Firsthand Report: Stratton
By George Lyle, Guest Author

Looking for a guarantee of more snow and more terrain, our family took a February ski trip to Stratton Mountain, Vermont and were not disappointed.

For a family of four intermediate skiers, Stratton’s 550-plus acres of terrain and 90-some trails offered a huge selection of green cruisers, long blue trails and wide blue bowls, all of which were much longer than we are accustomed to skiing in the mid-Atlantic.

We live five hours south of Washington so our road trip started at 4 a.m. Saturday, February 9, 2008 when we pulled the Suburban into the darkness of rural Virginia and headed toward the southern Vermont resort. Snow greeted us by the Maryland/Pennsylvania line and by the time our 12-hour drive ended Stratton had received 6 inches of fresh powder. Our Sunday skiing looked promising.

The top of the long cruiser Mike’s Way. Photo provided by George Lyle.

Sunday was windy and cold and (foolishly) we decided to start our ski trip with a gondola ride to the summit. The winds were gusting heavily and the summit was a near whiteout as we headed onto Mike’s Way, a greenie, that meanders from the summit to the base. We learned our first Stratton lesson, the summit is quite flat and if you are heading to Mike’s Way carry your skis until the slope starts or you will be polling your way for awhile.

The mountain boasts a 2,000 foot vertical and, unlike some resorts with one trail to grab the full vertical, Stratton had a variety of trail combinations that allow skiers of all levels to take advantage of the full height of the mountain. The trails are noticeably longer than we were used to, with some combinations stretching from 2 to 3 miles. We skied a few runs using the gondola and quickly tired from fighting the winds at the top and headed in for lunch.

Hanna Lyle is all smiles after cruising Middlebrook on a perfect ski day. Photo provided by George Lyle.

A season pass holder had told us the winds would be less on the Sun Bowl side of the mountain so we headed on a long and beautiful cross mountain trail after lunch. When we arrived at the Sun Bowl area we were pleasantly surprised to find a full service lodge, two high speed lifts and wind-free and people-free slopes beckoning our foursome. This led to another discovery, even on a relatively busy Sunday: Stratton has a huge amount of uphill capacity. The gondola never backed up more than 5 to 10 minutes, but if that is too long to wait, the adjoining chairlift American Express was less than 5 minutes. And as we discovered at Sun Bowl, it was ski right on even on a weekend. We skied Middlebrook, Churchill Downs and the Sunriser Supertrail that are all based out of the Sun Bowl lodge. The trails all sported a fresh powder dusting and even late in the afternoon the groomer’s marks were still untouched on several portions of the trails.

Sunday’s snow and heavy winds socked the summit. Photo provided by George Lyle.

More snow fell Sunday night and into Monday and we discovered even stronger winds Monday, closing the gondola and making for a subzero wind-chill (-30 at the summit.)

We skied the American Express lift out of the main lodge for a run or two and then headed over to Sun Bowl where conditions were again excellent. Despite the high winds the trails maintained their groomed powder from the night before and the crowd was sparse even for Monday. We skied Middlebrook several times and it quickly became our daughters’ favorite. The longer trails tired us much faster than we anticipated and we broke for lunch early.

While the main lodge is your typical crowded and chaotic ski cafeteria scene, we highly enjoyed the smaller, quieter laid back Sun Bowl lodge. The food was priced enough to make us think about a taking out a second mortgage for lunch, but the baked bread bowl filled with clam chowder was delectable even at $9.50. My daughters declared the chicken tenders and fries excellent ($7.50 drink included). Adult warning! The Sun Bowl bar is closed Monday and Tuesday so the whole lodge is alcohol free on those days.

Stratton Rite of Passage: Slopeside waffles. Photo provided by George Lyle.

Another edible tip: Don’t leave the mountain without treating yourself to a hot waffle from the Waffle Haus next to the gondola. These arch-enemies of the Atkins Diet are embedded with crystallized sugar and taste even better than the smell that floats through the base area. We had ours served hot and smeared with chocolate and discovered it’s too good to share so everyone should get their own ($4.25 each, cash only).

After lunch my wife Lisa and I split off and skied Gentle Ben, which offered a wonderful snowy trip through the woods. It was not uncommon to ski the run and see no other skiers. Adjacent to Gentle Ben is Big Ben, a wide, intermediate trail that was covered in fluff and fun.

We stayed at the Long Trail House which was conveniently located across the street from the Village and a 10 minute walk to the slopes and offered a basic one bedroom condo for our two daughters and my wife and I. The resort is owned by Intrawest (who also own Snowshoe among several other ski resort properties) and the lodging was comparable to Allegheny Springs (not quite as nice) for those who have stayed there. For kids there is a recreation center with games and an indoor pool located on the mountain, but our girls were tired and happy to curl up on the couch with Hanna Montana on the television each night.

Tuesday was our last day of skiing and again Stratton’s six snow-cats groomed the mountain nicely. Each day we found the slopes very skiable and rarely encountered any ice. The sky was blue and sunny Tuesday and several locals we shared lifts with declared it a perfect New England ski day. We skied as much as our tired bodies could take and I stayed on the mountain until last chair enjoying the perfect ski day.

The Lyles at the summit. Bromley Ski Resort can be seen at right in the distance. Photo provided by George Lyle.

Rentals returned (nice touch: those staying multiple days can pick up rentals and lift tickets after 4 p.m. the night before their skiing starts to avoid the morning crowd) the family had one last mission: Shopping. The Village is very similar to Snowshoe’s in its shops but surprisingly most shops close at 5 or 6 each weeknight, so our last night there was our first opportunity to shop.

Like most kids and many adults my daughters hit the junky gift shops hard for souvenirs when we vacation and Stratton was no different. Anything with a logo for them, and I encourage them to purchase cheap and small to save space and money on our travels. Somewhere amongst our travels one of them discovered the small, ounce or two-ounce sized glasses emblazoned with resort logos. We adults call them shot glasses, but I don’t recall using that term or ever telling my girls 12 and 8 their purpose.

At a Stratton gift shop, the souvenir quest prompted this exchange:

We departed Vermont before social workers came to investigate. But we’ll be back.

About the Author

George Lyle is the county attorney for Henry County, Virginia and a D.C. area native. His wife Lisa is the admissions director for Carlisle School where their two daughters, Hanna, 12 and Sally, 8 are students.

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