2003 Number 12 Resort in the East: Sugarbush, VT.

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If resorts had therapists, Sugarbush would be diagnosed as "borderline bipolar, monitor for schizophrenia." Fortunately, it's open-minded enough (and big enough) that the shabby and the chic can peacefully coexist for the love of a mountain. Actually, it's two mountains. And while management can keep referring to them as Mt. Ellen and Lincoln Peak, they'll always be "North and South," respectively, to the faithful, who say it's "worth the extra hike up the road from Killington" to get to "some of the best terrain in the East." Last season the 'Bush bucked the consolidation trend, going indy after a half-dozen years under American Skiing Co.'s corporate logo. Like a midlife rocker suddenly free of a major-label contract, Sugarbush has shown newvigor. "Much better without ASC," swears one fan of the central-Vermont resort. The new management proved its mettle by replacing the antiquated Castlerock lift without increasinguphill capacity or fiddling with the rhythm of the place where experts go to sing hallelujahs. This year the new team turns back the clock at North-er, Mt. Ellen-by restoring high-speed-quad service to the base of the summit chair. Putting a lift back where it belongs not only cuts the commute; it also allows the resort to offer the high-altitude early- and late-season skiing for which it was long famous. True, the 'Bush hasn't gotten any closer to Connecticut. But with Sugarbush's gold-medal terrain now getting the right strokes, ASCresorts in southern Vermont might someday regret the divorce. Until then, the charming Mad RiverValley, flavored as it is with just enough fine dining and a plate full of bucolic eye candy, remains just desserts for those who drive-and ski-a little harder. -David Healy


WHAT'S NEW High-speed quad from the base of Mt. Ellen to midmountain.

A GOOD DEAL The Escape Pass: $480 for 12 tickets (or $270 for six), good any day and fully transferable.

MEDALS GOLD Terrain, Challenge; SILVER Dining, Family Programs, Service, Snow, Terrain Parks.

HIGH/LOW RANK Terrain (22), Challenge (23), Dining (24); Lifts (40),Weather (42), On-Mountain Food (51).

DON'T MISS A scenic morning drive on East Warren Road: Fuel up at the Bridge Street Bakery in Waitsfield, drive through a covered bridge, rubberneck at stop-the-car views of Sugarbush, then grab a picnic lunch at The Warren Store.

READER REMARKS (+) "Love the new ownership." "Nice, laid-back attitude, without the crowds of Killington or the pretentiousness of Stowe." (-) "A long drive from anywhere." "Gets very quiet at night."