2002 Number 7 Resort in the East: Sugarbush, Vt.

Resorts Sugarbush horiz pow pic J 1000

"Modernizing the Castlerock double? How dare they?" asks a reader. Relax, 'Rock-heads. Sugarbush managers know better than to mess with perfection. They've promised that the work on the resort's oldest chair-mandated by state inspectors-won't change its character or do anything rash like increase capacity. The Castlerock pod, a handful of challenging, twisting trails untouched since their conception in the Sixties and the closest thing to church for many a Mad River Valley expert, is an important but small part of Sugarbush's appeal. Equally important components: big-mountain terrain spread over what used to be two ski areas; inspiring views from the Green Mountains; and an uncommonly beautiful farming-turned-resort community that hasn't been spoiled by its success. One reader sums it up: "Terrain, challenge, beauty and rustic New England charm." Sugarbush links two areas-Lincoln Peak, home of Castlerock, and Mt. Ellen, north via the scenic Slidebrook Express. Either area could stand on its own. Together they seem endless. A few readers find Sugarbush expensive. Many can hardly find it at all, hidden as it is in the heart of Vermont. "Middle of nowhere," says one. And some sense neglect at the hands of its owner, American Skiing Co. "Base lodges are old and cramped" is a common refrain. Off-hill, the Mad River Valley offers just enough in the way of dining, après (once you know where to look) and other diversions to keep the faithful happy while still keeping it real. "Laid back; no hype," says a reader. "Classic New England skiing." It's all good at Sugarbush-as long as they don't mess with the 'Rock.

WHAT'S NEW Mandatory upgrade of the Castlerock double.

A GOOD DEAL The Sugar Card: $39, gets you $39 lift tickets any day except Saturday, all season long.

MEDALS GOLD Terrain, Challenge; SILVER Dining, Après-Ski, Family Programs.

HIGH/LOW RANK Terrain (19), Dining (19), Challenge (22); Lifts (49), On-Mountain Food (49), Access (56).

DON'T MISS Lunch at Chez Henri: classic French bistro fare and ambience, slopeside at Lincoln Peak.

READER REMARKS (+) "Worth the drive to avoid southern Vermont crowds." "New England charm will blow you away."
(-) "Neglected. Needs base-to-summit lifts and new base lodges." "ASC food sucks."