by Paul Maraschiello

Sugarbush was the first Vermont ski area I had ever visited. My memory of that trip, as a rank beginner who had never skied anything more difficult the Kissing Bridge in Western N.Y., was of a HUGE mountain with lots of terrain that was well beyond my skiing ability. We had a wonderful time on my first trip to Vermont and I was psyched on this trip. Although I had skied Sugarbush a number of times since then, I had not been there in many years. I was looking forward to visiting this old friend with my teenaged daughter Jessie and introducing her to the mountain where I learned what REAL skiing was all about.

When we arrived at Sugarbush, I didn't even recognize the place! High-speed quads had replaced the old double chairs I remembered and there seemed to be some kind of Magic Carpet conveyor that brought people from the Gate House area to the Valley House area. I had heard that Sugarbush had purchased Mt. Ellen a few years ago and had recently connected them with the world's longest high-speed detachable chair, so I expected to see some changes but I never expected all the improvements that were evident.

When we got into the lodge, it was crammed with people. It was the Friday before New Year's and Sugarbush was booked to capacity. We grabbed a quick breakfast and headed to the slopes. From the Gate House Lodge, we rode the two chairs all the way to the top of North Lynx. We had decided to take it easy the first run, but Jessie got off the chair and started down Morning Star, without looking at the signs. I could see where she was going and thought, "OH NO, she's heading right down a Black Diamond trail for the first fun of the day" and I was right behind her!

When I caught up with her, she had realized her mistake but it was too late. We had no choice and scolded ourselves for warming up on an expert trail. Luckily, the slope was in great shape, the moguls were skiable, and we really didn't have any trouble. By the time we arrived at the bottom, we were laughing at ourselves for what we had done. Although she knew that it's always advisable to warm up on an easy trail, my daughter learned that a wrong turn at an unfamiliar ski area could create problems.

We rode to the top again and took a run on Sunrise. The cover was excellent and now that we were "warmed up", the skiing was really great. There was tons of snow and we were having a blast. After that, we started a systematic exploration of Sugarbush. We did Castlerock run and Lift Line, both expert trails. We rode the Heaven's Gate chair and skied Organgrinder which was also in great shape.

By noon, we had racked up enough vertical miles to warrant a lunch brake. When we went inside, we were again struck by the huge amount of people that were in the base lodge. The liftlines had moves so fast and the people where so spread out on the mountain, that we had forgotten that it was Christmas week, one of the busiest weeks during ski season. After dining on cafeteria cuisine, we were headed back to the slopes committed to really exploring the new Sugarbush and cram as much fun into this ski trip as humanly possible.

This time we rode the Super Bravo Express and took an easy run down Birdland to pick up the Valley House Double chair. I looked off to the left at Steins's Run and remembered my first experience with that trail. I had just learned to ski and I must have fallen every four feet, all the way down the mountain. Stein's Run had not changed much, over the years. It was still bumped up and looked intimidating. The Mall looked much more hospitable, so we opted to ski the Mall, right under the chair. Jessie, as usual shot ahead and maintained her strong lead, all the way to the bottom.

At this point, we decided to explore Mt. Ellen and ride the new Slide Brook Express. This lift is billed as the longest fastest detachable quad in the world. It may be, but for us, it was the scariest. This lift runs up and down the mountains to get over to Mt. Ellen. I'm am comfortable riding chair lifts and I never mind how high off the ground the chair is when I'm riding UP a mountain. Riding DOWN the mountain, is a different story. When the Slide Brook Express crested the first ridge and started going down, the experience was similar to starting down on a roller coaster, only you're going a little slower. My knuckles began to get white as we started to descend. The ride had the same effect on Jessie. When we looked down, the thought occurred to us that it really is a LONG, LONG, LONG way to the bottom. It gives you the impression that you'd be airborne for a quarter of a mile should you fall from the chair. I know chairlifts are really safe, but riding a lift DOWN a mountain still makes me uncomfortable. If you like thrills, getting there can be half the fun of skiing Mt. Ellen.

Mt. Ellen has many more gentler slopes than the other mountains at Sugarbush and is usually an excellent place to explore if you are not an expert skier. There is still Exterminator and Black Diamond which are expert slopes that can really challenge the best skiers, and many other trails that skiers of every ability can enjoy. Unfortunately, that day going to Mt. Ellen was a bad idea, the entire mountain was fogged in. It was overcast where we had been skiing before, but it was "pea soup" at Mt. Ellen. We didn't let that deter us, however. We rode up the North Ridge Express and skied Bravado by "braille". Skiing with limited visibility is an excellent exercise in keeping over the balance point of your skis and skiing under control. After that run, we treated ourselves to a cup of hot chocolate at and headed back to the Gate House area.

Of all the ski resorts I have visited recently, I was most impresses with all the improvements at Sugarbush. They seem to provide lots of varied terrain, excellent choices among expert bump runs, and were really able to move a lot of skiers onto the mountain. It was obvious that they had made a real commitment to snowmaking and they are able to really cover the mountain with man-made snow, even when Mother Nature does not cooperate. The multi-million dollar investment this resort has made in snowmaking and new lifts will attract really good skiers back to this mountain again and again. If you haven't visited Sugarbush in the past few years, make it a point to visit it soon, you won't be disappointed.


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