When Les Otten & Co. took the controls at Sugarbush, they cranked up the volume at this venerable Vermont resort-more lifts, more snow and more trails-and proclaimed it "the new Sugarbush." Five years and more than $30 million later, the real news is that the heart and soul of the area remain intact. Though a prized American Skiing Co. property, the 'Bush will never be confused with Killington. Its Mad River Valley setting is just too lovely, even if it's "not easy to get to," as more than a few readers complain. Well, let the masses pack the Pickle Barrel; Sugarbush is worth the extra mile. Quintessentially New England, Sugarbush has more cozy hideouts spread across six peaks than an oversized Victorian. Not surprisingly, "variety of terrain" was a recurring compliment among readers. "Classic style and layout," says one. Regulars work the mountain according to the sun and conditions to make the most of the somewhat pricey lift tickets. Off the hill, readers complain about the dearth and continuing decline of slopeside lodging-a problem the resort tried to address with its failed bid to build a base hotel. But top-notch dining for any budget and the relatively pristine mountain environment help balance the scales. The resort strikes some as suffering from a case of split personality. Indeed, the 'Bush has always been a bit of a hippie in designer jeans. From the understated style of Stein Eriksen in the Sixties to the high-decibel antics of freeskier John Egan today, all types have found a home at Sugarbush. If the resulting vibe isn't exactly harmonious, at least it adds to the collective soul.
A GOOD DEAL Opening weekend Ullr Festival (Nov. 18): Dress like the Norse Snow God and get a $30 lift ticket. Snowfest (Nov. 19): Bring a can of food for local food banks and ski for $30.
MEDALS GOLD Terrain, Challenge; SILVER Dining
HIGH/LOW RANKING Dining (31), Après-Ski (38), Lifts (38); Snow (60), Value (67), On-Mountain Food (74).
WHAT'S NEW Perestroika with nearby Mad River Glen: Stay three or more nights in local lodging and enjoy reciprocity on lift tickets.
DON'T MISS Elegant dining at the stylish Pitcher Inn in Warren Village, or wood-fired pizza at American Flatbread in Waitsfield.
READER REMARKS (+) "Love the selection of terrain: Enough for any man, woman, child or beast." (-) "Lodge is dated and small."