This February, I was invited to spend a day with the Ladies Ski Club at Sugarbush, one of New England’s largest ski resorts located in Vermont’s Mad River Valley.
On a Saturday morning, I met up with three women and their instructor at the bottom of the main lift at Sugarbush, which is only comprised of three large buildings that fit everything from a restaurant and bar to a ski rental shop. The buildings looked like huge farmhouses situated on the bottom of a snowy mountain painted by white stripes of ski runs and brown stripes of tree clusters.
Arriving the day before after driving for an hour through Vermont’s beautiful Green Mountains, one of my friends had mentioned, “Vermont is like Christmas, all the time.” And it was this snowy landscape, barn house style buildings, and general coziness that can best communicate the feeling of being at Sugarbush.
When I got there, everyone in the class greeted each other with hugs and a buzz of excitement. The Ladies Ski Club, actually named the Women’s Essential Elements Program, is a season-long class for women. The program was designed by Sugarbush to provide a place for women to learn, ski and be challenged together. Every Saturday, these women drop their kids off at ski school and then join their own class – spending full days together on the mountain with legendary -45 degree weather, views of Québec, and steep terrain.
Arriving the day before after driving for an hour through Vermont’s beautiful Green Mountains, one of my friends had mentioned, “Vermont is like Christmas, all the time.”
The women whose class I was joining for the day had been lucky enough to meet each other three years before. Each year they have continued together, creating a close-knit group that texts each other on birthdays and shares advice by email. Though I was just a visitor for the day, they welcomed me with gusto as we glided over to the lift, zooming to the front of the line because we were ski school VIPs.
On the lift I met red-bearded, blue-eyed George – the group’s instructor and only male member. George was a long-time ski instructor at Sugarbush with a weathered face and excellent ski technique that spoke to his thirty years teaching on the mountain.
The feeling of the first run on a snowy morning is hard to describe: the gliding of skis mixed with the speed that comes with gravity pulling you down a mountain is both energizing and uplifting in a way that never fails to bring a smile to my face.
As we rode up the lift, the temperature quickly started dropping and the trees became whiter and whiter. On sunnier days, reaching the top of the lift would have been rewarded with long distance views (at some parts you can allegedly see Québec), but the day’s view was obscured with continuous snowfall.
Once off the lift, we huddled on the side of the trail to make final adjustments to our layers of gear before our first run. George led us to a run called Birch, designated by blue squares (intermediate) and of course birch trees throughout. The wide ski run was covered in soft snow and perfect for relaxed warm-up turns. The feeling of the first run on a snowy morning is hard to describe: the gliding of skis mixed with the speed that comes with gravity pulling you down a mountain is both energizing and uplifting in a way that never fails to bring a smile to my face.
It was as if we had skied into another world: the noise of the lift, the ski schools, even the expansive feeling of being on top of a mountain had all disappeared
For our next run we went into Slide Brook – an unpatrolled, woodland area.
To find Slide Brook, there’s a tiny entrance into dense trees where only one person can enter at a time going down a steep slope that levels off onto an almost flat traverse. It was as if we had skied into another world: the noise of the lift, the ski schools, even the expansive feeling of being on top of a mountain had all disappeared and been replaced with just a single trail surrounded by trees and five of us quietly sliding along.
We skied slower as we navigated through the thick trees. The Ladies Ski Club approached the challenge with ease, taking breaks, photos and enjoying the quiet and enormity of skiing down the side of the mountain.
After half an hour of laughing, falling, resting, and continuing, we ended up at a road where a shuttle bus picked us up taking us back to the main village. Though we had felt alone in the woods, when we arrived, there were about 20 people (and more who came every few minutes) waiting for the bus. We’d all ventured off in search of snow and adventure.
Our crowded bus ride back gave me a chance to chat with some of my fellow skiers and I probed into why they chose to participate in the Ladies Ski Club. They enjoyed the consistency of the sessions, the physical challenges, and of course the camaraderie. One answer really highlights this: “You can hang out and chat with women at a coffee shop, but when you’re doing a sport together, the conversations are different.” It was this idea of a shared experience somewhat outside of the normal constraints of daily New England life that was the core reason they came back every Saturday, each season for years and years. Well that, and the fresh snow and mountain views, of course.