Snowshoeing in Camel's Hump State Forest, Vermont

Top reasons to vacation in the Mad River Valley this winter

Vermont is calling me today, perhaps because I just returned from my traditional family Thanksgiving there. I’m already missing the weathered barns, the deep green of the fir trees, the winter sunlight playing across pond ice and dun fields. Happily, we’ve got several more trips planned to the Mad River Valley in the coming months. I really can’t think of a better place to spend my boys’ precious winter vacation from school than in this small central Vermont valley. Why do I feel that way?

There are two very different ski areas. With its famously un-groomed terrain, natural snow, amazing tree skiing, and recently restored single chairlift, Mad River Glen is the iconic New England ski resort.

Looking down the Single Chair - that's Mount Mansfield in the background.

I believe that everyone should ski at Mad River Glen at least once, both for the beauty of the mountain and to experience what downhill skiing used to be like back in the sport’s early days. However, I realize that it isn’t for everyone all the time. For one thing, you can’t snowboard there. And the snowmaking is minimal.

Happily, that’s what makes the Mad River Valley such a great winter destination – Sugarbush is right up the road, offering varied terrain and amenities at two different mountains. In addition to over a hundred additional trails, Sugarbush offers opportunities like backcountry skiing and terrain parks, a full complement to Mad River Glen.

In fact, one thing I’m looking forward to this ski season is getting to know Sugarbush – we spent some time there this past summer acquainting ourselves with the disc golf course and my seven- and ten-year-old boys both attended their Adventure Camp for a week and loved it. But since I grew up skiing at Mad River Glen, it’s not a mountain I know well. I have definite plans to rectify that, and soon. If you’re interested in doing the same, I recommend checking out the Quad Pack – four completely unrestricted full-day ski tickets for $199. But act fast, because you have to purchase them by the end of November.

Downhill skiing isn’t the only game in town. The photo at the top of this post was taken in the Enchanted Forest, so named because it is one of the more magically beautiful pine groves you’ll find anywhere. Located in Camel’s Hump State Forest, this trail is just one of many hiking trails and paths in the Valley that in winter are perfect spots for snowshoeing or cross country skiing. Prefer a guided tour? Clearwater Sports offers them, sometimes in the evening under the light of a full moon.

If you like to cross country ski on groomed trails, the Mad River Valley also offers two touring centers, Ole’s and Blueberry Lake. And there’s open-air skating in the middle of town at the Skatium.

You’ll find lots of different lodging. Whether you want to stay in a slopeside condo, a ski house tucked into the woods, or a small country inn, you’re sure to find just the right place for you and your family.

If staying in an inn is appealing to you, check out the Ski the Valley + Passport, which offers accommodations at a number of local inns in combination with ski passes that are good at both Mad River Glen and Sugarbush as well as at Ole’s Nordic ski center. There are minimum stays and blackout dates for this package, so be sure to choose carefully.

Skinner Barn near Sugarbush, Vermont

It’s rural but not remote. Getting to the Mad River Valley is easy. It’s only a three-and-a-half hour drive from Boston or five hours from New York, and you can take Interstate most of the way there. The Burlington Airport is less than an hour away. Yet when you arrive in town, you’ll find you’ve left the megalopolis behind; there are no stoplights or traffic jams.

But you won’t feel any more isolated than you want to. Whether you seek artisanal beer or bread, new skis or designer clothes, you can find it all in the numerous local shops and restaurants. I love the fact that I can purchase just about everything I could ever want at Mehuron’s Supermarket from Scharffen Berger chocolate to Vermont-made maple bacon.

And still, there’s so little light pollution in the Valley that every star is visible in the night sky. The winter quiet is profound, the frozen river gleams in the thin moonlight, and the mountains are a constant and comforting presence. It truly is the best of all worlds.

This post was written in conjunction with my relationship with Mountain Reservations as one of its Mountain Ambassadors.

Reader Responses

1 fellow traveler had this to say

  1. Looks like an amazing place to ski! I always think Colorado or Jackson Hole…perhaps I need to research trips to NE!

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