Hancock, VT – Vermont is a state of wonderfully diverse ski and snowboard experiences. At one end of the spectrum, luxury resorts such as Stratton and Stowe offer every plush amenity that a visitor could desire. At the other end of the spectrum are down-home, old-fashioned family ski areas like Middlebury College Snow Bowl.
A skier descends Allen at Middlebury College Snow Bowl.
Tucked into the Breadloaf region, about midway between Killington and Sugarbush, the fact that skiers often overlook the Snow Bowl contributes to its charm. Despite its location near the “Skier’s Highway,” Vermont Route 100 that connects nearly every ski resort in the state, it’s a place to escape the crowds and enjoy a friendly snow-covered treat at moderate prices. Where else in Vermont will you find a full-priced weekend and holiday lift ticket set at $35?
Operated by the famed liberal arts college in the nearby town of Middlebury, the Snow Bowl is home to the institution’s storied ski team. Much of Middlebury’s history and day-to-day activity is dominated by racers speeding through the gates. Organized in 1916, the Middlebury Outing Club was a charter member of the Eastern Intercollegiate Ski Association, formed in 1921. They first built a ski jump on Chipman Hill, but in 1934 the college’s Winter Sports Team set their sights on the snowy highlands above town and cut the first Snow Bowl trails in 1934, making the ski area the third oldest in Vermont. The first lift, the Worth Mt. Poma was installed in 1954, making Middlebury the first college to install an overhead cable lift. Olympians Becky Fraser, Guttorm Berge, and Penny Pitou all graduated from the Middlebury College Panther ski team, as did Leslie Leete Smith, the daughter of nearby Killington’s founder.
Middlebury’s ski heritage adorns the walls of the Snow Bowl’s cozy Neil Starr Ski Lodge, where skiers have warmed their feet beside an open pit fireplace since 1962, and a snack bar does a brisk business in health foods as well as the staple burgers and fries. Finding an empty seat was often a challenge on race days, so renovations expected to be completed by December 10 will provide 75 more seats and improved customer service. The $2.25 million project will add another 3,300 square feet to the structure, as the first-floor deck will be converted to indoor space. Traffic flow will also be improved in the formerly cramped cafeteria line.
ON THE HILL
A quick check of a topographic map casts doubt on Middlebury’s claimed overall vertical drop of 1,050 feet, but diverse skiing and riding is offered on two mountain faces that straddle the height of land on Vermont Route 125 between the towns of Ripton and Hancock: Worth Mountain, and Bailey Falls. The latter also referred to as the East Slope. Two double chairlifts provide uphill transport on the Worth Mountain side, and Bailey Falls is serviced by a triple chair.
Although the undulating topography creates a long flat spot in the middle of the Worth Mountain terrain, it also lends itself to skiing and riding that dips and rolls en route from the top of the Worth Mountain Double to the base lodge. Most of the terrain was groomed to ballroom perfection on our visit, aside from two short bump fields underneath the top of the Bailey Falls liftline and on Youngman’s. The fall line on the Bailey Falls side is more consistent, gradually decreasing in pitch until one reaches the base of the lift. Worth Mountain’s Sheehan Double Chair provides perfect learning terrain, including some low-angle glades between Kelton and the Hadley Terrain Park ideal for introducing skiers and riders to their first experience in
With nary a lift queue in sight, even on the President’s Day weekend, we managed to rack up as much vertical as our legs would allow. The crowds in the lodge were the only indicator of the busy holiday Saturday. Experts will find the steep trees in the glades off of Ross all to themselves as racers train for giant slalom on Allen. Many of the trails follow their original contours from when they were laid out in the 1940s and 1950s, ensuring an old-fashioned New England skiing experience.
Despite this, modern amenities aren’t lacking at the Snow Bowl. Snowmaking assures skiable conditions on 45% of the mountain’s terrain. State-of-the-art grooming is accomplished to prepare the race courses as well as smooth out
terrain for skiers of all abilities.
One thing that you won’t find at this purist’s ski area is slopeside lodging. No matter, though, for the charming town of Middlebury offers every amenity one could hope for in a genuine, rural Vermont setting. Middlebury offers the chance to enjoy a uniquely Vermont getaway.
The Middlebury Inn has been welcoming guests to its 75 rooms and suites in four buildings, including its three-story red brick Georgian main structure, since 1827. Its location overlooking the village green assures that all manner of restaurants and shops are within walking distance of your room. Room rates, ranging from $78 to $375 daily, include breakfast, afternoon tea, and access to the Vermont Sun Fitness Center. The Inn On The Green, circa 1803, is located nearby, and the Courtyard Middlebury is available for chain-style accommodations with available free high-speed Internet access for checking snow conditions, set amongst Middlebury’s many other lodging offerings.
Shops lining Middlebury’s vibrant downtown core offer anything from local crafts at the Frog Hollow Vermont State Craft Center, a non-profit visual arts organization offering galleries and craft schools, to ski and snowboard gear at the Alpine Shop. Stop by the nearby Otter Creek Brewing Company to see how their beer is made and taste a free sample, or discover the people, places and stories of Vermont’s past at the Henry Sheldon Museum of Vermont History, America’s oldest community museum.
For dining out, American Flatbread at the Marble Works in downtown Middlebury offers unique hand-crafted flatbread pizzas, or hop in your car to enjoy a hearty, homestyle meal at the venerable Dog Team Tavern in nearby New Haven – don’t miss the homemade sticky buns or the Maple Oatmeal Pie! The Fire & Ice Restaurant on Seymour Street has been specializing in hand cut steaks, fresh seafood, and homemade mashed potatoes for lunch and dinner for over a quarter century.
So the next time you’re looking for a picture-postcard Vermont ski trip, away from the crowds of the better-known resorts, don’t overlook Middlebury!