As the mother of three daughters I’ve grown accustomed to being pulled in multiple directions – and navigating multiple personalities, sometimes even in the same child within the course of a few hours. So I’m always happy when an opportunity arises that allows me to travel with just one of my girls. As they enter their teen years, having that one-on-one time feels even more precious, both for them and for me, and getting away from the daily hullaballoo can be hugely restorative.
This time it was Bianca’s turn. My 13-year old middle daughter. My firecracker of a child who likes to ski every black and double black run on the mountain. The one who, on our last Sugarbush visit, got out of bed and joined me to ski early-ups with resort owner Win Smith, flying down Stein’s like a boss and christening the morning’s corduroy. The child has energy to burn and though I knew she’d likely wear me out over the next two days, I was happy to have the time with just her.
Fuel for the Mountain
If you haven’t been to Sugarbush, you probably don’t know that the resort considers eating well almost as important as skiing well. The food, both at Sugarbush and in the Mad River Valley in general, is often sourced hyper-locally and is one of the best parts of spending time up there, so it made perfect sense to plan our weekend loosely around meals. We kicked things off on Friday evening at the Castlerock Pub, where we arrived just as things were wrapping up for the resort’s popular Firkin Fridays.
Never heard of a Firkin? Here’s the 411. Technically, a firkin is a 10.8-gallon (1/4 barrel) keg or cask used to cask-condition beer and is tapped using a wooden or rubber mallet. On that February Friday, Castlerock Pub had tapped a firkin from nearby Middlebury, Vermont’s Drop-In Brewing Company. I can’t recall what beer it held, but it was fresh, delicious, and the perfect accompaniment to my Pub Burger. Firkin Fridays also features oysters, oyster shooters, and buck-a-shuck clams, but the raw bar specials were done by time we got there – next time!
Afterwards, we took a short walk back to Claybrook, laid out our gear for the morning, and tucked into our cozy king bed. We had a full day ahead of us – along with an exciting evening – and a good night’s sleep was in order.
Saturday started, as it almost always does for our family at Sugarbush, with hot chocolate, coffee, and crepes – cheesy eggs with spinach for me, strawberries, hazelnut-chocolate, and whipped cream for the kid – at the Skinny Pancake, another of Sugarbush’s gastronomical hubs. We are big Skinny fans and not just because of their yummy crepes. The one-time Burlington food cart has blossomed since its inception in 2003 and truly walks-the-talk when it comes to eating local. The restaurant’s Sugarbush outpost opened in 2014 and is the perfect spot to fuel up for a day on the mountain, talking over the runs that lay ahead and sitting in the sunshine.
Keeping up with the Kid
Fuel, I soon discovered, that I was very glad to have. After just one warm-up run on snowy Sleeper followed by a bumpy ride down Organgrinder, Bianca was ready to hit Heaven’s Gate and I found myself choosing between Paradise and Ripcord, two double black diamond trails that I’d never skied before. Ripcord, which had been groomed, was the winner. Later, when Bianca texted a picture of our location to her older sister, the reply was, “how did mom get down from there?” The answer? Slowly. While Bianca waited not-so-patiently at the bottom.
Conditions that day were excellent and we spent the morning covering as much terrain as possible at Lincoln Peak, balancing time on tough trails like Stein’s Run with fun, easier-on-the-quads trips down Jester, Snowball, and Moonshine.
After fried pickles, hearty soup, and a fresh salad at Rumble’s Kitchen, named in memory of the sweet Bernese who spent nine years as the mountain’s friendly mascot, we made our way over to Mount Ellen. As chic Lincoln Peak’s vintage neighbor, Mount Ellen has a mellow, retro-vibe, fabulous terrain, and what I think may just be the prettiest view in all of Vermont skiing. So of course I wanted to head straight up to Panorama, squashing the kid’s lobby to ski F.I.S. We only had a couple of hours on Mount Ellen’s trails and spent them cruising down Rim Run, playing in the trees on Semi-Tough, and resting our tired legs on Walt’s Trail.
The Tour de Moon
When the lifts stopped spinning that afternoon we headed into the base lodge, but not to partake in the après festivities happening upstairs at the Green Mountain Lounge as we might normally do. Instead, we found our way to the rental desk to sign-in for our evening adventure, aptly called the Tour de Moon.
