8 Old School Ski Areas: Vermont Edition
Highlighting some Under-the-Radar Vermont Ski Areas
Feb 15, 2022 at 7:00 AM
With the spotlight on Ryan Cochran Siegle at the Winter Olympics in Beijing, people from America to Asia are talking about how this World Cup–and now Olympic–champion hails from a tiny little ski area in Vermont. Ryan Cochran Siegle couldn’t be prouder to identify as a Vermonter, one that grew up at Cochran’s Ski Area, his family-owned ski hill that boasts two lifts and less than a mile of trails.
Many of you know that the folks at Discovery Map, whose headquarters are tucked into the charming town of Waitsfield, Vermont, also love our Green Mountain state and the many authentic experiences one can have here.
We’re big on skiing, especially at down-home ski areas where you find the soul of the sport more on a rope tow than on a six-pack chairlift. Yes, Vermonters are hardy folk and a less-than cushy ride up the hill on a single-digit day does not daunt them. People who ski (or ride) here are die-hard winter sports aficionados. You won’t find a surplus of Bogner jackets or bluebird skies at these mom-and-pop ski areas but you will encounter an abundance of real ski enthusiasts, people that have been skiing at these bastions of ski tradition for generations.
Such is the case for Ryan Cochran Siegle, silver medalist of the men’s Super-G at this winter’s Beijing games. He is the sixth Cochran family member to make the Olympic alpine ski team and best of all, he scored his medal exactly fifty years after his mom, Barbara Ann, landed a gold in the slalom at the 1972 Olympics in Sapporo, Japan. As is the case with many families in Vermont, skiing courses through the veins of the Cochrans, yet their approach is more of a way of life than a fierce desire to compete. When asked recently in a post Olympic race interview about how it was to grow up in such a ski-centric family, Ryan responded “It was more about going out and having fun rather than your results.”
If you find yourself at one of Vermont’s classic ski areas, you totally pick up on that vibe. These are family-friendly places where you can still stash your after ski boots under a bench along with the picnic lunch you brought from home. In most cases, these Old School ski areas are modest hills rather than steep mountains but many of them, such as at Mad River Glen in Fayston, Vermont, still offer some of the best skiing in the East–for experts and beginners. And you can’t beat the lift ticket price at these ski hills. At Cochran’s, for example, an adult ticket costs $19. and it’s $14. for a child. With lift tickets topping out at well over $200 at some of the best-known ski resorts in the United States, how else can a family of modest means enjoy the thrill of sliding down the hill?
Map Geek has traveled to many of the country’s top resorts and observed that sadly skiing has increasingly become an elitist sport. That’s just not fair. Everyone should have the opportunity to experience the fun you can have on the snow. (And that shouldn’t just be reserved for making snowmen or snow angels.) Snowsports are good for the spirit. It’s important to play outside in the winter, and thankfully Vermont makes that possible for all kinds of people at its less-than a dozen small and independently-owned ski areas. (There were once 119 in a state with only 251 towns.
Many of these ski areas even offer night skiing, something you don’t often see at big resorts. Map Geek thinks that they’re onto something–all around.
Check out some of the ones highlighted below and let us know if you think so, too. Note that the DM destinations–or nearest–for each ski area have been cited.
As the only ski area to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places, you can bet that the history of this renowned destination is vast. Founded in 1948 by Roland Palmedo, the mission of Mad River Glen has remained intact throughout the decades. Palmedo believed that “a ski area is not just a place of business, a mountain amusement park, as it were. Instead, it is a winter community whose members, both skiers and area personnel, are dedicated to the enjoyment of the sport.” Not surprisingly, almost two thousand skiers own what has become the Mad River Glen Cooperative, so you can bet they’re not going to sell their soul to a big ski corporation anytime soon. Take their iconic Single Chair as an example. Read about its saga and more here https://www.madriverglen.com/history/.
