Going places: Skiers converge on Vermont to experience ‘Winter in its Original State’

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Skiing down 49er. Even intermediate skiers can enjoy the view from the summit at Pico, a family-friendly self-contained ski resort © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin
Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

I love Ski Vermont’s slogan: “Winter in its Original State”. It captures perfectly Vermont’s heritage and character that make coming to ski, snowboard, cross-country and enjoy all the other winter pursuits amid these Green Mountains and rolling hills, so special.

The biggest change, though, is the entry by the industry powerhouses – Vail Resorts, Alterra Mountain Company, Peak Resorts, Powdr), linking many of its major resorts through marketing, loyalty programs and seasonal passes (EpicPass, IkonPass, Mountain Collective, Peak Pass) to networks spanning the continent, even the globe that will inspire people to experience skiing in Vermont from all over the world. Importantly, though, their contribution has been to enhance facilities and guest experience while preserving the special personality of the resorts.

Here’s a taste of what Vermont-bound travelers will experience:

Killington Resort

New investments totaling $25 million revolutionize the guest experience at Killington, including a new 6-person high speed bubble chairlift, new lift service at South Ridge, significant upgrades to the K-1 Express Gondola, additional availability and improvements of intermediate trails and resort-wide infrastructure upgrades including the addition of hands-free lift access validation with RFID technology at both Killington and its sister resort, Pico.

Besides a jam-packed schedule of bands, festivals, and competitions such as the Audi FIS Ski World Cup (you can watch for free), Rails 2 Riches and the FOX US Open of Mountain Biking, there’s plenty to do including a mountain coaster, ski biking, tubing, snowmobile tours, sleigh rides, snowshoeing, dinner excursions to the Ledgewood Yurt, spa treatments, shopping and more than 100 restaurants and bars in the region.

The “Beast of the East,” Killington is the biggest ski resort in New England and has the longest season. A Powdr resort, Killington and its sister resort Pico are both partnering in the IkonPass.

Killington is all about four seasons of beastly activities, and now the Beast 365 All-Seasons Pass gives guests access to everything at Killington, all year long. It starts in summer with unlimited lift and trail access for mountain biking, plus golf course greens fees and access to the Adventure Center including the new WreckTangle. And of course, unlimited winter access to the longest season in the East. (skivermont.com/killington-resort)

Pico has a very different feel from its sister resort, Killington, just next door. A self-contained resort with slopeside lodging, Pico has 57 trails serviced by seven lifts, including two high-speed detachable quads, Its more intimate scale, gentle learning terrain, smooth cruisers and classically narrow New England steeps, that all that funnel to a single base make it ideal for families. Even the most selective skiers and riders will be impressed by Pico’s vertical drop of 1,967’ – taller than 80% of Vermont ski areas. (skivermont.com/pico-mountain)

Mount Snow

Mount Snow has a new $22 million Carinthia Base Lodge that helps mark Carinthia’s 10-year anniversary of becoming a 100-acre all-terrain-park mountain face. Conveniently located right at the base of Carinthia Terrain Park, the new 42,000sq/ft lodge is five times the size of the old and features a coffee bar, sit-down restaurant, two bars, large multi-station cafeteria, along with retail, rentals, ski school, ski patrol. The resort had a major upgrade to its snowmaking system last year and has been voted “Best Snow in the East” by Ski Magazine.

There is also snow tubing and snowmobiling. You can book a leisurely sunset tour to the summit of Mount Snow, or a trek across Somerset Reservoir through Snowmobile Vermont (book in advance, mountsnow.com/snowmobile). Unwind at Mount Snow’s Naturespa, located in the Grand Summit Resort Hotel, offering pure, natural and organic spa treatments, guided mountain treks, holistic health, and fitness specialties.

