Ski resorts have a love-hate relationship with the sun. In the decades before snowmaking, the threat that too much of a good thing could turn your hill into a melt-and-freeze skating rink led the first generation of resort builders to seek out north-facing slopes.
But Vermont's Bromley loves the sun. And since 1936, its south-facing slopes have drawn the sort of skiers who appreciate a few extra degrees of warmth. Namely, parents and children, many of them from the New York metropolitan area-a straight four-hour shot, mostly via I-91. "To have the sun there constantly really makes a difference," says Gerry Bodner of Manhasset, Long Island. "It's warm on the slopes-you get it from the sun and you get it from the people."
Bodner began skiing at Bromley when he was 19, and it's where he taught his wife, Candy, and their two children, Christian and Carrie, to ski. When the children were little, the family would make tracks to Vermont on Friday nights, after bridge and tunnel traffic had abated. "We'd arrive at 1 a.m., lift the kids out of the car, and fall into bed," Bodner says. "Of course, the kids were raring to go first thing in the morning."
Though the children are now grown, Candy and Gerry still head north at least twice a month during winter. They spend July and August at Bromley, too. "Some people think we're crazy," Candy laughs, saying she's as comfortable in the Green Mountains as on Long Island. "I've often wondered if I should change my license plates."
Over the years, the Bodners have skied Killington, Okemo, Stratton and various Canadian resorts, but when it came time to buy property, they chose Bromley. Their first investment was a slopeside condo, but these days their second home is a five-bedroom house a short walk from the hill.
The notion of somebody choosing a resort the size of Bromley (175 skiable acres) instead of Killington (1,182) or, closer by, Stratton (583), will sound crazy to many, especially to people who don't have kids. But parents who've skied all three resorts understand the Bodners' choice. "We're from New York, where you have to be very careful with your children," says Candy. "At Bromley, you know they're safe."
At 8:45 on weekend mornings, the base lodge, which retains the whitewashed-timber look of a Vermont sugarhouse, is packed with parents stuffing toddlers into two-buckle boots and puffy parkas. If a resort's level of success can be measured by the number of families it attracts, Bromley's future is secure.
Credit tradition: Family has been a Bromley priority since Day One. "The old man was definitely interested in attracting families," says Philip Pabst,the youngest of founder Fred Pabst's three children. He fondly recalls the winter days when he would stop in his father's office to pick up his skis. Now 50, he lives down the road in Manchester.
Fred Pabst poured much of his share of his family's brewery business into the then nascent sport of skiing. Bromley was the third in his pioneering string of resorts, and it would prove his most successful venture. Stymied by the depressed tourist economy during World War II, Pabst sold his other hills (Quebec's Mont Saint-Saveur and Minnesota's Buck Hill) and put all his chips on Bromley.
In 1939, Pabst got the radical notion of setting aside a spot in the lodge where parents could deposit their young children while the adults skied, creating the first daycare center at a U.S. ski resort. "There were certainly a lot of resorts that were faster, what today you might call glitzier," says Philip, "but he tried to appeal to a slower-going, family public."
Bromley's most famous child prodigy is Olympic snowboard gold medalist Ross Powers. His mom works at the mountain, as she has for all of Powers' 24 years. "My experiences (at Bromley) were all good," he says. "Pretty much every weekend and holiday I'd go up there with her, and I'd be out on the hill, first skiing and then on the board." These days, Poweers trains while running the snowboard school at Stratton, Bromley's nearest competitor. Even though only 12 miles separate the two resorts, they couldn't be more different. "Stratton is Givenchy, Bromley is blue jeans," says Gary Okun, the owner of Johnny Seesaw's, a ski lodge adjacent to Bromley.
Blue jeans, it turns out, can be pretty comfortable. Last season, Bromley began offering valet parking and walkie-talkie rentals-high-end amenities that the hill has wrapped into its new, focused effort to attract still more families. Whether or not valet parking appeals exclusively to families (unmarried bond traders dig it, too), such family-friendly virtues are evident all over the mountain.
Eight of the resort's nine lifts can be accessed a snowball's throw from the base lodge. It's one of the few hills where you can sit on the deck and simultaneously watch your 13-year-old fearlessly attacking the terrain park and your 4-year-old getting her first lesson. And when she graduates to the terrain park, there's no need to panic: The jumps, rails and other snow features are spread out in such a way that beginners, intermediates and experts are unlikely to collide mid-trick.
That ability-sensitive layout carries through to the rest of the hill. The western half caters to intermediates and beginners, while the eastern half is almost entirely expert terrain. Consider, if you will, the average family of four on the Sun Mountain Quad: scared 5-year-old, hellbent 9-year-old and two nervous parents. At the summit, they pause for a moment to admire the view, then split into two groups. Father and 5-year-old head west for the long run down Upper and Lower Twister (once Powers' favorite runs) or the even more sedate Upper and Lower Thruway. Meanwhile, mother is doing her best to keep up with 9-year-old on the eastern slope, where runs like Blue Ribbon and Pabst Panic fall and rise like a roller coaster. Sooner or later, gravity and familial affection bring all four back to the base as Bromley's famous sun begins to set.
People who grew up spending their days like this tend to stay close to the hill. Ask the Bodner children: Christian taught snowboarding here before he had his driver's license, while his sister worked in the base lodge. Christian currently attends Renssalaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y. His mother swears the school's proximity to Bromley (an hour's drive up scenic Route 7) was one of the reasons he chose the school. Carrie is headed farther afield, to Cornell. The trip will take her just about the same amount of driving time as it did on the Friday nights when her family would pile into one car-only now she won't have to beat bridge and tunnel traffic.