Small Resorts that Rock: Middlebury Snow Bowl
by Mitch Kaplan
Middlebury Snow Bowl is often referred to as the best babysitter in Vermont's Addison County. It's true. On Saturdays, the simple base lodge (called Starr Shelter) buzzes with kids. Why not? You can chow down at lunchtime for less than seven bucks. All trails lead back here. And, since most sliders are locals, they keep an eye on things.
The name Starr Shelter hearkens back to the days when it was only that - a shelter - with an adjacent huge outdoor fireplace. The fireplace is still there. But, now it sits in the middle of the room. This may or may not be the only base lodge anywhere without bar. But it is definitely the only one we know of with a library - a room outfitted with a haphazard accumulation of musty old tomes and an incredible National Geographic collection that's often occupied by professors marking exams or book-toting ski-moms-in-waiting.
Professors? The Snow Bowl is owned and operated by Middlebury College, one of the east's premier private liberal arts schools. Since the mid-1930's it's provided a venue for the school race team to practice, for its students to earn phys ed credits or just to play, and for locals to ski at low cost. At one time it was also counted among the country's premier ski jumping sites. You can still see the remnants of the jumping facilities, now tenaciously being overtaken by the encroaching forest, but the airborne antics stopped back in 1980 a victim of costs, liability concerns and fewer schools in the region against which to compete.
While the jumping hills no longer function, Middlebury's other longstanding elements remain. On any given day, students can be found sliding down the area's fifteen runs, many of which evoke the classic, narrow New England feeling. On many days, the Middlebury Race Team works the giant slalom course on Allen, a wide, bowl-like run that twice drops radically off precipitous ridges, or the slalom course on the similarly steep but much more constricted Ross. Come February, you'll find the Eastern Intercollegiate Ski Association season finale staged as part of the annual Middlebury Winter Festival. You can also attend here the college's midwinter graduation ceremonies, staged on-slope; graduates descend on skis, snowboards or anything else - even keisters.
For a tiny place, The Bowl offers some terrific skiing on a compact 1050-foot vertical drop. Uphill travel is completed via a trio of old-standard lifts - a double that climbs the front face, a triple that creeps up the backside, and another double that serves a handful of short runs, including a blue-rated, twisting roller called Hadley Terrain Park. The backside's expert-rated Youngman yields a delightful top-to-bottom ramble that wanders, twists, and rolls over the hill's natural contours. The aforementioned frontside Allen and the backside Bailey Falls take the direct route, bulling their way straight down no matter how the bottom drops out. Even the novice-rated trails like top-to-bottom Voter offer entertaining texture and snaking routes.
It's easy to drive right past the diminutive Snow Bowl. To find the place, you have to cut away from Vermont's famous Route 100 about halfway between Killington and Sugarbush, then head west on VT 125 for ten miles or so, winding your way over a classically picturesque mountain pass. Soon after you've dropped over the other side, the Bowl sneaks up on your left. Too much scenery ogling or staring at the twisting road, and you'll miss the hard left turn into the parking lot. Keep a lookout for it. It's a stop worth making.
Information: www.middlebury.edu/~snowbowl; or 802-388-4356.
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...... Mitch Kaplan
is the author of The Unofficial Guide to the Mid-Atlantic with Kids, The Cheapskate's Guide to Myrtle Beach and The Golf Book of Lists. He is a contributor to The Unofficial Guide to New England & New York with Kids and to the annual guide Ski America & Canada.