The high life
Whether you’re new to skiing or a seasonal regular, Vermont in New England has much to offer. What’s more, says Tori Hywel-Davies, its surrounding areas are alive with fantastic things to do and places to go
Vermont has a huge range of international-level downhill ski resorts within a very small area, which means there’s plenty of choice for skiers of all levels. Best of all, if you hire a car and buy a multi-area pass, you can save time and money avoiding unnecessary queues! Vermont is also renowned for its locally grown foods and the ski resorts – including the base lodges, not just the fancy hotels – very much embrace this philosophy, so you will be treated to superb food whatever your budget. Here’s our brief guide to a handful of our favourite resorts…
Mount Snow Resort and Grand Summit Hotel
With wide and indescribably beautiful slopes – often quite empty outside of weekends – and excellent teaching staff for beginners or those wanting refresher lessons before they ski off on their own again, this resort has it all. Natural snow enhanced by snow guns makes for super-fresh powdery snow every day and the runs cater for beginners with green (easy), blue (intermediary) and black runs (for the most advanced).
Mount Snow is a carefully planned ski-in/ski-out resort, meaning you can access the slopes from the Grand Summit Hotel without having to use transport from one place to another. There is also a fast bubble chair taking you to the top of the mountain in seven minutes! We especially liked the fact that the spacious lifts provided assistance at the get-on/get-off areas – not to be sniffed at if you’re new to coordinating yourself and a pair of skis while wearing bulky ski boots!
The hotel itself is an attractive sprawling lodge with a pleasing amount of traditional timber features and roaring fires in the communal areas. And as you’d expect in the US, oodles of space in the bedrooms, some of which offer superb views of the slopes. Harriman’s Farm to Table is the in-house restaurant with a top-notch menu, while breakfast is served deli-style and offers a great choice. Ask the hospitable naturespa to organise a snowshoe experience or guided mountain hike for a break from the skis or try the hot tub and heated outside pool. The nearby Last Chair is a restaurant much loved by locals for serving up tasty steaks, and stocks interesting spirits and beers, including the wonderfully named WhistlePig whiskey.
Killington Ski Resort and Killington Grand Resort Hotel
Also known as the Beast of the East, Killington Resort is home to the east coast’s longest season, where you can visit from late October to early June. Seven mountain areas cater for green, blue and black slopes and the advanced skier or rider may take advantage of Vermont’s second-highest summit with its high-speed K-1 Express Gondola. An excellent network of gondolas and lifts makes this resort an easy one to navigate once you’ve got your bearings! Each resort will provide a ski map and although to the uninitiated it can look hard to decipher, hotel receptionists are happy to explain it before you head out. There are also six terrain parks so if someone in your group fancies trying out some jumps, jobs or rails, this is the place! Again, you’ll find beautiful slopes, scenery and outstanding snow. You can stay where you play in Killington too, as the mountainside Grand Resort Hotel offers a handy ski bridge to access the slopes; there’s also a convenient in-hotel ski boot room before you hit the outdoors. Try out the heated swimming pool if you’re brave enough to reveal your bare skin to the frigid air – it will be worth it, though getting out takes courage! Inside the hotel, treat yourself to a meal at Preston’s, which has not only a menu that will appeal to a well-honed palate but five-star service too. Not far away is the Wobbly Barn, a local institution known for its delicious steaks and live music. There’s even a fancy nightclub if dancing is your thing.
Sugarbush Resort and The Pitcher Inn
Sugarbush Resort is spread across two mountains, Lincoln Peak and Mount Ellen, which are connected by a chairlift and a shuttle bus. It has 111 trails of terrain with blue, green and black slopes as well as extensive beginner terrain and lifts on Lincoln Peak. There is also the legendary Castlerock Peak for the seasoned skier who isn’t fazed by narrow, steep and winding trails. The snow is as beautiful as at the other resorts but do watch out for weekends, when it gets packed with locals. If you don’t like the crowds, go out very early or just before sunset, or jump in the car – or a local bus from outside the Clay Brook hotel – to explore the fantastic enclave of shops, eateries and artist outlets in Bridge Street, Waitsfield, just a short distance from Sugarbush.