Mount Snow is part of Peak Resorts (Hunter Mountain in New York and Attitash in New Hampshire are others, and included in its Peak Pass. skivermont.com/mount-snow-resort

Okemo Mountain Resort

Okemo is now an Epic resort. Vail Resorts, Inc. purchased Triple Peaks, LLC, the parent company of Okemo Mountain Resort in Vermont, Mount Sunapee Resort in New Hampshire, and Crested Butte Mountain Resort in Colorado, plus, in a separate transaction, Stevens Pass, in Washington. Vail Resorts plans to invest $35 million, over the next two years, across the four resorts to continue to elevate the guest experience. But most immediately, Okemo is now part of the 2018-19 Epic Pass (Vail is honoring previously sold 2018-19 season passes for Okemo.)

One of our favorite ski mountains with its long, scenic cruisers, Okemo also offers an assortment of alternative activities for families to enjoy together. For a thrill, try Okemo’s Timber Ripper Mountain Coaster or go snow tubing down a specially groomed chute in the Jackson Gore courtyard; skate at Okemo’s ice skating pavilion; rent a fat bike for riding on snow; go snowshoeing; cross country skiing; work on your golf game at Okemo’s indoor golf facility. Chill out with an after-hours snowcat excursion to the top of the mountain, take a swim or soak in a hot tub at Okemo’s Spring House Pool & Fitness Center. Enjoy a massage or a facial at the spa.

The Adventure Zone located in Okemo’s Jackson Gore area offers year-round activities soar through the treetops on Sawyer’s Sweep Zipline Tour or go off-roading on a Segway PT Tour; launch yourself into the Amp Energy Big Air Bag; climb the climbing wall; putt Cal’s Miniature Golf Course or challenge yourself on the 18-hole Disc Golf course.

A wide variety of trailside and mountainside lodging options delivers great ski-in/ski-out convenience, but our favorite is Jackson Gore. (skivermont.com/okemo-mountain-resort)

Smugglers’ Notch

Famously family-friendly (and now hyping that it also is still “family-owned, operated, focused”), Smuggs’ continues to grow in what appeals to families with the resort’s free Kids’ Club. whereby all kids 12 and under get a free “treasure chest” of goodies. During the weeks of 1/13-1/18, 2/3-2/8, and 3/3-3/8, Smugglers’ will offer all guests staying on any Club Smugglers’ package free lessons and rentals for kids 12 and under. Smuggs’ banked slalom course on Madonna Mountain will open new doors for intermediates and experts both in and out of lessons and host various events this season. Fat Bikes give winter access to Smuggs’ expansive cross-country MTB terrain.

Smugglers’ claim to fame is the total experience the resort offers. There is probably no other ski resort that is so focused on family togetherness, with a vast array of activities families enjoy together as Smugglers Notch. Families can vary their vacation days by joining craft sessions, broomball challenges, scavenger hunts, Snow Cat tours, story times, and pool games (included in their Smugglers’ vacation package). Among the most popular activities: weekly torchlight parade and fireworks, belting out tunes in family karaoke and building a sled to launch from a jump in I-Did-A-Sled. Smuggs has also introduced S.T.E.A.M. activities tjat bring fun ways to explore science, technology, engineering, arts, and math.

FunZone 2.0 offers 26,000 square feet of indoor fun: an adventure center (laser tag, climbing tower, giant slide), a café serving beer and wine, so parents can relax while kids play. Outdoor activities include snowmobile tours through the historic Smugglers’ Notch pass, and CatTrax heated-cabin snow cat rides to the summits of Smugglers’ most popular peaks.

There’s so much to do, this is the ski resort you want to stay longer at – not just ski and stay – 43 pages of activities in 7 day period. Everybody has something even if they don’t ski. There are even activity packages that don’t include skiing.

The condo-style accommodations provide plenty of space for families to spread out, have meals and snacks in the condo (every condo has a crock pot; there is a country store on the mountain with the essentials and a grocery store 15 minutes away that you can shop at on the drive up).

