2016 Black Diamond Awards: Best of Skiing and Riding

Each year we ask you, our readers, to name the best Vermont has to offer in a wide variety of categories. This year, we got an overwhelming response. After carefully culling through more than 200 responses (duplicate votes were not accepted and we kept our eyes peeled for ballot-stuffers), we found a remarkable variety of great recommendations for everything from skiing and riding to cycling and après ski around the state.

Think of this as your guide to the best in Vermont. And don’t forget to vote next year.


It was neck and neck this year in reader voting between Stowe (with its extensive new base lodge development at Spruce Peak and upgraded snowmaking and grooming) and Sugarbush, a perennial local’s favorite. In the end, Sugarbush edged out Stowe this year for the title of “best overall ski area.” The ‘Bush also took home honors for toughest trail, Rumble, and best liftie, “Bogo.” But the other category winners —Killington for its terrain park and snowmaking, Jay Peak for its powder and tree skiing, Bolton for its backcountry and Smuggler’s Notch for its kids programs speak to the amazing diversity our state offers. So get out there!


Best Ski & Ride Resort: Sugarbush

With its iconic New England setting, Sugarbush offers two great mountains with six peaks, 111 trails, three terrain parks, tree skiing in the remote 2,000-acre Slide Brook Basin, a fantastic outdoor adventure program for kids, cat skiing, and some of the nicest people in the industry. So it’s not hard to see why Vermont Sports readers voted Sugarbush as the Best Ski Resort in Vermont, as well as Toughest Trail (for Rumble).

But Sugarbush is more than fantastic skiing, of course. It also features terrific dining on mountain at Allyn’s Lodger or at the base area Timbers Restaurant. Stop in for après ski at the Castlerock Pub, spend the night at Claybrook, explore the idyllic towns of Waitsfield, Warren and Fayston that keep life real. That all breeds happy people, which may be why Alex Bogosian, “Bogo,” a lift attendant at Sugarbush, was named the Best Lift Attendant in Vermont and Castlerock Pub’s Sean Fruschetto, Best Bartender.

And there’s something about the Mad River Valley and Sugarbush that just says, it’s better here. Runners-up: 2. Stowe, 3. Killington, 4. Jay Peak, 5. Smuggler’s Notch.



Jay PowderBest Powder: Jay Peak

Whether you believe in magic or not, believe in “The Jay Cloud.” There’s no better way (without going into a bunch of meterological mumbo jumbo) to explain how Jay Peak consistently gets more snowfall than just about anywhere in the U.S. At an elevation of 3,968 feet, Vermont’s northernmost ski area receives an average of 369 inches of snow over its legendary 78 trails, glades and chutes. This season, the Jay Cloud returned to give Jay Peak 32 inches of much- needed snow over a five-day period in late December and early January. Yes, we believe in magic. And the Jay Cloud. Runners-up: 2. Stowe, 3. Killington, 4. Mad River Glen, 5. Sugarbush.


Best Tree Skiing: Jay Peak

There are plenty of great glades to ski around the state but for true “tree skiing” you sometimes need to venture more than a little ways off the beaten trails. That’s where Jay Peak, Sugarbush and Stowe reign. Jay Peak, with both its epic powder, glades like Valhalla and the excellent hike-to terrain off Big Jay takes the lead this year with Sugarbush’s epic backcountry of Slide Brook Basin and Stowe’s sidecountry off the Gondola earning them runner up status. Runners-up: 2. Sugarbush, 3. Stowe, 4. Killington, 5. Bolton Valley.


Best Backcountry: Bolton Valley

While the terrain off Stowe’s Mt. Mansfield and Smuggler’s Notch has become world-famous for trees and steeps, Vermont locals know that if you want to find some of the best untracked powder after a storm, the backwoods around Bolton Valley deliver the goods. This year, Bolton has owned this title by putting on a series of uphill touring and ski mountaineering events and attracting backcountry skiers from around the East. Runners-up: 2. Stowe, 3. Smugglers’ Notch, 4. Jay Peak, 5. Sugarbush.


Toughest Trail: Rumble at Sugarbush

2010_Sugarbush_AH_RumbleWhile several ski areas have comparably tough trails, Sugarbush’s Rumble starts starts high on Castlerock Peak and then ducks left into the trees. There, it immediately offers a five-foot drop over a rocky outcrop into a narrow gully that cascades down the fall line like a wild brook. It wends its way through a twisty path of rocky outcrops that you can either huck or skirt around (snow permitting) with short chutes off the side to drop if you dare. Barely a ski-width at the top, it gradually widens into a pleasant double-black diamond run midway down that still offers plenty of obstacles to keep you alert. But don’t stop there, if you dare: Runners-up are: 2. Ovation, Killington. 3. Black Hole, Smuggler’s Notch. 4. Goat, Stowe, 5. Paradise, Sugarbush.




