Summer Resorts 2003: Mad River Valley, Vermont

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It hasn't always been easy, the tug-of-war between resort development and scenic preservation, but residents of the Mad River Valley seem to have got it just right. Visitors are welcome and catered to, but not at the expense of the valley's pastoral beauty, which is what they come for in the first place.

That means a decided dearth of nightlife. But it also assures the blessed absence of bric-a-brac and retail blight, so that vacationers can strike out in any direction-for a picnic, a hike, a fishing trip or a drive-assured of encountering Vermont's famous rustic loveliness. Dirt roads bisect maple stands and new-mown fields. The Mad River gurgles through rich river-bottom farmland, much of it still "working." Two-toned Holsteins doze in lush hay behind stone walls mottled with lichen. The villages, Waitsfield at the north end of the valley, Warren at the south, look much today as they did before skiing began to breathe new life into the failing farm economy more than half a century ago: neat clapboard homes with attached barns, a general store, a covered bridge. Up at Sugarbush, there's tennis and biking, as well as golf on one of Vermont's toughest and most beautiful courses, a classic Robert Trent Jones mountain track that takes as much as it gives. With busy, breezy summer days like these, you'll need your rest. Who needs nightlife?

•DON'T MISS A thrilling soar on Green Mountain thermals (Sugarbush Soaring, 802-496-2290); a guided foray for native brookies, browns and rainbows (Deer Meadow Inn, 802-496-2850); or a horseback ride through field and forest (Vermont Icelandic Horse Farm, 802-496-2290).

•BEST DEAL Golf and lodging packages start at $102 per person, per day, double occupancy, and include choice of lodging, 18 holes with cart and health/racket club privileges. 800-537-8427;