Length of stay: 2 days
Visited: February 2018
Vermont is renowned for its skiing across the New England area. This should come as no surprise given that its name is derived from “mont vert” in French, which translates to green mountain. With over 30 alpine (downhill) and nordic (cross-country) ski centres, there are endless opportunities to enjoy the abundance of snow and mountainous terrain in this Green Mountain State. And hey, if skiing isn’t your thing, Vermont is also famous for its cheese, maple syrup and ice cream.
Day 1: The Hills are Alive with the Sound of Music
We drove down to Vermont the night before. We were a little apprehensive about the trail conditions given that there was no snow on the ground in either Toronto (where I flew down from) or Boston (where K was residing). Plus it’s been an unseasonably warm January (which is even more depressing in contrast to the abundance of snow we had in December). But we were pleasantly surprised by the snow cover in Vermont. Even if it was insanely cold outside. We’re talking about the kind of cold that hurts the lungs when trying to inhale a breath of fresh air. It was -20°C (or -4°F) outside.
The temperature forecast indicated it would warm-up later in the day. So we took this as an excuse to sleep in later than we usually do. After finishing up breakfast we headed to the Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe. This Austrian-style lodge was established by the famous von Trapp family – you know, the one whose story (loosely) served as inspiration for the Sound of Music. There were some differences between the film and real life events though. The von Trapps didn’t actually sneak out of Salzburg all super secret like. And they didn’t actually make their way over the Alps on foot (with their suitcases and musical instruments in hand) to the safety of Switzerland. Instead they traveled (and sang) around Europe before settling down in the United States. The family purchased a chunk of land in Stowe Vermont and founded the Trapp Family Lodge. 25 years later in 1968, Johannes von Trapp (the tenth child) oversaw the opening of the first cross-country ski centre in the United States.
The Trapp Family Lodge is still owned and operated by members and descendants from the von Trapp family. And they still maintain a world-class ski centre that offers 60km of groomed trails and 100km of backcountry trails.
We arrived at the outdoor centre shortly after 9:30a.m to pick up our trail pass and rent skis and boots for the day. By the time we were ready to hit the trails it was noticeably warmer outside. It was still pretty cold, but there was no wind. And it didn’t take much to warm up from the nearly constant incline for about the first hour and a half. From the Lodge we took the Sugar Road Trail and kept to the right, following along Deer Pond to Russel Knoll Track to Chris’ Run.
Chris’ Run is aptly named …if you’re starting from the top (which we weren’t). It was pretty much an uphill climb for its entire stretch. According to the map the elevation gain on this trail is just over 500 ft. There weren’t many flat sections. Just hills. And always climbing up. Never skiing down. And right when you think you couldn’t possibly climb any higher, there’s another uphill. And then another. There were a couple of times out of frustration where I simply snapped off my skis and carried them up the hill. We were defiantly getting frustrated. Perhaps this is also why there’s a Cabin located at the top of Chris’ Run. We gladly welcomed an excuse to take a break, drink some water, and relax inside the heated Cabin.
Resting here turned out to be exactly what was needed to restore our spirits. That and the fact that getting back to the Lodge was predominantly downhill. It was rather enjoyable and quite rewarding zigzagging all the way down. We took the Cabin Trail down to Parizo Trail and then glided back along Sugar Road to Fox Track to the Lodge.
Once we made it back to the Lodge we took off our skis, crossed the road, and planned to ski to the von Trap Brewing Bierhall Restaurant for some lunch. But after assessing the conditions of the trails (there are two – but one was closed because it was quite icy and the other looked a little dicey), so we decided to head back to the Lodge and trade in our skis for snowshoes (for no additional cost). It took us around 25 minutes or so to snowshoe to the Bierhall.
After stuffing ourselves with lunch we briefly contemplated taking the complementary shuttle back to the Lodge. But decided the best way to burn off the bloat was to walk around. We strapped on our snowshoes and ventured back out on the icy trail to the Lodge.