Best Snowmaking: Killington

To see how good snowmaking can get, you only needed to ski Killington this past October 19. Last year, Killington added a fleet of 400 snowmaking guns. This year, in one hour the resort could cover 80 acres with 12 inches of snow in a day. To get ready for opening day, the jets ran for 28 hours straight, building up a base depth of a foot. Fortunately, the state’s other large resorts are not far behind. Runners-up: 2. Stowe, 3. Sugarbush, 4. Okemo, 5. Jay Peak.


Best Grooming: Stowe

If you want to carve your name in fresh corduroy, Okemo is famous for its velvety runs. But in the last two years, Stowe has spent more than $10 million on snowmaking and ramped up its its grooming. And in a year when Mother Nature didn’t cooperate much, that made a difference. Runners-up: 2. Okemo, 3. Killington, 4. Sugarbush, 5. Stratton.


Best Terrain Park: Killington

Sporting five parks and two halfpipes spread out across five peaks, the terrain parks at Killington scored the highest among Vermont Sports readers. From the space-themed Neff Land with its rocket jibs, planets and more, to the natural features of the Burton Stash park (one of only six in the world), if you’re looking for imaginative features for a variety of styles and abilities, Killington has you covered. Runners-up: 2. Stowe. 3. Sugarbush, 4. Q Burke, 5. Mount Snow.


Best Party Scene: Killington

Killington not only has the best party scene in Vermont, for years it has been named one of the best après-ski party scenes in the country, with perennial bar favorites such as The Wobbly Barn and The Pickle Barrel hosting crazy nights people talk about for years. The celebrations start as soon as the skiing stops, with more than 50 places along Killington’s Mountain Road vying for “best happy hour.” And it continues on into late night with the thud-boom-thud of live acts and house music. That said, it’s hard to find a ski town in Vermont that doesn’t have a great party scene. Runners Up: 2. Stowe, 3. Sugarbush, 4. Jay Peak, 5. Smugglers’ Notch.


Best Smaller Ski Area: Cochran’s Ski Area

With night skiing, a world-renowned racing program, lollipop races and a family-friendly vibe that comes from being still owned by … a family, the tiny Cochran’s Ski Area just off the I89 exit in Richmond has a following like few other smaller ski hills in the country. Don’t miss out on the state’s other smaller gems: the rewards are no crowds, cheaper lift tickets and a feel for what Vermont skiing used to be. Runners-up: 2. Magic Mountain, 3. Mad River Glen, 4. Suicide Six, 5. Middlebury College Snow Bowl.


Best Ski Area Event: Bear Mountain Mogul Challenge, Killington

What do you get when you combine soft snow, sun and legendary bumps on one of Vermont’s toughest trails? One of winter’s most anticipated events. Located on double-diamond Outer Limits trail, the Bear Mountain Mogul Challenge is an amateurs-only dual mogul challenge, with men’s and women’s divisions throwing tricks off jumps – all in clear view of the day-long party at the Bear Mountain deck below. This year’s competition is slated for April 9. Runners-up: 2. Pond Skimming at Sugarbush, 3. Pond Skimming at Q Burke, 4. Stowe Derby, 5. Mad River Valley Ski Mountaineering Race


Best Non-Skiing Resort Activity: Downhill biking, Q Burke

More and more ski areas are developing other ways to have fun and our readers’ top pick for 2016 is downhill biking is Q Burke Resort. On weekends, you can access a 12-mile downhill trail system via the Sherburne Express High Speed Quad. Starting at 3,271 feet, these trails descend through flowing banks. Be sure to look up the Knightslayer trail, a mile-long, man-made jump trail for advanced riders; Enchanted Forest, an advanced mile-long downhill singletrack with natural and man-made features; and the Black Forest trail, another advanced trail with benches and berms. Runners-up: 2. Pumphouse Waterpark at Jay Peak, 3. Downhill mountain biking at Killington, 4. Downhill mountain biking at Sugarbush, 5. Beer drinking, everywhere.


Best Ski Area for Kids: Smuggler’s Notch

With a full range of programs for kids ages 2 to 20, a tree-top Arbotrek zip-line that runs all winter, Airboard slalom sledding and the Teen Alley Teen Center, Smugglers’ Notch has established itself as a destination for families. As an added bonus, the all-day children’s programs for 3 to 15 year olds uses Flaik GPS to track miles, vertical feet and trails skied each day. Runners-up: 2. Sugarbush, 3. Bolton Valley 4. Pico, 5 Q Burke.


