On two previous visits to Sugarbush, I failed to ski much of the really good stuff, the first time due to inexperience, the second due to low snow. On this mid-January Friday night as we drove over the never-ending switchbacks of Vermont Highway 17 from Whiteface to the delightful Featherbed Inn at Waitsfield, things were looking promising. New snow, all trails open, and clear weather in the forecast. This could be a good weekend to finally explore Sugarbush with impunity.
Saturday morning was beautiful and sunny. And cold. -8F at the base, and a mere -23F at the top of the Heaven’s Gate triple chair. That’s a decent early Spring day temperature on Mars. Thankfully the air was still, the cold kept the holiday weekend crowds away until well after 11am, and the snow in great condition. The groomers were primo, even the steep and often icy Ripcord, which served as an excellent ‘warm up’. Next was a venture into Paradise, with bumps, tight trees and narrow shots through rocky gullies. There was some exposed logs and rocks, but everything was easy to miss. It wasn’t Colorado forgiving packed pow, but it wasn’t Eastern hardpack either. And it was great skiing.
After a quick caffeine-based warmup, the next destination was the fabled Castlerock chair. Mostly fabled I suspect as it has the longest wait between chairs I’ve ever experienced – you could easily have a smoke and a beer and discuss the politics of eliminating the Cuba embargo with the lifty while the next chair rolls around the bullwheel. There’s no snowmaking in this part of the mountain, the trails are narrow and the terrain bumpy and ‘go where you want’ wild. First run was a tester down Castlerock, one I’m happy to report that passed with flying colors. Next had to be Rumble – one of the East’s classic trails. Scary steep in places, mostly no wider than a long pair of skis, with bumps, boulders and logs to hop around. It doesn’t get much traffic so the snow was in excellent condition, and was an absolute thrill to ski. This is a run worthy of its stellar reputation.
Things started to get a little busy as lunch approached, so we grabbed bite and headed out around noon, when the temperature at the base was a balmy 3F. Highlights of the afternoon included the powdery bumps of Organgrinder and Spillsville, the gentle glades around Eden and Sap Line, and the compulsively fun high speed chicanes of Jester. As the sun went down, the crowds diminished in step with the falling temperatures, leaving the mountain almost empty for the last hour. Charging around a deserted mountain with still excellent conditions was the perfect way to end a spectacular day.
With pent up demand from Saturday from the holiday crowds, and warmer temperatures forecast, we thought it wise to start at Mt Ellen, Sugarbush’s old school side, on Sunday morning. Initially this was a fine idea and by 10am we had 3 top-to-bottom laps on the excellent groomers. Then the mob arrived. With the North Ridge Express broken, and the Inverness chair stationary most of the morning, this meant 10-15 minute lift lines both the Green Mountain and Summit quads. Not ideal really. We concentrated on the lower part of the mountain, picking off the bump runs which got better and better as the snow softened in the 35F air. The Cliffs was the stand out – some of the best bumps I’ve skied for a long time. So good I could have lapped them all day. But with weather brewing in the south, we skipped off early to get to Jay Peak before any snowy road mayhem arrived. Mt Ellen would be really, really fun with no crowds and all the lifts working 😉
Sugarbush 9400m, Mt Ellen 5800m vert
Season Totals 17 days, 125,900m vertical, 3 Powder days