The Pitcher Inn is a beautifully romantic boutique hotel nestling in a nearby village called Warren in the Mad River Valley. It is opposite the famously quirky Warren Store, a country-style store selling delicious deli bits, takeout coffee, gifts, jewellery and high-end clothes. The Inn offers a luxury, personal experience compared with the larger, less personal ski hotels. Each room is different, and has been designed by one of the very many famous architects in the area. One has the design of an old American school with handprinted murals and a tranquil balcony overlooking its pretty garden, while another (the ‘Mountain’ room) has a roaring fire and feels like a de luxe cabin with a black slate steam shower. There are 11 rooms in total including two suites and it’s worth googling just to see!
If you fancy eating out, the Hyde Away Inn is a hidden gem of a restaurant in nearby Waitsfield with wonderful food and a genuinely welcoming service.
Even adrenalin junkies need time off the slopes and there’s plenty here to entertain you…
Make like an Inuit and traverse your snowy lands through gorgeous woodlands and a beautifully eerie tranquillity on snowshoes. Fun, energetic and guaranteed to bring you home with a happily flushed face ready for a good hot chocolate.
Vermont is teeming with incredibly cool food and drink markets selling local artisan products, so track one down and dive into its divine offerings. Mad River Taste (madrivertaste.com) near Sugarbush Resort sells all manner of delicacies and in downtown Burlington you’ll find the long-established and larger City Market (citymarket.coop).
Book lovers, head to Northshire in Vermont’s small town of Manchester, which is on the way to/from ski resorts (northshire.com). It’s a rambling three-storey paradise.
Up for retail therapy? The Manchester Designer Outlets have some excellent brands including Armani, J Crew, Polo Ralph Lauren, Theory, Clarks, Kate Spade and The Cosmetics Company (manchesterdesigneroutlets.com/our-stores#).
Head to Bridge Street, Waitsfield for cool boutiques, vintage goods and eateries.
Not far from Sugarbush is a tiny enclave of interesting shops. You’ll find gorgeous clothes, vintage bits, a local artists outlet (Artisans’ Gallery), the quirky Madsonian Museum of Industrial Design (madsonian.org) and fabulous eateries. Try the upmarket restaurant Peasant (peasantvt.com) or the laid-back and healthy Sweet Spot (thesweetspotvermont.com).
Ease tired muscles with a full-body massage to loosen the aches of your first few days of skiing. As much a part of the holiday pamper as the skiing itself, it’ll leave you feeling relaxed and ready for the next day’s activity! The therapists in the Grand Summit Hotel’s naturespa (on Mount Snow) were fantastic at working out tension and easing aching muscles. Arrange after skiing and not before!
Much like the bikini on a sunny holiday, there are some essentials you’ll need for this type of snowy adventure. Some you can hire and some are best to buy before you travel, either to get the best fit or for safety/hygiene reasons! Here’s our basic list…
- Skis – hire there unless you have your own (make sure your hire car can comfortably transport all your passengers, luggage and skis)
- Ski pass – buy online before you arrive to save time and money, or in resort. Try onthesnow.co.uk or skivermont.com
- Ski boots – hire in resort unless you have your own
- Helmet – buy your own if you can to ensure the best fit and that it hasn’t been involved in an accident. You can also hire in resort
- Thermal gloves – a must
- Base layers – ensure you pack plenty. Take (merino/thermal) long-sleeved tops to go on top of a thermal vest or similar and full-length base-layer leggings. Wear under ski jacket and ski trousers
- Ski jacket and ski socks
- Salopettes/ski trousers
- Sunblock for your face and lips – you will burn and peel at this altitude without it!
Currency: US dollar
Time difference: GMT -5 (winter)
Visa: Not required for holidays under 90 days.
Best time to go: Ski seasons vary according to each resort but roughly, starting around the second week in November and closing around mid-April (or even the end of May for Killington), but check dates with skivermont.com.
Getting there: Fly on the new route from Edinburgh to Stewart International (upstate New York) with the very reasonable Norwegian Air, then rent a car to drive to Vermont (+5 hours). There are no direct flights to Vermont from the UK. norwegian.com
Getting around: It’s best to rent a car; relying on public transport, especially during peak ski season, can be difficult.
Why not plan in a New York stopover before driving to and from your skiing? Stewart International Airport is near Woodbury Common, one of the best outlet shopping centres in the US, so combine a city break with a ski-mountain break with ease.