What’s New at Vermont Resorts?

What’s new at Vermont resorts?  The Green Mountain state will be booming this winter with new base lodges, new ownership of a number of resorts, new ski passes, lifts and programs. Here’s what to expect.

You don’t have to look far in Vermont this season to find a reason to celebrate. With big birthdays for Sugarbush (60th) and Mad River Glen (70th), a rebirth for Mount Ascutney, a new park and lodge for Mount Snow and new owners moving in at Okemo, there’s a lot going on.

The Ascutney Outdoors Center was slated to open in September. The 3,000-square-foot lodge will be open for ski season and will serve as the base for the mountain’s year-round multi-use trails. The upstairs features a large open room with a small kitchen, rest rooms and, best of all, large windows with a view of the mountain and a deck. New this year is a lift-operated snow tubing center and, if all goes as planned, a new 1,800-foot Dopplemayr T-bar, which will take skiers from the new base lodge to mid-mountain. The old rope tow will still operate, serving skiers with access to natural snow. 

Bolton Valley is doubling down as a center for backcountry skiing. This year it will offer group and private guided backcountry ski tours from its Nordic center. Group tours are $75 per day, which includes the cost of a Nordic day pass. Rental packages for high-end splitboards and ski touring equipment complete with lightweight Dynafit tech bindings are available for $63 to $68 per day onsite. Rentals include skins and boots. A private guided tour costs $220.

Bolton Valley doubles down on its guided backcountry skiing. Photo courtesy Bolton Valley.

Additionally, Bolton Lodge and Bryant Camp, originally built in the 1920s and restored in 2017, will reopen to skiers who want to ski up for a backcountry stay this winter, through March 31. Both are operated by the Green Mountain Club. Best yet, on Dec. 6 anyone dressed as Santa and Mrs. Claus skis free at Bolton

This winter, Bromley partners with Arena Snowpark, a Whistler/Blackcomb-based company that has built parks for Olympic and FIS World Cup events, to revamp its park. Once completed (later this season), it will be one of the most extensive progression parks in the East, Bromley claims. Don’t worry—you can also still hit the existing rails.

And just next to Bromley, the classic Seesaw’s Lodge (formerly Johnny Seesaws) will reopen this winter after a three-year hiatus. The menu features local fare like Seesaw’s Poutine—hand cut French fries drenched in braised duck leg gravy and Maplebrook Farm cheese curds. Try the craft cocktails and sit around the fire in a rustic-chic dining room and bar or book one of the stylish cabins.

Burke Mountain recently installed a new booster pump at its summit that will allow it to double snowmaking capacity and get more terrain covered and open earlier in the season. The Bunker Hill trail received some extra TLC, with snowmaking pipes installed and repaired to give them much more efficient snowmaking across the lower mountain. A new system for monitoring and operating the snowmaking system has also been installed, which will help get more snow on the hill faster.

The Hermitage Club at Haystack Mountain may have a second shot at operating this winter. The Club closed after failing to pay more than $1 million to the State of Vermont in back taxes. A club membership is required to ski at Haystack Mountain, which cost $65,000 at one point in 2016.

As of press time, the club’s members had voted to reopen the ski area this winter, collectively raising the $4 million they’ll need to operate the ski area through a membership dues increase.

At Jay Peak, new skiers and riders will have access to advice and pointers from instructors on the slopes–without having to commit to either rentals or a lesson. As part of the new Guided Discovery Program, first time skiers and riders who rent their equipment at Jay can expect to have unfettered access to professional instructors in the Magic Carpet area every day starting at 11 a.m. If, at 1 p.m., they decide they didn’t have a good time, they can return their rental equipment for a refund. If they are interested in signing up for a lesson, they earn a $20 coupon good toward the cost of a $45 group lesson on the regular mountain.

Additionally, Jay is promoting its new Vennedag Program, which translates to “friends day” in Norwegian. For a flat rate of $360 for a full day or $180 for a half day, you can book an instructor for a group lesson–with a group of your choosing. “The idea is that, as a group of friends, you could be hopping around the mountain and see something that’s challenging and say to your instructor, help us ski that,” says Director of Communications JJ Tolland.

At Killington, POWDR corporation will invest $25 million in new projects for the 2018-2019 season. This winter, the mountain unveils its new 6-pack bubble lift, the Snowdon Six Express, which will replace the Snowdon Quad and cut the lift ride from mid-mountain to the summit from 10 to 12 minutes to four and a half. The lift also shields riders from wind and snow. The Snowdon quad will be relocated to the South Ridge area, improving skier access to Pipe Dream.

Riders at Killington this summer may have noticed four tunnels being installed on the mountain: the Snowdon Mountain Tunnels, the Upper Bunny Tunnel and the Lower Chute Tunnel. According to Communications Director Kristel Filmore, they will be complete in time for ski season and will provide more top to bottom runs for intermediate skiers and better access to the K-1 Express Gondola off of Ramshead and Snowdon. Killington also widened and re-routed portions of the Great Northern trail.

