The Bush is a bit too far from Saratoga (two and a half hours) to be feasible as a family day trip, so we drove up Sunday and overnighted at the Sugarbush Inn. Monday morning dawned crisp and clear, and after an excellent breakfast at the Inn (included), we were booting up in the lodge as the lifts started spinning at 9am.
Even though I've skied Sugarbush many times over the past 15 or so years, skiing there as a family for the first time is a whole new experience. Like some of the other northern Vermont mountains, Sugarbush strikes a good balance between being a skier's mountain while also appealing to families. For advanced skiers there's legendary expert terrain - some of the best in the East - like Castle Rock, Paradise, Stein's, and extensive tree skiing on and off the map. More than 40% of the mountain is rated black diamond. And although we visited on a quiet weekday when logistics are automatically easy, the skiers' lodge is excellent (though it's a bit of a hike), there's a large drop-off and unloading area, and there's plenty of intermediate terrain off both high speed quads at the Lincoln base area. True beginners may find limited terrain choices. Click here to read an excellent overview of Sugarbush, written by my buddy Damon, who's been an instructor at the Bush for the past
I planned on starting out the day by alternating between the Super Bravo and Gate House high speed quads, exploring some of the lower mountain blue and black trails. We stuck to that plan for a run or two, but then we found Sleeper (off the Gate House quad) and skied it for three runs straight. Sleeper may be the perfect family trail - it's got some pitch (the black-rated Sleeper Chute), it's got some trees (even though it's not really a glade) to make each run interesting and a little bit different, and it had some of the nicest snow on the mountain.
Following our Sleeper-fest we got back to the business of exploring the mountain. I really wanted to show everyone Castle Rock, the natural-snow-only pod of narrow, twisting trails. Middle Earth, one of Castle Rock's four main trails, had been recently groomed (a Castle Rock rarity), so I knew we had at least one route option that would be merely steep and tight (as opposed to steep and tight with huge moguls). I think the lift operator questioned my sanity when I boosted six-year-old Sylvie onto the double chair next to me. I know Beth questioned my sanity when she looked down from the chair at Lift Line, one of the gnarliest lines on the mountain. But the kids whizzed Middle Earth, and even Beth said she really liked Castle Rock when we got to the bottom.
I also wanted to show Daniel Paradise, which to me has always been the quintessential Sugarbush expert trail. Beth decided to sit this one out, but Sylvie absolutely insisted on going with us. She can power wedge her way down just about anything, and that's exactly what she did. We benefited from from the misfortune of weekend skiers: the Heaven's Gate chair spent most of the weekend on wind hold or maintenance delay, so the recent snowfall (7 inches in the past 3 days) had only seen light traffic.
Even though Vermont experienced the same rain and thaw we had in the Adirondacks 10 days earlier (as well as the thaws earlier in the season), conditions at Sugarbush on Monday were quite good, excellent really. Recent snow of the inch-here-inch-there variety added up to make a difference on both the groomed and ungroomed terrain. The groomed trails were stellar - smooth corduroy that held up all day. On trails that don't receive regular grooming, the half foot of new snow did a good job of softening the surfaces, though the hardpack sub-surface could still be found. As much as it pains this New Yorker to admit, Northern Vermont's advantage in natural snowfall is undeniable: the Bush's season-to-date snowfall is at 170", Gore and Whiteface are barely at 100".
A few runs off the North Lynx chair, a run down Spring Fling, and a couple final runs down Sleeper rounded out our day. For the last two runs Daniel switched over to his telemark gear, his second free-heel session. I'm certainly not going to push him to pursue telemark, but I love seeing him enjoy learning a new skill.
It's always great branching out and exploring a new ski area as a family. I've always enjoyed the terrain and snowfall of the northern Vermont resorts, and Sugarbush is probably the closest of those ski areas to Saratoga. Hopefully we'll score some more freebies at 2014's Warren Miller movie and make Sugarbush an annual family tradition.