“Do you like it in the woods, little boy?”, asked the broad shouldered, bearded dude with fat Dynastars dangling from his feet as we rode the Heaven’s Gate chair. Ok, I added the “little boy” bit for effect, but this was typical of many conversations with locals over a quite superb weekend at Sugarbush. Sugarbush has an abundance of excellent terrain, but the woods are really where the action is.
This has been an exceptional snowy year in New England, and with this much coverage on the ground, Sugarbush really shines. It offers more advanced terrain than I could ski in a week. With so many options tucked away in the trees, varying from steep, two ski wide shots like Rumble, to wide open, high speed woods like Eden, the potential for fun is endless.
Friday saw a good 6 inches of freshies settle on the mountain, meaning on Saturday morning, especially up high, there were plenty of stashes left to play in. After a couple of groomer warmups, we headed up the Heaven’s Gate triple where the combination of packed pow, bumps, steeps and trees kept us occupied until lunchtime (and 10 minutes watching the pond skim – at 22Ff!). Even the usual glacial ice field on Paradise was covered in snow and eminently slidable – something that happens as often as rational debate at a Tea Party meeting, I suspect.
The rest of weekend was just full of exceptional skiing. The Castlerock terrain was worthy of afternoon laps, especially on Sunday when it seemed we had the mountain to ourselves.Rumble might just be one the best ‘runs’ I’ve ever skied – anywhere. Castlerock and Middle Earth softened to become epic, continuous bump runs that turned seasoned thighs to tofurkey by the bottom.
We also hopped on the Slide Brook Express at 10am Sunday to explore an almost deserted Mt Ellen – the ski area that time forgot, according to a patroller we rode the chair with. If anything, the snow was in even better condition there. Exterminator and Bravo were steep pitches, loaded with perfectly formed, soft (for New England), big, bad ass bumps. Way Back Woods below these was just perfect tree skiing. Off the Summit chair, FIS was a bumpy but wide enough to rip, and Black Diamond, directly under the chair, was bump skiing as good as it gets. You could carve anything on those puppies without fear of providing carnage-based entertainment to the chair riders above.
Fatigue was setting in by 3.30pm on Sunday, but conditions were just too good to stop. Lew’s Line, with its twisting fall line and tight trees, provided an epic penultimate tree run of the weekend. A final cruise through the gentler, widely spaced Eden Woods was all I had left after that. Luckily the lifts closed, putting an end to my ‘misery’.
We bookended the weekend at Sugarbush with days at Okemo and Stratton. These are fine, enjoyable ski hills, but pale into cruisey insignificance compared to the magnificence of Sugarbush’s terrain. I realize we’ve been lucky this season with conditions, and the gnarly terrain that veils Lincoln and Castlerock Peak isn’t always as accessible or rock/log free as we’ve seen it. But along with Jay Peak, if the snow is deep and the temperatures cold, Sugarbush is worth traveling a long way to experience at it’s peak. It’s a magnificent, unique, New England ski experience that will test the skills of any Western huckster.
Sugarbush 10300m, 11900m
Season totals: 51 days, 407,100m vert, 12 powder days