My top tips for Sugarbush ski resort in Vermont
The first time I went to Sugarbush ski resort in Vermont, I’d only had perhaps 20 to 30 total ski days under my belt and my only experience was on easy green runs. I’d never even seen an ungroomed trail before. I had a lot of fun that day but couldn’t really manage much of what the place offers; it’s a whole lotta mountain!
Fast forward seven ski seasons — with some serious mileage in the rearview mirror, including skiing in Whistler and similar beasts — and I felt ready to tackle Sugarbush Resort. So, we packed up the family, all of our gear and followed the snow — to Vermont, one of our favourite places to get our winter on.
Need ski packing tips, too? My ski trip packing checklist is the only one you’ll ever need — and it’s printable!
Skiing at Sugarbush ski resort in Vermont
Sugarbush ski resort in Vermont offers two mountains — Lincoln Peak and Mount Ellen — with a combined 111 trails. Although there’s a mix of beginner, intermediate/advanced and expert-only terrain, I probably wouldn’t point all novice skiers here. Because I’ve been there and I found it a bit intimidating; after all, green (easy, beginner) trails make up only 20 per cent of Sugarbush Resort’s runs.
A brand new, “never-ever” skier? Sure. You don’t know what you don’t know. The learning area at Sugarbush is great and the instructors are top notch. But for new skiers who are ready to progress from the bunny hill to the greens, or who have not-so-confidently been skiing greens elsewhere and still get nervous, I’d suggest circling back to Sugarbush ski resort in Vermont after you’ve gotten really comfortable on many greens at several other resorts first. (If you’re in Ontario or Quebec, consider Blue Mountain, Mont-Tremblant, Camp Fortune, Titus Mountain Family Ski Center, Horseshoe Resort, MSLM and Brimacombe to name a few.)
For the confident intermediate skier who’s tweaking form and working on building skills on ungroomed terrain, Sugarbush is a dream. With 45 per cent of its 111 runs designated as blue squares, some of which are like blacks we’ve skied elsewhere, you’ve got basically half of the resort as your playground.
I’m not an expert skier by any stretch, but I managed a couple of shorter black runs at Sugarbush just fine and also saw a few pitches that I had no business heading down — so there’s plenty left for you daredevils.
One of the things I loved most about skiing at Sugarbush Resort was that even intermediate skiers can enjoy skiing from the 3,975-foot summit thanks to a lovely groomer-wide run called Jester, accessed from the Heaven’s Gate lift. If you can ski easy blues and you’re comfortable with your turns in a narrow (but not steep) trail, you’ve got to head up. On a clear day, you can see Whiteface in the distance.
And, after five days spent skiing, eating, lounging and après’ing, here are the top tips you need to know for Sugarbush ski resort in Vermont:
Tip #1 — stay onsite to unlock discounted lift tickets
This tip is first because it’s going to save you a LOT of money. Sugarbush is super transparent about ticket prices and clearly notes on its site that getting lift tickets at the window is going to cost you more. They encourage online ticket sales, but what you need to know is that the resort has a dynamic pricing structure, which means prices can rise and fall based on high versus low season, midweek versus weekend days and even availability — like airplane tickets.
A quick glance at time of writing shows me the online prices range from USD$129 to $189 per person. Remember, these are still cheaper than walking up to a ticket booth onsite.So, here’s the inside scoop: if you stay in any of Sugarbush VT’s lodging — which includes the stunning slopeside Clay Brook Hotel, Resort Condos and The Lodge at Lincoln Peak — your lift ticket drops to USD$89. Yeah…down to two digits, leaving you with more cash for restaurants, lessons, après-ski fun and more. Making a resort reservation also gives you complimentary SHaRC access, which is Sugarbush’s recreation centre. (More on that in Tip No. 4.)
Where to stay at Sugarbush ski resort in Vermont
I’d only stayed at the Sugar Bush Inn before this visit to Sugarbush ski resort in Vermont, which is currently not available for winter-season reservations, and as we make return visits and stay in new resort-run properties, I’ll update this section accordingly.
Clay Brook Hotel is Sugarbush VT’s only slopeside guest lodging. It offers rooms and suites with up to five bedrooms, full kitchens, in-room Jacuzzi tubs, an outdoor heated pool and two outdoor hot tubs. Rooms provide a real sense of place. You know you’re in New England when you step foot into your Clay Brook Hotel suite.
