'New' Sugarbush Blooms With Flurry of Improvements

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WARREN, Vt. -- Sometimes you come across a travel secret you hate to tell people about for fear it might get spoiled. The "new" Sugarbush is that kind of place.

The resort long has been a favorite of "extreme" skiers, lured by its rugged trails, exciting twists and turns and natural snow environment. But unlike nearby resorts such as Killington, Sugarbush, created in 1959, has done little upgrading or expanding, in part because of longstanding legal entanglements. Consequently, it never became as popular as its competitors.

American Skiing Co. (which also owns Killington) sought to change all that when it purchased Sugarbush in 1995. The fruits of the new owner's labors showed clearly during the 1997 winter season, with the resort promoting itself under the apt banner, "Peace, love and a ton of snow."

Improvements were many. By the time my family of four visited last winter, the resort boasted seven new lifts, including four high-speed quads and a 300% increase in snowmaking.

The resort also featured a connection between its North and South mountains that is truly unique. The Slide Brook Express, the world's longest and fastest high-speed quad, takes passengers on a ride literally across a forest. The trip takes about 10 minutes and offers breathtaking views of the Green Mountains and, sometimes, of area wildlife, including bears. The Slide Brook Express basically doubled skiing terrain at the resort, enabling it to offer a number of trail options. So many, in fact, that we found the trails at North Mountain gloriously empty during our visit.

Family AdventureLand, the main feature at North Mountain, offers an entire mountain dedicated to family skiing, including Sugarbear and his friends, costumed characters kids can say "hi" to at the base lodge and sometimes on the trails.

Sugarbush has 112 trails in all, including the three highest skiable peaks at one resort in the East. Snowboarding is offered at Mountain Rage, which features a custom-designed snowboard park and a precision-cut half pipe.

New for the 1998 season will be a tubing park and Godzilla, a new terrain trail which will be open to skiers and snowboarders featuring banks, spines, jumps, table tops, moguls and an extreme-steep section.

Ski lessons at Sugarbush are offered on South Mountain, where the resort boasts a new children's center. Day care also is offered for children ages 6 weeks to 3 years in the Sugarloaf Village. Learning programs group kids by age and ability level and cater to those between the ages of 2-and-a-half to 16. The resort features family packages and other family offerings, including movie nights, weekly fireworks, snowshoeing, a teen center and a kid's night out program.

Natural snow conditions are a plus at Sugarbush. The area gets an average of about 350 inches of natural snow a year. We had 12 to 18 inches of new snow during our visit, and although you can't control Mother Nature, friends reported similar great weather and snowfalls on their visit.

Another big plus is the Mad River Valley, which represents low-key Vermont at its best, complete with a wonderful general store, steepled churches, clapboard homes and covered bridges. There are no strip malls or fast-food outlets to be found.

Lodging facilities at the resort offer options that include everything from economy ski dorm rooms to ultradeluxe condos. The 46-room Sugarbush Mountain Inn is a full-service resort hotel. We stayed at the Southface condominiums, which are multilevel solar dwellings. Our comfortable unit offered three bedrooms; two bathrooms; a large living room with a fireplace and a television (a necessity with my kids), and a well-equipped kitchen.

Guests in Sugarbush's lodgings have access to a sports center that offers a heated swimming pool, indoor tennis, racquetball, squash and a weight room. Sugarbush also has a cross-country ski center that offers 15 miles of groomed trails. Rentals are available.

The resort planned to open the Grand Summit Hotel, a slopeside hotel/condominium property, next year, but the project has been delayed because of pending environmental studies, a spokesman said. It is slated to open in 1999.

Sugarbush is located 45 miles southwest of Burlington, Vt., on Interstate 89. For ski-and-stay package information, call Sugarbush (800) 53-SUGAR.

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