“Do you want to move to Vermont just so you can ski?” he asked.
It was an unexpected and unfathomable question. During this trip away from my Chicago-area home, I had briefly glimpsed Mount Mansfield, Vermont’s tallest peak. It was green, like the state’s motto promised, but I didn’t stop to think how that color would change with the seasons.
“No,” I sputtered. “I’m from the Midwest. I don’t ski.”
Personally, it was the truth. Regionally, it was a massive oversimplification. I knew a few Midwesterners who skied, but not any who went east to do so.
Which, really, is a pity. A ski trip to northern Vermont is half the driving time and fewer hours in the air than a manifest destiny mission to the heralded resorts out west. The Green Mountain State’s slopes are rugged, unforgiving at times and fiercely individual. So, too, are the Vermonters who ski them through sun, snow, rocks and, yes, even rain.
About half a dozen ski areas range from an upscale, nationally renowned resort to a family slope that routinely sends members to the Olympics — all within two hours of Burlington. After seven winters in Vermont and a better-late-than-never conversion to the skiing set, I’ve found the state’s ski areas shake down into three categories.
For office watercooler name-dropping along the lines of Aspen and Vail, Stowe is the only way to go.
Stowe Mountain Resort is one of the state’s largest, with dozens of trails. A nearly three-mile beginner run follows an old buggy toll road, while double black diamonds shoot under the lifts on the 4,395-foot Mount Mansfield. Primarily, you’ll ski with other transported flatlanders — but locals flock to the slopes midweek for early morning, prework runs. The town of Stowe offers plenty après-ski dining and shopping opportunities, and the Ben & Jerry’s factory tour is nearby.
Sugarbush Resort in Warren — less than an hour’s drive from Stowe — gives skiers views of the extremely picturesque Mad River Valley, and Smugglers’ Notch in Jeffersonville markets itself as a family-friendly resort.
For those who like to return from trips with a sense they’ve “discovered” something, northern Vermont offers a few chances to get off the beaten ski path.
Bolton Valley Resort is hardly hidden. Less than an hour outside Burlington, its slopes can be seen from the city at night when trails are lit for the 4-to-8 p.m. crowd. (Locals often sneak in night ski races.) But the area boasts solid deals: $32 for an all-day lift ticket Monday through Wednesday versus the $54 to $84 for a single day at Stowe. It’s a great place to catch a few last runs before pointing the car west, or catching a plane for home.
Another hidden treasure is Middlebury College’s Snow Bowl. On weekend mornings, you’ll see the slopes packed with ski racers and gaggles of ski school kids and sometimes adults — it’s where patient instructors finally brought the sport and I together.
Jay Peak Resort, the state’s northernmost ski area, is a 90-minute-plus trek out of Burlington on roads most visitors to Vermont rarely tread. The reward? Jay often catches oodles of natural snow and, with the Canadian dollar hovering around par with ours, a bunch of Quebecers from just across the border.
The Way We Were
Vermonters of, ahem, a certain vintage carved their first turns not at big resorts but dodging apple trees on town hills, using a rope tow powered by a tractor engine. And it’s in that spirit that some destinations still operate today.
Started almost 50 years ago by a family that wanted to teach their children to ski, Cochran’s Ski Area in Richmond produced 1972 Olympic gold medalist Barbara Cochran and now fields a second generation on the U.S. Ski Team. The slope is where Burlingtonians, including a
Mad River Glen in Fayston has incredible terrain, a no-snowboards policy and a single-chair (as in one person per bench) lift still in operation. And, in true Vermont fashion, it is a cooperative where skiers can buy ownership shares in the ski area. You’ll most likely see Mad River’s infamous “Ski it if you can” bumper stickers the minute you enter Vermont, as well as such homemade variations as “Ski it on your can.”
Both areas try to do as little artificial snowmaking as possible, so call or check their Web sites for conditions before you head out to ski into history.
Take a Peek at New York Slopes
Another hour down the road lies the other New York haven for Clevelanders’ winter thrills, Holiday Valley. Recently ranked No. 5 in the east by SKI Magazine, this 56-slope skiing and snowboarding mecca in Ellicottville boasts newly expanded tubing and terrain parks, as well as weekend lift tickets that are identical in price to the Peek’s. Jan. 5 and 6 the Valley will celebrate its 50th anniversary with a party and cookout. Drop in Jan. 26 for the Red Bull Rhythm Sections, a unique freestyle course competition for riders and skiers. Go to www.holidayvalley.com or call (716) 699-2345 for more information.
— Kim Stredney
Gear: Whole packages (skis/snowboards and boots) are easily rented at shops around Burlington as well as closer to the larger resorts. Flyers bringing their own gear should always take boots in carry-on bags, just in case.
Deals: Ski-area Web sites, local publications and ski shops often offer discounted lift ticket deals, especially in March after most of the seasonal vacation crowd has swept through.
On the Web:
www.skivermont.comOne-stop shopping for the state’s ski resorts
www.vermontskimuseum.org Need a break from the slopes? Stop here in Stowe.