This summer, Mount Snow went Epic. But that’s not the only big change lined up for one of Vermont’s 20 ski areas. From mega lodges to new lifts and night skiing, here’s the latest news.
At resorts around the state, big changes are in the works. Mount Snow, one of 17 resorts in the Peak Resorts portfolio, went Epic when the sale of its parent company to Vail Resorts was finalized in September. Jay Peak is getting more interest from potential buyers, including Alterra. And Killington recently broke ground on a new mega base lodge.
But there are also many small changes that skiers can take advantage of this winter; from new opportunities for free skiing, to new and improved lifts and creative lesson options. Here’s what’s happening:
This fall Ascutney Outdoors welcomes a brand new Doppelmayr T-Bar to the slopes of Mount Ascutney. The new T-bar rises 1,700 feet in vertical gain and will restore lift access to more than ten trails on the lower slopes of what was, until its demise in 2010, a commercial ski area with five chairlifts. The new T-bar will also offer backcountry skiers a “boost” to access the more challenging terrain on the upper mountain.
Steve Crihfield, chair of the non-profit’s board says: “We plan to run the T-bar whenever natural snow conditions allow on weekends and holidays.”
Access to the mountain’s existing 800-foot rope tow will remain free to the public. T-bar access will cost $15 for a day and $10 per student or child. Ascutney’s popular Thursday night race series will continue again this year, as will tubing. Last season, the new Ascutney Outdoor Center opened for winter use. “Our whole program we envisioned four years ago? It’s finally happening and we just can’t wait,” said Crihfield.
Backcountry skiers at Bolton Valley will need to purchase a new Nordic/Backcountry/Uphill Season Pass (or regular season pass) this winter to access the Bolton backcountry and use ski area trails for uphill travel. This marks a change from last season when free uphill travel was permitted before and after-hours at the ski area. General manager Lindsay DesLauriers reports a 70 percent growth in backcountry and uphill travel last season.
“It’s our plan to invest the revenue from these pass sales back in the Nordic and Backcountry programs,” says Backcountry Director Adam DesLauriers. At $129 for adults (and $99 for college students, seniors 65 to 74 and youth ages 7 to 17), each Nordic/Backcountry/Uphill Season pass comes with three one-ride lift tickets.
A new backcountry warming hut will be outfitted with a propane stove and open daily to skiers making the traverse from Bolton to Trapp Family Lodge via the Catamount Trail, as well as to those skiing laps near the top of the Bolton backcountry zone.
Bolton is also getting a little greener, having partnered with Efficiency Vermont to replace each of the 155 lights it uses to illuminate its slopes for night skiing with high-efficiency LED bulbs—a big improvement for visibility during the weekly Corporate Race League.
Lastly, if you’re looking for daycare, the ski area has a new year-round childcare center open to the public for long-term or drop-in care. Perks of being located at 2,100 feet: one licensed teacher is also a PSIA-certified ski instructor and lessons can be bundled into the cost of a day of care. Plus, in the fall kids get to swim, hike, play disc golf and learn to mountain bike. Drop in slots are available as well as advance registration.
Bromley skiers and riders will see some sweet new features in the ski area’s terrain park this season. For the second winter in a row, the resort is partnering with Arena Snowparks to ramp up its park
offerings. Expect some creative designs and eclectic features, with lines suitable for everyone from park newbies to advanced skiers and riders.
This season, Burke is expanding its 250-foot-long magic carpet, bringing the total lifts serving Burke’s learn-to-ski and learn-to-ride programs to three: the magic carpet, J-bar lift and Sherburne high-speed quad. Burke is also working on upgrades to its snowmaking, among them replacing 50 low-energy heads on the ski area’s snowmaking towers with high-efficiency models. Snowmaking guns were also added to Upper Doug’s trail.
Cochran’s Ski Area is eyeing a machine-built beginner mountain bike trail network, designed by trail builder Hardy Avery, at its base. The nonprofit ski area submitted plans for review under Act 250 in March and is hoping to receive a permit this fall. If all goes as planned, construction could start next spring.
