By Sandy MacDonald
I think I’m in love with Win Smith – whom I’ve never met. We have so much in common: an appreciation for Vermont vernacular architecture, and a love of skiing. I hear he puts in more than a hundred days per season at Sugarbush, the resort he rescued from the cookie-cutter clutches of the now-defunct American Skiing Company in 2001.
The result of his intercession is that, instead of the gulag-style condo complex that ASC would surely have erected, the base area boasts on-slope lodging, the Clay Brook Hotel, themed along the lines of a luxury barn: red siding, silo and all. Of course, not every farmhouse comes with a heated outdoor pool plus a pair of hot tubs, but to my mind that’s sheer oversight on the part of the early settlers.
Sugarbush’s once-ratty base area (built decades ago, when the resort had a 1-percenter rep as “Mascara Mountain”) is now centered on a handsome complex housing a fair-priced food court and pub, along with a Wafle Shak (consider a topping of, say, chocolate fondant and candied bacon). You can pre-order skiing/snowboarding/snowshoeing equipment at the rental building nearby (it’s all computerized: you’ll be in and out, fully equipped, in a flash), and park any not-quite-mountain-ready kids in the Schoolhouse. Every convenience has been thought of and attended to, with style. Thanks, Win!
We spent a couple of midweek, way-below-freezing days in late February during what aficionados were hailing as the best season in memory. The snow was in optimal condition, after a solid month without a single thaw, and – thanks to the unforgiving mercury – crowds were nonexistent: we got a bit huffy whenever a random skier or two ventured onto “our” slopes.
I must thank Win for keeping the mountain set up so that, even at top capacity, the area’s lifts – 16 in all, spanning three peaks and 111 trails – distribute skiers in such a way that hordes fail to form. There are no straight-to-summit chairs, for one thing, which means that learners are largely concentrated on the lower slopes. Experts have their own black-diamond-only terrain as well: infamous Castle Rock attracts a self-select audience of bump-crazed experts. Truly elite skiers can tromp off along the ridgeline and vault straight into the glades.
The bulk of the trails are intermediate-friendly blues, but not the broad, predictable, boring kind. These easy-enough ways down often feature a smattering of trees, or some tollroad-style detours into the woods. We spent three days happily exploring, never knowing quite where we were, and not much caring, because pleasurable options kept popping up as we roamed.
Right now the season is expected to extend to mid-May. If you want to get a jump on next year, Sugarbush is offering some unbeatable deals on season passes. Many are designed to attract young adults – in-betweeners no longer on the parental dime, but not yet recompensed adequately to afford this relatively pricy sport. Factor in the exhilaration to be found in exploring nature while most mortals fearfully hunker down at home, and it’s an outright steal.
About Sandy MacDonald
Sandy Macdonald is a theatre critic and travel writer; details at sandymacdonald.com