The snow cat chugged up the trail as snow fell from the night sky and lift chairs hung, ghostlike, above our heads. Wrapped in wool blankets, we huddled together in the big, open-air sleigh being pulled behind the cat, our bodies insulated by both the blankets and the hot, spiked cider we’d just consumed. Rounding a bend, a warm glow shone from deep in the woods as the Ledgewood Yurt came into view, its porch wrapped in tiny, twinkling lights that glinted off the snow. We had arrived for what promised to be a unique, alpine dining experience—a five-course gourmet meal served in a large, Mongolian-esque canvas tent nestled along the Northbrook Trail. The meal was destined to be a highlight of our weekend escape to Killington.
A ski vacation tends to be a family affair and we’ve enjoyed a good amount of time on the slopes with our kids this season. That being said, it’s nice to take a break from parenting-mode once in a while, to remind ourselves what we liked about each other in the first place. Killington, boasting the largest skiable area in the East, was a great place to do just that. A stay in the Grand Hotel, a lively après-ski scene, and an awesome mix of terrain set the stage for a rejuvenating grownups-only winter retreat.
A Mountainside Haven
With our daughters happily ensconced for a weekend of grandpa-style debauchery that featured Fun Dip and Sponge Bob, we headed north on a frosty Friday evening. On a parents’ getaway, every minute counts and though the Killington access road caters to the ski culture with lots of lodging and dining options, you can’t beat staying right next to the slopes. We were booked into Killington’s Grand Hotel, just a short walk across the ski bridge from the Snowshed Base Lodge and lifts. From there, the mountain would be our oyster for the next two days. Our one-bedroom suite was spacious and comfortable and I found myself evaluating many things during the weekend through my mom-lens. With a private, queen bedded room, large bathroom with double-sink vanity, full kitchen, and sleeper sofa and queen Murphy bed in the living area, a family of five like ours would have more than enough space to spread out. For just my husband and myself, the extra space was a treat. While the public areas appear a bit dated, the room was nicely appointed with a fresh, contemporary feel. Having no kids along to put to bed, we headed down to the lower lobby to grab a local brew and chill out on the big, leather couch by double-sided fireplace. The Grand’s amenities overshadow the 80’s décor, with a fabulous, outdoor heated pool, convenient ski-valet and well-stocked coffee shop. Friendly service throughout the resort topped off a great stay. I was bummed we didn’t have the opportunity to take advantage of the on-site spa, but we loved sitting by the enormous, outdoor fire pit one evening while snow fell all around us.
Navigating the Beast
The overall vibe at Killington is young and fun. Classic rock played outside the base lodges and near the lifts and the air was filled with conversations flavored with exclamations like Dude! Gnarly! and Shred! We felt only slightly out of our element among all the 20-somethings. Though the lift lines were long, especially on Saturday, the convivial atmosphere and sugary smells wafting over from the Waffle Cabins made the wait times pass quickly. Killington’s moniker as the Beast of the East is completely accurate—it is an enormous resort with six distinct peaks, an assortment of base areas, and a wide variety of terrain. It felt a little overwhelming at first, but I got the lay of the land fairly quickly throughout our first day. Because I’m more selective with the runs I take being a newer skier, I learned my way around more easily than my husband. As an expert, he tends to ski from trail to trail and was never really sure where he was going to end up after a run. Still, we had only one experience of finding ourselves at two different lifts after taking separate ways down. For the most part though, being that this was supposed to be a date weekend, we skied together.
When we were ready to take a break, we had options all over the mountain, at both base and peak levels, each with its own, unique character. From the rootsy and rustic Bear Mountain Lodge to the cool, chic hang at K-1’s hip new Peak Lodge, great food, comfortable seating and plenty draft beers are in abundance. Saturday found the Peak Lodge absolutely packed even at 2 p.m., and we had to wait a while, finally nabbing two vacant seats at a table where some other folks were already sitting. My husband shed his boots and we tucked into our chili and chowder with enthusiasm, not once being interrupted to take a kid to the bathroom.
Après Ski, Grown-up Style
When the lifts stopped spinning, we followed the sound of music up to the Longtrail Pub in the Snowshed Base Lodge where we were greeted by a lively scene—a busy bar, platters of wings, and some sprightly fiddling coming from the stage. For a unique take on après ski, the 21 and over crowd can board a snowcat bound for the Motor Room Bar, perched at the top of Bear Mountain Peak. Housed in what once served as the drive terminal for Killington’s first quad, the funky, retro space welcomes groups of 10 for cocktails and hors d’oeurvres every Saturday throughout the season. Because participating would have cut into our dinner plans that evening, we grabbed a couple Long Trails in the pub and whiled away a relaxed hour talking about our day, enjoying the band, and anticipating the evening ahead. And that brings us back to the yurt.
Walking inside, we were greeted by the glow of candles set upon several long tables that were set family-style. Despite the wintry night, the room was warm and toasty, thanks to heat provided by a wood stove. We were led to our table where we joined two other couples and were offered baskets filled with an assortment of warm bread accompanied by pewter crocks filled with rich butter. Menus printed on cardstock lay beside each plate and described each of the evening’s five gastronomical “experiences.” Chef arrived shortly thereafter to give his take on the menu, telling us how each dish was prepared and about the fine ingredients we would soon relish. At the end of three hours, after savoring each plate and sampling several delicious wine pairings suggested by our server, we bundled into coats and hats and mittens and made our way out to the waiting sleigh. Wrapping ourselves in those same woolen blankets, our teeth chattered under the stars as the snow cat delivered us safely home.
Gina Vercesi is an award-winning freelance writer with an adventurous spirit and unwavering wanderlust. Despite growing up in New England, Gina didn’t don a pair of skis until February 2014—the result of being raised by a beach-loving dad who eschewed everything having to do with snow and cold. When she finally took her first lessons and hit the slopes at Stowe Mountain Resort, she became an instant convert. As an All Mountain Mama, Gina loves sharing the joys of Vermont skiing with powder-lovers and novices alike.
Chronicling journeys on land, water, and snow, Gina’s words and images have appeared numerous print and digital publications including National Geographic Traveler, Travel + Leisure, Sierra, the Boston Globe, Delta SKY, Afar, Yankee, and many more. She is passionate about helping families (including her own!) unplug from electronics and the frenetic pace of modern life and believes that travel and adventure are the best ways reconnect to one another and the world around us. Gina lives in a friendly village on the Hudson River with her husband, three daughters, and a good dog. www.ginavercesi.com