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Resort Guide 2023

Top 10 Resorts in the East for Character

When the megaresorts are sucking the life out of your ski vacation, look to a place that values its local vibe.

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The massive mega-resorts offer a lot of conveniences when it comes to your ski vacation, but charm and character aren’t among them. When you’re looking for an experience that makes you feel more connected to your destination, then resorts that rank high in Local Flavor, otherwise known as that certain “something-something,” are a great place to start. These are the 10 resorts with the highest scores in the Local Flavor category, according to the 2023 SKI Magazine Reader Resort Survey. See the entire survey results here.

Top 10 Resorts in the East for Local Flavor

No. 10: Wachusett Mountain, Mass.

Score: 8.49
Other Strengths: Family, Access

Lodging, Nightlife

Wachusett ski area
Skiers come to Wachusett for the quick access, top-notch guest service, and the friendly people. (Photo: Courtesy of Wachusett)

What Readers Say

“Hesitate to rank this resort but realized I could never keep this a secret for myself and 8,000 of my closest friends. I am retired so it is my go-to mountain. Small, very friendly, and convenient. My days of heart-pounding descents are over and this suits me very well.”

“The family that owns it is involved and acts like they value the skiing community. Family members are always around, in the lodge and on the mountain, and I mean every day. They’re all friendly and approachable. They really made an outsize effort and it was a great season. This is what you hope all areas would be like.”

“Wachusett Mountain is family-run by caring individuals. They and their staff are friendly. The facilities are clean and well managed. Prices are reasonable. Their NASTAR program is probably the most popular in the country.”

No. 9: Jay Peak, Vt.

Score: 8.60
Other Strengths: Terrain, Snow

Nightlife, Access

Jay Peak Local Flavor RG23
(Photo: Courtesy of Jay Peak)

What Readers Say

“Discovered Jay Peak for the first time this season. Apparently I’ve been living under a rock. Holy crap what a magical place. Hands down best glade skiing I’ve ever seen and one of the only places I’ve ever been able to do glade skiing without feeling like I’m endangering my life and health. I had SO much fun. It’s the only place I’ve been that gives me a strong desire to go back for a full week.”

“Jay is great for families, groups, and anyone looking for great times on snow. This is really the best terrain in Vermont. The glades, steeps, and bumps are a blast.”

“Great local vibe with a very welcoming attitude towards new visitors. Staff loves their guests. Conditions and snow is the best.”

No. 8: Sugarloaf Resort, Maine

Score: 8.61
Other Strengths: Challenge, Terrain Variety

Weaknesses: Dining, Nightlife

Sugarloaf Local Flavor RG23
(Photo: Courtesy of Sugarloaf)

What Readers Say

“Long way to go, and you seem to pass by every other ski resort in New England in traveling there. But it’s such a fine ski area once you arrive, and it ticks so many boxes of the categories that are meaningful to me! Clearly, it’s my go-to resort back East.”

“Sugarloaf is a laid-back, super-friendly Maine mountain with dedicated staff and safe, friendly skiers. Nothing trendy, pushy, or nasty. The varied trails and views make it fun!”

“The ‘Loaf has character—it is cold, can be windy, can be flat light in December and January, and takes a long ride to get to, yet I believe they have the highest percentage of dedicated season pass holders to overall ticket sales in the country because skiers simply love the mountain, the staff, the children’s ski programs, the challenge, etc. As I said in this review last year, when I am driving up on Route 27 and just before arriving, turn onto what is called ‘Omigosh Corner’ [ first look at the mountain face ], I know that ‘I am Home.'”

No. 7: Cannon Mountain, N.H.

Score: 8.63
Other Strengths: Challenge, Terrain Variety

Weaknesses: Nightlife, Lodging

Cannon Mtn, NH
You’ll find no frills but plenty of local flavor at Cannon Mountain. (Photo: Courtesy of Cannon Mountain)

What Readers Say

“Barebones resort with the focus on skiing and not the rest of the fanfare. The area is not exploited by overdevelopment and commercialism like many others these days. I would recommend it to any skiers who appreciate those qualities.”

“This a true New England ski area with great Eastern-style trails. It is for real skiers, not the faint of heart—from the Front Five double-blacks to the never-ending blue trails. It was a fun mountain to ski with our children and grandkids ages 6-12 who were able to easily ski the whole mountain. The only disappointment we had was the Tram closed the day before we got there. We will definitely return again.”

“Cannon’s terrain—old winding trails off the summit, Front Five steeps—outweighs its problematic weather. On a good day, it’s heaven. On a bad day—icy, windy, socked in—you appreciate and respect the White Mountains weather.”

No. 6: Bretton Woods, N.H.

Score: 8.73
Other Strengths: Lifts, Grooming

Weaknesses: Nightlife, Challenge

Mt Washington Hotel Bretton Woods
If you’re looking to spend the night in an iconic hotel with breathtaking views, it’s got to be Mt. Washington Hotel. (Photo: Courtesy of Bretton Woods)

What Readers Say

“Great snow. Great grooming. Lots of terrain. All lifts are high-speed. Opportunities to improve with great glades, a few good bump runs. Rosebrook Lodge is beautiful. Skiing at Bretton Woods is always super fun … and lux! Omni Mt. Washington across from the mountain. Good places to stay and dine locally. Never overwhelmed with crowds. Very few people from NY/NJ/CT—just sayin’!”

