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.
I need to just get one thing out of the way before I write about my family’s New Year’s Day 2017 experience at the Middlebury College Snow Bowl: Middlebury is my alma mater and this spring will bring my 25th reunion.
Now that we’ve established just how old I, and my skiing legs, are, I’d like to point out that a quarter of a century ago I spent many happy days at the Bowl, as it is invariably called by Middlebury students. I remember making sandwiches in the school cafeteria, riding a shuttle from campus to the mountain and chatting on the lifts with friends (some of whom learned to ski there). Some January afternoons it felt like the entire student body had migrated to the base lodge. I’ll admit to you that there were days when I spent more time indoors than out.
In fact, if I’m being perfectly honest, I’ll admit that I may not have actually skied the mountain all that much.
The Middlebury College Snow Bowl Is Scenic and Skiable
All that socializing may be why I had forgotten just how pretty a mountain it is. Dotted with trees, tucked right into the middle of the Green Mountains but overlooking the Champlain Valley, this is Robert Frost country, a peaceful land of snow-dusted trees. On clear days, skiers are treated to views of an azure Lake Champlain framed by snow-capped Adirondacks in the distance. The trails surround a gem of a small lake right in the middle of the ski area, making rides up the Worth Mountain Triple Chair all the more scenic.
And one thing that’s new at the Snow Bowl since my days as a students is the fact that tree skiing is permitted. The mountain has a “boundary-to-boundary” policy, meaning that in addition to the six designated glades skiers are permitted in the woods where they can see fit to make a trail. This means that although the mountain is relatively small for Vermont, with only 17 trails and a 1000-foot vertical drop, it offers a lot of skiing.
The one unfortunate thing about our visit to the Snow Bowl was that the back side of the mountain, serviced by the Bailey Falls Chair and home to some of the more challenging terrain wasn’t open (the mountain has snowmaking on 50 percent of its terrain – I think that was most of what was open the day we were there). Fourteen-year-old Tommy and eleven-year-old Teddy didn’t let this slow them down, and after a few runs on the open trails they eagerly attacked all of the front-side glades with me chasing them.
I found the tree skiing lovely and fun if a bit sketchy, as the natural snow wasn’t too deep. My intrepid sons and their younger legs were less troubled by this than I was. But the nice thing is that since the mountain is fairly compact, I felt comfortable letting the two of them spend two hours in the afternoon skiing on their own. I’m pretty sure my boys covered as much of the mountain’s hundreds of acres of wooded terrain as was possible and open on the day we were there. When they weren’t in the trees, they were barreling down the race slope on Allen, a groomed trail whose steep face allows for some genuine speed. It was kid heaven.
The Middlebury College Snow Bowl Isn’t Just for College Kids
The last time I skied at the Middlebury Snow Bowl was in 1993 and if you’d asked me then I’d have told you with a 20-something’s myopia that the mountain was meant for me and my peers. I have not one memory of seeing a young child there. So when my family arrived I was surprised to see that kids under 12 easily outnumbered the grown ups in the lodge.
Wanting to explore this a bit further while the boys spent a happy few hours in parent-free skiing bliss, I wandered from the base lodge over to the nearby Discovery Zone where a carpet left pulls skiers up a gentle slope. The mountain offers new skiers a chance to get their legs under them using this carpet and hill for free before venturing onto one of the lifts on the main mountain. The day I visited the hill was full of young children and the atmosphere was fun and festive.
The Middlebury College Snow Bowl has a really impressive lesson program, especially given the size of the mountain. Not only do they have many instructors on staff, but they offer a variety of programs including not just private lessons but clinics and series like 5 Lessons for 5 Year Olds. I think this mountain would be the perfect place for young children to learn to ski – big enough to be an adventure, but not so big as to be intimidating.
The mountain’s commitment to young families is evident not just in its lesson programs, but in the lodge, where a cozy corner of the upper floor is home to a nook holding pictures books and toys as well as a rocking chair for nursing mothers. We enjoyed our lunch from the lodge’s small cafeteria, which had a nice selection of delicious soups and sandwiches – without the jacked up prices one usually sees at ski resorts.
Is it possible that in a few years Middlebury may be on my boys’ radars as a college choice because of the fun they had skiing? I can’t say for sure (in part because my husband, who attended a different school, thinks I lobby too hard) but I’d be willing to guess that this fun, friendly mountain doesn’t hurt the chances of this happening.
Maybe I’ll be skiing here with my grandkids some day…. Oh boy, I am getting old.
A few more things for families to like about the Middlebury College Snow Bowl
- The Snow Bowl has no slopeside lodging, but does offer a Sunday to Thursday winter stay-and-ski package with local lodging partners. The package covers lift tickets for downhill skiing and other activities including Nordic skiing at the college’s Rikert Nordic Center, snowshoeing and snow biking as well as discounts on lessons and equipment rentals. Lodging options include both cabins and inns. Although the package is for double occupancy, some of the lodging partners do offer family accommodations, and the price is still a great deal even for families with older kids like mine who would have to purchase two packages.
- The mountain has a full service rental shop that offers ski, telemark ski and snowboard rentals as well as tuning and repairs. The prices are very reasonable and they also offer a super cheap season lease deal for adults and kids.
- Although my family didn’t venture into the town of Middlebury on this visit, we’ve been there many times in the past as there are some great dining options for families. We love the Storm Café – be sure not to miss the roasted garlic and potato soup. In the winter it’s a good idea to make a dinner reservation as their indoor dining area is fairly small. 51 Main has an eclectic menu and a fun atmosphere, just know that it can be loud when there is live music. This restaurant also offers midweek family nights when kids eat free off the children’s menu. Other family-friendly favorites include American Flatbread and Two Brothers Tavern.
- Downtown Middlebury is about 15 to 20 minutes from the Snow Bowl. In the winter, a shuttle runs between the town and the mountain. And if you’re staying in the Mad River Valley (as we were), the drive is only about a half hour – I was really surprised at how close it was and how easy it was to get there on Routes 100 and 125.