Best Ski/Snowboard Instructor: Dean Zorn, Jay Peak

Dean Ski instructor (1)Dean Zorn has won this award every year that Black Diamond of Excellence Awards have been held. At 53, the Montgomery resident is a 16-year veteran of the Jay Peak Ski School, where he works as one of the supervisors, managing a staff of over 100 instructors. It’s a position he found himself in by coincidence after he dropped his daughter off for a lesson. He got a job that winter and has been returning every year since. “I like being outdoors and sharing what I do with others,” he says.   While he enjoys taking the advanced students into some of Jay’s legendary expert terrain, some of his favorite lessons are the beginner levels. “It’s how the sport grows,” he says. “If they don’t love the first lesson, there won’t be a second.”



Best Lift Attendant: Alex “Bogo” Boguzewski

Best Liftie-BogoAccording to Alex Boguzewski—known by his friends and co-workers as “Bogo,” it takes three things to make a great lift attendant: “Personality, entertainment and great customer service.” For the past four years, Bogo has provided all three of those in his experience as a lift attendant at Sugarbush Resort. Quick with a joke and a high-five, he’s been known to start “the wave” with the line waiting to head uphill. You can find Bogo stationed all over the resort, working at the Super Bravo, Slide Brook Express and the Valley House Quad. His favorite: the Village Double at the bottom of the Lincoln Peak Village. “It’s a beginner lift and you see beginners starting out there,” he says. “But by the end of the day, you see them progress to the point where they’re skiing more intermediates. It’s great to see.”



There is no question that Vermont is a Nordic mecca with more than 30 cross-country ski areas scattered across the hills and valleys and miles of scenic, groomed trails. And, thanks to modern technology, snowmaking has kept areas such as Craftsbury, Trapp Family Lodge trails and the Rikert Nordic Center open during the worst thaws of this past year.


Best of Northern Vermont Nordic Trails: Craftsbury Outdoor Center

Set in the snowbelt of north central Vermont, Craftsbury Outdoor Center is hard to beat when it comes to Nordic trails. Its 105 kilometers of groomed trails also intersect with Greensboro trails to provide a huge area of fields, forests and hills to explore. And, thanks to two million gallons of water for snowmaking, Craftsbury is able to cover the essential race courses it uses for events such as the Craftsbury Marathon, which recently had its 35th running. Runners-up: 2. Trapp Family Lodge XC Center, Stowe, 2. Bolton Valley Nordic Center, Bolton Valley3. Jay Peak Nordic Ski Center, Jay.


Best Central Vermont Nordic Ski Trails: Morse Farm, Montpelier

It may not be the biggest of Nordic centers, but Morse Farm’s 28 kilometers of trails just outside of the state’s capital are among the best-loved in Vermont, turning out generations of great Nordic skiers including current World Cup superstar, Liz Stephen. Still run by iconic Vermonter, Burr Morse, Morse Farm not only delivers sweet skiing but, come spring, the sugarhouse is in full action. Stop in for syrup, visit the farm life museum or watch multimedia displays on the history of sugaring at the woodshed theater. Runners-up: 2. Rikert Touring Center, Ripton, 3. Ole’s Cross Country Center, Waitsfield, 4. Mountain Top Inn, Mendon, 5. Blueberry Lake, Waitsfield


Best Southern Vermont Nordic Ski Trails

Set in Grafton Village, one of the prettiest little towns in the state, and part of the Windham Foundation that also owns the Grafton Inn and Grafton Cheese Company, Grafton Ponds feels like a step back in time. The 15K of tiller-groomed Nordic trails at Grafton Ponds, combined with another 15K of backcountry, will give you enough of a workout to justify a hot toddy at the inn and big slice of Grafton’s famous cheddar for après ski. Runners-up: 2. Prospect Mountain, Woodford, 3. Wild Wings, Peru. 4. Brattleboro Outing Club, 5. Tie: Stratton/Viking Nordic Center, Londonderry.


Best Nordic Event: Craftsbury Marathon

Some of the best cross-country racers in the country mark their calendars every January to head to northern Vermont for the Craftsbury Marathon. This year’s event drew more than 425 racers, ranging from kids to grandparents, to compete on the 12.5 K loop for the 25K or 50K title. The competition in this category was fierce though with the Stowe Derby — a race from the summit of the Lookout Lift to town — coming in a close second, and the backcountry Bolton to Trapps and Camel Hump Challenge events close on their heels. Runners-up 2. Stowe Derby, 3. Catamount Trail Association’s Bolton to Trapps Tour. 4. Camel’s Hump Challenge. 5. Bromley Ski for Heat.


Evan Johnson

Evan Johnson is the staff writer for Vermont Sports Magazine. The native Vermonter enjoys steep and deep skiing and wandering all over the state by Subaru. Find him on Twitter at @evanisathome.