This year, the ski area also dropped its day ticket prices to $19 per day for adults and $14 for kids. “We really wanted to see if we could offer skiing for less than $20,” says General Manager Jim Cochran. On Sunday afternoons this season, keep an eye out for a new dual slalom race series for kids and adults alike, using a set of barge gates donated by the Bob Beattie Ski Foundation last year. “Ski racing is a sport with a lot of barriers, and we think this could be a fun, engaging way to let kids who happen to be skiing with their families and may be curious about the sport try it in a setting where you get real feedback in real-time, skiing against someone who’s at a similar skill level as you,” says Cochran.
Many Vermont towns once had their own small ski areas and offered free skiing. St. Albans still does, and this fall, Hard’Ack, operated by the St. Albans Recreation Department, breaks ground on a brand-new base building. The new Greg Brown Lodge is expected to open by mid-January and will have bathrooms, a kitchen and a concessions area and will feature a wraparound deck with views of the ski hill. Hard’Ack’s 700-foot rope tow will be open for skiing and riding on Fridays from 5 to 8 p.m., Saturdays from 12 to 8 p.m. and Sundays from 12 to 6 p.m. Skiing at Hard’Ack is free, but donations can be made at stalbansrec.com.
Jay Peak is officially up for sale by the court-appointed receiver who took possession of the resort after its previous owners, Bill Stenger and Ariel Quiros were charged with fraudulent use of EB-5 funds. As of press time, 26 interested parties had signed non-disclosure agreements including what many view as the front-runner, Alterra, owner of Stratton and 13 other resorts.
New this season, Jay Peak is offering girls ages seven to 12 a new advanced and intermediate skills program called the Chickadees Girls Camp. Over 11 weeks, they’ll train with expert women skiers and riders to help develop confidence and skills stomping tricks in the park, skiing the trees and finding the perfect powder line on the hill. Also back this year is Jay’s free Guided Discover Program, where new skiers and riders can rent their equipment on-site and get free unfettered access to the Magic Carpet area from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. If at 1 p.m., they aren’t having a good time, they can return their equipment free of charge.
Over at Killington, keep an eye out for construction on the new 58,000 square-foot K-1 Lodge. The resort broke ground in September and expects to open the building in advance of the 2020-2021 ski season. Fear not, skiers will still have access to the existing lodge for the 2019-2020 season, after which it will be demolished.
The North Ridge Triple was replaced with a quad, a major boon for early and late season skiing, as the lift serves the first terrain to open. The ski area also added 120 low energy tower guns to its snowmaking repertoire. The Killington World Cup returns for the fourth year in a row Nov. 30 to Dec. 1.
This season, Mad River Glen is offering a screaming deal for twenty-somethings: the new Twixter Pass. Those 19 to 29 as of Jan. 1, 2020 are eligible for a $249 season’s pass, if purchased by Oct. 15. The co-op-owned ski area is also replacing 3,000 feet of snowmaking pipe and improving drainages to help the mountain shed water more quickly after big freeze-thaw cycles.
Magic Mountain is giving skiers a new lift and a new trail. The short but steep double black diamond was created when Magic cut a new lift line for its brand new quad, which will replace the Black Chair double. After more than 670 social media followers chimed in on a new name, Magic is labeling the trail Pitch Black, as it drops into Black Line.
The new quad (formerly Stratton Mountain’s Snowbowl Quad), will double the mountain’s lift capacity. Magic also doubled the size of its snowmaking pond, which will in turn double its snowmaking power this winter.
Magic is also offering foliage chairlift rides for the first time this fall, with rides on Saturday and Sunday rides starting Sept. 21.