2. Cochran’s; see Burlington Discovery Map
Located in Richmond, one look at Cochran’s folksy trail map tips you off to the fact that charm outweighs terrain at this family-owned ski area. That’s not to say, however, that it can’t produce an Olympic skier! One of the most family-friendly ski destinations in the country, Cochran’s is a great place for beginners learning to form their pizza as well as race enthusiasts wanting to carve the Cochran way. It’s amazing how much fun and learning can be packed into a ski hill only serviced by a rope tow and a T-bar.
With the tagline “Keeping Skiing Real Since 1936,” you’re promised an authentic experience at this little ski area in East Corinth. Run largely by volunteers, this nonprofit has been able to continue their almost century-old tradition of pulling young people up the slopes in order to find their kicks and giggles sliding down. In addition to two rope tows, you can also take a T-bar up, but remember to not sit on it and watch out for the ruts.
Situated in Brownsville, Ascutney offers a winter wonderland-full of activities that include alpine skiing, backcountry skiing, snowshoeing and tubing. There’s much fun to be had along the eight trails on their ski hill and for $100., you can buy a pass that allows you to go on their T-bar as many times as you want throughout a season. Now, that’s a deal. And how about this? If the T-bar can’t open, you can take the rope tow at no charge at all. Manned primarily by volunteers, Ascutney will always do the best they can to provide a good time. That sounds like the Vermont way of life!
Ralph DesLauriers and his father founded this ski area in 1996 and ran it until 1997. It changed hands for over a decade but fortunately before developers took over the DesLauriers family–with help from investors–was able to buy it back. “We wanted to keep it as a ski area dedicated to Vermonters. We just want to continue having fun, affordable skiing for Vermont families,” said Mr. DesLauriers. For over fifty years, the after school programs have been a big draw at this ski hill as well. Located in Bolton Valley about a half hour from Burlington, this now mid-sized resort is a popular place to enjoy alpine and nordic skiing, snowboarding and also to explore the backcountry. With a base elevation of 1,634 feet (the highest in Vermont), Bolton Valley averages about 312 inches of snow a year. Oh yeah!
You know a place is homey when it lists its soup of the day (in this case, tomato basil) on the Trail and Lifts Conditions Report on their website. Located in Hancock, just twenty minutes away from the lovely village of Middlebury, this is the kind of place that provides a quintessential Vermont experience. Stay in one of the nearby inns and ski or ride their more- than 700 acres of open woods from which seventeen trails have been cut and you’ll have a ball–no matter your level. Their snowmaking and expert grooming assure a pleasant time as well. And just like at nearby Middlebury College, they are student friendly, too.
Founded by Swiss-born ski instructor Hans Thorner in 1960, the Magic Mountain of today still boasts some fine terrain for all levels of skiing along with a good dose of alpine panache. (Who doesn’t like fondue after a big day on the mountain?) Its history has also taken some turns (remember with skiing and riding, it’s all about the turns) over the decades but this ski area in Londonderry, Vermont remains a beloved place to glide and slide in the Northeast. Expert skiers like to test their skills on the Black Magic trail and if you’re extra adventuresome, you’ll want to explore their off-piste glades. If you’re just into après ski, know that you’ll find that here as well. Mulled wine anyone?
Don't forget about the Vermont's Northeast Kingdom!
Established in 1937, the Lyndon Outing Club, or LOC, in Lyndonville, Vermont remains committed to offering a family-friendly ski experience for all levels. With ten marked trails from greens to double black diamonds, it’s no wonder this impressive little ski hill once served as a training ground for Olympic athletes. Volunteers primarily make up the workforce, which means that sometimes runs are groomed, sometimes they’re not. Also, there is no snowmaking at LOC, so the coverage is all up to Mother Nature. Here’s something that’s cool: you can actually rent their little ski lodge for the day for $100. Monday through Friday. Sounds like a party!
For more on Vermont’s treasured ski areas, read The Best Little Ski Areas You’ve Never Skied
Note that many of these areas offer fun activities year round, including a variety of other outdoor activities and music events. Be aware also that some of the above ski areas are not able to provide rentals or lessons. Map Geek suggests that you have fun clicking through to all of the sites and be sure to check out their trail maps!