I mean, it’s gorgeous. But that’s not what sets Clay Brook Hotel apart from the many (many!) ski lodges and condos in which we’ve stayed over the years. The luxury amenities are! Valet service is included — for your vehicle and your skis. When you pull up to Clay Brook to check in, a helpful valet will unload your vehicle before taking it into the heated underground parking lot and transport your skis and poles to Sugarbush Resort’s central ski valet where they’ll be treated with care throughout your entire stay.
Although we couldn’t find a cutting board, kitchens are otherwise well-equipped and you’ll find detergent under the sink — for both the dishwasher and laundry. Did I mention there are stacked washer-dryers in the Clay Brook Hotel suites, too?!
The only downsides in our experience here were that the pullout sofabed mattress wasn’t awesome (they rarely are but it’s worth mentioning if you plan to use it for anyone over 100 pounds) and all of the pillows should be upgraded. It’s a luxury property and should have the pillows to match.
Staff from beginning to end were very attentive and helped round out a wonderful stay. Plus, you just can’t beat the proximity to the lifts and restaurants. I’d stay here again and again — but book a three-bedroom suite instead so both kids could have their own beds and enjoy that sofabed as simply a sofa.
Tip #2 — add EarlyUps to your weekend lift tickets
Yes, we’re talking about adding another $49 charge to your lift ticket, but if the fresh pow hits and you can be in the lift line by 7:20 a.m., you’ll be rewarded with the best snow of the day.
“EarlyUps” (also called First Tracks at other resorts) gives you a 1.5-hour jump on other guests, with one lift from the base that starts at 7:30 a.m. and others revving up at 8 a.m. to hit the summit — all before the sleepyheads roll into breakfast. Without an EarlyUps add-on, you’ll need to wait until 9 a.m. to hit the lifts.
There’s absolutely nothing better that making your own tracks in freshly fallen snow, so this one’s a no-brainer for Big B and me. But with teenagers, you’ll want to ask them specifically before shelling out nearly 50 bucks a kid if they’re willing to wake up at dawn; ours chose to sleep in. Suckers.
Tip #3 — book a private lesson at Sugarbush ski resort in Vermont
Lessons are key if your kids don’t want to hit the big steeps and you do. And, as a family who’s creating content for our eighth consecutive season of skiing, you can imagine how many group and private ski lessons our kids have done to help us make recommendations to readers over the years. So what you’re about to read comes with nearly a decade of lessons in our back pockets — some lasting an hour and others being a week of all-day ski school.
Without any close comparison, the single private lesson that my 15-year-old son had with Eric at Sugarbush Resort turned out a totally different skier. In three hours. His turns improved a hundred-fold, his confidence soared and his posture looked like a completely new human. Even The K Man himself recognized the near-instant improvement. He absolutely raved about the whole lesson, which is a first for him — in eight years. Could it also be that Eric treated him to a fresh waffle from the Waffle Cabin in the Sugarbush village? I’m sure it helped. 😉
Miss Q’s time with Jason was just as successful; she’s always been a more natural skier (it helps when you start a sport at four years old), so it was more about making those minor tweaks to form and technique to up her ski game, which she definitely did.
Are the private lessons at Sugarbush ski resort in Vermont pricy? Yes. There’s just no way around it. Even midweek during low season, they’re $349 for three hours. But what you’ll get inside of that three-hour window are the best instructors our kids have ever had, who spent time asking both us and them questions at the start of their time together to assess how they learn and what other sports they play to draw on other athletic experiences. They connected with each of them and made it fun.
There’s no better thing for a parent than watching your kids ski towards you with huge smiles plastered on their faces — and we got that from both of them.
Tip #4 — visit the SHaRC
The “SHaRC” is the Sugarbush Health & Recreation Center. It was an easy (and free!) shuttle ride from the Clay Brook Hotel, and the centre offers activities for the whole family, including little kids. There’s a gym and fitness classes; indoor courts for tennis, pickleball and basketball; and a Kids Adventure Zone with inflatables. You can get a massage by appointment and there’s an indoor pool (where your kids can even do swim lessons), plus a hot tub, sauna and steam room.
But the best part of the SHaRC are the three new Sports SIM Suites. We LOOOOOVED these and could have spent way more time there than our one-hour booking. Old racketball courts have been transformed into three interconnecting spaces, each large enough for two families with the ability to keep them private or open for an even larger group to share; a massive screen at one end of each suite works in tandem with HD cameras that track and measure your movements to provide an immersive gaming experience.
