Sugarbush Additions Improve the Family Ski Experience

By Jeff and Stephanie Sylva

If you are planning a family ski trip this winter, Sugarbush Resort in Warren, Vermont is offering new reasons to make it the family travel destination of choice. The recent unveiling of Lincoln Peak Village, Clay Brook Residences, and the Gate House Base Lodge make this mountain resort an excellent setting for a memorable family ski vacation. Sugarbush now offers more than just great skiing. The new Lincoln Peak Village improvements have given this resort a touch of luxury and convenience that are sure to be a hit with any family.

Luxury and Convenience

A 45 million dollar project undertaken by Sugarbush has transformed their Lincoln Peak base area into one of the Northeast's premier ski destinations. The number one concern many families have when choosing a ski resort is convenience. The new Lincoln Peak Village, which opened in mid-December of 2006, deliver all that and more.

The 61 ski in/ski out residences at Clay Brook offer some great amenities, such as valet and underground parking and a ski valet just a few steps from the main lifts. A boot valet will take your boots after skiing or riding and have them heated and dried for the next day, which is great for keeping the family apartment less cluttered. A year-round outdoor heated pool and hot tubs and a well-equipped fitness room are also provided. Located just steps from the new base lodge and the Super Bravo and Gate House lifts, these accommodations take all the effort out of getting to and from the slopes. Guests can choose relaxed yet refined accommodations ranging from studios to five-bedroom residences. Each apartment is beautifully appointed with comfortable hardwood furniture, custom cabinetry, and modern kitchens with granite countertops.

The brand new Gate House, which doubles the size of the old base lodge, has a food court, pub and café, and a spacious dining area. Interestingly, all ski bags must be left in the storage area or lockers downstairs. This eliminates the annoying habit of skiers “reserving” a table by piling up their bags.

Another growing trend at ski resorts is more upscale dining choices for skiers. Just across the courtyard, on the south wing of Clay Brook, the newly-opened Timbers Restaurant offers a stunning atmosphere and provides a refreshing alternative to the “peanut butter and jelly sandwich stuffed into the pocket of your ski jacket” approach to slope-side meals. The 6,000 square-foot post-and-beam barn, which fits in perfectly with the rest of the village, has a 45-foot vaulted ceiling. The upscale menu is an interesting blend of local produce and farm products that is sure to engage even the most discerning of palates. One of the appetizers of local design is the Freshest Mess of Organic December Greens & Herbs tossed in a Sassy Minus-8 Ice Wine Vinaigrette with Sundried VT Heirloom Cranberries, Raw-Milk Farmhouse Blue cheese, Spiced Pumpkin Seeds and Local Wildflower Bee Pollen. Main course options include entrees such as Long Trail Ale Braised Vermont Country Rabbit with Horseradish Mashed Potatoes, Natural Pan Drippin's & Candied Bay Carrots. Timbers Restaurant also provides a children's menu for both lunch and dinner.

On the Slopes – The Learning Experience

Sugarbush's Adventure Learning Center has lessons, clinics and camps for every age and ability level. Programs are available at both the Lincoln Peak and Mt. Ellen base areas. Children's programs are separated by both age and ability level. The youngest lesson age group is the Micro Bears – an on-snow Day Care program for 3-year olds. Kids are introduced to skiing with a one-hour lesson in the morning and in the afternoon. This is a great way for youngsters to be introduced to the thrill of snow sliding, allowing Mom and Dad to enjoy skiing on their own.

The Mini Bears program is for children ages 4-6 who are just starting out or have been on skis before. With groups limited to no more than 8 children per instructor, this program includes two-hour on-snow sessions in the morning and afternoon and a lift ticket is provided for each child. Sugar Bears, which accommodates all ability levels, is for kids ages 7-12. Again, with only 8 per instructor, kids can enjoy a full day of skiing or riding and plenty of personalized instruction.

Special Programs

Offered only during school vacation periods, the Adventure Camps offer some intense skiing and riding instruction and days of fun. For children ages 4-6, the Mini Bear Adventure Camp starts off with a morning of skiing. Rather than continuing to ski in the afternoon, however, these campers take off on snowshoes for an afternoon of hiking, building snow forts and shelters, scavenger hunts, tree identification, animal tracking, and more. The Kids' Winter Adventure Camp, ages 7-12, is for intermediate to expert skiers. Instruction for this group focuses on topics such as steeps, bumps, air, trees, and safety in some of Sugarbush's wildest terrain, including the famous Slidebrook Basin. This program goes beyond teaching skiing and riding skills by providing instruction on picking lines, decision-making, snow and environment conditions assessment, backcountry survival, and rescue techniques. For advanced to expert skiers and riders ages 9-17 looking to pull some threes or dance some jibs, the Junior Freestylers' Camp is the answer. Freestylers will focus on switch riding, carving, basic rails, and straight airs before progressing onto grabs, spins, big airs and linking maneuvers.

For those too young or not quite ready to hit the slopes, the Sugarbush Day School is a state-licensed day care for children ages 6 weeks to 6 years of age. Sugarbush does not offer babysitting services, but a list of local babysitters is available at the Sugarbush Inn for parents to use.