This wouldn’t be the first time we hit the mountain après-ski. A couple of seasons ago we set out with a nature guide for Lincoln Peak’s Twilight Snowshoe Adventure, taking the Gate House chair up the mountain at day’s end and winding our way down the Gate House Trail through the woods while searching for evidence of resident critters like moose, woodpeckers, black bears, and owls. This time, however, it would be all uphill.
Our destination that evening was Walt’s at the Glen House, Mount Ellen’s newly refurbished mid-mountain lodge. Walt’s stays open until 7:30 on select evenings throughout the season and while some folks head straight there after their last run, we opted to take the adventurous route.
Because we didn’t have alpine touring setups, John Bleh, Sugarbush Resort’s fantastic marketing guru, arranged to have our skis and boots brought up to the Glen House so that we could get the full experience of skiing down after our snowshoe up. Several other folks were assembled at the base lodge for the experience, some in AT skis, others, like us, wearing snowshoes and planning to ski back down by the light of the moon – or in our case, headlamp.
The sun began to drop in the sky, casting a soft pastel glow over the snow as we started up Straight Shot, a wide green trail that runs beneath the quad. Despite the late afternoon chill, the effort of the climb warmed our bodies quickly and I found myself looking forward to the beer and gourmet grilled cheese sandwich that awaited my arrival.
My kids aren’t big fans of either snowshoeing or Nordic skiing, preferring instead to let the lift do the hard work while they enjoy the downhill cruise. But that evening, even though the trek to the lodge – first on Straight Shot and later on Joe’s Cruiser – was challenging, Bianca took to the challenge with happy perseverance. The trip up took about an hour and I could tell that she was proud to have done it. She was the only kid we saw that night.
Inside Walt’s, the atmosphere was noisy and festive and we found a couple of seats at a table full of local guys who, after a few moments shared conversation, revealed themselves to be enthusiastic supporters of the uphill movement. Over pints of local brew they talked about an upcoming trip to Québec’s famed Chic-Chocs, the awesomeness of a network of backcountry trails near Rochester, Vermont, and a trailblazing organization called RASTA. I had my own introduction to backcountry adventure coming up at Bolton Valley and was both intrigued by their passion for the sport and excited to see so many folks taking advantage of the resort’s guided Saturday trek to Walt’s. Interest in uphill travel had certainly begun to gain some steam and it was great that Sugarbush had found a way to support that interest fun and safely.
Fueled once again (try the Mountain Goat – it’s pretty fabulous) we donned our ski boots in the warmth of the bright, cozy lodge, strapping headlamps to our helmets to illuminate our path down the mountain. Outside felt a little bit like being on Pluto. The wind had kicked up and we found ourselves surrounded by inky blackness and cold, blowing snow. The trails were freshly groomed and while I knew that all we needed to do was to ski down, doing so in that cold darkness was an entirely different ballgame. Aiming our headlamps in the general direction of the base, I instructed Bianca to stay ahead of me. I could just make out her shape.
And then we skied.
The new corduroy felt buttery beneath my feet and the experience of not being able to see ahead of myself was both harrowing and exhilarating. I called out to Bianca, who I could no longer see but for the tiny glow cast by her headlamp, but she couldn’t hear me over the wind and the schuss of her skis. Down, down we cruised and I quelled a momentary surge of panic by telling myself that there was no way we could get lost. Doing so allowed me to relax into the surreal sensation of having the dark mountain to ourselves.
Soon, the bright lights of the base lodge appeared out of the darkness heralding the end of our adventure and we took our time on those last few turns, gliding slowly back and fourth across the slope to stretch our descent, neither one of us wanting it to be over.
Gina Vercesi is an award-winning freelance writer with an adventurous spirit and unwavering wanderlust. Despite growing up in New England, Gina didn’t don a pair of skis until February 2014—the result of being raised by a beach-loving dad who eschewed everything having to do with snow and cold. When she finally took her first lessons and hit the slopes at Stowe Mountain Resort, she became an instant convert. As an All Mountain Mama, Gina loves sharing the joys of Vermont skiing with powder-lovers and novices alike.
Chronicling journeys on land, water, and snow, Gina’s words and images have appeared numerous print and digital publications including National Geographic Traveler, Travel + Leisure, Sierra, the Boston Globe, Delta SKY, Afar, Yankee, and many more. She is passionate about helping families (including her own!) unplug from electronics and the frenetic pace of modern life and believes that travel and adventure are the best ways reconnect to one another and the world around us. Gina lives in a friendly village on the Hudson River with her husband, three daughters, and a good dog. www.ginavercesi.com