Going places: Vermont’s major ski resorts prepare for strong season

Karen Rubin

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Skiing – and generally being outdoors – is still the best way to enjoy winter getaways this season. The best improvements to the guest experience made last year at Ski Vermont destinations are in place for this year – touchless ticketing, food and beverage choices, making outdoor spaces more comfortable with fire pits, wind screens. Visitors are encouraged to “know before you go” to check on policies and whether tickets and ski rentals need to be pre-purchased or reserved in advance, especially with the situation so changeable (see Skivermont.com/know-before-you-go for updates throughout the season).

Three of Vermont’s major ski resorts – Mount Snow, Okemo and Stowe – are now part of Vail Resorts, which means they are also part of the Epic Pass and the Epic Local Pass is a great choice for those who want to mainly visit their “home” resort – much more affordable than a traditional, single-mountain season pass plus it also grants access to other great resorts across the region. (Details: https://www.epicpass.com/passes/epic-local-pass.aspx).

Three of Vermont’s majors are part of Alterra Mountain Company or partners with its IKON pass (Killington/Pico, Stratton and Sugarbush, see https://www.ikonpass.com/en/shop-passes/ikon-pass) which also gives skiers that much more flexibility and diversity.

Here’s what’s up at Vermont’s mountain resort destinations:

Mount Snow Resort

Mount Snow, located in southern Vermont and one of the most easily reachable major ski resorts from the major metro areas, offers 600 acres of terrain, including 100 acres of terrain parks with world-class features (and host to the X Games). Mount Snow is known for the most powerful snowmaking system in East – capable of taking 100 acres from bare to skiable in a mere 30 hours. Mount Snow is also home to the Bluebird Express – the first six passenger bubble lift in the East. This year, Mount Snow is adding a new 42,000 square foot lodge to the Carinthia Base Area.

Stay slopeside at the deluxe Grand Summit Resort Hotel and Conference Center with 197 rooms, spa, health club, outdoor heated pool, outdoor jacuzzi, dining, shops, and complimentary valet. Snow Lake Lodge is a comfortable and affordable 92 room lodge (retro) conveniently located at the resort. Condo units ranging in size from 1-to-4 bedrooms are also available. There are also many charming B&Bs, inns, and hotels throughout the Mount Snow Valley.

(86 trails, 10 terrain parks, 20 lifts including 3 hi-speed quad and 1 six-pack bubble on 600 skiable acres, with 1700-ft vertical. Mountsnow.com, 802-448-6819)

Okemo Mountain Resort

Okemo Resort, in south central Vermont, has a well-deserved reputation as a family resort, and is also known for snow quality, great grooming and variety of trails to suit every ability (and some of the best skiing for intermediates). We love Okemo’s homey charm and intimacy. This year, skiers will benefit from a “transformational” lift upgrade – the mid-mountain, fixed-grip triple chair was replaced with the four-person bubble chair from Jackson Gore area so it takes just 4 minutes, down from 12, to the top; meanwhile, Jackson-Gore has a new six-pack high-speed detachable express lift. Also, a new access trail was cut from the Jackson Gore base to improve flow around the mountain on less traveled trails.

Okemo has become one of the best self-contained ski resorts in New England with ski in/out luxury lodging at Jackson-Gore, and loads of activities including spa, pool, tubing, ice skating pavilion, and 16 restaurants.

The Adventure Zone at Jackson Gore offers year-round activities including Sawyer’s Sweep Zipline Tour, Amp Energy Big Air Bag, and climbing wall. The Spring House offers state-of-the-art fitness facilities sauna an oversized hot tub and family swimming pools with slides splash features and fountains.

(121 trails. 12 glades, 7 terrain parks, half pipe on 667 acres with a 2200-ft. vertical, accessed by 20 lifts including nine quads, four high-speed quad and one six pack. Lift ticket sales are limited in peak holiday periods; lift ticket is refundable if plans change. Okemo.com, 802-228-1600).

