Learning to ski or snowboard at an early age is the perfect way to help young children instill a love for winter. Exploring the slopes helps kids build self-confidence, meet new friends and develop a lifelong affinity for the outdoors.
As the mom of three newer skiers, and as a relative novice myself, I appreciate the security my black diamond husband brings to our family ski trips. Anyone with more than two kids knows that a bigger family means that your parenting goes from man-to-man to zone defense—a fact that plays out in its truest form on the slopes. When our middle daughter wants to push herself and ski some trees, she’s got her dad to join her in the glades while I hang out on the blue cruisers with our other two girls.
So when the opportunity arose to visit Sugarbush Resort on a late winter weekend when my husband had to work, I was a little apprehensive about how I’d manage on the mountain solo. I outlined the parameters as we drove north on a cold Friday afternoon.
“You guys have to listen to me this weekend. Do your best to stay within my sight. If you come to an intersection before the rest of us, wait at the signs. And you have to understand that this trip is going to be different without Daddy here—so please be flexible and patient.” Though I got some pushback on the patient part–“I don’t want to have to go slow!”– with all three girls on board, we were ready to have a super last ski weekend of the season.
It Takes a Village
Saturday morning saw us gearing up at the Farmhouse at Lincoln Peak Village. One thing to note, Sugarbush doesn’t rent helmets and the girls and I ended up purchasing them on the spot at Gate House Adventure Gear. I was worried about paying top dollar buying on mountain, but the price point was actually in keeping with my hometown shop, and I was very happy with the expertise the staff showed in fitting us. As an added bonus, we were able to decorate our new headwear with Sugarbush stickers right then and there.
Dressed and ready, we headed out back to meet with our instructor for our private family lesson. This proved to be a great alternative to sending the girls to ski school for the morning as it allowed us to get acclimated to the mountain together and provided me with the support of another adult at the same time.
We headed up the Gate House quad aiming for Pushover, an easy green where we could try on our ski legs while the instructor got a feel for our varying degrees of ability. On the way down we paused several times to work on tightening up our turns, and check out a tree bearing claw marks from a local black bear, before heading back up for runs down Slowpoke and Over Shot. We were also introduced to Sleeper Road and Sleeper—two easy tree trails sporting some fun bumps that would become our favorites over the course of the weekend. And picking up Sleeper off the Gate House quad gave my daredevil daughter the opportunity to hit Sleeper Chutes, a short-but-fun black diamond trail, before linking back up with us on the blue.
In the afternoon, Candice White, Sugarbush’s VP of Communications, joined us for a few runs, taking us up the Heaven’s Gate triple for a long cruise down Jester and Snowball. We finished up on Spring Fling—which was a little steep for our taste and a bit skied-off as it was afternoon. Next time we’ll hit it earlier in the day or try it after a nice powder dump. The dense fog we encountered on Lincoln Peak kept us from enjoying the stellar views you get on a bluebird day and Jester was shrouded in a thick mist, making for a spectral-like run much of the way down. Either way it’s a great trail with some cool twists and turns.
I loved having Candice’s company and enjoyed watching the distinct, free-heeled grace with which she moved down the mountain on her Telemark skis. As a mom herself, Candice knows kids and skiing, and she helped me wrangle the girls–skiing ahead to catch up to my zippy middle one while I brought up the rear, and hoisting my little one beside her onto the Valley House double. On a side note, that old-school double has been replaced with a spanking new quad for the 2015-16 season, increasing the lift’s capacity to 1,800 people per hour and reducing ride time to eight minutes.
Fresh from the Farm
Looking back through my photos of our Sugarbush weekend it is impossible to ignore a strong theme that emerged from the album—and that theme was food. The dining options at the resort were plentiful, varied, and delicious and we enjoyed several relaxed meals during our stay.
Part of what resonated for me in eating at Sugarbush was the resort’s commitment to sourcing ingredients from local producers. Each of Lincoln Peak’s restaurants offered the traditional, hearty fare you’d expect to see find at a ski resort prepared with its own, unique flair. Turkey chili from nearby Misty Knoll Farm was served at our slopeside lunch at Timber’s and was accompanied by a fluffy cornmeal Johnny Cake. My daughters’ creamy macaroni and cheese was laden with a rich sauce made from Vermont’s famous Cabot cheddar and served with micro greens from Gaylor Farm in neighboring Waitsfield.
Spent from a full day of skiing, I was delighted to stroll through the courtyard from our condo over to Lincoln Peak’s Castlerock Pub for dinner, where burgers made from Neill Farm beef were everyone’s choice. I had a tough time choosing from the many local brews on tap, and ended up opting for one of my favorites—a fresh Austrian lager from the Trapp Family brewery in Stowe.
The highlight, however, was our Sunday morning breakfast at the newest addition to the Sugarbush eating establishments. The Skinny Pancake, which rose from humble beginnings as a food cart on the streets of Burlington, had just opened an annex at the mountain serving up their signature sweet and savory crêpes.
Priding itself on using ingredients from Vermont growers and producers, the Skinny Pancake’s walls were adorned with signs touting the importance of sustainability in the food industry as well as a large “Foodshed” map indicating where throughout Vermont the restaurant’s owners had sourced its provisions. Large, thin pancakes filled with strawberries and honey and garnished with generous mounds of whipped cream, along with rich hot chocolate that was similarly garnished, filled our bellies for day two on the mountain.
Cozy in Claybrook
Our digs for the weekend were in the slopeside Claybrook Hotel where we spread out in a plush, two-bedroom condo. It’s not often that I text pictures to my husband with a note reading, “this is what I want our kitchen to look like,” but that’s exactly what I did when we saw our room. Claybrook’s residences are made for families—and extended families to boot. The condo we were in featured a large, king-bedded master bedroom with a spacious bathroom complete with Jacuzzi tub, a second bedroom with two sets of twin bunk beds, a queen-sized sleeper sofa in the large living room, an enormous, open-plan kitchen and dining area, and an additional full bath. Add tons of closet space, plenty of hooks, and a free-standing storage unit and you have the ultimate in ski-in ski-out accommodations.
Arriving late on Friday evening, my older girls snuggled into their bunk beds with their books while the little one commandeered three-quarters of the king bed I’d later attempt to share with her. I made myself comfortable in the living room, with a fire in the gas fireplace, my journal, and a good book.
Saturday night found us right at home, and a bubble bath was a welcome treat after the girls spent some time spent lounging in the outdoor heated pool and hot tub. We snuggled by the fire for a while before dinner as snow fell outside our windows. Though we opted to eat out that weekend, I could easily see returning to Claybrook with a carload of groceries to prepare some meals in my dream kitchen as it would be nice to both enjoy the condo’s homey vibe as well as to lower trip costs.
In the end, I had no reason to be apprehensive about a solo ski weekend with my girls. Granted, they’re not little ones anymore, but I was still outnumbered. Sugarbush Resort is very user-friendly, with plenty of solid, intermediate terrain, and we had no trouble getting the lay of the land in a short amount of time. Because we only had a couple of days, we didn’t get over to Mount Ellen, the neighboring base area that is linked to Sugarbush by the Slidebrook Express Quad, and there were Lincoln Peak trails we never saw. Next time I guess we’ll have to bring dad!