Pros: Best vertical, an almost-double black, snow making
Cons: dated facilities that need updating and paint, old clunky chairs, poor staff attitude, narrow trails
These are my opinions based on one day only at Sugar mountain. Of course some things can be very variable (like staff attitude and the snow/terrain) and some not so much (chair lifts, the facility, etc.). I hope my general observations are potentially helpful to someone else looking for first-timer information.
My ski day was Jan 8, 2014. Jan 6 saw five inches of fresh snow, Jan 7 the temps were frigid but this didn't seem to negatively impact the snow too much. The weather was good for snowmaking following the natural snow. So pretty favorable conditions for these parts. And because both my kids were in ski school on this day, I got to experience the mountain without children as well as seeing the ski school operation.
I did like the fact that I was able to pre-register my kids and get them fitted the night before. I got to the shop at 6:55 pm after a 5-hour drive (Pre-registration was until 7:00 pm), and the staff was very friendly regardless of my late arrival. The staff across the board for the ski school seemed young, but I have no complaints with how they handled things. The ski school facility itself was considerably dated, it could definitely use a lot of updating (or at the very least some fresh paint). The teaching was fine from what I could observe; I have younger children who are very cautious so it is hard to judge the ski school instructors. But they seemed to have a decent program and place and handed me evaluation cards at the end.
As far as the facilities, Sugar is definitely in need of some updating. It just doesn't look like there have been any capital improvements in quite some time. That is understandable depending on the dollars coming in, but there is a difference between major renovations versus just keeping things look nice with fresh paint. The latter would be a good start. When the lodge itself has rusted-out bottoms to its entry doors, I can only assume the owners are just neglecting keeping the resort in nice shape. This is unfortunate…
The cafeteria is definitely reminiscent of a 1980's cafeteria. The only food I sampled was a $5 small bowl of chili. It was OK, nothing great but certainly edible after a morning of skiing. I cannot really comment on the other food but from other reviews that I have read the food is overpriced and not gourmet by any stretch of the imagination.
Except for the one lift servicing Big Red, they are really old and clunky at Sugar. The lift to the summit is very slow, in part due to the higher vertical of Sugar as compared to the other local mountains and of course in part due to age. I will say that all the lifts that I rode had either the padded seat or at least the flat bottom seat (not the uncomfortable bars that have to be sat on), so this was a plus even though the lifts themselves were old. The lift servicing Big Red seemed newer, was more comfortable and faster than the others.
The lift operators all seemed pretty grouchy at Sugar. Since my kids were in ski school I cannot really evaluate them on helpfulness as this was not needed, but they just really seemed pissed off and that you were prolonging their days' misery. I'm not looking for conversation but don't look at me with disdain either. In my opinion they need to have some customer service training. If you want to work here at least manage a smile on your face, regardless of how you truly feel...
As far as mountain conditions, Sugar has the edge on vertical as compared to its neighbor Beech. They also have a double black with some nice pitch. Of course it is pretty short, but that is to be expected in NC. Both the black and double-black that I skied were icier than I expected given the recent snow and favorable conditions for snowmaking; however I read that they were in nice shape the following day from a separate epicski post. The trails were mostly on the narrow side, especially as compared to neighboring Beech. I did find the trail Big Red to be enjoyable and spent most of my time there. It had just enough pitch to be fun (able to get up to 40 mph based on my ski tracks app), was wider than the others, and had a lot of snow due to the snow guns going non-stop.
About the snow guns, this does seem to be Sugar's philosophy. Keep the snow guns going at all times. It was actually a nice thing on Big Red because I was able to ski the sides of the trail and be in a little bit of fresh powder. I was surprised at the icier conditions on the blacks given this guns-a-blazing philosophy, but hey more snow is better than less. I didn't see any real grooming at Sugar however, just the snow guns going non-stop. And I will say that they are pretty loud and annoying after two hours of hearing them non-stop. They actually were able to drown out my earphone music anytime I got close to them.
I cannot comment on the terrain park as it was not open. The only grooming equipment that I saw at Sugar was someone messing around in the park. Not sure if he was actually trying to do something or just practicing on the grooming machine…
Locker cost is 50 cents at Sugar. I didn't use a locker on this day, but I assume it is the 50 cents per opening kind of locker.
Anyway this is my review on Sugar. I will also be writing one for my Beech day as well. I will say that overall I preferred Beech and if I had only two days or less to spend skiing between the two resorts they would both be at Beech.