Any wise ski resort knows that its future depends on getting children safely up on the mountain and loving to ski or board. Sugarbush Resort in Warren is no exception and demonstrates its dedication to the younger generation with its top-notch Ski & Ride School.
My eight- and eleven-year-old alpine-skiing sons participated in the Sugarbush summer day camp programs in 2012 and 2013. They’ve hiked the mountain, rode the lifts to play disc golf, and even slept overnight at Allyn’s Lodge on the mountain. They were eager to see what the resort is like in the winter when we visited during the week between Christmas and New Year’s in 2013.
The Schoolhouse at Lincoln Peak is just for kids
One way that Sugarbush demonstrates its commitment to its youngest customers is with the Schoolhouse building, a dedicated and cheerful space that houses the Ski & Ride School at the Lincoln Peak area of the resort. With bright murals and clear signage telling kids and adults where to go, the vibe inside is friendly and calm, even when it is full of people.
The staff at The Schoolhouse do a fantastic job of making kids and their adults feel comfortable and welcome and of moving them through the process of getting signed up for ski school efficiently. Visitors are greeted with smiles outside the front door. If it’s your child’s first day of school, staff members will take his or her skis or board and poles, label them, and make sure they are ready for your child when the lesson begins.
Inside you will quickly be directed to the appropriate place. If you’ve signed up in advance, your paperwork will be waiting for you to sign along with your child’s lift tickets. You will then be sent to the line for the appropriate group for your child’s age.
One thing I really love in The Schoolhouse is that the adults working there all talk to the kids, asking questions and encouraging them. This is true across the board – from the greeters who take your child’s skis at the front door to the people working behind the desk who help determine what group your child should participate in.
When you’ve completed all the paperwork and are ready to leave your child for the day, dedicated staff members do a final check to make sure lift tickets are in place and that your child has all the clothing and gear he or she needs. They do this on bended knee, speaking directly to the children. It starts the entire day on a positive note – your child feels cared for, and you feel reassured that they are being left in good hands.
Sugarbush Resort ages and stages
The Sugarbush Ski & Ride school groups kids in three different ways – by age, by ability level, and by equipment (boarders and skiers are taught separately). Micro Bears (skiing only) is for potty-trained 3-year-olds, Mini Bears is for kids aged 4 to 6, and Sugar Bears is for kids aged 7 to 12.
During most of the season all children can participate in either a half- or a full-day programs. Both types of programs include a full-day lift ticket for your child in the price; children staying for the full day (which goes until 3 p.m.) also get a hot lunch. If your child needs to rent equipment, that can be added for a reasonable fee.
There are days during busier periods when the half-day option is not available, so you’ll want to call and ask or check the website.
It’s cheaper and easier for your child to participate in the Ski & Ride School if you make a reservation; this will also guarantee your child a place during busier times. However, walk-ins are welcome. Discounts are available during non-peak times and also for buying a multi-day pass.
Making friends and having fun
My boys were at different ability levels and didn’t end up in the same group, which was great for them. They enjoyed independent time away from both my husband and me and each other and both made friends
Beginning skiers will spend a lot of time during their lesson in the Welcome Mat and Sun Kid Teaching Lift area, which have a magic carpet lift and gentle slopes. More advanced skiers will head up onto the mountain, spending time on the terrain that is best suited for them.
At the end of the day, your child’s instructor will give you both a written and verbal report that covers what your child skied, what skills he or she worked on, and what still needs improvement. My husband got the report both days and was impressed with the professionalism and caring demonstrated by the teachers who were positive and specific.
The groups are small enough (between 6 and 8 kids) that your child will get some individual attention. After just two days of lessons, I noticed that my younger son improved his parallel turns and started using his poles more consciously. I was very pleased to see such a quick and obvious impact on his skiing.
Sugarbush ski-school tips
Here are few suggestions for making your child’s Sugarbush Ski & Ride School experience a positive one:
- Although kids are served a hot lunch in the full-day programs, both my boys were pretty hungry by the time we picked them up in the afternoon. You might want to plan to have a snack with you for your kids to eat when you fetch them and stick something in their pockets that they can munch on during the day – just make sure it’s nut free, as The Schoolhouse is a nut-free facility.
- Drop off is between 8:30 and 9:15 on weekends and holidays and between 9 and 9:30 on regular weekdays. We visited during Christmas week and had the boys there bright and early both days. But they both said they had to sit around and wait for a long time between the time we dropped them off and before they got out on the mountain. In the future, I might not be in such a rush to get there, especially after the first day of lessons.
- Remember that in group lessons, the instructors have to cater to a range of needs, and that often it is the less skilled skiers or riders who dictate what will be covered. On our first day my younger son was placed in a Green group and my older son was placed in a Blue group. Since they are each at the top end of that category of skier, they ended up being a little bored. The second day we consulted with the staff and had them each bumped up a level. It definitely worked better for them to be at the bottom of a more challenging level than at the top of the easier one.
And don’t forget…
There are a couple of Sugarbush Ski & Ride School options that my family didn’t explore, but which I’d like to try in the future. On weekends and holidays, kids can take lessons at Sugarbush Resort’s other mountain, Mount Ellen. These lessons are slightly cheaper and your kids are sure to love the old-school vibe, terrain park, and numerous long, groomed, blue trails at this iconic area of the resort.
Older kids (aged 7 to 15) with solid intermediate to advanced skills can participate in the Catamount Adventure Camp. This program has kids all over the mountain – including in the glades and ungroomed terrain of the Sugarbush’s famous Slidebrook Basin area. I’d love to give my kids the opportunity to learn to improve their wilderness skiing ability in the safe hands of the expert coaches.
For more personal attention, private alpine skiing, snowboarding, telemark skiing, and freestyle lessons are available for adults and kids older than three at Lincoln Peak. You can also take lessons at Mount Ellen if you reserve in advance. I’d love to book a lesson for both my boys with one of Mount Ellen’s freestyle experts so that they can learn to use the elements in the terrain park there.
And finally, if you’ve got a child who is too young to ski, Sugarbush does offer a licensed Day School in Sugarbush Village, which is close to Lincoln Peak. My younger son spent happy summer days at this facility when he was a toddler, and I can speak highly of the caring and cheerful staff. Half- and full-day care is available seven days a week during the ski season.
Learn more about all of Sugarbush Resort’s programs for kids.
Mara Gorman may live at sea level now, but she’s a native New Englander and mountain aficionado who grew up skiing in Vermont. She spends as many days each winter as she can chasing her two teen boys through glades and across mogul fields and regularly journeys far and wide to get on the slopes. Mara blogs about her family’s many travel adventures at The Mother of all Trips. She is also the author of The Family Traveler’s Handbook and an award-winning freelance writer whose work has appeared in various USA Today print publications as well as on websites such as BBC Travel. When there’s no snow, Mara and her family can be found hiking, biking and eating around the United States and Europe.