“Bretton Woods has been our home mountain for 10-plus years. Even after our children have grown and have left we still enjoy this friendly mountain with amazing grooming and great staff.”

“Aesthetically it’s the best in the East. Scenery, snow conditions, variety of tree skiing, and upscale look and feel make this a very appealing place. Condo choices are high-end to very high-end. The Deer Valley of the East.”

No. 5: Waterville Valley, N.H.

Score: 8.78
Other Strengths: Access, Family

Nightlife, Lifts

Waterville Valley Town Square
Head into the town of Waterville Valley and amble around Town Square to take in this area’s local flavor. (Photo: Courtesy of Waterville Valley)

What Readers Say

“I’d recommend it to families, beginners, experts, and anyone in between. It is a great resort, grooming was always perfect, besides when rain wanted to make things difficult. Glades are extensive and getting better every year. Terrain varies from beginner to expert, with complicated lines and steeps to calm groomers. You can spend the whole day exploring new areas. Staff is always in a good mood and learns your name quick if you’re there enough. Locals are super-chill and make it feel like a community, not a mega resort.”

“Waterville isn’t overrun with partiers. It is a family-friendly mountain that caters to those who truly enjoy skiing without the aid of a fireball.”

“This resort is very important to me and I’ve grown up skiing here. The people are great and I was there almost every weekend because of ski team so I got to know the mountain very well. It’s quite lovely and I would highly recommend it to skiers of all levels.”

No. 4: Holiday Valley, N.Y.

Score: 8.83
Other Strengths: Lifts, Family Friendly
Weaknesses: Challenge, Snow

Ellicottville shopping
The town of Ellicottville just three minutes up the road from Holiday Valley is a major draw in its own right. (Photo: Courtesy of Holiday Valley)

What Readers Say

“A little place with great management and a great heart. They just keep investing and improving the hill. The town is small but very cool. Holimont is on the next ridge and is also a fine little ski hill. Only 700 vertical here but they do wonders with it.”

“Holiday Valley is a true gem of a resort. What they lack in overall vertical they make up for in snowmaking, grooming, and the village of Ellicottville!”

“They do the most with the least. Always reinvesting and improving the skier experience. Closest good skiing to my home in Cleveland. The town of Ellicottville rocks.”

No. 3: Smugglers’ Notch, Vt.

Score: 9.05
Other Strengths: Terrain Variety, Family Friendly

Weaknesses: Lifts, Nightlife

Skier jumping at Smugglers' Notch
Smugglers’ notch has something for everyone, including expert terrain, family-friendly vibes, and local flare. (Photo: Courtesy of Smugglers’ Notch)

What Readers Say

“As a returning skier, seeing all the new and familiar faces was refreshing after the last couple years! The staff is just super up there at Smuggs, especially the ski school staff! The lodging was easily accessible and the food was delicious!”

“Family friendly. Lots of local flavor. We have been regular users for over 20 years. Love the variety of skiing, grooming, lodging, and how we are pleasantly treated.”

“Have skied at Smuggs for many years and my family and friends are skiers there. We absolutely love Smuggs. Excellent terrain, grooming, challenge, variety, guest services, value!! Love the laid-back culture.”

No. 2: Magic Mountain, Vt.

Score: 9.18
Other Strengths: Value, Challenge

Weaknesses: Lodging, Nightlife

Magic Mountain après scene
Magic Mountain is an old-school, no-frills ski area with an après scene to match. (Photo: Courtesy of Magic Mountain)

What Readers Say

“A unique experience where you feel and are treated like you were invited as a guest. Never crowded and a great value.”

“We love the Magic Mountain! Old-time skiing without all the hype and overdevelopment.”

“Magic is one of a kind. When there is snow in Southern Vermont, there is no finer place. The vibe is perfectly old-school, the terrain is hairy, and the après in the Black Line Tavern gets going early. Now if only they could blow more snow.”

No. 1: Mad River Glen, Vt.

Score: 9.40
Other Strengths:
Challenge, Terrain Variety
Weaknesses: Grooming, Nightlife

"Mad River Glen Chair"

What Readers Say

“Mad River Glen is not a corporate Mountain. They like their guests and respond to guests concerns. Great local place. Tough year for snow but they kept going as long as possible. Limiting ticket sales kept it civilized on weekends. And NO SNOWBOARDS!”

“Mad River has the most interesting terrain in the East. The pub at the mountain is first-rate, and the atmosphere is friendly, old-fashioned skiing. But it doesn’t make snow, so the wild card is Mother Nature.”

“Mad River is special. Old school but focused on what is important now: skiing on amazing terrain without crowds. You can explore hidden treasures in and out of bounds with friendly locals and strangers. No where else compares to Mad River Glen!”