Stowe Mountain Resort

Stowe is celebrating its 85th anniversary all season long with events on the mountain and online. Among the improvements, expansion of Adventure Zones and glades along Stowe’s best intermediate terrain, a new high-speed quad on Mt. Mansfield and new high speed lifts on Spruce, RFID technology tickets and gates, an inter-mountain transfer gondola connecting Mt. Mansfield and Spruce Peak, the 312-room hotel and spa, Stowe Mountain Lodge, a new state-of-the-art Performing Arts Center at Spruce Peak.

(116 trails, 6 glades, 3 terrain parks on 468 skiable acres with a 2360-ft vertical, accessed by 13 lifts including 3 Quads, 3 Hi-Speed Quad, and 2 Gondolas, plus 45 acres of Nordic skiing; snowshoeing; ski in/out lodging, 10 restaurants; pool, hot tub, spa/wellness center, plus dog sledding, Sleigh Rides, Ice/Rock Climbing.

Smugglers’ Notch Resort

Smugglers’ Notch Resort, in northern Vermont, practically invented the family ski holiday and still has a reputation as “America’s Family Resort” for being tops in family programming and activities all day long and into the night.

Smugglers’ offers award-winning children’s programs (with children as young as 2 ½ being introduced to skiing), full day camps for kids to learn how to ski while parents spend the day on the trails, nearly 15-miles of snowshoeing and cross country trails, swimming, ice skating, a Fun Zone 2.0 with a rock climbing wall, a Ninja Warrior Course, enormous inflatables, an arcade, laser tag, and a section for younger ones to play.

There is also snow tubing, and snowshoeing; 8 pools and 4 waterslides; guided hiking; and a zip line canopy tour.

A self-contained resort (you never need to drive – there is even a shuttle to take you around), village amenities include condominiums with fully equipped kitchens, restaurants, a child care center, teen center, a country store, a sport shop, a massage center, and winter ski & ride equipment rental and tuning/repair facilities.

(78 trails, 8 lifts, the highest vertical drop in Northern Vermont at 2,610 feet, and more than 300 inches of natural snow annually. There are multiple terrain parks and 1,000 acres of skiing and riding. 4323 Vermont Route 108 South, Jeffersonville VT 05464, 800-419-4615, 802-332-6854 www.smuggs.com

Stratton Mountain Resort

Stratton Mountain, an Alterra resort and part of the IKON pass (access to 47 resorts around the world), is home to “the great snow guarantee.” A self-contained resort, it offers 99 trails, 160+ acres of glades, 670+ acres of terrain, top-ranked terrain parks, Southern Vermont’s tallest peak, a 2003-ft vertical, the fastest fleet of lifts in the East, convenient lodging, slopeside village, training and fitness center, spa and a full slate of winter and summer events and activities. (5 Village Lodge Rd, Stratton Mountain, VT 05155, Stratton.com, 1-800-STRATTON)

Killington Resort

Killington, known as the “Beast of the East,” is the largest ski resort in New England, legendary for having the longest season (into June). Killington, with seven distinct mountain areas, provides skiers and riders of all ability levels a choice of wide-open groomed cruisers, narrow classic New England runs, moguls, steeps and trees. Its 155 trails, 16 glades, six terrain parks and half pipe on 1509 skiable acres, the second highest peak in the state at 4241 feet and a whopping 3050-ft vertical drop are serviced by 22 lifts including two express gondolas and a high-speed six person bubble chair.

Killington features the only Woodward Mountain Park in the east and is ranked #1 Terrain Park in the East 2020 by Snowboarder Magazine. Progression is made easier with multiple features for snowboarders and freeskiers in six terrain parks, including The Stash: an all-natural terrain park with 50 features, as well as a 500-foot long Superpipe with 18-foot walls.

Killington is known for hosting a jam-packed schedule of bands, festivals, and competitions such as the Audi FIS Ski World Cup, Bike & Brew and Outerbike. Off-mountain activities include tubing, dinner excursions to the Ledgewood Yurt, snowmobile tours, sleigh rides, snowshoeing, spa treatments, shopping and more than 100 restaurants and bars in the region.

