While western Canada is amply blessed with some of the best mountains and conditions for skiing in North America, in the east one often needs to look a little harder and farther for the right winter resort. Thankfully the state of Vermont, bordering Quebec and only an hour flight from Toronto, offers up one of richest supply of ski and snowboarding destinations anywhere. Regardless of your skill level, budget or whether you’re travelling with family or friends, Vermont has a place for you.
Vermont (French for “green mountain”) is also the birthplace of snowboarding, thanks to the efforts and enthusiasm of Jake Burton Carpenter whose iconic Burton Snowboards remains based out of Burlington, Vermont.
The prime slopes are situated only a short drive from Montreal and now thanks to direct flights out of Toronto four times a week to Burlington with Porter Airlines, you can literally go from sitting on your couch to sitting on a ski-lift at a world-class resort in under three hours. We spent some time on the road earlier in the year and here’s our look at four of Vermont’s top ski resorts:
Stowe Mountain Resort
Trails: 116 Vertical: 2,360’
Simply put, Stowe is gorgeous, with the perfect combination of exciting mountainside terrain, lots of natural snow, state of the art grooming and snowmaking equipment and one of the most impressive lodges around. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent developing Stowe’s facilities and accommodations and it has clearly cemented its reputation as the most luxurious ski resort in the eastern U.S.
Snowboarding flourished early at Stowe and they have one of the best programs around, and are still the home mountain and key partner of Burton Snowboards. Off the slopes, there is a lot to do at the high-end Stowe Mountain Lodge, or in and around nearby Stowe village, from spas to shopping to nightlife. We especially loved the side trip to Ben & Jerry’s ice cream factory. While not targeting the budget traveler, the Stowe experience doesn’t disappoint.
Trails: 111 Vertical: 2,600’
One of the most popular ski resorts in Vermont over the years, we found stunningly groomed main trails combined with a whole other world of more adventurous terrain for advanced skiers, including backcountry skiing where some of the most famous skiers in eastern U.S. have honed their craft. We spent part of the day skiing with one of those legends, John Egan, star of many of the original Warren Miller extreme skiing movies. John is in charge of mountain activities, and is even available as a celebrity skiing guide for special groups willing to pay for a ski adventure to remember.
Thanks to superior snowmaking equipment that covers 70% of the trails, Sugarbush can counted on for some fabulous mountain time and very nice range of accommodations from modest to high-end make this a very accessible mountain for everyone. We ran into a large number of local college students sneaking away from class for the day to take advantage of their season passes at Sugarbush.
Trails: 78 Vertical: 2,610’
Smuggler’s Notch calls itself America’s Family Resort and wins multiple awards every year for exactly that. Smugglers’ Notch (nicknamed “Smuggs”) really does a great job catering to all ages, from their ski school programs, mountain tubing, skating rinks and swimming pools to teen entertainment centres. Nevertheless, if you’re truly there to ski, away from the family-friendly trails, you’ll find lots of hardcore, often completely natural, terrain that has always attracted some of the most serious skiers in the state.
One special activity unique to Smugglers’ Notch was a nighttime snowmobile ride up the mountain, through forests and eventually to the “notch” (a mountain pass) that “smugglers” actually used in the days of Prohibition to illegally run liquor from Canada into the U.S. As we returned towards the base we were greeted by the weekly fireworks show, a surreal, magical experience. A casual vibe, local nightlife and lots of hillside condos with shuttle service make this a great place to go with a large group of friends or family.
Trails: 76 Vertical: 2,153’
Just a few miles from the Canadian border, for decades Jay Peak has been the most visited resort for the Quebec crowd, and you’re just as likely to hear French being spoken as English. Jay Peak is said to have different weather than the rest of Vermont, i.e. colder and more snow, and is most likely to have wintery, skiable conditions earlier and later in the season.
Like Stowe, half a billion dollars has gone into upgrading the main lodge, mountains, lifts and, in a bid to attract even more Canadians, a hockey arena that regularly hosts tournaments. Jay Peak’s big new year-round attraction is a massive indoor waterpark looking out on the slopes. Terrifyingly fun waterslides, lazy river tubing and surf and boogie board wave pools are an awesome way to spend an afternoon when it’s too cold to be on the mountain.
Of all the hills we visited, Jay Peak had the biggest crowd of young people enjoying the slopes, restaurants and waterpark, and is a popular destination for student trips out of Canada.
For vacation planning ideas and current ski conditions check out www.skivermont.com.
For flights out of Toronto to Vermont, visit www.flyporter.com.