This is the year to head to the independently-owned ski areas that you might have overlooked in the past. Why? as of this week, four kick-ass Vermont mountains are on this year’s Indy Pass (Jay Peak just joined Bolton Valley, Magic Mountain and Suicide Six) as well as the 53 other ski areas. If that’s not enough, here are 5 other good reasons why:
1. Lift Tickets Are Cheap
At just $199 ($99 for kids) for two days of skiing at each of more than 56 resorts around the country (or $299 with no blackout dates), the Indy Pass has the potential to give you the most lift-served bang for your buck. Especially if you are skiing in the Northeast. Indy stalwarts Bolton Valley Resort, Magic Mountain and Suicide Six were just joined by a fourth Vermont mountain, Jay Peak, which claims some of the consistently highest snowfall totals in the East.
Suicide Six bundles in a free Indy Pass with a regular pass if you buy before Dec. 1. And all participating Indy Pass resorts offer the base Indy Pass as a $129 add-on if you already have a season pass.
2. Family Skiing is Easy
If you’ve ever gotten a migraine trying to navigate a large resort with multiple base areas, summit restaurants, shuttle buses and lifts with a posse of kids ages 4-14 all scattered in separate directions here’s a pro tip: Small is beautiful. The one-base approach at Magic and Suicide Six and easy-to-find beginner hills make family skiing a more relaxing experience. Bolton’s Adventure Center is also a fantastic place to drop off kids who might want to try the indoor skate park and Jay Peak’s water park (yes, still open despite Covid-19) is worth a trip north on its own.
3. There’s Terrain to Scare You
While skiing the famed double blacks at places like Stowe, Killington and Sugarbush carries a certain cache, have you ever peeked down the face of Face Chutes of Jay or watched some of the freeski comps there? Know why Suicide Six got its name? Legend has it that when Bunny Bertram put in the first rope tow there in the 1930s he joked that it would be “suicide to ski down Hill #6” as the slope was then called. Magic Mountain has been home to a trio of extreme skiing events that bring some of the top skiers around to Tuck It (think speed gun, no gates, point’em and pray), the Road to Ruin (a mass start Chinese downhill) Master of the Mountain Extreme (a combo freeski and gates run). Its old-school gnarly black runs are flanked by glades that hold some of southern Vermont’s best powder runs. Bolton Valley has quickly built a reputation as the backcountry basecamp. It adds to that this year with season-long backcountry gear rentals and opportunities to test out gear and get lessons in AT.
4. You Can Avoid the Crowds
For several years, Magic Mountain has limited the number of lift tickets it sells on any given day so this season, with a reservation system in place, it should be no different and there’s rarely a long wait to board a lift here. Bolton Valley may not be requiring reservations for skiing but it will for lunch at the base lodge. Suicide Six, which is owned by the Woodstock Inn & Resort has been a well-kept local’s secret for years, with a my-own-private Idaho vibe. Lastly, Jay Peak has relied on Canadians for more than 50 percent of its skier visits. As long as the border remains closed you won’t by vying with a posse of Montrealers for that sweet line through the glades of Valhalla.
5. The Soul of Skiing is Alive Here
If the homogenization of resort skiing has you down (ahem… McVail Resorts), indy ski areas.are the antidote. Skiing was once about travel —each place looking and feeling a little different, each with its own vibe and, usually run by an outsized personality everyone knows by first name. That’s still the case at these four Indy ski areas.
Lindsay DesLauriers and her brothers run Bolton Valley Resort in the same spirit that their father Ralph has: a family place with a heavy focus on adventure and fun. Adam DesLauriers, who spent years traveling with and filming is extreme skiing brothers Rob and Eric, has positioned Bolton as a backcountry mecca. Night skiing is alive and well with a corporate league that draws ex-Olympians and first-timers.
Magic Mountain has been revived under Geoff Hatheway as a close-knit community of hard-charging, low-key, love-to-party skiers and riders. It’s a place where the bands are good, the party is usually going on on the outer deck and the skiing and riding is great.
Suicide Six has its own sense of fun and under manager Tim Reiter has changed its name from “ski area” to Suicide Six Recreation Area. Sliding of. all types is welcome here and the annual Abe-BERM-Ham fat bike race sums it up: a banked-berm downhill for fat bikes.
Jay Peak has built its brand around attitude and bucking trends. With Steve Wright steering the ship that is still in receivership, it’s held its course. It may feel like a winter sports Disneyland with the water park, Ice Haus hockey arena and killer skiing, deep snow and powdery glades, but Jay Peak is far from PG.
Of course, there are plenty of independent resorts that meet these five criteria that are not on the Indy Pass ranging from larger places like Smuggler’s Notch to the Middlebury College-owned Snow Bowl to our list of “The Best Little Ski Areas You’ve Never Skied.”
This is the year to try them.
Opening. photo: The view from the top of Jay Peak. Courtesy Jay Peak/Andrew Lanoue