The hot dog hung suspended in the air like magic against a backdrop of brilliant blue October sky. It had been launched seconds earlier by a young man whose gaze was now fixed intently on the flying wiener, watching to see if his partner on the other side of the dirt road would make the catch. Bending down onto one knee, the receiver cupped his hands as the dog dropped safely into his waiting palms. All around were cheers and groans as competitors down the line successfully caught their hotdogs, broke them in the attempt, or watched them flop pathetically to the dusty ground.
My daughter and I had just been disqualified from Mount Snow’s infamous Oktoberfest Schnitzel Toss. Like several of our opponents’ hotdogs, ours lay in two pieces by my feet. But it didn’t really matter. Watching the game’s hijinks was just as much fun as participating.
Celebrating its 19th year this fall, Oktoberfest weekend at Mount Snow has become a well-loved annual tradition for both locals and visitors alike. In a season when fall fairs and Oktoberfest celebrations are a dime a dozen, Mount Snow’s event packs a harvest of old-world, Bavarian-style fun with a classic Vermont twist. With perfect weather on the horizon as well as reports of some pretty fantastic foliage, my three girls and I headed north on the Friday evening of Columbus Day weekend for a few days of scenic chair lift rides, pumpkin painting, mountain biking, and, for me, a stein or three of local beer.
Saturday morning arrived with the bluebird sky and golden-hued sunshine we were to enjoy all weekend, yet our breath came in frosty puffs as we made our way to the base lodge. A rotten head cold curbed my plans to lace up for the weekend’s kickoff event—the Gulp and Gallop 5k beer run—but with a name like that I still wanted to check out the race. Leaving the other two girls hibernating in our condo, my middle daughter and I, armed with cups of tea and hot cocoa from the deli, soon found ourselves in the midst of lederhosen and running shoes. A guy sporting a giant red Solo cup passed nearby and we chuckled at a hairy-chested fellow in a too-tight St. Paulie Girl ensemble. Cups filled with golden lager lined a table in front of the smiling, dirndl-clad fraulein working the keg.
Three laps around the racecourse made up the five-kilometer distance. After each mile runners had the option to toast their successful lap with a draft beer. Even without a cold, I’m not sure I would have been able to follow the run-drink-run program that early in the morning, though several brave souls were chugging away. Those who nursed theirs were subject to much heckling by the crowd.
Our tickets for the weekend gave us entry to both festival days. My “drinker” admission included a cool Oktoberfest stein and a token good for one beer. The girls’ “non-drinker” tickets treated them to Mount Snow water bottles and coupons for a soda—though I’m pretty sure they used them for hot apple ciders. As the Bluebird Express would be running all weekend, we also got all-day lift tickets for Saturday. One thing to note, Oktoberfest tickets are discounted when you buy them online in advance, so plan ahead.
With our ears filled with the booming brass oom pah pah of the Oberlaendler Hofbrau Band, we spent the next two days drinking up the festive atmosphere. I’m not sure which activities we enjoyed the most—we did everything from launching the apple slingshot at effigies of Justin Bieber and Brittney Spears to cheering at the yodeling contest, browsing for goodies at the craft fair, watching dudes try their strength in the keg toss, and racing horses in the inflatable derby where even some grown ups got into the action. Whatever we couldn’t fit in on Saturday we made sure to do on Sunday.
It’s been reported that more than six million gallons of Bavarian brew was consumed at the 2015 Oktoberfest celebration in Munich. Though there’s far more focus on imbibing at the Mount Snow’s adult-centered Labor Day weekend Brewers Festival (this year there were more than 50 breweries pouring from upwards of 100 taps), about 25 German, local, and regional beer makers setup shop beneath the resort’s Oktoberfest beer tent. My all time favorites are the crisp, delicious Austrian-style lagers made at von Trapp Brewery in Stowe. The Helles and the Dunkel top my list though they were serving up a fabulous traditional Oktoberfest brew as well. Definitely not to be missed.
For a dose of nature, we climbed aboard the Bluebird Express to the peak of Mount Snow and took a short summit tour with the mountain ambassadors. I grew up in New England, yet I honestly cannot remember ever having seen fall colors as gorgeous as we had during Oktoberfest weekend—and the views from the summit blew our minds. Because we had all-day lift tickets we rode up and back once in the morning and then rode up and hiked down later in the day. If you plan to hit the trails, be sure to grab a map from Mount Snow Sports. We accidentally found ourselves on a mountain biking trail at one point and almost got nailed by a downhill rider—not smart on our part!
While the Schnitzel Toss certainly got people’s competitive juices flowing, the Stein Holding competition was what truly separated the boys from the men, so to speak. Think it’s easy to stand, arm outstretched and parallel to the ground, clutching a stein full of beer? Given the number of hopefuls making a circle in the music tent at the beginning of the contest, I’d have to say several thought so. But it soon became apparent who the real contenders were as the weak-of-arm exited the circle, beer (or water) sloshing over the edges of their trembling cups.
Three men remained, arms straining not to quiver, faces deadpan, teeth gritted—the slightest movement of the liquid in their steins would mean defeat. As the finalists caved, first one, then another, the crowd whistled and applauded their valiant efforts before emitting a celebratory roar for the victor who beamed and drained his mug.
We capped off our day with an autumn-inspired dinner at Harriman’s Farm to Table, Snow’s culinary tribute to Vermont’s outstanding local farmers and food producers. Order the charcuterie and cheese board—it was phenomenal. Back at our condo, a fire soon roared away in the fireplace thanks to the well-seasoned wood stacked in the big shed outside. Cozy around the coffee table we debriefed our day with cups of tea and a few rousing games of Mouse Trap. Broken schnitzel aside, we’d had a pretty great time.
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