Apart from its reputation as the most family-friendly ski resort anywhere, there is serious skiing to be had on three mountains: Morse (all green, so there is a natural separation of ability) while Madonna and Sterling are big, steep and deep; Sterling has a great variety of cruisers (great for intermediates) to bump up skill on short black. Madonna is the toughest, with some of the steepest trails (even a double-black) in the East, but there are also a couple of blues from top (Chilcoot and Drifter). (skivermont.com/smugglers-notch-resort-vt)

Stowe Mountain Resort

Stowe has new on-mountain Kids Adventure Zones, well signed areas that give kids and families the opportunity to easily access gentle side-country areas and freestyle terrain purpose-built for learning progression. Stowe, which is now owned by Vail Resorts, now offers Epic Mix, which enables skiers and riders to track their days and vertical feet skied, earn digital pins, share photos, race against the pros and check real-time lift line wait time using their RFID chip-embedded season pass or lift ticket. As part of Vail Resorts, Stowe is also included on the EpicPass.

Stowe has an inter-mountain transfer gondola connecting its two mountain peaks, Mt. Mansfield and Spruce Peak. There are new high-speed lifts on Spruce, new base facilities, gourmet restaurants. The Stowe Mountain Lodge, a 312 room hotel and spa, is recognized as one of the greenest and most luxurious mountainside lodgings anywhere. There’s also a new state-of-the-art Performing Arts Center at Spruce Peak. (www.stowe.com)

Stratton Mountain Resort

Stratton’s new Snow Bowl high-speed quad, the major project in this year’s $10 million-capital plan, is positioned to minimize wind impact and, traveling at 1,000 ft./minute, reduce ride time from 14 to five minutes. Plus, the top ramp provides smoother access to Mike’s Way, a beginner run from the summit of southern Vermont’s highest peak. Home of the great snow guarantee, Stratton offers 97 trails, 100+ acres of glades, 600+ acres of skiing and snowboarding terrain including top ranked terrain parks, the fastest fleet of lifts in the East, convenient lodging, slopeside Village, Training & Fitness Center, Spa and a full slate of winter and summer events and activities.

There’s lift-served snow tubing, moonlight snowshoe tours, and 12km of cross country trails for skiing and fat biking. Unwind with a massage from the Village Day Spa or enjoy a dog sled ride through Vermont’s wooded terrain. Stratton’s Training and Fitness Center offers Olympic-sized, salt-water swimming pool, cardio and weight room and the Cliff Drysdale Tennis Center. Stroll through the Village to enjoy cafes and shops or venture 20 minutes down Route 100 to Manchester for shopping at 40 designer outlets.

Stratton has a learn-to-ski package at $99. It also offers a Jitney from New York City. Another feature is the Winter Wondergrass, a blue grass festival. Now part of the Alterra Mountain Company, Stratton is included on its IkonPass, now offering access to nearly 82,000 acres at 38 premier mountain destinations across the globe. (Stratton.com)

Sugarbush Resort

In honor of its 60th anniversary since Damon and Sara Gadd and Jack Murphy opened the resort in 1958, Sugarbush is hosting anniversary celebrations throughout the season. Sugarbush has also joined the Ikon Pass, connecting some of the most iconic mountains in North America (Killington, Pico, Stratton in Vermont, Loon Mountain in New Hampshire, Sugarloaf and Sunday River in Maine). On-mountain improvements this season include snowmaking upgrades, lift upgrades, and relocating the beginner First Time lift for more convenient access.

The resort offers 111 trails across two mountains – Lincoln Peak and Mt. Ellen—connected by a chairlift (so fun!) and shuttle bus. Mt. Ellen is the third-highest peak in Vermont, with steeps, wide-open cruisers and some great intermediate terrain, the Riemergasse Terrain Park designed with rails, tables, and jumps for all levels, and home to a series of events and competitions; and 28 marked areas for beginner to advanced tree skiing. The 2,000-acre Slide Brook Basin, tucked in between Lincoln Peak and Mt. Ellen, is an adventurer’s paradise. Guided trips are available with the legendary skier John Egan and the staff of the Adventure Learning Center’s Ski & Ride School.