The mountain is also adding four new groomers to its fleet this year, including one Prinoth Bison Winch Cat, which will specialize in steep terrain like the World Cup Superstar Trail. There will also be a Pisten Bully Park Cat and two new Prinoth Bison Free Groomers, to help manage snow produced by the 44,000 feet of replaced and new snowmaking pipeline installed this summer. It will also add RFID gates that automatically scan your pass.

Mad River Glen turns 70 this year and when we asked Marketing Director Eric Friedman what was new for at the ski area, he replied, “I mean, we’re kind of famous for not changing much.” Despite that, the resort plans to revamp its mid-mountain Bird Cage Lodge. For the first time, skiers will be able to buy wine and beer at the Bird Cage. It will also get a new, expanded deck and a new entrance designed to keep the facility warmer.

Magic Mountain has been hard at work this summer installing a new mid-mountain lift, called the Green Chair. According to owner and president Geoff Hatheway, Magic Mountain hasn’t had a mid-mountain lift since 1997, and this change will create more opportunities for beginner and intermediate skiers, who previously had to ski more challenging terrain off the top of the mountain to access green and blue trails at the bottom.

Additionally, either this year or next year, another new lift, which it purchased from Stratton (remember the Snowbowl Quad?) will replace the existing Black Line Chair lift and double the mountain’s capacity.

These improvements are part of a plan to invest $1.5 million in improvements to lifts and snowmaking over the next two years. According to Hatheway, the ski area hopes to double the size of its snowmaking pond before the start of the 2018-2019 season, allowing them to make more snow and groom more of their intermediate trails. For now, Hatheway plans to continue to limit the number of people who buy day tickets to 2,000 on a given day.

This year, Magic Mountain upgraded one of its chairlifts. Photo courtesy Magic Mountain

Last year the Middlebury Snow Bowl made skiers very happy when it started serving beer for the first time. Long time General Manager Peter Mackey retired this summer after 40 years at the Snow Bowl. The new general manager will be Rikert Nordic Center Director Mike Hussey. Hussey has overseen major expansions to snowmaking at Rikert and says a big high efficiency overhaul is slated for the Snow Bowl, which “should push our opening date ahead by as much as a month,
Hussey says. The Snow Bowl a hopes to open between Nov.14 and 20 this season and Hussey says more efficient snow guns and hydrant technology will allow the ski area to make more snow early in the season. Also new this year is a season’s pass that gives skiers access to both Rikert and the Middlebury Snow Bowl and a $40 combo ticket, good for a half day each at Rikert and the Snow Bowl. 

Mount Snow unveils its new 42,000-square-foot Carinthia Base Lodge in November in time for the 10th anniversary of its terrain park. There will be two bars in the new lodge, along with a 9,000-square-foot deck. The mountain plans to extend its 100-acre terrain park to the base of the lodge so that you can watch events like the Carinthia Classic, a new rail competition for skiers and riders with a $20,000 prize purse, and a new snowboard event from Snowboy Productions. The mountain has also completed a $30 million upgrade to its snowmaking equipment, which doubled its capacity. Snowmaking now covers more than 80 percent of its terrain.

In June, Vail Resorts announced plans to purchase Okemo Mountain Resort and from the mountain’s previous operators, Triple Peaks LLC, as part of an $82 million multi-resort deal. According to Bonnie MacPherson, director of public relations for Okemo, Vail Resorts has earmarked $35 million for improvements to be made over the next two years across the three resorts it acquires as part of the Triple Peaks deal– Okemo, Mount Sunapee and Crested Butte Mountain Resort. Okemo will now be part of the Epic Pass and offer unlimited skiing for the 2018-2019 season.

Pico Mountain made some major snowmaking improvements this summer, including adding two new snow guns. Permitting is underway to provide a new water source for snowmaking, too,  which, if approved, will also increase snowmaking capacity and consistency. Also new this summer is a new rooftop solar system on the administration building, and, for the first time you can rent the entire resort (see p. 6) starting in January.

At Smugglers Notch Resort, fat biking will be available for the first time this season. The mountain will offer a rental fleet and will groom trails on its existing mountain bike trail network. They’ll also be offering a new intermediate skier’s flow trail, designed to teach kids and adults how to better engage their edges to ski the mountain’s steeper natural terrain.

“We plan to shape it into a banked slalom course that is kind of mountain bike- and motorcross-inspired, to help get people comfortable making turns on natural terrain,” says Public Relations Director Mike Chait.

At Stowe, skiers and riders will now have access to the EpicMix mobile app, which lets you track your personal ski stats, like the number of days skied, or vertical feet skied, and compare them with friends. It also lets you preview lift line times around the mountain and see which lifts are open, closed or on hold and preview weather conditions

Additionally, Epic Passes will be scanned by attendants instead of the old RFID gates, which Stowe is removing. Skiers will point to a pocket and the attendant will wave a scanner over it, hopefully eliminating the jumbling that used to occur when a pass malfunctioned at the gate to a lift.

