Friday, July 18, 2008

Vermont; A Snowy Winter Playground

Ready to explore a new winter vacation destination? Tired of Whistler rain and interminable border crossing delays? Bored by Sun Valley’s predictably good weather? Then perhaps it’s time to branch out, skip the western half of the country and give Vermont a try.

Unexplored by most west coast travelers, Vermont is full of surprises for anyone with a love of snow and an interest in trying a new vacation destination. The major resorts offer all that you would expect in a winter package; alpine and cross-country skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, sleigh rides and ice skating. Seeking a slower tempo? Smaller inns offer cross-country and snowshoeing opportunities far from the bustle of the big name resorts. And, everywhere in the region, visitors are exposed to the natural beauty, country charm and rich history of the state.

While not one of the 13 original colonies, Vermont was first settled in 1724 and joined the union as the 14th state in 1791. For the skier, that historic charm is very much in evidence in the 100 year old village of Stowe, just a short drive from the 75 year old Stowe Resort. The modern ski area draws energy from the well preserved Stowe Village with its many shops, restaurants and lodging choices. And don’t be put off by the age of the village and resort. This Northern Vermont resort is modern beneath the surface, offers a range of winter activities and has recently spent over fifty million dollars on new lifts to whisk skiers up the mountain.

Scattered down the mountain spine of the state here are resorts for every taste and skill level. Killington, the east coast’s largest ski area, boasts the most lifts, most runs and the most vertical drop in the state. Okemo, little known outside the state, is known as the ‘family place’ with its emphasis on kid friendly activities. If you would like to sample several resorts during a single vacation, other resorts, like Mount Snow, Sugarbush and Stratton, are just a short drive from one another.

Killington’s lift pass covers seven peaks with the tallest offering 3000 feet of vertical. That compares favorably with Sun Valley’s 3400 feet of vertical. The area boasts of over 200 inches of natural snowfall in an average year backed up by the state’s largest snow making system, in case mother nature throws a curve. Their expansive lift network includes two heated high-speed express gondolas. Its large size tends to draw large crowds so a traveler would be wise to avoid the holidays or the big three-day winter weekends.

Okemo Mountain Resort, just 20 miles from Killington, has added new lifts and lodging in its pursuit of the family market. Spread over two mountains and served from two bases skiers can choose from easy green runs to knee banging black diamonds so no one is left out.

While all the major areas cater to alpine and cross-country skiers and snow boarders Stratton Resort hold the title as the home of the first serious snowboard. Jake Carpenter, the founder of Burton Snowboards, reportedly snuck onto the Stratton slopes at night, when he wouldn’t be observed by competitors, to test his new metal edged designs. Stratton now offers four terrain parks for all levels of boarding enthusiast while still presenting a first class ski experience.

Not an downhill skier? You are not forgotten. All the major resorts offer a choice of winter activities. The woods around the mountains are laced with trails for more sublime cross-country or snowshoeing activities. Sled rides, ice skating and even snowmobile opportunities are available in or near most resorts. Over twenty areas focus entirely on the people powered trail sports, with no down hill facilities at all. For example, central Vermont’s Three Stallions Inn offers 30 miles of trails in an environment so quiet you can almost hear the sap flow from the sugar maples.

While there, be sure to sample Vermont’s cuisine. There’s more to Vermont than Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream. To support the local farm scene restaurants make a point of offering locally grown foods with a focus on their strong dairy industry. Vermont Cheddar, which is white, not yellow, is one of more popular though many varieties are produced by artisan cheese makers across the state. Woodstock Water Buffalo offers both Yogurt and a Mozzarella made from the milk of their Water Buffalos. The yogurt has a rich, sensuous feel, quite different from traditional styles.

No visit would be complete without savoring something “maple.” In addition to syrup you can find candy, pancake mix, bacon, ham and sausage all flavored with maple drawn from their ubiquitous trees. In Vermont it seems there is little that can be eaten that can’t be flavored with maple.

While Vermont seems far from Bellevue, connections to Burlington, the states largest city, or Boston place you within three hours of all the major areas. Burlington is less than one hour from Stowe, one of the more northerly resorts. The promise of lots of snow mixed with the charm and beauty of the state justifies a few more hours in the air.

Vermont doesn’t offer Rocky Mountain powder but new grooming and snow making technology allows the resorts to make the most of the abundant snow and overcome their old reputation for icy slopes. With lots of snow and good grooming you will find enough good corduroy to satisfy your need for speed. As for the weather, temperatures in the teens are common during the ski season so pack your warmest gear. You may not need it but it’s good insurance.

Visitors can choose from a range of lodging types; from rustic B & B’s and inns to four star hotels. Resort condos and mid range hotels are also available. Vermont visitors can select as much “charm and quaintness” as they wish. Stowe, for example, is all New England in feel and appearance. Other resorts present a more contemporary European or Rocky Mountain atmosphere.

If your idea of a winter vacation encompasses the entire package; atmosphere, history, food, lodging, time spent in front of the fireplace, weather and snow quality, then Vermont has a lot to offer. If you measure trip success in feet of vertical achieved, then stay in the Rockies.

Still not sure you want to risk New England travel in the winter. Fear not. Jet Blue recently inaugurated non-stop service from Burlington to Orlando. If the thermometer plunges during you visit you can slip away for a few days of sun while your friends at home think you are shivering in the mountains of Vermont.

Many on-line resources are available to help you design your winter vacation.
The Vermont Chamber of Commerce Provides extensive information on activities, lodging and dining choices in the Green Mountain State. Request their Winter Vacation Guide at the site. They will send it along with a state highway map.

Another good source of general information is provided at

A quick link to all the alpine and cross-country ski areas and other useful winter activity information can be found at the site of the Vermont Ski Association. Links to specific areas and inns are provided at the site.

Remember the “Sound of Music?” Vermont is the home of the famous Trapp family and their inviting lodge near Stowe. Don’t expect to Julie Andrews but the lodge is wonderful and you could pick up an edelweiss mug at the extensive gift shop.

Looking for a quiet inn away from the bustle. Try the Select Registry.
The Three Stallion Inn offers cross country trails in a four star wrapper.
For an inn experience near both Killington and Okemo try the cozy October Country Inn.
For a walk back through time at Stowe try the Green Mountain Inn. Dating from 1833 the centrally located in is in walking distance of the village shops and

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