GOOD TO KNOW
1-Day Ticket: $109-$189
Pass Affiliation: Ikon Pass
On-site Lodging: Yes
Nearest Cities: Montreal (3 hrs), Boston (3.5 hrs), New York (5.5 hrs)
Recommended Ability Level:
Diverse terrain, including demanding expert and backcountry runs
Breathtaking mountain aesthetic
Long East Coast vertical drop
Lack of snowmaking on some trails, especially expert terrain
Limited beginner terrain
Long distance between the two resort sides
Lift ticket pricing, especially for kids
Skiable Footprint: 581 acres
Total Footprint: 1,657 acres
Lift-Serviced Terrain: 100%
Top Elevation: 4,083 ft
Vertical Drop: 2,600 ft
Located in the Mad River Valley, Sugarbush is one of the larger resorts on the East Coast. It’s often overshadowed by more well-known resorts in Vermont, which have better lift infrastructure and more developed base areas. However, Sugarbush successfully holds its own when it comes to expert terrain while providing a much more scenic and natural-feeling character than many competitors.
The first thing to note about Sugarbush is that it’s not one continuous mountain; instead, the resort consists of two distinct areas: Lincoln Peak and Mount Ellen. While miles apart from each other, both areas are sufficiently sized for most visitors to be satisfied spending a single day at one or the other. While some may want to alternate their days between the two, many will find themselves wanting to spend more time on the bigger and more interesting Lincoln Peak side. If you plan on only spending one day here, Mount Ellen will be better for beginners, families, and freestylers, while Lincoln Peak will probably be better for everyone else.
Mount Ellen Side
The Mount Ellen area, previously known and still referred to by locals as Sugarbush North, is really just one peak. This side has a lot of nice green and blue cruiser trails and feels quite local thanks to a lack of build-up at the base. While not as geared towards experts as Lincoln Peak, Mount Ellen does offer some fantastic steep, mogully runs, especially at the top.
Lincoln Peak Side
The Lincoln Peak area, which was previously the whole of Sugarbush way before the resort acquired Mount Ellen, is what most guests will consider the primary side of the resort. This area actually includes three mountains: Lincoln Peak itself, Castlerock Peak, and North Lynx Peak. They’re all accessible from the same base area, although the peaks are very far away from each other, so upper mountain areas are uniquely spread out. This side offers a really nice range of intermediate to expert terrain.
For beginners, the Lincoln Peak side of the resort doesn’t have many options. If you’re not yet comfortable with harder terrain, you’ll need to stick to the Gate House pod, which is home to the only green run on this side of the resort that isn’t a learning area. We will at least say that when it comes to the Lincoln Peak learning area, the Village Quad bunny hill lift does serve some pretty cool trails as far as greens go, including one run that swings through condos.
The Mount Ellen side is much better for beginners, with options that extend to mid-mountain. However, green runs are still somewhat limited compared to Vermont destinations further south.
Sugarbush really starts to flaunt its strengths at the intermediate level. The Gate House and North Lynx areas on North Lynx Peak offer some really nice intermediate terrain, including glade runs. The Super Bravo area on Lincoln Peak and North Ridge on Mount Ellen also consist of a ton of blue cruisers. With some very small exceptions on North Lynx and Super Bravo, all of these runs are consistently groomed. Upper-mountain blues—especially the ones off Heaven’s Gate, North Lynx, and Mount Ellen’s Summit Quad—provide some of the best scenic views in Vermont.
Advanced and Expert Terrain
Sugarbush especially stands out with its advanced and expert terrain. The trails have well-thought-out cuts and fall lines, and only a handful ever get groomed, giving them a natural, exciting feel missing from tougher terrain at many resorts further south. Across all of Lincoln Peak, but especially off Super Bravo and in upper mountain areas, visitors will find icy, bumpy steeps—some of which are notably narrow—and multiple wooded trails.
