If you’ve ever gone on a Vermont family ski vacation, then you know the drill. You get home and everyone demands stats: How many runs you took, how many inches of snow there were, what the temperature was.
So it was that when my family (13-year-old Tommy, 10-year-old Teddy, and husband Matt) and I got home from a winter holiday week in the Mad River Valley, which sits right in the heart of Vermont, everyone wanted to know about the skiing. When I explained that because of the weather at the end of 2015 we’d had two full days on the mountain out of six days there the universal response was, “Well, that’s a shame. Weren’t you bummed?”
And my answer every single time was a very sincere, “Nope!”
That’s because there is just so much to love about a Vermont family holiday. So much in fact that I felt compelled to create that beloved internet format – a list – to illustrate just how and why we had a wonderful, magical time.
Ten Things to Love About a Vermont Family Ski Vacation
1. Chowing down breakfast sandwiches made with Vermont Bread Company English muffins, local eggs, Cabot cheddar cheese, and thick-sliced bacon that came from a farm just up the road.
These fueled a nearly seven-mile walk in the chilly hills around Warren Village where the trails of Lincoln Peak at Sugarbush Resort winked at us like old friends, daring the sky to cloud over and snow.
2. Snow! The day after our walk Vermont saw its first winter storm. The roads were too slippery to drive, so we cozied up in our condo and started a fierce Battleship tournament, played over several days. It was double elimination and came down to a final battle between Mom and Dad. Mom’s not saying who won.
3. Fresh tracks. Once the plow had come through and the roads were a bit safer we were on the road bright and early, headed for Mount Ellen at Sugarbush Resort. Five misty runs on Rim Runner at the top of the Summit Chair may not have afforded any views, but the texture of the snow was great.
Maybe there weren’t a lot of trails open – we didn’t really notice. The boys sought out every jump they could find and Matt and I were both happy to get our ski legs back after a long summer and fall break. We stayed all day until the lifts shut down and then headed to the Mad River Barn for treats like crab hush puppies and local ale braised short rib followed by some intense foosball.
4. R & R. Did I mention that I read three books while we were in Vermont with almost no interruptions except the occasional nap? Or that I was stretched out next to a roaring fire in the woodstove while I did so? Or that my view out the window was of dusky towering pines frosted with white?
5. Watching the new Star Wars movie at The Big Picture in Waitsfield. We arrived early and snagged two of the cozy velvet loveseats in the back of the theater. Matt and I sipped delicious local beer (Lawson’s Sip of Sunshine for me and a new beer called Focal Banger made by the Alchemist Brewery for Matt) and enjoyed peeking around the corner of our seat at the boys who were so transfixed that they forgot to poke each other or bicker.
6. Scout’s Honor ice cream at The Sweet Spot. Or rather, the fact that the owners of this small bakery know my family so well from our repeat visits that when Tommy asked if he could have maple buttermilk ice cream for lunch they knew we’d say yes.
Johnny, who scooped the treat into a cone, has for years seen Tommy enjoying his ice cream for breakfast during our summer visits to the Waitsfield Farmer’s Market. When Tommy exclaimed that the ice cream was his favorite flavor he laughed and said “You always say that.” The ice cream was a platonic mix of warm sweetness and tang, creamy smooth and was our new favorite until Johnny gave us a generous free sample of cheesecake ice cream, which is just what it sounds like only better.
7. The thrill of arriving at Stowe Mountain Resort for a day on the mountain and learning that Nancy Kerrigan would be skating on their gorgeous new ice rink in the afternoon. She performed for the crowd while Tommy and I were enjoying one last run (see Number 9) but when we arrived at the rink was on the ice with a group of lucky kids who got to skate with her.
Petite and friendly in a simple green jacket and pom-pom hat she signed autographs and looked just like any other mom as she caught a little girl who fell backwards into her arms. That is until she started moving around the rink like a fairy princess and you realized that yeah, she’s won a few Olympic medals.
8. Meeting the Swiss Mister at the bottom of Stowe’s Fourrunner Quad chair. His beard and hair were tinted green and like Santa, he carried something on his back: A big container of hot chocolate.
Teddy couldn’t believe his luck and dropped his poles in his eagerness to take a small steaming cup full. Then he stood there for a full ten minutes telling everyone who approached the lift line, “They’re giving away free hot chocolate. It’s deeeelicious.”
9. Last run of the day, just me and Tommy, off of the Stowe Gondola. It was cloudy and snowing most of the day but cleared off just as we hit the snow one last time. As always, from the face of Mount Mansfield, Vermont’s highest mountain, it seems as if the entire state was spread before us, a quilt, a tapestry, a winter tableau. Best of all was the fact that we were among the last people on the mountain and had the carve-able bumps on the long fall lines of the iconic Perry Merrill trail all to ourselves.
10. Eating a huge fried chicken dinner complete with stout infused gravy, a homemade biscuit, and garlic mashed potatoes at The Reservoir in Waterbury (known locally as The Rez) without even going home to change out of my ski pants. Being glad I wore my loose pair when I then sampled some of Tommy’s maple pot de creme. Hey, I only had a few bites. Well maybe five or six. In the interest of research.
One more bonus story: Riding the lift at Mount Ellen I was explaining to my friend Candice how much fun my family was having even though we had been in Vermont for several days before a snowstorm created conditions conducive for a ski day. “It’s just so relaxing to be here,” I said realizing at that moment not only how true those words were but how much my mental health had improved in just a brief period of time. To my left sat a perfect stranger who was listening in our conversation and couldn’t help but join in. “I feel like I start breathing more deeply the minute I cross the Vermont state line!” he exclaimed. “It’s the best feeling.”
Time and space to breathe – and be – together. That’s ultimately what a Vermont family (ski) vacation is all about.
Mara Gorman may live at sea level now, but she’s a native New Englander and mountain aficionado who grew up skiing in Vermont. She spends as many days each winter as she can chasing her two teen boys through glades and across mogul fields and regularly journeys far and wide to get on the slopes. Mara blogs about her family’s many travel adventures at The Mother of all Trips. She is also the author of The Family Traveler’s Handbook and an award-winning freelance writer whose work has appeared in various USA Today print publications as well as on websites such as BBC Travel. When there’s no snow, Mara and her family can be found hiking, biking and eating around the United States and Europe.