We returned our snowshoes, hopped in the car, and headed over to the Ben & Jerry’s Factory for a tour and (let’s be real) dessert. Founded by two childhood friends, Ben and Jerry revolutionized the ice cream scene by adding chunky bits of candies, cookies, and chocolate to their ice cream. They opened up their first ice cream shop in Burlington Vermont in a renovated gas station.
The Ben & Jerry’s Factory is located about 20 minutes from the Trapp Family Lodge. They offer guided tours throughout the day that are about 30 minutes in duration to learn about the process for making ice cream followed by a free tasting. We arrived a few minutes before the start of the next tour, eagerly forked over $4 each and joined the queue. The tour itself was kind of a let down. We watched a short film about the story of Ben and Jerry and then toured around the facility while our guide pointed out different types of machines and gadgets to make and package the ice cream. The best part was the tasting at the end. We sampled some lemon ice cream with shortbread and white chocolate chunks. And because the group of people we were with didn’t have much of a sweet tooth, we got to go back for seconds. Mmm.
Day 2: Cross-Country Skiing at Craftsbury Outdoor Center
The Craftsbury Outdoor Center boasts of being one of the best places to cross-country ski in Vermont. With over 400 acres of land, there are dozens of cross-country ski trails that weave through the forest, around open fields, and over frozen lakes. We were a little skeptical about cross-country skiing here as we found out the day before that they were hosting a series of races over the weekend. Their website highlighted the sections that would be closed off for the competition. But given our struggles yesterday (and maybe our lack of fitness) we were totally fine to bypass the advanced trails and most of the intermediate trails.
We arrived at the chalet around opening hours and forged our way through the swarms of intense cross-country skiers in their legit outfits to get our trail pass and ski rentals. Thankfully the section for the races were well marked off. But just to make sure we didn’t accidentally wind up on the race trails, we kept mostly to the sections on the outskirts. And also because these areas were noticeably less busy.
From the Touring Center we headed south towards the trail around Duck Pond. It’s reputed to be one of the most popular trails in the area, so we were eager to knock that out as early as possible.
From there we headed back towards the Touring Center and followed along the Cabin Trail (briefly) to get to Great Hosmer Pond. At first we were a little uncertain on how to proceed. It was lightly snowing all morning and it wasn’t clear whether the tracks continued around the lake or onto the lake itself. But we did spot a pair of skiers out on the lake so we figured that was the right path. Plus, we were also kinda curious to see what it would be like to cross-country ski overtop a frozen lake. We forged our own path for the first little stretch before coming across tracks set by other skiers. The surface was easy to glide over, but our poles were kind of useless (it was hard to get them to grip into the ice to push off). We followed the trail along the shoreline of the lake. At around the midpoint the lake narrows so we took this as a great opportunity to take a shortcut and cut across the lake.
Once we looped back to the southern tip of the lake we veered west and completed the second half of the Cabin Trail. We took a loop around Fox Run, doubled back along the Cabin Trail to Murphy’s Field, and then found our way back to the Touring Center. The place was still packed with racers. We fought for a place along the seating area to take off our boots and returned them along with our skis over at the counter. Turns out skiing here during a racing day wasn’t a bad call after all. The trails themselves weren’t very busy – especially further away from the chalet. If anything, it probably kept away other recreational skiers.
On the drive back to Boston we cut through the Franconia Notch section of the White Mountains. This was the same area we visited back in October to enjoy the fall foliage. Except this time the landscape was covered in a thick blanket of snow. To break up the drive and stretch our legs, we pulled over at the parking area for The Basin and followed the short trail down to a series of little waterfalls. The conditions were ideal for a light stroll in this wintry wonderland.
From the White Mountains it was about a two hour drive back into Boston. As we started to near the city the light snow turned into a light rain. Sigh. We were a little bummed to leave all the snow behind. It’s definitely been a weird winter with unseasonably warm temperatures. And this might have been our only opportunity to cross-country ski all season.
L & K