Shiny Happy Bromley - Ski Mag

Shiny Happy Bromley

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Shiny Happy Bromley

Arriving at a ski area on the Monday of Presidents' Week can feel alarmingly like going to the mall on the day after Thanksgiving. And yet every winter we choose to do it. Why? Because we take our shots when we get them. If the experience happens to feel a bit like jockeying for pole position at Filene's Basement, well, that's the price we pay for having jobs and families and the same vacation schedule as the rest of the country.

Crazy as it sounds, though, skiing during peak times poses an appealing challenge. If you can find a resort that feels relaxed and welcoming on the busiest day of the season, you have found a true friend. Families, meet Bromley. You're going to get along just fine.

From the time when beer baron Fred Pabst discovered Vermont's "Sun Mountain, families have been the soul of Bromley. In the 1930s, Pabst owned a string of small areas in the Midwest, Canada and New England. But he wanted one big sunny one. He found it at the Walker Farm, a hanging-valley spread located on the sunny south slope of 3,284-foot Bromley Mountain, six miles east of touristy Manchester, Vt.

In 1936, Pabst strung the first rope tow on Little Bromley (now the lower parking lot). Then came more tows, brought in from his other areas, followed by newfangled J-bars on Big Bromley in the '40s, a chairlift in the '50s and snowmaking in the '60s. Today Bromley offers nine lifts, 43 trails and 163 acres of skiing nearly equally split between green, blue and black terrain. It's big enough to entertain a family, small enough to be intimate and mellow enough to allow everyone to relax and enjoy a true vacation.

Skiing as a solo parent with two small boys has its challenges, the first one of the day being the parking lot schlep. Add the challenge of navigating an unfamiliar resort, and it's not surprising that I approached Bromley - well behind the masses on that busy Monday - with a measure of dread. But here lies the first clue of what's to come: Drive up to the front of the area, and as fast as ordering a Happy Meal, you can drop all your gear at the line of ski racks. Dip under Route 11 to the large dirt lot. A shuttle picks you up within minutes and deposits you back at the ski racks, steps away from the ticket booths. From there, you're one short flight of stairs away from the lodge, the kids' center and the lifts.

For a parent who gets truly, physically tired of multiple bases and endless pedestrian villages, here's the best part of the initial orientation: There's one mountain, one base area, one big lodge. It's simple, and it works.

The lodge, which greets skiers with its yawning fieldstone fireplace, is a throwback to more communal times. It's rustic and spacious, with hooks for wet gear, plenty of sturdy wooden chairs and tables, and one big moose with a huge rack. Picture windows on either side frame spectacular views south toward Stratton Mountain and north toward the slopes, where tykes slide on cafeteria trays under the watchful eyes of parents enjoying après beers at the Wild Boar.

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But it's when you're standing atop the mountain that you really begin to warm up to Bromley. The Sun Mountain Express whisks you up 1,334 feet to Bromley's summit, then pops you out like toast. Stratton looms across a broad valley like a giant, shaded Frigidaire. Head skier's left, to the resort's eastern side, for true black-diamond runs like Corkscrew and Havoc - classic trails that weave through a bristle of scraggly deciduous trees, over dropoffs and into swales, then loosen up and roll gently as the mountain spreads beneath. Skier's right leads to the rambling western blue runs like Thruway and Sunset Pass. Directly beneath the Sun Mountain Express, Twister rolls, unfolds and tumbles in a challenging rhythm that keeps you on your toes. For novices, Pushover and Runaround - the area's easternmost and westernmost trails, respectively - skirt the steepest pitches for a gentle, family-fendly ride down.

For Fred Pabst and his wife, Sally, Bromley was a lifelong labor of love. The two not only built Bromley, they taught skiing there, started the first ski area daycare, and founded an instruction program that today involves more than 600 children from 11 area schools. Pabst also introduced the concept of snow farming, whereby a little snow can go a long way if the slopes are manicured with enough care. He hired kids from Manchester to pick rocks off the trails in the summer. As one '60s child recalls, "Bromley could open with about four inches of natural snow.

Today, Bromley relies on vigilant snowmaking instead of rock-picking, but the small-town vibe endures. "Bromley has always felt like Manchester's mountain, explains area president John Cueman, who started working here in 1970. "Lots of kids who grew up here and learned to ski here end up working here.

The only person who's worked at Bromley longer than Cueman is Bobby Campbell, who, along with his wife, Marvie, started teaching skiing in 1969, when the Campbell kids were the first patrons at the daycare. I meet Bobby when I check my youngest into the Kids Center. It's jammed with parents, yet running smoothly. "You can walk back there with him, offers Campbell, when my son pauses. It's an offer you rarely hear from instructors eager to cauterize separation issues. But by the time I can respond, Oliver is already engaged, so I slip out for a run in the terrain park with Chauncey before checking him in to Pig Mountain Club for kids age 6 to 12. This process showcases parent-smart design at its best. You buy your ski school program inside the main lodge, then follow footprints adhered to the carpet, which lead through the rental shop, out through automatic doors and up a ramp (yes!) to the snow, where the ski school meeting places are well marked.

There, Billy Davidson, Pied Piper of Pig Dogs, takes over. He orchestrates the drop-offs, then monitors the groups all day, making sure everyone is well-placed and happy. Billy D greets each student with a joke, putting first-timers immediately at ease. With Chauncey in stitches, headed for a ski day with Marvie, Davidson shoos me off to explore.