Killington (and Pico) are both partners in the IKON Pass program (up to 7 days combined)

The website provides vacation and lodging packages as well as premium experiences, killington.com, 800-621-6867.

Pico Mountain

Pico Mountain, has an altogether different feel from its sister mountain, Killington. Pico is a self-contained resort with a very calm, relaxing vibe, ski in/out lodging accessing 58 trails on 468 skiable acres serviced by seven lifts, including two high-speed detachable quads and an impressive vertical drop of 1,967 ft – higher than 80 percent of Vermont ski areas.

Pico features gentle learning terrain, smooth cruisers (its longest trail, Pike, is a mile long from the summit to the base, and our favorite blue trail, 49er), plus winding black diamond trails, Summit Glades, Upper KA and Sunset 71, descend from the summit. More experienced skiers and riders can take a shot at the mountain’s steepest trail, Giant Killer – a double-black diamond. For glades skiing and riding, Pico offers classic tree skiing on Doozie, Outlaw and Birch Woods. For cruising and carving, check out the green circle and blue square trails off the Golden Express Quad, including Fool’s Gold, Prospector and Gold Rush. Riders and skiers working on their freestyle skills will enjoy the Gold Rush Terrain Park.

All the trails converge back to the base area, so it is easy to stay connected with friends and family throughout the day.

There is also an indoor pool in a recreation center (73 Alpine Dr, Mendon, VT 05701, 866-667-7426, picomountain.com)

Sugarbush Resort

Sugarbush, also an Alterra resort and part of the IKON pass, brings some of the flavor of western skiing to the East. The resort offers 111 trails on 581 skiable acres spread across two mountains—Lincoln Peak and Mt. Ellen—connected by the Slide Brook Express chairlift (what a ride!) and a shuttle bus.

Lincoln Peak offers extensive beginner terrain and lifts, as well as the legendary terrain of Castlerock Peak, with narrow, steep, and winding trails that challenge seasoned experts with an old-time New England ski experience. Get up early for First Tracks on the Lincoln Limo, take the family on a Sunset Groomer Ride, or book the limo for Remote Fireside Dining at Allyn’s Lodge. Lincoln Peak Village offers lodging and dining options.

Mt. Ellen is the third-highest peak in Vermont, with steeps, wide-open cruisers and some great intermediate terrain. Mt. Ellen is where you’ll find the Riemergasse Terrain Park, designed with rails, tables, and jumps for all levels, and home to a series of events and competitions. The base area at Mt. Ellen is a no-frills experience with a classic lodge that’s home to the convivial Green Mountain Lounge.

Twenty-eight marked areas provide beginner to advanced tree skiing, and the 2,000-acre Slide Brook Basin, tucked in between Lincoln Peak and Mt. Ellen, is an adventurer’s paradise.

Other activities include ice/rock climbing, spa/wellness center, pool and hot tub.

(Sugarbush Resort, 102 Forest Drive, Warren, Vt 05674, 802-552-4007, sugarbush.com)

New this year at Sugarbush is the $2.5 million, 4,000-square foot Vermont Adaptive Sports Center at Mount Ellen. Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sports promotes independence and furthers equality through access and instruction to sports and recreational opportunities including alpine skiing and snowboarding in winter; kayaking, canoeing, sailing, cycling, hiking, rock climbing, tennis, horseback riding in summer. More than 400 volunteers serve clients of all abilities with physical, cognitive and emotional disabilities from all over the world, regardless of ability to pay, in three winter programming locations in Vermont – Pico Mountain at Killington; Sugarbush Resort in Warren; and Bolton Valley Resort in Bolton. Summer programs are provided state-wide. For more information, visit www.vermontadaptive.org.

Vermont COVID testing sites are free and open to everybody so visitors who need to get tested before going back to work or travel, can get negative result before returning home. More information at SkiVermont.com.
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Karen Rubin

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