We played hockey, basketball, soccer, football and bowling. We tried archery and clay shooting. Zombi Dodgeball was hilarious. The hour was gone in a flash.If you’re a golfer, however, you need to know that one of the SIM Suites is dedicated to golf training, with best-in-class tech that helps assess swing patterns and even measures your weight as it shifts from one foot to another (not your actual weight in pounds/kilos — don’t be alarmed). Sugarbush’s own PGA Pro Roger King is available for private lessons in the suite at $150/hour. The hubs and The K Man are golf fans and Roger took their swings and accuracy up many notches in just a few minutes together. He taught me how to stand, shift and swing and I hit the ball consistently, which is impressive since I’ve only played golf once — about 20 years ago.
If you need some non-ski downtime or the weather isn’t co-operating during your visit to Sugarbush ski resort in Vermont, the SHaRC and its SIM Suites are the answer. Just keep in mind that the last shuttle of the day that heads back up to Clay Brook is at 5:05 p.m.
Tip #5 — eat your face off at Sugarbush ski resort in Vermont
Ski resort food can be hit and miss. And it’s usually expensive, so when it misses, it really stings. If you’re staying at Clay Brook Hotel onsite, you’re within easy reach of your own kitchen. This is a huge time- and money-saver for families, and when we have kitchen access, we try to do breakfast and most dinners “at home” and save our pennies to do lunches on the hill. But you could just as easily pop back to your room at Clay Brook for lunch (it’s that close).
But here’s the great news about Sugarbush Resort’s food offerings: they’re fantastic! And actually not stupid expensive. And the portions are massive, which means you can share dishes or even take leftovers back to your room for snacks or a whole other meal later on.
Here are your options and these are the places we have personally tried:
Rumbles Bistro & BarAttached to the Clay Brook Hotel & Residences, this “roundhouse” with a soaring ceiling isn’t just a pretty face. Every dish we tried here was a winner — and I’m talking breakfast, lunch and dinner. Standouts include:
- Nana’s pancakes and the huevos rancheros at breakfast
- Firecracker calamari, Korean brussel sprouts, Korean pork sandwich and the sesame-crusted Bluefin tuna at lunch and dinner
Keep in mind that unless it’s a holiday break, breakfast is only served on weekends starting at 9 a.m. here.Castlerock Pub
On the lower level of the Gate House building, where you’ll find guest services, this pub has some great beer available. Vermont is known for its craft breweries and they make a great showing here. The beef chili and crispy chicken sandwiches are delish, and this is my top choice for live music and après fun.
The Lunch Box
This little food truck, right beside the ski valet, is even licensed! We had some really #YUMazing mozzerella sticks from there one day.
Gate House Cafeteria
This cafeteria, on the upper level of the Gate House building, is your best bet for an slopeside breakfast since it opens at 8:30 a.m. and has ready-made breakfast sandwiches and yogurt parfaits. You can be in and out in 20 minutes and be ready for the lifts to start spinning at 9 a.m. The sausage and egg breakfast sandwiches and hashbrowns are really good and not too pricy. Plus, if you’re staying onsite, you can charge anything from the cafeteria to your room!The Wünderbar
Two floors of the Valley House building, out of which the Valley House lift operates, are dedicated to self-order dining. Send one person to grab seating while the other waits in line to order; your food will be delivered to your table when it’s ready.
The giant Bavarian pretzel is HUGE served so fresh and piping hot; add the beer cheese. The fried cheese curds were plentiful and the best I’ve eaten. If you like mushrooms, the Viennese mushroom soup sets the bar for all mushroom soups. The Vermont schnitzel is also a winner.Walt’s at The Glen House
The. Best. Grilled. Cheese. Sandwiches. EVER.
You can get your morning coffee at the cafeteria or Rumble’s, sure. But I don’t know why you would when Nomad Coffee is right there. Yeah, you’ll need to walk down a flight of stairs from the main village area to find it — unless you’re buying lift tickets since it’s right beside the ticket window — but OHMIGOD. Do it. This is real artisan coffee. The only thing I’ve tried is a mocha because it was so freaking fantastic that I just kept getting the same thing every day.
The 15-year-old who is a treat hound said the waffle he had here was outstanding. So good he didn’t put a darn thing on it.
