I love convenience as much as the next person, especially on a ski vacation. Staying slope side means parking and unpacking the car and then thinking only of what time you want to get up and catch the lift in the morning.

Please note, this post–among many other posts by All Mountain Mamas–was created and shared before the COVID-19 pandemic and some content may no longer apply. Please always stay updated on Vermont’s travel and gathering guidelines before planning a trip during the 2020-21 season

But what about when the conditions aren’t great, limiting what is open at a given mountain? Or what if you like a lot of variety in your ski trails? You may not want to stay at a huge resort but would like to mix things up nevertheless. In Vermont this can be a tricky proposition as the Green Mountains stretch in a long spine from Canada to Massachusetts, with ski resorts dotting the mountains like so many vertebrae. Getting from one mountain to another is usually circuitous and with some roads that close in the winter even neighboring peaks can feel like distant destinations.

Sugarbush Resort offers lots of different terrain from beginner to expert.
Sugarbush Resort offers lots of different terrain from beginner to expert

The Mad River Valley is somewhat unusual in Vermont in that it offers skiers the chance to experience two different resorts that are right next to each other with a third being only a short drive away. This makes for interesting skiing even when there’s not a lot of snow.

Pick your peak (or choose all of them)

Located in Central Vermont, about a twenty-minute drive from Interstate 89, the Mad River Valley provides a range of skiing options. Sugarbush Resort has over 4000 acres of skiing on 6 peaks at 2 mountain areas (Lincoln Peak and Mount Ellen). There’s plenty of snowmaking and three terrain parks.

Classic lift over a classic run - The Chute at Mad River Glen
Classic lift over a classic run – The Chute at Mad River Glen

Mad River Glen provides a slightly different skiing experience. Famously old-school (there’s a single chair) this resort doesn’t make much snow and also keeps the grooming to a minimum. Off-trail skiing, especially in the trees, is one of Mad River’s specialities, as is the friendly vibe. This is a skiing-only mountain, so boarders need to head over to Sugarbush.

You can easily have a long family ski vacation without ever leaving the confines of the Mad River Valley. Even though there wasn’t fantastic snow over the 2014 New Year’s holiday, my family enjoyed several days each skiing at Sugarbush Resort and Mad River Glen. But as the week went on my kids were looking for more to ski. The woods and glades of Mad River, part of what it is rightly famous for, weren’t really safe because the weather had been cold and ice prevailed. And Sugarbush had been making snow but the boys grew tired of skiing the groomers along with everyone else who was there. That’s when Bolton Valley Resort came in.

Bolton Valley is an easy drive north from the Mad River Valley along Routes 100 and 2. We were staying in Warren, on the southern side and slightly farther away, and it only took us 35 minutes to get there. We were pleased when we arrived to discover that although the base lodge at this local favorite was packed, there were no lift lines.

Bolton Valley Resort
We found a bit of packed powder – and wide open trails – at Bolton Valley Resort

Bolton is on the smaller side and may not have quite the vertical drop of either Sugarbush resort or Mad River Glen, but there’s plenty of ungroomed terrain to keep things interesting.

Best of all, the snow at Bolton was appreciably different than what we’d been skiing on in the Valley. We actually were able to find a bit of packed powder, something that had been in short supply all week long. The woods were definitely skiable, and since Bolton offers a variety of gladed trails, the boys were finally able to get into the trees as they had been dying to do all week. I especially recommend Wilderness Woods for intermediate skiers who like the trees.

Another perk about Bolton Valley? It’s affordable, even for day tickets.

Dining choices for families

Lawsons Finest Mad River Glen
Sampling a hyper-local brew at Mad River Glen

There are some great dining choices in the Valley towns of Waitsfield and Warren (read my full post about them) but going over to Bolton Valley Resort opens up a whole new range of options because to get there you drive right through the town of Waterbury, which over the past few years has been experiencing something of a culinary renaissance that’s perfect for families.

My favorite destinations for family dining in Waterbury include:

  • The Blue Stone is a gourmet pizza shop offering to-die-for toppings like Vermont goat cheese and mushroom or grilled steak with barbecue sauce and blue cheese.
  • Prohibition Pig is an upscale barbecue joint that also offers delicacies like craft mac and cheese and chicken and biscuits. I love the cocktail list here – and with no fewer than four hot toddies, you’ll be sure to find something to warm you up after a day of skiing.
  • The Reservoir serves everything from burgers to seared duck breast and offers steaming hot pot pies in the winter.

All of these restaurants have extensive beer lists that include the local cult favorite Heady Topper.

If you drive to Bolton from the Valley, you will literally drive past all of these restaurants and could easily plan to stop there for a snack or dinner on your way home.

Staying in the Mad River Valley

Whether you want to stay in a condo or house or prefer an inn where someone serves you a hot breakfast there are lots of lodging options in the Valley. These range from humble ski lodges like the Hyde Away to the luxurious Relais & Chateau Pitcher Inn. My family tends to go the condo route and I have found places to stay on Vacation Rental by Owner (VRBO).

A good resource for checking out your lodging options and making comparisons is the Mad River Valley Chamber of Commerce website.

Want to learn more about these three resort areas? See my full review of Sugarbush Resort, my top reasons for skiing Mad River Glen, and Mama Adrienne’s review of Bolton Valley Resort.

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