Skiing in Sugarbush

Sugarbush claims to be “Pure Vermont” and delivers on that promise. Sugarbush is New England skiing at its finest. While resorts to the south like Killington or Mount Snow are arguably more popular (i.e. they attract bigger crowds), those fortunate to ski at this Warren, Vermont gem aren’t complaining. Liftlines are short and the vertical is long.


Sugarbush Ski Area Overview

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.

Sugarbush Pros and Cons

+ Castlerock and guided backcountry terrain for advanced skiers

+ New village with a stong Vermont ambience

+ Excellent snow quality

+ Modern lift network

– limited beginner terrain

Beginner Skiing at Sugarbush

Beginner skiing at Sugarbush is limited. Both Lincoln Peak and Mount Ellen offer novice runs, but most are at lower elevations.

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 elevations. 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 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 is at lower elevations 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 base areas. Lessons can be arranged at both Lincoln Peak and Mount Ellen base areas directly through the Sugarbush ski school.

Intermediate Skiing at Sugarbush

Sugarbush’s intermediate skiing is varied and interesting. Intermediates can ski from the summits of both Lincoln Peak and Mount Ellen and there are several pods of terrain at both mountains that will keep blue skiers engaged for several days.

Sugarbush Intermediate Skiing

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 beside the Castlerock offers trails suited to intermediates; Castlerock is strictly experts-only and should not be attempted by even strong intermediates. The Gatehouse Express Quad serves a half dozen groomed blue runs 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 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 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 services 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 descent at the resort. The vistas of the surrounding countryside are 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 back to the Summit Quad.

Advanced & Expert Skiing at Sugarbush

With steep runs on seemingly every face and plenty of natural snowfall, Sugarbush’s expert skiing is among the best in the East. Sugarbush is renowned for its steep slopes and trees. Both Lincoln Peak and Mountain Ellen offer oodles of expert terrain that’s sure to test even the most advanced expert.

Sugarbush Expert Skiing

Lincoln Peak Expert Skiing

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 Expert Skiing

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 Catskiing & Backcountry

Sugarbush’s backcountry skiing is first-rate. Sugarbush offers some of the East’s best backcountry and off-piste skiing. Cat skiing and Slidebrook excursions are available through the resort’s ski school, which was founded by the legendary Stein Erikson.

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 Cat Skiing

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 going.” On any day, groups of 8 or more can reserve the first tracks snowcat up to 48 hours in advance. Groups meet at 6:45 am in Timbers Restaurant. 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-kind 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.

Sugarbush Backcountry Skiing

Guests can hire a Sugarbush resort ski instructor to explore the resort’s glades 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 experience 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.

Sugarbush Mountain Restaurants

Sugarbush’s mountain restaurants are highlighted by the Gate House Lodge and the Castlerock Pub and Timbers Restaurant.

Sugarbush Mountain Restaurants

Lincoln Peak On-Mountain Dining

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 5 pm (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.

Mount Ellen On-Mountain Dining

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.


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