Sugarbush offers free uphill travel passes for skinning up designated routes at the resort before and after lift-served operating hours, including an uphill travel option for Allyn’s Lodge Fireside Dining. There is also self-guided snowshoeing access and guided tours, including photography tours, twilight tours, and the more endurance-based outback tours in the Slide Brook Basin.
Cabin Cat Adventures also offer a great way to experience the mountain, whether it’s Allyn’s Lodge Fireside Dining at the top of Gadd Peak, Cabin Cat First Tracks on a powder day or Sunset Groomer Rides to the top of Lincoln Peak. Other activities available in Mad River Valley include ice-skating, an Icelandic horse farm, a locally owned movie theater and cross country skiing. (sugarbush.com)

Bolton Valley

What’s old is new again! Bolton Valley, a self-contained resort where you walk from slopeside lodging directly to the lifts, is once again owned by its original family founders, the DesLauriers who opened the resort in 1966.

Besides being one of the few places in New England offering night skiing, last year Bolton opened an in-house backcountry-specific guiding and instructional program, complete with top-of-the-line rental and demo fleets of alpine touring and splitboarding equipment. Building on its reputation for having some of the best and most accessible backcountry terrain in the Eastern U.S., this program makes Bolton Valley a premiere destination for skiers and riders looking to move beyond lift service, as well as cross country skiers looking to access more aggressive terrain. Explore 1,200 acres of high-mountain wilderness terrain while learning the ins and outs of alpine touring, backcountry safety, and self-reliance.

“It’s unique in the East for a back-country experience to be so accessible,” said Josh Arneson, V.P. of Sales and Marketing.

How good do you have to be? “At least strong intermediate –we take it slow. People are surprised when they can do it. It is scary to attempt if you do it alone, but a mind-opening experience when you realize you can do it.” A group lesson is $75 plus rental.

Bolton Valley also has back country huts which can be rented through the Green Mountain Club, the organization that runs the Long Trail, but accessed through Bolton. “It’s a unique camping experience, just one mile from the base. You wake up to fresh tracks, and get to do winter camping. It’s accessible, but feels like being deep in woods.”

Bolton Valley sits high in the Green Mountains of Vermont. The high mountain alpine village is surrounded by 5,000 acres of wilderness. Bolton Valley offers 71 trails and glades for Alpine skiing and riding and 100 km of Nordic and backcountry trails. Each year Bolton Valley receives an average of 312 inches of snow.

All the lodging, including hotel rooms, suites and condominiums are either ski in/ski out or within a short walking distance of the lifts. Two restaurants, a cafeteria, deli and general store are located within the village. After a day on the slopes, walk over to the Sports Center, where there is an indoor pool, hot tub and sauna, skateboard bowl and mini ramps, arcade games as well as an open floor for basketball and other games. The Indoor Amusement Center offers bouncy houses for kids who just want to keep moving. (skivermont.com/bolton-valley)

‘Throwback’ to ‘Pure Vermont’ Ski Areas

Suicide Six Ski Area: DON’T LET THE NAME FOOL YOU! Suicide Six is one of the most family-friendly ski areas in Vermont, with 30% beginner, 40% intermediate and 30% advanced slope ratings. New trails carved for mountain biking in summer offer skiers and snowboarders hidden stash lines to discover; snowmaking has been improved and the FIS certified slalom trail will now be fully automated. The downhill ski area is owned by the grand, historic Woodstock Inn which also offers the Woodstock Nordic Adventure Center providing 30 kilometers of trails to explore via cross country skis, fat bikes or snowshoes; a 10,000 sq. ft Spa; and Woodstock Athletic Club, with indoor and outdoor tennis courts, racquetball courts, a 30-by-60-foot heated indoor lap pool, a whirlpool, workout equipment and steam and sauna rooms.

