It requires a leap of faith to take that hard left off Vermont's Route 89 that sends you directly away from the legendary slopes of Stowe. But those who do make that turn and continue up the road just a few minutes find their faith is quickly—and richly—rewarded. Because there, just to the south of Stowe, sits a gem of a resort called Bolton Valley. It's not big — just 165 skiable acres — nor is it home, like Stowe, to a main street lined with quaint inns and shops. But as a ski mountain, Bolton packs a punch. It takes a bit of a climb to get there (its higher elevation means more snow), but once you do, you'll park the car and happily forget where you've left the keys. Bolton may not have the swagger of its better-known neighbor, but it's a worthy destination in its own right, the perfect setting for a peaceful New England weekend.
From Boston, Bolton Valley is about four hours dead north — really just one turn off the highway and then a climb uphill to a base elevation of 2,100 feet (the highest in Vermont). Pull into the newly renovated base hotel, the Inn at Bolton Valley (877-926-5866; doubles from $109 per room, per night; one- and two-bedroom condos from $152 per night). The Inn has about 60 hotel rooms, plus a number of one- and two-bedroom condos that are comfortable and convenient. Check in, unload your gear and be done with any kind of commute farther than a few steps for the remainder of the weekend. Don't store your skis away until morning though: The perfect way to start a Bolton visit is with some nightskiing. The dying pursuit of nightskiing is flourishing here, with a decent number of tough runs and long groomers blazing under the lights until 9 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday nights. Board the Vista Quad, just a few steps from your hotel room, and head down winding Sherman's Pass, which is lovely by day and mystically beautiful by night. Lights of far away homes and towns twinkle below you, and the air feels unusually crisp. Re-board and repeat.
For a late dinner, hit Fireside Flatbread, the pizzeria on the second floor of the base lodge (802-434-6827; pizzas start at around $15). There you can choose a basic pepperoni or one of many exotic combos, such as the Chris-Cross, with pesto, mushrooms, spinach and sun-dried tomatoes, complemented by a local Magic Hat microbrew. After dinner, cross the hall to the James Moore Tavern to nurse a glass of cabernet and listen to live tunes by a crackling fire.
After a breakfast sandwich at the old base lodge (it's a true '70s throwback, but a nice place to mingle, with two stone fireplaces), click into your skis and head out for a day of trailblazing. Start on the Vista Quad, which opened two seasons ago. For years, skiers had to ride two chairs to get to the summit and Bolton's more challenging runs. Not anymore. At the top, head down Alta Vista, a new trail that cuts toward Stowe and takes you down some interesting yet forgiving fall lines. Continue to skier's right and cruise down Fanny Hill, carving turns until you reach the Wilderness lift. Forgive this lift for being a lumbering double. But the Wilderness side of the mountain is quiet and woodsy, and the slow ride up lets you soak in the scenery and perhaps catch a glimpse of wildlife tracks in the woods. When you unload, don't push off and ski just yet. Rather, glide to your left, where the top of the trail dead-ends. There you'll find one of the most awe-inspiring views in ski country. You'll see Stowe from an unusual angle, and the vista across the Green Mountains is breathtaking.
From here, cruise down Peggy Dow's and Old Turnpike, skiing the far perimeter of the resort. Grab scenic Wilderness one more time, but step up the challenge with some glades around Upper Fanny Hill, or take Wilderness Liftline to Coyote, cruisers both. After eating, head back to the Vista Quad area.
For lunch, the James Moore serves a classic burger aand a delicious homemade meatloaf sandwich. Then head back up the Vista Quad. At the top, gaze out over Lake Champlain and into the heart of New York's Whiteface Mountain. The lake reflects the sky and mountains, and on a clear day Whiteface seems so close you could almost wave to the skiers over there. The chutes here are worthy of bragging rights, and you can finish them off with a few technical turns on the aptly named Show Off, right beneath the chair. Spillway, a narrow, typical New England trail, gives you a shot of speed, if you're into that sort of thing. You could play in this area for the rest of the afternoon.
Dinner tonight is at upscale Bailey's, on the access road (802-434-6821; boltonvalley.com/baileys). Try the lamb or the duck if they're on the menu, and dip into the carefully chosen wine list. Plan on a long, relaxing dessert accompanied by a fine port or sherry.
Sundays at Bolton begin slow, with families enjoying pancakes in their condos or sleeping in. Not you, though. Grab breakfast in the base lodge deli and make first chair. You'll have the mountain to yourself for a good two hours. Head up top and immediately veer to skier's left down Cobrass to the Timberline section of the resort. Use the Timberline lift to check out the handful of cruisers and more challenging trails over there. If you push, you can rack up a good 10,000 vertical feet before lunch.
Speaking of which, lunch will be at the Timberline Lodge, a more modern and quite lovely second base lodge where you can dip into typical yet tasty ski-lodge fare such as hamburgers and fries, bowls of chili and nachos. Then head back to the main base area and take one last run from the summit (that view is worth another look).
As you leave for home, plunging down to a more typical Vermont elevation, look up and smile. Bolton, once struggling — it even closed for a year — is back. And it will be there when you return.
SIGNPOST: Bolton Valley Resort
165 skiable acres; 1,704 vertical; 265 annual inches; 64 trails. Tickets: $45; kids 13—18 $38, kids 7—12 and seniors over 70 $32.
Getting There: I-89 north to Route 100 West to Route 2 West eight miles to the Bolton Valley Access Road
Info: 877-926-5866; boltonvalley.com