will leave your legs begging for a groomer. Also be sure to check out Castlerock Run. It skis similarly to Middle Earth, but is a little wider and a little steeper. Alright, we may have just recommended every single main trail on Castlerock Peak, but the terrain is just that good…
Mount Ellen's expert terrain is often overlooked due to the popularity of Castlerock, but Mount Ellen still serves up an excellent assortment of steeps, mainly off the Summit Quad. Upper FIS, located alongside the Summit Quad, is the steepest bump run at either mountain. The bumps get big and the pitch is unrelenting - it's a true test for even the best bump skiers. Lower FIS is rarely skied because the entrance is difficult to find. Look for it to the skier's right of the Glen House Lodge. It's worth the effort, but snowboarders beware. There's a fairly long, flat runout at the end of the run which is often traversed by waterbars.
Exterminator is a popular choice among locals, as is the rarely-open Black Diamond. There is nothing particularly challenging off of the Inverness Quad nor the Green Mountain Express, Hammerhead and Tumbler are usually ungroomed and worth a run when the snow conditions are favorable.
Sugarbush's commitment to backcountry and off piste skiing makes it a hub of East Coast adventure and extreme skiers. Spring cat skiing on Mount Ellen and excursions into the Slidebrook wildness between Mount Ellen and Lincoln Peak are not to be missed.
Sugarbush offers a unique in-bounds backcountry and off-piste experience. A luxury 12-passenger luxury snowcat known as the "Lincoln Limo" whisks skiers to the summit of Lincoln Peak for first tracks on powder days. As Sugarbush's PR folks like to say, "When it's snowin', we're goin." On any day, groups of 8 or more can reserve the snowcat up to 48 hours in advance for first tracks. Groups meet at 6:45 am in Timbers Restaurant and the fee is $75 pp. First tracks cat skiing is recommended for intermediate and advanced skiers.
The real fun starts each spring when Mount Ellen becomes the exclusive domain of the cat. While Lincoln Peak remains open for lift-accessed skiing, groups of up to 12 can book this one of a king spring cat skiing experience. Sugarbush accepts reservations from the beginning of April until the snow melts. The experience costs $1800 for a group of up to 12 and includes a gourmet barbeque lunch at the Glen House on-mountain restaurant. For bigger groups, Sugarbush will even arrange to run the Summit Quad and have a private cookout.
Guests can hire a Sugarbush resort ski instructor to explore the resort's gladed and tree skiing terrain. When conditions are favorable, the resort leads "Outback" tours into the Slidebrook backcountry between Lincoln Peak and Mount Ellen. This guided backcountry exprience is well worth the price of a ski instructor for a day and is unique amongst ski resorts in the East. The tour is appropriate only for expert skiers comfortable skiing tight lines in the woods.
At Lincoln Peak, Allyn's Lodge at the top of the Super Bravo Quad is the place to go for mountaintop dining with a view. Seating is limited, but on sunny days, the picnic tables outside are a great place to take in the expansive vistas of the Mad River Valley below. Allyn's Lodge is accessible for intermediate and advanced skiers only. There are no beginner trails down from the restaurant.
In the village, the Gate House Lodge serves upscale cafeteria food including an excellent New England Clam Chowder, hot and cold gourmet sandwiches, and all the ski lodge basics. At peak times, seating can be limited at the Gate House as it is Sugarbush's most popular spot for on-mountain dining.
Downstairs at the Gate House Lodge, the newly-expanded Castlerock Pub serves local microbrews and pub grub daily until 5pm (later on weekends and holidays when there's après-ski entertainment). The Valley House Lodge located just uphill of the Lincoln Peak base area also offers standard cafeteria fare.
Across the plaza and attached to the Clay Brook Hotel, Timbers (pictured above) serves chic contemporary cuisine in a reproduction post and beam Vermont barn. The airy and spacious atmosphere compliments an outstanding farm to table menu.
At Mount Ellen, the Green Mountain and Mount Ellen lodges located at the base area serve standard cafeteria fare at reasonable prices. For those who don't want to come down off the mountain, the Glen House Lodge at the base of the Summit Quad is also an option. Although the menu is somewhat limited, it offers a great opportunity for beginner skiers to experience an on-mountain lunch because there are green trails to return to the base.
It's an energy you can't help but notice as you stroll the pedestrian village. Whether it's an employee handing you a complimentary cup of hot cider or cocoa as you descend the stairs after a long day of skiing or the bartender at the Castlerock pub serving you a cold beer on a warm spring afternoon, you can't help but notice everyone seems to be smiling.
The village was designed to fit harmoniously into the Vermont countryside. All the buildings were fashioned after common 19th century Vermont barn styles, giving the village a touch of artistic flair absent from the cookie-cutter villages at many resorts. Although the village is rather small, it's growing bigger every year.
The first phase of the village construction included Clay Brook Hotel, Timbers Restaurant, the Gate House Day Lodge Day (including the Castlerock Pub), and a small coffee shop. The most recently-completed phase included a new ski school building called the Farm House and the Rice Brook Residences.
If you're looking for good Vermont fare at reasonable prices, try the Sweetwood Grill and Bar. Timbers, located in the Lincoln Peak village and attached to the Clay Brook Hotel, is the best choice for upscale dining. The menu is creative continental and features many locally grown options. Be sure to try the yak when it's on the menu!
During peak season, guest can enjoy fireside dining at Allyn's Lodge, some 1500 feet above the valley. A snowcat (or snowshoes for the more adventuresome) brings skiers up. After dinner, diners have the option skiing down under the moonlight or a return trip on the snowcat. The skiing is recommended for intermediate and advanced skiers only. Beginners will likely prefer to take the snowcat down.
The bar scene at the resort itself is rather limited. While there are some bars along the access roads and Route 100, most are a bit off the beaten path and frequently almost exclusively by locals. On weekends, the Castlerock Pub can be hopping, but is generally an older crowd and the bar tends to close on the early side.
The best apres-ski options are located in the base lodges. The Castlerock Pub offers excellent pub grub and was newly-expanded to double its previous size. On weekends it remains open until midnight or 1am and there is often live music. The base lodges at Mount Ellen stay open until 5 or 6 and also often have live music. On the legal side, you must be 21 years old to drink in Vermont.
Timbers restaurant and bar at Clay Brook is also popular. Chez Henri (802-583 2600) is a classic French style bistro, open from 11.30 a.m. serving consistently good French cuisine.
The Common Man, on German Flats Road, (802 - 583 2800), reservations recommended, is also popular (www.CommonManRestaurant.com). In Warren, the Pitcher Inn, (802-49 6350 www.pitcherinn.com) owned by the Sugarbush Resort and a member of the Relais & Chateau group, has superlative dining, and more affordable fare in the Trackers Pub downstairs. Voted #1 in Vermont and in the US Top 100, the Pitcher Inn has 9 rooms plus two 2-bedroom suites, and breakfast and afternoon tea are included in their rates.
Snowmobiling, snowshoeing, (1-800-583-6300) and indoor tennis and racquets (1-800-583- 6700) can be booked through Sugarbush resort (1-800-53-SUGAR).
There is also an indoor rock climbing wall at the Sugarbush Health & Racquet Club (1-800-583-6700) For ski and snowboard rental, call 1-800-583- 6300.
The Sugarbush Health & Racquet Club (800-583 700) has pool, tennis, squash, racquetball, ping-pong and half-court basketball. It is possible to book a session with a personal trainer or join group fitness sessions. Massage therapy is also available by appointment. There is a range of drills and clinics for tennis enthusiasts.