Mad River Glen, the only cooperatively owned mountain open to the public is dedicated to maintaining and preserving the “pure Vermont” ski experience. Mad River Glen offers the most challenging and diverse terrain in New England with an uphill capacity that guarantees low skier density on the trails even on the busiest days. You can also experience the mountain on snowshoes: join one of MRG’s staff Naturalists for a guided snowshoe trek tailored to your interest in the ecology and wildlife of Stark Mountain (Naturalist Programs). (skivermont.com/mad-river-glen).

Magic Mountain: After winning Liftopia’s award for best ski area in North America for the second year in a row, Ski Magic LLC, the new ownership of Magic Mountain, continues to invest in its counter-cultural ski and ride experience. Magic has 50 trails including glades; 1,500 vertical feet, “some of the steepest, most challenging terrain in the East, certainly in southern Vermont.” This year, there is a new base-to-mid-mountain double chair (the “Green Lift”) which makes Magic’s classic terrain accessible to novice and intermediate level skiers. In combination with more snowmaking, this new lift allows Magic to open far earlier in the season. Last year, Magic opened a new beginner area accessed with a magic carpet.

Magic has introduced one of the first alpine touring centers in partnership with Salomon with AT rental gear for first-timers, along with lessons and tours. Long known for its extensive and challenging lift-served tree skiing, Magic will have guided backcountry tours this coming season with shuttle van pick-ups, which must be reserved in advance through the Snowsports Learning Center. Snowshoeing trails have also been marked this season (rentals available). (skivermont.com/magic-mountain)

Nordic Skiing Favorites

More famous for Nordic skiing, but providing a uniquely cozy country atmosphere as well as nearby access to major downhill ski areas:

Situated on 2,500 acres in Stowe, Vermont, Trapp Family Lodge (yes, that Trapp Family of “Sound of Music fame”) is a mountain resort that combines Austrian-inspired architecture and European-style accommodations with the best of Vermont. The Lodge offers stunning mountain views, old-world comforts, and impeccable service, along with activities for every season, but it boasts being one of the first American resorts built around cross-country skiing. Its cross-country center celebrated its 50th anniversary last winter and offers one of the most extensive trail systems – a whopping 160 km of terrain. (The Trapp Family Lodge is hosting the NCAA Nordic championships, March 6-9.) Snowshoeing is also popular (rentals available). Take a horse-drawn sleigh ride through the meadows with stunning views into the valley. Enjoy any number of tours to learn about the history of the von Trapp family and lodge; how maple sugar is made; tour the von Trapp Brewing’s state-of-the-art brewery on site; dine in the Bierhall to sample the lagers and enjoy the authentic Austrian experience and cuisine. There’s also ice/rock climbing, spa, pool, hot tub and three restaurants. When you get the urge for downhill skiing, Stowe is nearby. (www.trappfamily.com)

Mountain Top Inn & Resort, set on 350 acres ringed by the Green Mountain National Forest, is breathtakingly enchanting, offers 60 km of groomed cross-country ski trails (snowmaking on a 2 km loop insuring optimal conditions); horse-drawn sleigh rides; a small old-fashioned (natural) skating pond; snowshoeing (twilight tours available); snowmobiling; spa; hot tub; fire pits; and the coziest fireplaces. It’s also a 30 minute drive to Killington Mountain for downhill skiing (shuttle transportation available, 8:30 am, returning 4:30 pm; reserve in advance). The most charming of inns offers 32 rooms plus 23 individual guest houses; dining at The Mountain Top Tavern (with 12 Vermont Craft Brews on tap) and fireside dining in the dining room. Downhill skiing at Killington and Pico is a short drive away. www.MountainTopInn.com.

Ski Vermont offers a Take 3 Pass program whereby beginner skiers and riders can take three lessons for a package price of $129 and choose to redeem all three lessons at the same participating resort or at a different participating resort for each lesson. Each pass will include rental equipment for the day plus a group lesson with a professional instructor and a lift ticket to access beginner terrain. Visit skivermont.com for more information.
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