Tip #6 — leave the resort and look around
Sugarbush ski resort in Vermont is in Warren, part of the Mad River Valley, which is a darling little town dating back to the late-1700s. There isn’t much to it other than a covered bridge that leads to a historical district that has a few heritage buildings and the very cute Warren Store, but it’s also only a 10-minute drive to Irasville and Waitsfield.
In Irasville, there are some nice shops like the ultra-luxe Sportive where all your Goldbergh dreams will come alive, and in nearby Waitsfield there’s the Blockhouse Studio, which has really lovely pottery and hand-made greeting cards that are so beautiful you could frame them; they also offer workshops if you’re in the area for a while. Lawson’s Finest Liquids also has a gorgeous taproom in Waitsfield and a brick and mortar storefront alongside it if you want to take home Vermont’s famous Sip of Sunshine beer.
If you find yourself out and about, add some local flavour to your ski trip and dine at a local, independently-owned restaurant. We tried two this time that I wholeheartedly recommend and I’ll add more after future visits:
Open for dinner on Friday and Saturday nights only, you’ll dine among framed Elvis prints and local memorabilia. The food is currently Italian-inspired and has a wonderful menu with truly memorable dishes — some of which may change by the time you visit:
- Starters — the butternut squash soup, with its dark chocolate rim and handmade marshmallow was a surprise and delight; the pear salad is a gorgeous cornucopia of flavours; melt-in-your-mouth burrata salad…is it ever anything but divine? And the meatballs, oh, the meatballs!
- Mains — handmade pappardelle pasta Bolognese that no fewer than three of my family members ordered and raved about; and one of the most perfectly cooked salmon filets I can recall, with crispy skin (the way it should be but is often missed), nestled in a basic but lovely risotto and a gorgeous balsamic drizzle
- Desserts — get them all! My tiramisu aficionado declared that Tucker Hill’s sets the tiramisu bar; the pôt de crème is decadence-in-a-glass; and the maple pecan meringue was an interesting take on the classic pavlova that totally pays off
This charming, eight-room B&B and barn that hosts both dinner guests and micro-weddings get its “1824” name from the original house that still stands as part of the property. With a long history in hospitality, 1824 House’s owners are dedicated to great food, great service and a great ambiance.
Dining in an old barn has never been so pretty, with candles on harvest tables and warm white strings of lights at every turn. And there’s food to match, with dinner served on Fridays and Saturdays.
Hopefully by the time you visit, these yummy morsels will still be on the menu: the arancini; the poutine with it’s oh-my-God slow-cooked brisket-topped taters; the chimichurri-loaded osso bucco swimming in polenta; the Jaegerschnitzel, served with a wonderful homemade spaetzle; and the apple bread pudding, which puts all other bread puddings to absolute shame. I am now officially ruined.
Tip #7 — save even more with an IKON PassI don’t have one and no one is paying me to tell you to get an IKON Pass, but we were asked at every single restaurant and shop at Sugarbush ski resort in Vermont if we had one because passholders get additional discounts across Sugarbush Resort. We’re talking 30 per cent on any midweek, non-holiday stay (or 10 per cent off during weekends), discounts on food and drinks, and discounted lift tickets for friends and family. The day we had EarlyUps access also happened to be an IKON Pass First Tracks day, meaning passholders were able to get on those 7:30 a.m. lifts without spending an extra $49 to do so.
That, of course, is in addition to access to all of the mountains and resorts on the IKON Pass, like Big Sky, Blue Mountain, Cypress Mountain, Deer Valley, Jackson Hole, Killington, Panorama, Revelstoke, Steamboat, Sun Peaks, Tremblant and many, many more. You can even ski for five to seven days in the French Alps thanks to pass benefits.
Passes usually go on sale in the spring and the 2023/24 season pass ranged from USD$769 to $1,079. With most of its resorts charging $100+ for single-day lift tickets, even the most expensive IKON Pass is good value if you plan to spend more than 10 days skiing per season. And that’s without taking into consideration all of the other benefits and perks. Definitely something to consider as our winter temps continue to rise and you want to weather-proof your ski season (and have the means to travel and follow the snow, of course).
Now, what are you waiting for? Get thee to Sugarbush already.
DISCLAIMER: Sugarbush ski resort in Vermont hosted our stay. As always, content is never influenced and all opinions shared here are honest and my own. To learn more about skiing in Vermont — or to find other ski resorts close to Burlington, Vermont — visit Ski Vermont.