If there was a “peace and quiet” category in the reader survey, Sugarbush would crush it. The big, twin-peaked, heart-of-Vermont classic, draped along the west wall of the beautifully bucolic Mad River Valley, slipped off its Top 10 perch this year. Maybe it was the bad winter—readers complain of excessive wind-holds and insufficient grooming. But low marks for off-hill excitement are a recurring culprit. “I am not sure what people are supposed to do for nightlife in the area,” says one reader. “You kind of need to be local to know where to go at night,” says another, “just like you need to be local to know the best terrain and glades.” But that’s precisely the appeal to many Sugarbush skiers. “Natural Vermont!” exclaims one big fan. “Beautiful scenery combined with natural conditions, uncrowded trails, great people, and service!” “Authentic, classic Vermont ski experience with a nice blend of modern amenities,” adds another admirer. Accessibility (No. 28) will always be a weakness. But readers like what Sugarbush’s skier-owner has done with the place since the American Skiing Company days. “Rebirth of a gem,” a reader calls it. “The new lodge is beautiful and the hotel and dining options are ample.” On-Mountain Food scores impressively high (No. 4), while terrain scores seem a little low (No. 8 for Variety, No. 11 for Challenge) given Sugarbush’s impressive vert and acreage. (Again, poor winter, which meant less Castlerock, Mt. Ellen’s charismatically classic, totally unmanicured terrain.) Mostly, complaints are mild: “If only the view of Lake Champlain could be a tad better.”
Off-Hill Restaurant >> If you love boutique hotels, try the restaurant at the Pitcher Inn: sophisticated cuisine and service in a classically Vermont setting.
Aprés Spot >> The upstairs bar at the Mount Ellen lodge. It’s not as fancy as the Castlerock Pub at Lincoln Peak, but it’s far less crowded.
Mandatory Trail >> The traverse from Exterminator, right where its pitch moderates, over to the base of the summit lift.