Learning to ski or snowboard at an early age is the perfect way to help young children instill a love for winter. Exploring the slopes helps kids build self-confidence, meet new friends and develop a lifelong affinity for the outdoors.
Like my children do now, I spent most weekends as a kid on the ski hills here in Vermont. It wasn’t until after college that I really began to enjoy cross-country skiing. It’s a quieter and warmer, an incredible workout, and allows a more intimate connection with nature–not exactly high priorities for my eight- and 10-year-old boys, but they’ve come to love it too. Cross-country skiing with kids can be so much fun, and Stowe has a number of excellent options for getting out on the Nordic trails.
Trapp Family Lodge
Trapp‘s is world-renown for its network of Nordic trails and, in fact, will host the Junior National Cross-Country Ski Championships this March. I’ve been skiing at Trapp’s for the 12 years I’ve lived in Stowe and still find the terrain absolutely breathtaking. It’s truly one of the most beautiful places on earth.
When my oldest was 6 months old, I would bundle him up and load him into a pulk (essentially a covered sled with a seat) and escape for a few hours into the woods with baby in tow. Trapp’s is the only place I know in town that rents pulks, which are available at their Outdoor Center. The treks got shorter as the kids got older and wanted to ski on their own. Some days we never made it out of the “corral” area in front of the Outdoor Center, which is a perfect place to practice kicking and gliding along the groomed trails, or snowplowing down the gentle slope. As long as everyone is outdoors and having fun, what does it matter if your ski is a one-kilometer loop?
When you do make it out of the corral, Sugar Road is an easy trail that leads to the Picnic Knoll, a good destination for a short ski. In March, another excellent goal is the Sugar Shack, a working sugarhouse right on the trail. If you happen to be in town March 22-23, the Sugar Shack will be open to the public with free sugar on snow—always a hit in my family!
As the kids progress, the Slayton Pasture Cabin is the ultimate destination at Trapp’s. It’s a long uphill ski, but kids are rewarded with hot soup, huge cookies, hot chocolate, and a roaring fire at the cabin. We try to make it to the cabin at least once a year, usually in March when the temperatures are a little milder.
Stowe Mountain Resort Cross-Country Ski Center
Tucked into the base of Mt. Mansfield, Stowe’s Touring Center is another great option. It’s generally not very crowded and the trail system has some fun terrain for kids. For young kids or beginners, the practice loop right off the parking lot is a good place to get started.
From there, head out on the Timberlane trail for a nice little loop that includes a mid-way stop at the Bear Hut on the Burt Trail on your way back. On weekends, they usually have hot chocolate at the hut, or you can bring a pack with your own snacks. Another fun loop with kids when the snow is good is to take Picaroon off Timberlane, and then cut back on the Classic trail, which is a narrow track through the woods with lots of fun little ups and downs. My boys love this trail because they feel like they’re trekking through the back country and it’s a bit more challenging than staying in a groomed track.
Stowe Rec Path
The Nordic Barn across from Topnotch Resort offers a few easy loops around the meadow and pasture behind the barn, and connects to the town’s Rec Path. If you start at the Nordic Barn, the Rec Path offers a gentle downhill all the way into the village. My kids love to stop into Piecasso for a slice of pizza before heading back up, and a hot chocolate or s’mores at Topnotch at the end of the ski is a huge treat! The folks at the Nordic Barn are incredibly knowledgeable about cross-country skiing in the area and are a great source of information. This is also the place to go if you’re in the market for cross-country gear or equipment.
If you’re not sure about cross-country skiing, all three locations are open for snowshoeing too, which has virtually no learning curve. If you can walk, you can snowshoe. All three centers offer snowshoe rentals along with their well stocked fleet of cross-country rentals. When we need to rent, I usually to pick it up the evening before so that we’re not wasting time in the morning trying to get organized.
The Stowe Derby
No cross-country skiing post would be complete without a mention of the historic Stowe Derby, which offers a 6k Short Course along the Stowe Rec Path for families and beginners. The Derby is famous for its Long Course, which begins at the top of Mt. Mansfield and ends 20km later in the village, but kids have to be at least 14 (and pretty good on their skis) to attempt the full race. We’ve done the Short Course every year and it’s really fun. The kids get all the excitement of the race, but on a fun and mellow course. This year’s Derby is on February 23.
One last tip…Stowe’s local Laughing Moon Chocolates made a custom chocolate bark to benefit the Junior National’s at Stowe this winter. Dark chocolate with Vermont peanut butter and dried cranberries is my kind of trail snack! It may just be the boost of energy the kids need to make it that last kilometer or two.
Have fun out there!