Aside from a great job opportunity, the biggest appeal to me of moving to Montpelier is the proximity to skiing. In Brunswick we were about one and a half hours from Mount Abram, which was the closest decent-sized downhill ski area. Here, I count at least eight within that drive, many much closer.
The closest of which is Bolton Valley, a short 35-minute drive from our front door. The mountain offered an early-season, $29 lift ticket special this week. We’re not usually “hit the slopes the day they open and ski on one trail” people, but the mountains received two feet of fresh snow during the week. The combination turned out to be too good to resist. So Saturday morning – later than we had expected (but who cares, it’s only a half-hour away!) – we packed up the Subaru and headed north for the short drive up I-89.
Bolton Valley is a bit unusual to my eyes, in that there’s not a lot of economic development nearby. Nearby giants Stowe and Sugarbush, and Sugarbush’s next-door neighbor Mad River Glen, are found in towns that contain a bit of ski culture – pubs and restaurants. Bolton, however – I don’t even know if there is a village in Bolton. The nearest (off-resort) hotels are found near the highway exit in Waterbury. Even on the five-mile access road the only hint of ski country is a small ski shop near the junction with Route 2.
The resort itself at the end of the road has a hotel, condos, and a Nordic Skiing center with a pool and a fitness center. The alpine lodge features a cafeteria and a pub, along with a Flatbread company pizza bar that was not open, this being day two of the skiing season. The parking lot and the lodge were both full, and when the lift ticket salesman said they were expecting it to be busier, I wondered where they usually put everybody.
The mountain was far from completely open. Lifts were only servicing one of the three peaks (Vista Peak, the central one), with 35 of 71 trails open. Still, this is only a handful of trails less than Mt. Abrams has at full capacity, and Bolton provides several hundred feet more drop. This was pretty good big-mountain skiing for the cost.
This being our first time at the mountain, we played it pretty safe with the trails. Or as safe as we could; the snow during the week had been heavy and wet, and was still sticking to every surface a few days later – trees, chairlifts, and trail signs. There were a couple of instances where we didn’t know what trail we were on because we couldn’t read the signs. Only once did we regret our choice, when we found ourselves on a trail filled with moguls. It was blue, but having learned to ski as an adult and only getting out a few times per year at best, I never really learned moguls. I fell several times on the run. Luckily, the snow was powdery and the landings were soft.
In chatting with folks on the quad chairlift, we learned that Bolton Valley is the affordable, family-friendly option in the area. Indeed, season passes are less than a third of the cost of it’s giant neighbors, and normal one-day tickets are $30 or so less. So it was no surprise that we saw a lot of kids on the slopes. A LOT of kids. And yet, once we started our runs, particularly the few times we ventured off the main drags, we didn’t have a lot of company.
I found the trails on Vista Peak to be a lot of fun. Other than the one mogul run (Bull Run trail), the blues are well within my intermediate skiing skills. I look forward to visiting again when more trails are open. And the nordic center – with 100 kilometers of trails to choose from – is also on the short list for the winter.