The Mad River Valley  abounds with recreational activities. In addition to the suggestions below, the Mad River Glen  ski area runs the Mad River Glen Naturalist Program (802/496-3351) with guided tours that range from moonlit snowshoeing expeditions to wildlife-tracking trips to rock climbing.
Once known as “Mascara Mountain” for its tendency to draw a jet-setting, zinc oxide–sporting population of skiers more into modeling their latest parka than tackling the slopes, Sugarbush (1840 Sugarbush Access Rd., Warren, 800/537-8427, www.sugarbush.com , $49 adults, $39 seniors and youth 7–18) has come a long way to rightly earn its place as Vermont’s Second Slope, often favorably described as a more welcoming “alternative” to Killington . It’s second to the Beast in the number and difficulty of the slopes it offers, with 111 trails descending from two peaks, Lincoln Peak and Mount Ellen. And it may have the most difficult trail in the East: the rock-and-glade ride known as the Rumble.
Sugarbush is also prized for the high amount of natural snow it gets each year, as storms from Lake Champlain unload their cargo after passing over the mountains. Not that it needs it—Sugarbush has one of the most sophisticated snowmaking systems in the East.
As a bonus, Sugarbush and Mad River Glen  have worked out lift packages that include both mountains—so you can experience big-mountain skiing on the ’Bush and still not lose out on the intimacy of the smaller mountain down the valley.
In the shadow of Sugarbush and the surrounding mountains, Ole’s Cross Country Center (Airport Rd., Warren, 802/496-3430, www.olesxc.com ) has 45 kilometers of trails through deep woods and farm country.
In Montpelier , maple syrup producer Burr Morse  also runs a cross-country ski touring center in the winter. Morse Farm Ski Touring Center (1168 County Rd., Montpelier, 802/223-2740 or 800/242-2740, www.morsefarm.com ) has 25 kilometers of trails through light woods and meadows, designed by two-time Olympian skier John Morton. After skiing the trails, you can warm up by the fire with a cup of cider or chill out with a maple syrup snow cone.
Three out of five of the 4,000-foot or higher peaks in Vermont  rise from the Mad River Valley . While not the highest mountain in Vermont, the distinctly shaped Camel’s Hump might be the best loved by state residents. Its shape is identifiable for miles around, and its summit remains completely undeveloped and pristine. The most popular ascent is up the 7-mile Monroe Trail, a rock-hopping ascent from a birch-and-beech forest up to the unique alpine vegetation zone of its undeveloped summit. The parking area for the trail is at the end of Camel’s Hump Rd. in Duxbury; the direct way to the summit is up the Monroe Trail to the Long Trail, a distance of about seven miles.
Two more demanding peaks, Mount Ellen and Mount Abraham, can be hiked singly or together, taking in the 4,000-foot ridge between them. For information on all of these hikes, contact the Green Mountain Club (802/244-7037, www.greenmountainclub.org ), or pick up a copy of the club’s indispensable Long Trail Guide, available in most bookstores and outdoors stores in Vermont.
If the mountains seem too daunting, the Mad River Path Association (802/496-7284, www.madriverpath.com ) manages several walking and biking trails that weave in and out of the villages of the valley, taking in farms, woodland, and bridges along the way. Bicycles can be rented from the Inverness Ski Shop (5274 Main St./Rte. 100, Waitsfield, 802/496-3343, www.iskishop.com ).
With a quick flow and a few spots of good white water, the Mad River is ideal for canoeing and kayaking. Clearwater Sports (4147 Main St., Waitsfield, 802/496-2708, www.clearwatersports.com ) leads affordable all-day tours on the Mad and Winooski Rivers ($80 pp), as well as moonlight paddles.
Waitsfield’s outdoor skating rink, the Skatium (Village Sq., Waitsfield, 802/496-8909) is a community gathering place in winter. The rink has skate rentals during public skating hours, generally all day on Saturday and Sunday from early December as long as the ice lasts, as well as other hours during the week that vary by season. During the winter, call the rink directly for a full schedule.
Icelandic horses are genetically programmed to traverse the snowy landscape. The Vermont Icelandic Horse Farm (3061 N. Fayston Rd., Waitsfield, 802/496-7141, www.icelandichorses.com ) breeds well-mannered purebreds for half- and full-day trips ($80/$190) and longer overnight trail rides all year-round.