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.
What’s the best family adventure you can have on a mountain without putting on a pair of skis?
Since there isn’t snow year-round in Vermont (how I wish!) I’m always looking for the best answer to this question. I’m happy to report that when my family visited Stowe Mountain Resort one bright August morning we discovered an entire range of answers that included flying down the face of Mount Mansfield on a zipline and swinging through the trees at the end of a rope.
Our day began on at the new Adventure Center, a gorgeous soaring building in the Spruce Peak Base Area. Although the ropes course and zipline are both located on Mount Mansfield, which is across the street, all tours start with a visit to the registration desk and Gear Zone here.
We had decided in advance to divide and conquer our mountain fun. My husband Matt and 14-year-old son Tommy grabbed harnesses and headed off for the ZipTour, a series of three ziplines that course down the face of Mount Mansfield offering thrills and views. I was lucky enough to try the Stowe zipline with my fellow Mamas the previous summer, and had my younger son wanted to, would have jumped at the chance to give it another whirl.
But 11-year-old Teddy was not enthused by the idea of the height and speed of the zipline opting instead to suit up for a TreeTop Adventure on the ropes course.I wasn’t feeling my best that day and decided I would serve as Teddy’s personal photographer. I was secretly looking forward to playing this role – and to seeing Teddy, always a bit more timid than his brother, master something without having anyone peering over his shoulder or lapping him as tends to happen when you’re the younger child.
Learning the ropes at Stowe Mountain Resort
No one else had signed up for our time slot, so after a quick equipment check we had a private gondola ride over to the Mansfield side of the resort with our friendly guide Coddie who chatted Teddy up and made him feel completely comfortable.
Teddy has completed ropes courses before, but this was his first time in the trees at Stowe. His orientation session was detailed and thorough. Stowe’s courses use a dual-locking system that takes a little bit of time to learn but insures that you are always connected by at least one cable, enabling kids to safely move from element to another without adult assistance. During the training session you get to try your hand at locking and unlocking yourself and to cross a low wire and zipline.
Stowe offers a Kids Explorer Yellow Course and then four “adult” courses labeled Green, Blue, Red, and Black, each progressively harder. Teddy was thrilled to discover that he passed the height test for the four harder courses (had he been too short, he would have had to stick to the Yellow course). Although on the ride over to the course he had said he would start on the kids course no matter what, the orientation gave him so much confidence that he decided to start his adventure on the harder Green course.
It was awesome to see him take off through the trees without a backwards glance. I could follow him easily on the ground and offer words of encouragement on the particularly challenging elements. Since he was on his own, he could go at his own speed and he loved everything that he tried from the “Swiss cheese boards” as he called them,
to the wavy bridge,
to a sideways ladder.
The elements got higher and more challenging as the courses got harder, until he was far above me, moving nimbly through the canopy.
The course guides circle the bottom as well, offering words of encouragement. Visitors have the option to come down from the trees at the end of each course, but if they get stuck in between the guides are there to offer assistance as needed. Teddy did just fine without any help.
No matter where you choose to come off the course, you get to end with a series of scenic ziplines, which are a bit less intimidating than those on the mountain face.
Teddy completed three of the four harder courses before he got too tired, needing lunch and a drink of water. I loved how much confidence this gave him – maybe next time he’ll even have the courage to try the ZipTour.
Ziplining down Vermont’s tallest mountain
Meanwhile Matt and Tommy were having adventure of their own. After a training session on a smaller zipline at the bottom of the mountain, it was just a quick gondola ride up to the top.
Tommy confessed to being a little nervous at the top, but said he got over it as soon as he took off. I was a little jealous when I watched the video they shot – it was a gorgeous day and it is just so much fun to soar down the mountain.
And it’s pretty cool at the bottom to post for a photo that offers all the stats – they definitely earned bragging rights.
I’ll never stop being a fan of winter, but if it can’t snow year round, I’ll take this flavor of fun. I imagine it will be even more gorgeous as the leaves change.
A few Stowe Mountain Resort Family Adventure tips
- The Stowe Mountain Resort ZipTour and TreeTop Adventures are open daily from June through the first week of September and then Thursdays to Sundays until the middle of October.
- Both courses are open in all kinds of Vermont weather (and since you are on the face of the highest mountain on the state, you could come prepared for changeable temperatures and conditions) but if you plan your visit for a day when the weather keeps you indoors, you can still get aerial on at the new climbing wall inside the Adventure Center. Even though we were there on a bright, sunny day my kids were tempted by it, so we will definitely be back to give it a whirl.
- Before completing either activity, be sure to use the rest room and to hydrate, especially if the day is warm. The resort provides some some water stations along the way but they are few and far between. A water bottle that can clip to your harness with a carabiner is a great idea.
- Tours are offered on the half hour throughout the day and the courses do sell out, so it’s a good idea to make reservations in advance. Save yourself some time on arrival by printing off and signing the release form ahead of time.
- If you have additional questions about either course, the Stowe Mountain Resort website has excellent FAQ sections for each activity.