Despite the fact that you can access all of Bromley's terrain from the Sun Mountain Express, I find myself riding the side-by-side Alpine and Sun chairs a lot, checking out the alpine slide (the first in the country and the heart of Bromley's summer business) and enjoying real conversations on an old-time double chair. Most of my liftmates are on school break, and many make this their lone ski trip of the year. One Connecticut woman and her six kids all learned to ski here and come back every year. "We've tried other places, she says. "But the kids always say the same thing: 'We want our Bromley.' I also meet retirees and near retirees from Connecticut and Massachusetts who are shifting their lives north. For them, Bromley's proximity to Manchester's shopping, restaurants and services makes for an easy transition to country life. Such conveniences also benefit vacationers, like the families who are staying with us one mile down Route 11 at the Wiley Inn.

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The Wiley, owned and operated by two New York transplants, is a favorite of families skiing Bromley and other close-by resorts (Stratton, Mount Snow, Magic Mountain, Okemo). The rambling inn has just enough hallways and common rooms to muffle the families nesting in the 12 rooms and suites. Teenagers watch movies and play games while youngsters make their own hot cocoa and build with blocks. For adults, there's a cozy chair by the fire, arm's reach from shelves of magazines and books. What Bromley Beach, the self-serve bar, can't soothe, a hot tub beneath the stars will.

The only lodging closer to Bromley is colorful Johnny Seesaw's (see sidebar) and Bromley Village's 300 slopeside condos, clustered on the mountain's western flank. Manchester, six miles away, offers a wide variety of dining, lodging, shopping and carousing. Bromley's long-term expansion plan, still in the permit phase, is to develop 230 acres on its east side in a manner similar to the existing Bromley Village. New ski terrain would come with it, including six or seven black-diamonds from the summit.

The balmy southern exposure necessitates a double blanket of snow on key runs, and spring skiing comes a little earlier here than elsewhere. Typically, though, snow is not lacking, even in this, the mildest of seasons. Conditions are prime for black-diamond cruising on the east side down Stargazer to Blue Ribbon and Corkscrew to Pabst Peril, while the snow is perfect as usual on East Meadow, Bromley's classic slalom hill, with its lively changes of pitch. Kids swarm Lower Boulevard and Thruway, while racers carve away on Yodler and bumpers dig in to big soft ones on east-side drops like Havoc.

The only places I studiously avoid all day are the halfpipe, terrain park and boardercross course, because I know where we'll be headed when ski school lets out. Sure enough, we're back, proving time and again that 50 pounds of boy aren't enough to hold down a T-bar, that it's near impossible for a 4-year-old to make a Superman launch in the boardercross and stick the landing, and that there are still a few places left where families clean up each other's yard sales.

Signpost: Bromley

175 skiable acres

1,334 vertical feet

summit elevation: 3,284 feet

45 trails

145 annual inches, with 80% snowmaking coverage

nine lifts, including one high-speed quad, one fixed quad, and four doubles.

Lift tickets: adult holiday $66, weekend $63; teen (13-17) and senior (65-69) $58/$55; junior (6-12) and senior-plus (70 and over) $44/$39

Lodging: Bromley Village offers slopeside condos built with families in mind ($233-$745; bromley.com; 800-865-4786

Dining & Après-Ski: There's no abundance of either at Bromley, but you can sip a beer with a view of the slopes at The Outback, upstairs in the base lodge, and Johnny Seesaw's is fun charismatic for drinks or dinner (jseesaw.com; 800-424-2729). Manchester, with its numerous pubs and restaurants, is a 15-minute drive.

Getting There: Three hours from Boston, four from New York City.

Information:bromley.com; 802-824-5522; 800-865-4786 (lodging), offers a wide variety of dining, lodging, shopping and carousing. Bromley's long-term expansion plan, still in the permit phase, is to develop 230 acres on its east side in a manner similar to the existing Bromley Village. New ski terrain would come with it, including six or seven black-diamonds from the summit. The balmy southern exposure necessitates a double blanket of snow on key runs, and spring skiing comes a little earlier here than elsewhere. Typically, though, snow is not lacking, even in this, the mildest of seasons. Conditions are prime for black-diamond cruising on the east side down Stargazer to Blue Ribbon and Corkscrew to Pabst Peril, while the snow is perfect as usual on East Meadow, Bromley's classic slalom hill, with its lively changes of pitch. Kids swarm Lower Boulevard and Thruway, while racers carve away on Yodler and bumpers dig in to big soft ones on east-side drops like Havoc. The only places I studiously avoid all day are the halfpipe, terrain park and boardercross course, because I know where we'll be headed when ski school lets out. Sure enough, we're back, proving time and again that 50 pounds of boy aren't enough to hold down a T-bar, that it's near impossible for a 4-year-old to make a Superman launch in the boardercross and stick the landing, and that there are still a few places left where families clean up each other's yard sales. Signpost: Bromley

175 skiable acres

1,334 vertical feet

summit elevation: 3,284 feet

45 trails

145 annual inches, with 80% snowmaking coverage

nine lifts, including one high-speed quad, one fixed quad, and four doubles.

Lift tickets: adult holiday $66, weekend $63; teen (13-17) and senior (65-69) $58/$55; junior (6-12) and senior-plus (70 and over) $44/$39

Lodging: Bromley Village offers slopeside condos built with families in mind ($233-$745; bromley.com; 800-865-4786

Dining & Après-Ski: There's no abundance of either at Bromley, but you can sip a beer with a view of the slopes at The Outback, upstairs in the base lodge, and Johnny Seesaw's is fun charismatic for drinks or dinner (jseesaw.com; 800-424-2729). Manchester, with its numerous pubs and restaurants, is a 15-minute drive.

Getting There: Three hours from Boston, four from New York City.

Information:bromley.com; 802-824-5522; 800-865-4786 (lodging)

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