The Gateway Vacation took place in February of 2014. My husband and I were eager to get our three young children started with skiing, with the pipe dream of one day owning a New England mountain property where we would wistfully pass winters swishing first tracks in fresh powder and sipping cocoa and Cabernet. Friends offered us a free stay at their Sugarbush condo – a bit off the beaten path, they said, but entirely worth it. Seeking to outsource the “fun” of teaching toddlers to ski, we enrolled the kids in the Ski and Ride School for three consecutive days.
We dropped them off at the Schoolhouse each morning with enough layers for extreme weather survival and plenty of Starburst to remind them how much fun skiing would be (there’s candy!) and headed off to explore the varied terrain. By the end of day 3, we were a family of five, actually skiing, in a line, under control, down First Time. Success! After a few more visits to our friends’ condo, I soon realized that their continued generosity was part of a larger ploy to draw us into the incredible community that is Sugarbush.
At Sugarbush, the question is posed to you: How adventurous do you want to be? The mountain offers endless opportunities for recreation on its property, and the Mad River Valley extends these opportunities even further. Summer season is ideal for hiking on well-marked trails inviting to all levels. Mountain biking trails are well-maintained and all the gear you’ll need to ride is available at the on-mountain pro shop. A challenging par-70 golf course has breathtaking views which are second to none. Summer camps offer a variety of options for kids, from farm-to-table cooking lessons to downhill mountain biking adventures. Water sports are enjoyed at Blueberry Lake and at various locations along the Mad River.
There are endless miles of meandering, country roads waiting to be explored by runners and bikers alike. Even in winter, besides skiing there are miles of trails for snowshoeing, cross country skiing or fat biking. Need more of a challenge? Gear up and test your skills and fitness level with an alpine touring climb on dedicated routes or in backcountry areas. And if all of this sounds too ambitious, simply settle in fireside at Castlerock Pub with a good book while the rest of your tribe braves the elements.
Today our three children are competent skiers and snowboarders, enjoying their third season in the Blazers Program where they learn not only how to improve their ski and ride skills, but other valuable lessons about the skier code and mountain etiquette, land stewardship and resource management, and exploring off-piste and backcountry areas safely. They spend much of every Saturday and Sunday outdoors regardless of conditions, communicating face to face with both kids and coaches and managing their own gear and personal needs. The level of freedom and responsibility the Blazers program offers our children is simply not something we can replicate at home in our own neighborhood. I remind myself of these valuable life lessons when they take off ahead of me or drop into the woods seeking a fresh stash of powder.
Determined to keep up with the kids? Instructional programs offered at Sugarbush do not only cater to children. During introductions on day one of the Women’s Discovery Camp, I announced that my sole purpose was to avoid a repeat of the day my kids scolded their father, “Dad, you never should have taken Mom down this trail!” My competitive nature drove me to seek that same level of instruction my kids were enjoying. I may have a conservative approach to sketchy conditions or challenging terrain, but I’ve replaced the panic button with a toolkit of strategies thanks to the skier development programs offered at the mountain. Be Better Here is not just a tagline – it’s a philosophy truly embraced by every employee at the Ski and Ride School.
Prior to becoming official Sugarbush homeowners in 2016, we visited several other New England ski resorts. Some were ruled out by location, some were too small, and some were too vast. Others were ruled out simply because no one bothered to hold the doors for anyone behind them.
At Sugarbush, we found the Goldilocks of a family ski destination: unlimited, year-round adventure that we’d never outgrow, superior instructional programs for all ages, and an authentic Vermont community vibe. Walk around the Lincoln Peak courtyard on any given day and you’ll see one thing everyone has in common – a smile. Maybe it’s the hot apple cider, or the s’mores, or the chocolate-drizzled waffles, but there’s a sweetness in the air that allows you to lower your shoulders a bit, take a breath, hold the door, rejoice in the fresh snowfall, or look forward to a good night’s sleep in a place you can call your own.