Mount Ellen doesn’t have quite as many narrow runs, but there are still some pretty gnarly bump runs in upper mountain areas—including FIS, Sugarbush’s steepest run. It’s also worth noting the physically separate Lower FIS trail, a steep, ungroomed black-diamond run that extends down two-thirds of the resort with no place to bail—and requires a lengthy catwalk to get out at the end.
The true crown jewel of Sugarbush’s expert footprint is the Lincoln Peak-side Castlerock zone. Servicing black and double black trails only, this area is all natural snow and rarely receives grooming. The incredibly steep, icy, and narrow terrain here will give even the most formidable skiers a hard time. These trails are very long as well, so come mentally prepared. The Rumble trail, which at times is about as wide as a hockey stick, is often considered one of the most difficult trails on the East Coast.
RECOMMENDED SKIS FOR SUGARBUSH
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Sugarbush is home to one of the most authentic vibes of any large Vermont ski resort. On-mountain buildup exists, but it’s limited in nature, and thoughtfully done.
This authenticity is backed up by natural beauty. The resort boasts some of the best in-bounds views in Vermont, especially from Heaven’s Gate and the top of Mount Ellen, with the spread-out nature of upper mountain areas creating a distinctively expansive feel. On cold days, the pine trees up here freeze over, leading to an aura of otherworldliness.
Another thing that helps Sugarbush feel special is the aura of isolation in upper-mountain areas. While most Vermont ski resorts offer base-to-summit service on at least one lift (or at least something close to that), at Sugarbush, it takes two lifts to reach every summit area. Especially on the Lincoln Peak side, this effectively separates upper and lower resort areas into different pods of terrain and conveys a vertical feel that’s missing from most other competitors. Combined with the lack of man-made distractions, it’s easy to feel totally removed from society in Sugarbush’s highest elevation terrain zones.
Snow Quality and Resiliency
Sugarbush’s snow quality is good for the state, with more reliable accumulation totals than mountains further south. But this is still the East Coast, and snow quality varies throughout the season.
Snowmaking keeps parts of the resort resilient, but operations aren’t as extensive as at some competing resorts. A sizable portion of expert terrain doesn’t have snowmaking and may be closed if you don’t time your visit right. If you really want to visit Castlerock, it’s important to note that this expert area often doesn’t open until January; it tends to stay consistently open after that but is subject to very thin cover at times. There are also occasions when Sugarbush will technically open Castlerock’s terrain but without spinning the lift, turning it into skin-up access only.
Slide Brook Express
Lincoln Peak and Mount Ellen may be miles apart from one another, but there is on-mountain transportation between the two—the Slide Brook Express—and it’s worth a mention. Only open on days with what the resort claims is “sufficient” snow cover, this two-way lift traverses through two miles of what seems like complete wilderness and offers some of the most beautiful scenery in the state.
Taking this lift consumes a notable part of your ski day, and the isolation and vertical drops get scary at times. However, it’s well worth doing at least once; for many, this lift will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. At the time of this writing, this is the longest detachable quad in the world.
While it used to only run on weekends and holidays, as of the 2022-23 season, the Slide Brook Express runs daily once conditions are sufficient.
Slide Brook Basin
It’s also worth noting that Slide Brook Basin, the area below this lift, is home to more than 2,000 acres of wooded backcountry skiing. On a good day, these untouched glades can be truly amazing. You can access Slide Brook from the top of the North Lynx Triple chair and make your way to a bus stop at the bottom, but it’s easy to get lost in the thick woods. If it’s your first time, you’ll want to sign up for one of Sugarbush’s paid guided tours or find a local who knows the area well.
When it comes to the rest of its lifts, Sugarbush’s setup isn’t bad, although it’s not the most modern. However, this is partially by design. Detachable quads provide service from the bases to mid-mountain areas, and in the case of Mount Ellen, the North Ridge Express quad extends about three quarters of the way up. Only fixed-grip lifts service the peaks, and some of these are difficult to find or require brief flat terrain sections to get to. These lifts may be slow, but their lower capacity allows for less crowded slopes at the top. This is especially true on Castlerock’s double lift, which has extra-wide spacing between chairs. Fewer crowds, combined with the lack of noise from the lifts, greatly contributes to the sense of isolation you feel up on these peaks.