A Great Mix of Terrain

Sugarbush has some great ski schools and luxurious and convenient slope-side accommodations, but what's the skiing like? After all, this is what a family ski vacation is about. Well, according to Powder magazine's 2006 Resort Guide, “… Sugarbush is one of those resorts that has it all….” With 2 mountains, 111 trails, 11 gladed areas, 54 miles of terrain, 508 skiable acres, 2,600 vertical feet, 16 lifts including 5 high-speed quads, 4 terrain parks & 1 superpipe, and 2,000 acres of untracked wilderness terrain in slide Brook, Sugarbush will thrill every skier, from beginner to advanced. The best way to become familiar with the mountain is to take one of the free “Meet the Mountain” tours offered at 9:30 a.m. each day. With 51 trails rated as Intermediate and 24 as Beginner, Sugarbush has plenty of well-groomed cruisers for the majority of family skiers who have at least some skiing experience and ability. The 36 Expert trails will challenge even the best of skiers and riders. For the more adventurous, the Outback Guided Tour into Slide Brook Wildlife Management Area is a 2-2 ½ hour tour down exhilarating woods lines in the Basin. This tour, for experts only, costs $40 and does not include a lift ticket or equipment. If getting into the backcountry interests you, but you don't have the skiing ability for the tour into Slide Brook, try the Outback Guided Tour on snowshoes. The same $40 fee provides snowshoes and a single lift ride to the beginning of Wilderness terrain and, of course, your guide. Good physical condition for aerobic activity is necessary and snow boots are required for this 2-2 1/2 -hour tour.

Off the Slopes

In addition to the Outback Guided snowshoe tour, non-skiers (or those wanting to do something other than snow sliding) can rent snowshoes from the Guest Service Kiosk at Lincoln Peak or the Guest Service Desk at Mt. Ellen for $15 per day and explore a variety of trails. Other activities include ice skating at the public outdoor rink in nearby Waitsfield, enjoying a horse-drawn sleigh ride, shopping in the villages of Warren and Waitsfield, or spending the day at the resort's fully-equipped health club and spa, which includes indoor pool, fitness room, tennis, racquetball, climbing wall, yoga/fitness classes, and massage therapy. There is a $15/day user fee for the health club.

Cross Country skiers can find some great trails and beautiful scenery at either Ole's Cross Country Center or Blueberry Lake Cross Country Center, both of which are just a short distance from Sugarbush.

One special activity that someone in the family might feel compelled to do is ride shotgun in one of the mountain's groomers. This one-hour ride with one of the grooming pros has very limited space and is only available when grooming operations are scheduled, so reservations are necessary. The cost is $40. Reservations can be made far in advance, but there is no guarantee on dates and times because it depends on grooming needs and schedule.

Horseback riding can be a real treat when you ride Icelandic horses. Visit the Vermont Icelandic Horse Farm in Waitsfield to experience the unusually gentle riding gait of these wonderful horses. Winter is actually a great time of year for these horses, as they grow a shaggy coat and revel in the snow. Another favorite attraction is the Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream Factory located 30 minutes away in Waterbury, Vermont.

Other Lodging Options

There are plenty of other options at Sugarbush for those families who do not want to opt for the luxury and cost of the new Clay Brook residences. A wide range of condominiums on or near the mountain is available and can be booked online at www.sugarbush.com. Prices range from just under $100 for a motel room to more than $500 per night for a three or four bedroom. Just click on the “Eat & Stay” link and you'll find an extensive list of luxury condos, B&B's, country inns (like the Sugarbush Inn, a more traditional inn located close to the mountain offering a full breakfast and access to the Health and Racquet Club as part of the package), nearby lodges and motels, and contacts for vacation homes.

A number of dining options, both on and near the mountain, are also available on the Sugarbush website. The Grill, located in the Sugarbush Inn, is a casual, contemporary American restaurant and welcomes children. Another very popular family restaurant in nearby Waitsfield is American Flatbread (802- 496-8856). The Den also has good pub food. For a quick burger and beer, try the Blue Tooth in the early evening before 8 pm. After that time, the restaurant becomes crowded and more of a bar-type atmosphere.

If You Go:

The Mad Bus: This bus service gets its name from the area's Mad River Valley, not from anything to do with the drivers. This is a free shuttle service operating in and around the resort. It stops at most condo complexes, both base areas, and the Sugarbush Inn. The bus service also covers the Valley floor. Routes and schedules are available at www.madrivervalley.com (click on transportation).

Contact Information: For information on Sugarbush, call 1-800-53-SUGAR or visit the resort's website at www.sugarbush.com.

Vermont Icelandic Horse Farm: Trails rides are available by reservation only. For more information, call 1-802- 496-7141 or visit www.icelandichorses.com.

Getting There: Sugarbush is a three-hour drive from Boston and about a 51/2-hour drive from New York City. There is plane service to Burlington, which is about a forty-five minute drive to Sugarbush.

Ole's X-Country Ski Center: Call the Ski Center toll free at 1-877-863-3001 or visit www.olesxc.com.

Blueberry Lake X-Country Ski Center: Information on this Ski Center is available by calling 1-802-496-6687.

Jeff and Stephanie Sylva are retired high school teachers and have been professional travel writers for 18 years. Their daughter Jennifer, who is currently in college, often travels with them.

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