Is telemark dead? Not at the Middlebury Snow Bowl, where, starting this season, you can drop in for a two-hour clinic in free-heel skiing from 1 to 3 p.m. every Tuesday afternoon at $40 per class. Also new for this year is the Shared Parent Pass. For the cost of one adult season pass, two parents with a toddler who doesn’t ski yet can share a pass, passing it (and their kid) off as they take turns skiing and sitting in the lodge.
If all goes as planned, Mount Snow—along with the other 16 Peak Resorts-owned ski areas across the East and Midwest—will become part of Vail Resorts this fall. The move brings the Epic Pass and Epic Local Pass to yet another Vermont resort (Okemo and Stowe are also on the Epic Pass).
After investing more than $32 million in snowmaking upgrades over the last three years, Mount Snow is adding more snowmaking to its Sunbrook Face. Once complete, there will be snowmaking on 83 percent of the ski area’s terrain. “We’re working toward 100 percent coverage,” says senior director of communications Jamie Storrs.
Also new this season is a groomed green circle called Little Dipper which allows beginner skiers and riders to get from the summit to the base. At Carinthia, a new mid-sized progression park will make its debut on Fools Gold, where the resort just added top-to-bottom snowmaking. “Expect a small-feature terrain park, perfect for beginners,” says Storrs. Carinthia Base Lodge will see a new fire pit and outdoor bar and grill.
Mount Snow will honor all Peak Pass products this year, but those who have already purchased a Peak Pass will be eligible to upgrade to an Epic Pass, upon closing the acquisition. However, as of press time in September, a lawsuit by Peak Resorts investors threatened to hold up that sale. The suit alleges, among other things, that Peak Resorts violated securities laws by misrepresenting financial information. In November 2018, the Sackler family, the family behind Purdue Pharma (makers of OxyContin), became the majority shareholders in Peak.
This winter, East Corinth’s Northeast Slopes will, drum roll please… get a new rope for its rope tow. The ski area also plans to offer night skiing this season. “It’s been done behind the scenes for generations,” says manager Wade Pierson. “This year, we’re going to see if we can plan in advance and welcome the public.”
Okemo is undergoing a gourmet makeover. The Summit Lodge gets a new, open floor plan and re-vamped décor that includes wooden beams, exposed stone and sliding barn doors. Food will be
available “food-truck style,” with healthy grab-and-go options. On the lodge’s lower level, a new bar with fireside sofas and high-top tables will pair with a boosted local beer selection, craft cocktails and Carolina-style barbecue. The mid-mountain Sugar House Lodge will see upgrades to make the space more kid-friendly, with an expanded kids’ menu.
Along with new half- and full-day family lessons, Okemo will launch the EpicMix app for 2019-2020, which allows skiers and riders to track snow conditions, skier vert, earn pins and view their ski and snowboard school progress. Four of Okemo’s major lifts will be connected with a special feature called Epic Mix Time, which lets skiers and riders check lift line waiting times in real time. Add 5,000 feet of new snowmaking pipe and Okemo can now pump 7,000 to 9,000 gallons of water per minute through its snowmaking system.
In addition to offering free skiing to kids (under 12) of anyone who buys a season pass, Pico has planned a massive snowmaking expansion that will double the ski area’s snowmaking capacity. The $2.1 million project represents the largest investment in the resort since Killington took ownership of Pico more than 20 years ago, and skiers should notice improved snow conditions. The project includes a 16,850-foot pipeline between Killington and Pico, 4,000 feet of new snowmaking pipe, the replacement of 5,418 feet of existing pipe and one more snowmaking pump. As of press time, a permit was still pending, but some approved work was underway.
Smugglers’ Notch will be revamping its adult ski and ride lesson offerings, with a new three-hour private lesson. During the lesson, instructors will outfit you with the latest demo gear, specially picked for the type of skiing or riding you will be working on, the terrain and the conditions. The lessons will also focus on building skills like reading terrain and snow, picking a line in the trees and other bits of on-the-hill knowledge that, as communications director Mike Chait puts it, “most good skiers and riders learn on their own, through time spent on the hill.” The goal, says Chait, “is to help those who ride or ski just a few days a season make that progress and gain that insider knowledge a little faster.”