RECOMMENDED SNOWBOARDS FOR SUGARBUSH
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While Sugarbush’s slopes may be spread out, crowds at the low-capacity upper mountain Lincoln Peak lifts, which have no direct alternatives, can get bad. The lines for the Castlerock lift don’t always look too long, but they move really slowly, and half-hour waits are common on weekends and holidays. The out-of-base Super Bravo lift is somewhat of a crowd magnet as well, although luckily, the nearby fixed-grip Valley House Quad provides relief when needed. It’s worth noting that for the upcoming season, Sugarbush is redesigning its Reverse Traverse trail, which will make it much easier for guests taking the Valley House lift to get to upper mountain areas.
Crowding is typically less of an issue at Mount Ellen, helped by several lift redundancies, the area’s smaller size, and the lack of a built-up base and on-site lodging.
Ikon Pass Access
It’s worth noting that Sugarbush is a member of the Ikon Pass, with unlimited access on both the full and base products, albeit with holiday blackouts on the base options. If you don’t want to commit to a specific date but want to secure your access ahead of time, Sugarbush is also a partner on the 2, 3, and 4-day Ikon Session Passes.
Sugarbush is located in central Vermont’s Mad River Valley, about three-and-a-half hours from Boston and five-and-a-half hours from New York. The resort is also about three hours from the Canadian city of Montreal.
The final hour or so of the drive from any direction involves state roads that aren’t always well maintained, so visitors should make sure to bring the proper vehicle on their trip, even if it doesn’t look like it’ll snow.
One downside that Sugarbush shares with many other Vermont mountains: public transportation options and shuttle services are essentially non-existent.
Although it doesn’t really have the same sprawling base village as some competitors, Sugarbush’s Lincoln Peak area does offer some solid on-site lodging options. The Clay Brook Hotel, the resort’s only slopeside hotel, is quite upscale but expensive. Trailside condos with ski-in/ski-out access are more reasonably priced but not all have amenities like pools or hot tubs. There’s no on-site lodging available on the Mount Ellen side.
A range of charming bargain-basement to luxury condo rental options exist within a few minutes of the resort. If you’re looking to stay somewhere cheap, consider Hostel Tevere, a shared-room hostel a short drive from the mountain that features an on-site bar and restaurant.
Sugarbush offers some enjoyable aprés-ski options, but the nightlife is somewhat limited compared to some other Vermont resorts. Both base areas feature slopeside bars with good beer selection and live music during peak times. There are some pretty solid bars in the town of Warren, and they can be accessed via the free Mad River Valley shuttle bus if you don’t want to drive. However, you won’t find any true night clubs here if that’s your vibe.
So Sugarbush may not be for you if you’re looking for the fastest lifts, most consistent opening schedule for expert terrain, or a singular, continuous footprint to ski or ride on. But the resort really has quite a lot to offer versus the other options in this state, and it can be well worth the trip if you’re looking for diverse terrain, distinctive character, and breathtaking views.
Perhaps the biggest downside to Sugarbush is its price. 1-day lift tickets are now among the most expensive in Vermont, topping out around $200, and to make matters even crazier, there’s no age discount for kids 5 and older. It is worth noting that the Mount Ellen side offers its own lift tickets, and they top out at about half the cost of full Sugarbush tickets. However, they’re only available on off-peak weekdays.
If you want to visit Sugarbush this winter, we recommend skipping regular lift tickets entirely and going with a Sugarbush Quad Pack, which provides four days of flexible mountain access, or an Ikon offering. If you have kids, the Ikon products come with the age discounts missing from Sugarbush-branded access. However, these products will be off sale later in the fall, so you’ll have to act quickly.