This year, skiers can now watch snow accumulate on the mountain in live time with Vail Resorts’ live, on-mountain Snow Stake Cameras. A snow stake with measurement ticks is attached to a metal plate and filmed. The plate is set to dump whatever has accumulated daily, so skiers can see a live streaming visual of how much snow is falling, via the mountain’s website.

Stowe is also creating new Family Adventure Zones by removing saplings that have popped up in the middle of established routes in the low-angle glades off of the Triple Chair and Four-Runner Quad, as well as off of Toll Road and Lullaby Lane. There will be ample signage to guide beginner tree skiers to comfortable terrain.

Like last season, the FourRunner Quad will start running at 7:30 a.m. on weekends and holidays and 8 a.m. weekdays and the mountain plans to close on April 21. There is also a plan to revamp the Octagon Café.

Stratton Mountain was acquired by Alterra Mountain Company in April 2017, and is now part of the Ikon Pass. The first sign of new investment: a high speed Dopplemayr quad replaces the existing Snow Bowl lift, reducing the time it takes to access the summit from mid-mountain from 14 minutes to five minutes. Stratton will see $10 million in improvements this season, including the Stratton BaseCamp, a refurbished shipping container that serves as home to a new bar and pub. Skiers will be able to kick back on the container’s rooftop deck and watch the slopes or live music. The resort will also be home to a new bluegrass music festival, Winter WonderGrass, on December 14. 

Shuffleboard and darts come to Stratton’s new BaseCamp bar. Stratton also gets a new chairlift, while its old chairlift has been purchased by Magic Mountain. Photo courtesy Stratton Mountain Resort

In December, Sugarbush will celebrate its 60th anniversary. There will be live music and plenty of other celebrations throughout the winter. In March, the resort plans to host a series of events to celebrate its history, including “sloshwicking,” a purportedly once-popular activity at Mt. Ellen. Sloshwickers race up and down the mountain with a ski on one foot, a snowshoe on the other and a broom for fending off their competitors.

For foodies, Worthy Burger will be opening a location in Warren, walking distance from the highly anticipated Lawson’s Finest Liquids tasting room, which is set to open late this fall. Old favorite Hyde Away will be operating a new restaurant, Sage,  on the corner of Routes 17 and 100.

Suicide Six unveiled its new Elemental Bike Park in July. The mountain now offers three miles of lift-served downhill mountain bike trails developed by Vermont-based trail builder Sinuosity: Flowing Trails.

Bike rentals, coaching and lift tickets will be available through the fall, and an additional three miles of trails are planned for the future. The bike park will be open seven days a week through the end of October.

Also new this fall are foliage chairlift rides up and down the mountain. The Red Barn dinner series at the Kelly Way Gardens was launched this summer, and will continue through  the fall, featuring family-style meals crafted to include seasonal Vermont products.

For this winter, mountain biking trails will offer skiers new powder stashes and terrain. Eight new tower fan guns and several new lance guns will vastly improve snowmaking capacity on The Face and hopefully allow the mountain to open earlier for skiing.

An Even Bigger, Better World Cup

On November 23-25, the best women slalom and GS ski racers in the world are coming back to Killington. Among those expected are hometown hero Mikaela Shiffrin and, possibly, up-and-coming Vermont slalom and GS junior star, Abi Jewett , 18, of Ripton and Dartmouth College ski racer, Tricia Mangan, 21.

When Killington originally signed on for the World Cup, the governing body, the Federation International du Ski (FIS) gave it two years. With in-your-face viewing on Superstar, a bulletproof course,  free live concerts from the likes of O.A.R. and Dispatch, and a vendor village, Killington blew the doors off all previous attendance for a women’s World Cup in the U.S., ensuring another year, and probably, more down the road. “From FIS’ side, it’s a big wish to be able to return to Killington to continue the really good start we’ve had here. We’ve also heard very positive feedback from many additional stakeholders regarding the market and interest and also the practical work and service that has been done here for everyone attending the World Cup,” noted FIS director Atle Skaardal at a conference in June.

Mikaela Shiffrin and the top women slalom and giant slalom racers in the world return for the FIS Killington Cup over Thanksgiving Weekend. Photo courtesy the US Ski Team.

“Don’t recreate what you just did. Go back to where you started, focus on the process of what you did, and add what you want to do better,” Killington’s World Cup chair Herwig Demschar added, speaking to a crowd that included organizers of World Cups around the globe.

Demschar and Killington are serious about that and this Thanksgiving weekend expect The Beast to roar again, and even louder as it hopes to break its own attendance record of 32,000 visitors for the weekend. On Sept. 5 tickets went on sale, ranging from Grand Stand bleachers ($40) to Superfan tickets for $125 (which include a lift ticket voucher) to the new VIP seating in the semi-heated finish pavilion for  $150 for one day. Parking passes were going for $20 to $50.

However, with plenty of shuttles up to the mountain and free viewing at the finish-line spectating area, even if you didn’t score the ticket you wanted you can still be part of the East Coast’s biggest skiing event and party. Don’t miss it.

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.