If you’ve missed the piping hot waffles you used to get at the top of the gondola at Stowe Mountain Resort, this winter they are back. The ski area adds the Maple Waffle Cafe to its list of dining options, located inside the gondola summit shelter. For apres, head to the new Whistle Pig Pavilion by the outdoor ice skating rink at Spruce Peak. Expect gourmet tasters, whiskey toasts and a small bites menu from this Shoreham-based craft distiller, plus a selection of local beers.
On the mountain, kids and families looking to ease into tree skiing can head to special Kids Adventure Zones, which feature well-signed, low-angle, gladed skiing and can be accessed via the Mountain Triple and Four Runner Quad.
Stratton Mountain Resort introduced its new lift-served downhill mountain biking park over Labor Day, with 4.6 miles of new hand-built trail designed and implemented by Sinuosity Flowing Trails. The new zone is flowy and fun, and permitting for Phases II and III, expected to open for riding in summer 2020 and 2021 respectively, has been approved. The buildout prioritizes intermediate and novice trails first, with 3.5 miles of advanced trails planned as part of Phase II. Look out for a brand new progression trail and uphill route, slated to open Columbus Day weekend. Bring your fatbike this winter, as Stratton Nordic Center adds 4K of rolling, banked and bermed fatbiking trail.
Also new for this season is a football field-sized beginners’ area for those who are just starting to get on skis. The flat terrain will let first-time skiers and riders learn to use their edges and master the basics before tackling an incline. For those who have a few lessons under their belt, the new Take it to the Top lesson program ($159 per day) is a full-day private lesson that culminates in a guided ski from the top of the mountain to the bottom on beginner terrain.
In the village, Benedicts’ restaurant is adding three gondola cabins to its seating. The cars will be revamped entirely, with new interiors designed by Stratton-based Vermont Barns. This, in conjunction with 12,500 feet of new snowmaking pipe on the mountain’s beginner terrain, are all part of a $16 million investment in the resort made by its parent company, Alterra Mountain Company.
This fall, Sugarbush is adding a massive new event, as it hosts Tiny House Fest Vermont for the first time on Oct. 27. Friday night will feature a slew of films about tiny houses at Big Picture Theater & Café in Waitsfield. On Saturday, Yestermorrow Design/Build School will offer tours of four tiny homes across the Mad River Valley, and on Sunday, Sugarbush hosts the festival itself; a
smorgasbord of food truck fare, beer exhibitions and speakers. Got a plan for your own tiny ski chalet? Bring it to the festival for a free design review by local architects and builders, or head to the pop-up makerspace and take a tour of the pop-up tiny house village, featuring 20 dwellings, from revamped vintage airstreams to full-time post and beam homes.
The courtyard at Lincoln Peak is getting a makeover and will see a new outdoor bar space along with more fire pits. Also new for this year are two electric vehicle charging stations at Mt. Ellen, to complement the 15 existing stations at Lincoln Peak.
At Suicide Six, skiers will reap the benefits of $250,000 worth of snowmaking investments, which the resort says will make its surfaces even better and more energy efficient. Look for the Red Barn Dinner Fall Foliage Series at the Kelly Way Gardens. Enjoy a specially-crafted and unique menu at each dinner, featuring ingredients from the gardens and other nearby farms, as well as products by local cheesemakers, brewers and beekeepers. Enjoy them all in a beautiful barn setting. Nearby, the Woodstock Nordic Center celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. Look out for special events and celebrations throughout the season.
Featured Photo Caption: Shayne Pospisil gets a little air by headlamp at Bolton Valley. Bolton Valley is one of five Vermont ski areas that light their slopes for night skiing, along with the Brattleboro Ski Hill, Cochran’s Ski Area, Hard’Ack and new this year, Northeast Slopes. Photo by Peter Cirilli