The Valley of the Ski Lodges

In today’s world, where hotel chains are widespread and independent ski areas are rare, the Mad River Valley offers something unique: a wide array of historic ski lodges, many restored as boutique inns. Each is different, but all of them have tapped into the Valley’s eclectic history and traditions of warmth and community. At each of these iconic ski lodges, good food, good people and good design meet to offer something that feels true to the heart of what skiing once was. 

The Hyde Away, Fayston

The Hyde Away Inn is a true mainstay of ski history in the Mad River Valley, dating back to 1949 when it first opened as the Ulla Lodge, named for Ullr, the Norse god of snow.

The original farmstead once housed a clapboard mill that, in 1889, churned out 700,000 clapboards per year. Brothers Sewall and Arthur Williams converted the farmstead to an inn and began operating it as the Ulla Lodge in 1949. Sugarbush founders Sara and Damon Gadd bought the lodge in 1954 and had dorms for men and women.

In the early 1970s, Ulla Lodge was sold and became the Snuggery Inn and raucous Zach’s Tavern. The California hot tub, an object of après ski infamy, sat in the farm’s silo during this period. The complex was purchased and renovated by Bruce and Margaret Hyde in 1987 and renamed the Hyde Away Inn and Restaurant. After 28 years, the Hydes sold the Inn and Restaurant to current owners Ana Dan and Paul Weber in 2015.

Photo courtesy the Hyde Away Inn.

These days, guests can choose from a variety of modern rooms, from spacious suites for families, to retro ski dorms over the bar, to the Hyde Away House. With Heady Topper and other Vermont microbrews on tap, the Tavern is the perfect place for an après-ski game of pool or to have a drink by the fireplace. The food ranges from entrees featuring local meat like the bacon-wrapped Vermont-raised meatloaf, to excellent pub fare like the Neill Farm beef burger with house aioli, all prepared by executive chef Chris Harmon.

Though the hearty breakfast and historic silo may make you feel like you’re staying in a farmhouse, the Hyde Away is hip. This is a great place to find the newest microbrews or to slip away for a classic Vermont ski vacation with all of the local flavor you’d expect from the Mad River Valley. Rooms start at $99 per night.

The Mad River Barn, Waitsfield

At just 1.7 miles from the base of Mad River Glen,  Mad River Barn is an icon.  The Barn was the brainchild of Mad River Glen founder Roland Palmedo, who convinced a few friends to buy the property. The crew put in a pub and a huge stone fireplace, a bunch of stuffed caribou, moose and bear heads, and called it “The 19th Hole.” They used to ski to the barn on an unmarked trail for après-ski parties.

However, the barn’s humble origin lies with the Civilian Conservation Corps, for which it served as a bunk house in the 1930s. It was first converted into an inn by Les and Alice Billings in the 1940s or 1950s.

Photo courtesy the Mad River Barn.

In 1975, Mad River Glen’s legendary former owner Betsy Pratt took over operation of the Barn, after the death of her husband, Truxton Pratt. Pratt, who ceded Mad River Glen to a cooperative of skiers in 1995, sold the Barn to current owners Andrew and Heather Lynd in 2012. Pratt had meticulously preserved the Barn’s original character, which Ski Magazine called “the coziest barn you’ll ever sleep in” in 2010, in keeping with her friend Palmedo’s original aesthetic. In 2013, the Lynds set out to update the plumbing, commercial kitchen, beds and other infrastructure, while preserving that character.

Today, the Barn’s rooms feature white walls, big windows, sliding wooden barn doors and elegant, clean lines. Additional rooms are located in The Annex and Longhouse, with wrought iron lamps, bed boards made of reclaimed and finished wood. The beds are made to look as though they are still propped up on wooden crates—as they once were.

The restaurant and pub feature wood floors, the same classic stone fireplace, exposed wood walls and a sleek, grey bar with warm lighting. The dining room has long, rustic wooden tables and local fare like Vermont-raised elk and venison stew.

Pratt famously told The New York Times in a 1989 interview, “I’m not a member of the ski industry. I’m a steward of a mountain.” That legacy lives in the walls of the Mad River Barn. Rooms start at $160 per night.

Tucker Hill Inn, Waitsfield

In its 70 years of operation, the Tucker Hill Inn has launched its share of ski bum-turned renowned chefs. American Flatbread chef-owner George Schenk got his start as a line cook at the inn’s restaurant in the 1980s, alongside three-time James Beard Cook Award-winner Gary Danko.

When it first opened in 1948, Tucker Hill had a 600-foot tow rope in the backyard and a handful of ski trails behind the lodge. That was the same year Mad River Glen’s lifts started running, and Tucker Hill claims to be the first lodge built to accomodate skiers in the Mad River Valley.

Photo courtesy Tucker Hill Inn

Today, Tucker Hill Inn still feels like a ski lodge. The yellow, Colonial-style house features 17 rooms, some with floor-to-ceiling fireplaces and marble-tiled floors and others furnished in a rustic style, with bunk beds and wrought iron bed frames.

Current owners Kevin and Patti Begin purchased the property in 2015 and reopened the restaurant and pub, which had previously been closed, in 2016. The restaurant offers fine dining in a cozy, firelit environment while the pub has a beautiful exposed-beam bar, cozy armchairs and a deck with a great view. “The stairs are narrow and steep, so you feel like you’re descending into a speakeasy,” says Kevin.

“It feels like a local place that happens to be available to tourists when they’re here,” adds Begin of the pub’s atmosphere. Rooms start at $139 per night.

Lareau Farm Inn, Waitsfield

In the late 1980s, George Schenk was skiing up a storm and cooking at nearby Tucker Hill Inn when he started experimenting with baking flatbread appetizers under the stars in a homemade wood-fired oven of stacked fieldstones. His flatbreads were so popular that in 1992 American Flatbread opened in the Lareau Farm’s iconic barn and in 2001 Schenk bought the farm and inn.

Lareau Farm was first built in 1794 by Simeon Stoddard, a friend of Waitsfield founder Benjamin Wait. When it was converted to an inn in 1982, the idea was to create a simple but classic Vermont ski lodge with a unique farm-to-table breakfast and all the comforts of a traditional farmhouse. Today, the white-clapboard bed and breakfast sits on a 24-acre farm and features just 13 quiet rooms.

One of the newly-renovated bedrooms at Lareau Farm Inn. Photo courtesy Lareau Farm Inn.

Last year, the inn began redecorating and modernizing its rooms, which feature hardwood floors, wrought iron bed frames and white linens. “There are no TVs and we aim to create a simple, quiet experience,” says Clay Westbrook, general manager. “We now see people who came here as children to ski bringing their kids,” he says.   

The complimentary breakfast includs eggs from the farm’s chickens, bread baked in-house and sausage and bacon raised and cured on-site

Owner Schenk has stayed true to his ski bum roots. Look for him hosting The Big Kicker, Sugarbush’s annual rail jam and opening party at American Flatbread each November, or skiing at Sugarbush.

The best perk? Lareau Farm Inn guests get priority for reservations at American Flatbread, which still serves the same wood-fired pizza it did in 1992, featuring ingredients grown right on the farm. Rooms start at $101 per night. n

Abagael Giles

Abagael Giles is the Assistant Editor at Vermont Ski + Ride Magazine. She loves free-heel skiing and exploring her home state of Vermont–one ridgetop at a time. Find her on Twitter at @AbagaelGiles.