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At first glance, Stratton might look like any other resort that has come into new ownership and money over the past 15 years. What once was little more than a base lodge and a dirt parking lot has turned into a shop-lined, cobblestoned base village with luxury condos above, valet parking below and even a swishy slopeside private lodge, the Stratton Mountain Club, where one can sip chocolate martinis and nibble on lamb riblets après ski. High-speed lifts—a Stratton specialty—make the trip from anywhere to the summit feel like an easy jump shot, and 75 miles of snowmaking infrastructure can bury 95 percent of the trails in a matter of days, whether or not Mother Nature chooses to cooperate.
Such modern amenities are practically standard at major resorts, which makes Stratton’s natural blessings seem even more precious. “I like to think of the mountain as a giant ice cream sundae, with all the trails floating down from the top,” says Kimet Hand, a longtime local. Hand, who works at the information desk a few days per week, is ubiquitous throughout the community. Her ice cream analogy aptly explains the appeal of trails that start out pleasantly steep, then flow naturally into gentler terrain on all sides. Wide swaths like North American—the race hill—and Standard, beneath the gondola, cut straightforward paths down the front of the mountain. They’re flanked on the left by old-style New England beauties like Polar Bear, which twists to the base of the high-speed Ursa chair, and on the right by Liftline, which dips and rolls before racing to the bottom of the World Cup lift.
Beginners can ride the gondola straight to the top, catch the view of the Green Mountains, then meander comfortably all the way down Wanderer, while intermediates stream toward Sun Bowl, where the trails are so natural they seem to have designed themselves. At the main base, the American Express six-pack serves up a massive gentle zone, roomy enough for skiers, snowboarders and a ski school learning area.
“Some places you spend all your time getting people to the right terrain,” says ski instructor Fred Doane. “Here, you can get directly where you need to go, and all trails lead to the base. It’s a great teaching mountain.”