So I did one day at Beech and one at Sugar. Wanted to post my thoughts for anyone that has never been to either mountain, as this was my first time at either. Took my two children, age 6 and age 9.
Let's start with a quick disclaimer. These are my opinions based on one day only at each mountain. 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. This is not gonna be a college essay, just lots of rambling and general jumping around. Forgive any unreadability...
My ski days were Jan 8 & 9. 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.
Day 1 was at Sugar mountain, and both my kids were in ski school. This means that I was able to ski any terrain that I wanted. So about ski school, it was nice at Sugar to arrive the evening before (up until 8 pm) and preregister and get the kids fitted ahead of time. The staff across the board for the ski school seemed a lot younger at Sugar, but I have no complaints with how they handled things. The ski school facility itself was considerably more dated than what Beech had to offer. The Beech ski school facility was much nicer - a larger space, lots of cubbies, fresh paint on all the walls and wood, etc. But as far as teaching I think both schools do a good job overall. From what I personally observed as far as instruction though I have to give the edge to Beech for sure.
So about facilities, I have to say Beech is much better hands down. I'm not looking for the Ritz, I'm a soul-skier that loves places like A-Basin and honestly I could care less about the pampering, but I don't like seeing rusted-out doors into the ski lodge, and this is what I noticed at Sugar. I didn't spend anytime in the village at Beech, but the fresh paint on all the buildings just makes the place look much nicer that Sugar. The lodge/cafeteria was basic at Sugar. It was clean, that is always a plus. Got a bowl of chili, it was decent, nothing wonderful but about what I would expect based upon appearance of the lodge. I had my one sandwich prepacked.
The Beech lodge at the base looked much nicer. I did not go in as my daughter did not want to ride the lift that one needs to use after eating at the lodge. She already rode it once and the trails to get down were steeper than she was comfortable on (they were the slightly more challenging blues). But the one time we rode this lift to the top we went to the very new and nice glass and wood Yurt-type bar with heaters at the top. I got my very first beer while skiing ever. Yes, very first. I've skied Snowbasin, Canyons, Powder Mtn, Deer Valley, Vail, Beaver Creek, Keystone, Breckenridge, Arapahoe Basin, and Copper, this was my first beer ever on the slopes since I rediscovered skiing four years ago I am not a alter boy, I am just very serious about skiing, so I don't do anything that will dehydrate me in the least bit when I am doing my serious skiing. Back to the beer - it was a nice brew from the Beech Mtn Brewery, and cost just $5 for a 12 oz pour. My daughter got a bag of chips and a hot chocolate, and then when the adjacent little food structure opened she got a hot dog. The hot dog was a 1/4 Nathan's beef hot dog, totally acceptable to me considering it is a hot dog.
Let's talk about lifts since I just mentioned it above. Overall the lifts were much nicer at Beech. We rode four at Beech. The first life serviced the little green run at the base. It is an older slow double chair, but the lift is so short it doesn't matter. Next we moved to the lift that services Lower Shawneehaw. This was the lift we rode most of the day, it was their easiest blue and the one my daughter wanted to stay on. Unfortunately this lift was also the most uncomfortable double chair since it had just the old-school plastic rails that you sit on. The lift to the summit at Beech was nice. Was the higher speed kind with the slow loading/unloading and was very comfortable. The lift servicing Oz at Beech as also much nicer than Sugar's lifts or even the first two I mentioned at Beech.
So Sugar's lifts were slow, old and clunky. They weren't as bad as the one Beech lift servicing Lower Shawneehaw, and they did all have padding on the seats, but overall lift quality definitely goes to Beech as well. One thing I will say is that there is one lift at Sugar that was pretty good, and this is the one I rode most of the say because the terrain was also the best at Sugar under this lift on my day at Sugar. This lift services Big Red. It must be newer because it was their fastest and most comfortable.
Before moving on to terrain let's talk lift operators. My general feeling is they are taught/told to be much more friendly at Beech. The lift operators at Sugar just looked generally pissed and that you were helping prolong their misery. Not sure how the operator at Beech felt but they were definitely more smiley. I'm not looking to chat up a best friend, but at least don't look at me with disdain. There was one incident at Beech where my daughter needed assistance (binding problem at the top) and they were most helpful. Don't have any situation to truly compare this against for Sugar.
So let's talk what really matters, the trails and conditions. I'm glad a did a day at both. Both Mtns are very different with respect to terrain and how they manage it (again from my vast experience of one day's observation at both). The allure of Sugar for me was the greater vertical drop and the "double" black. I chose Sugar for day one mainly because both kids would be in ski school and I could ski where I liked. That said, given that we are talking southeast skiing, the pitch for the open blacks Tom Terrific and Whoopdedoo was nice. Very short obviously but nice. The snow was not that great on it compared to the other terrain and what I expected from the natural snow plus snowmaking, but sounds like it was better on my Beech day from a previous poster. Was icier than I expected, and honestly I stuck to the hidden gem at Sugar for most of the day which was Big Red. So Big Red…has the best lift at Sugar, least amount of people, and it had the snow guns a blazing. This meant that I could ski along the sides of the trail and always be in some fresh (small obviously) powder. The trail was just long enough to not feel like you skied for 20 seconds and was done. The pitch wasn't steep, but had enough pitch to keep it fun. was kind of fun skiing under the guns, but man were they loud! Loud enough to drown out my iPhone music loud and I was getting mildly annoyed with hearing them after a couple hours. This brings me to the topic of terrain management.
Again from my vast experience at both Mtns, it seems the Sugar philosophy is go with snow guns a blazin' if the weather permits, while the Beech philosophy is groom groom groom. Maybe it is just how each mountain chooses to allocate their resources, maybe it is cost, maybe it is the wider trails at Beech are more conducive to nice booming, I don't know. But I will say that according to the Beech website they did zero snowmaking while I was on this two day trip, while Sugar was going non-stop, but I actually preferred the conditions at Beech (again, Big Red at Sugar WAS nice though). Beech had wider trails that I thought were overall nicer, but I cannot comment on the steeper blues or blacks at Beech cause I could not ride them. The one slightly steeper blue at Beech that I got to ride once was Upper Shawneehaw, and this was wide and in good condition. Overall the trails at Sugar may have been a little longer but were definitely more narrow, so if I could go to one place only based on terrain (and throw all the other stuff out the window) I would choose Beech.
So let me finish up with a few other minor things. Locker cost, 50 cents at Sugar (didn't really need one there), assume it is a 50 cents per opening locker, versus a 5 dollar locker at Beech which you can open as often as you like and it very conveniently located right off the slopes.
If you rent equipment, rent in town. I did not rent in town for my older daughter, just easier at the mountain when you are doing a trip solo with two kids (and for all I knew she was gonna decide to do another day of ski school last minute). The boots they originally tried to give my daughter at Beech in the rental shop had chewed up heels. They had to search for a pair for her that were in tact for the bottoms. I care because if she needs them to release I don't want a cruddy half-missing heel piece to prevent this (or overly release).
The terrain park was not open at Sugar, but was open at Beech and had a nice variety of jumps and very conveniently located. I almost tried a jump or two but chose not to as the only adult able to drive us home.
So overall, I preferred Beech, but was able to have a very nice time at Sugar on Big Red and do not regret skiing both. If I truly had to boil it down to one resort or the other and were talking two days or less to ski, I would say choose Beech, especially with kids. Three or more, I say ski them both and do the mountain that fits you or your family better. I really think the big limiting factor for Sugar is the ridiculously clunky lift to the summit. And I liked the cleanliness and freshness of Beech much more...