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CATCH THE LAST OF THE GREATEST SEASON

by Rob Baker

There has never been a winter like this in Vermont. The combination of snow, snow, snow, high speed quads, gondolas, and no crowds, has made skiing a "peak experience" every run. It has never been this good, and you won't likely see these conditions again for decades.

The superb quality of Vermont's tight, natural-terrain trails like Paradise at Mad River, Hammerhead at Sugarbush, and Goat at Stowe, has never shown better. Perfect conditions abound at all venues, where you can find top-to-bottom mogul lines and 100-inch coverage on many trails. Expect these conditions to last for weeks to come, but check with the mountain to be sure it will be open on weekdays.

Since I have a pass at Sugarbush, I will try to express to you how magnificent things can be when you have conditions like this. Take last Saturday at Mt. Ellen (formerly known as Sugarbush North). Located a few miles north of the "main" Sugarbush resort, now known as Lincoln Peak, the area was covered with 18" new by a spring storm that started on Friday. This was on the heals of 25" received the previous weekend. Not that coverage was low before either storm. In fact, it was already one of the seven best snow years on record.

I arrived at 8:00 in time for one of the first chairs up the Inverness lift with one of my ski pals, from where we crossed over and grabbed the North Ridge lift to the lower summit of the mountain. We streaked down Elbow, which had accumulated the full dump on its previously groomed surface and offered big lines at high speed. The perfect eye opener. We took Cliffs to the bottom of the North Ridge through deep but heavy fresh over last week's bumps. These turns were also fast, with the occasional chest shot in the troughs.

After the first run, we decided to test the Summit Chair and the legendary F.I.S trail and it's neighbor, Black Diamond. At the end of your ride on Summit Chair you begin to appreciate the snow depth when you glide by the tops of 20-foot trees that barely protrude from the snow, making skiable terrain that you could only look at in years past. To the skier's left of F.I.S. there is a glade known to locals as the "Airway," which is a powder run through sparse trees. A lot of snow has accumulated in this area this year and the tree lines are easy to find. At the top of F.I.S. the wind had cleaned off the first few turns, but after that the moguls were perfectly placed for big, round GS turns with opportunities for air and soft landings that even amateur bumpers like me. After that, we had to go back up the Summit Chair for a pass on Black Diamond, which had the best mogul lines so far. Big, well spaced and soft.

On down Looking Good to Tumbler, a moderately wide, classic New England ski run with three short faces offering hold-your-breath and let-'em-rip mogul shots perfect for learning to take the bumps with speed and panache.


My buddy and I decided to move on to the other side of the mountain and take North Ridge back up for runs on Exterminator, Bravo, and Encore. The North side of "North" is a mountain to itself that offers ungroomed mogul runs, trees, and a few groomers. Bravo and Encore are the "social" trails because the run directly under the North Ridge chair. Since North is a small area with loyal local skiers, you almost always see someone you know trying to look good going over the waterfall on Bravo, and you frequently get the opportunity to see some excellent skiing and some great wipe outs. Today was no exception.

In other years, the waterfall area of Bravo can present the skier with patches of ice and rock, not to mention the occasional stump. The local ski tuners consider Bravo a source of discretionary income. This year, however, ski bottoms and edges are just not in your consciousness as you approach the drop off. You can look three turns down the hill as you dive over the crest, never to worry. Occasional face shots and untracked are still around by 10:30, although at this point the snow conditions had turned to pea soup as we moved down to Encore and back to the bottom of North Ridge chair.


Another ride up North Ridge and we sampled Exterminator, crossing over to Encore again. Another ride up North Ridge, and we took lower Exterminator again, via the top of Bravo, via a quick left to cross over. Exterminator always has bumps on a slightly less aggressive pitch than lower Bravo, which makes it a bail out route for many as the morning wears down the quads. The quality of these bumps was smooth and fast. The soft snow was accumulating in piles on the tops, marking the transition from powder to crud.


By 11, we were ready for a break. After lunch we revisited the runs from the morning and found our way over to Hammerhead. This trail is a narrow version of Tumbler that has more pitch and faster lines. Coverage was better than I've seen it in 12 years.


I hope this little tour of Sugarbush North has been fun, and you get out and get some before it's gone. I would compare the skiing last Saturday to a good day at Snowbird. Yep. The sun was !

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