Sugarloaf - Spring ain't got nothing on you.
Well, I finally managed to make the journey up to Sugarloaf this past weekend. I have been looking forward to Sugarloaf all season. I see stickers for it at almost every mountain I have been to, and I know many people who absolutely love it there. What I was not looking forward to was the drive. For me, the drive took 4 hours and 15 minutes. It is ludicrously far north. I was stupid enough to do the drive out and back in the same day. Sugarloaf is clearly a mountain that almost everyone does a weekend trip to go visit unless you are a local. Even with its extremely remote location, I was on the snow by 8:30 and with the help of copious amounts of caffeine, ready to go.
Sugarloaf clearly did not get the message about it being spring, as it was a cool 20 degrees under bluebird skys, and the mountain was reporting 30+ inches of pow in the last week. It was a great change of pace from most of the mountains I have visited in the last few weeks, where everything is brown, reminding me that the end of ski season is near(Unless you are Sugarloaf, which apparently skis into late May). I busted out the pow skis and headed up the mountain. Unfortunately the summit lift 'Timberline' was on a wind hold, so I made my way over to the side country glades that are available.
The Brackett Basin and Burnt mountain side country area, as a visitor is extremely intimidating as an East Coaster. There is not a whole lot of side country available to us on the right side of the country, and the ability to put myself somewhere with a long hike back it a little scary. My first lap through I stuck as close into the mountain as I could, making mostly left turns until I came back out at the 'King Pine' lift. Even that close into the mountain, there is some truly gnarly terrain. They are not screwing around with their cliff warning signs, there are some monster drops to be had. The second time through, I picked a random group of locals sporting season passes and pow sticks and followed them way out away from the mountain. We ended up on the border between the Burnt Mountain area and Bracket Basin before turning back in. The side country at Sugarloaf basically provides you with every kind of glade you could possibly want, all in one place. From wide open cruiser glades to tight chutes through dense trees and cliff drops, its like paradise for the tree skier. There are also a few more traditional glades scattered around the mountain, but I found them extremely difficult to locate as none seemed to be marked. I had to identify them by just finding areas with lots of tracks into a forest. A few more signs would be nice.
When I went in for lunch, Timberline was still closed. Having beat my legs up for most of the morning in glades, I decided it was time to put my park skis on. I find it odd that a mega-resort like Sugarloaf fails to have a free ski-check. After a fairly lengthy shuttle ride out to my car, I hopped back on the 'Sugarloaf Superquad' and headed up, destined for the park. When I reached the top, much to my surprise, 'Timberline' had opened. So much for my park plans. I made the trip up timberline, and was quite surprised to see an abandoned gondola building at the peak. As much as I hate gondolas, I have no idea why Sugarloaf would have closed it. Having to take two lifts to the peak is a bit of a hassle, especially when the 'Timberline' lift brings you only a few hundred feet higher than the other lifts. It seems like they should just re-install the gondola.
Anyway, once at the summit, there was no question which way I was going. I popped my skis off and hiked up and over the peak to 'The Snowfields'. These consist of multiple trails, none of which are marked. It is pretty much a free-for-all on who can get to the steepest, gnarliest, untouchediest powder first. I was seriously regretting putting my powder skis away. Up until this point, although I liked Sugarloaf, I did not really get the hype over it. After coming down the back side of 'The Snowfields' I was sold. This is some of the steepest inbounds terrain I have seen anywhere. On top of that once you got just below the summit, the powder was like 3 feet deep in places. I think I managed to find the two steepest chutes, and it was a blast. Nothing like jump turning down a 50 degree pitch full of powder to make you feel alive.
After two laps down the steepest parts of the snowfields I could find, my already tired legs were absolutely done. I decided I would retire to the park for the last 2 hours or so of the day. I started with the small park located on 'Skybound'. This park is a fairly long park, with few features. It is a good progression park as it features all your never-ever level features. Small jumps, low boxes and rails. It was not very photogenic, so you will have excuse the lack of pictures of it.
After one lap there, I was itching for something bigger so I headed to the other side of the mountain. On the way to the two main parks I got distracted by the awesome ski-cross course located on 'Sidewinder'. This is one hell of a course, it is pretty damn long, and made of endless rollers, and huge berms to carve around at maximum speed. I wish my mountain had one of these, because they are simply so much fun to cruise. After that minor distraction, I finally made it to the real parks. The first I hit up was on 'Stomping Grounds' and featured a reasonably sized half pipe, and a rail garden before leading into several fairly large jumps. I was super happy to find a pipe with what looked like 12 foot walls, as it let me work on getting comfortable above the lip of the pipe. I even managed to get a couple of sweet grabs in over the deck. I also did a couple more laps, hitting everything I could in the rail garden. This park is right up my alley, its like it was built specifically for me.
The end of 'Stomping Grounds' leads you to the second half of the other, larger park 'Haywire'. 'Haywire is a little bit larger, but nothing un-manageable. Although it features some seriously big jumps, I feel like the park-crew at Sugarloaf realizes that there are not that many people out there who can send it over a massive cannon rail or some quad-kinked monstrosity that I have seen around. It was very nice. It moves from several different rails through the main jump line and into a final, smaller rail garden. The big booter must be somewhere near 50 feet, and is easily one of the largest jumps I have seen anywhere. I had tons of fun lapping both parks until the closed the lifts on me. Here are some of the features from 'Haywire', although not everything is shown.
I left Sugarloaf wishing that it was located much, much closer to civilization. It is a very nice mountain, with a ton to offer. I can easily say that a multi-day ski trip there would be worth your money. The side country and glades are amazing, there are groomers for days for the less-advanced riders, the snowfields offer some seriously steep stuff and the park is absolutely killer. It pretty much checks off everything on the list.
Coming up next is Sugarbush on Wednesday the 26th. If you are going to be there please, let me know! Also if you missed out on my interview with NS user Mcfellon about the UVM freeskiing team, check that out here!
Keep on shredding NS!