Ever since our first family ski vacation back in February 2014, when my three girls and I surprised my husband with a visit to Stowe, we’ve made it a tradition to hit the slopes for his birthday. We haven’t always managed to time our travels to the actual day, but looking back, we’ve celebrated Daddy with time on snow every February for the past four years. Last season the party took place at Stratton Mountain, and, as Mother Nature would have it, we were on the mountain on his actual birthday. But that hadn’t been our initial plan.
The weekend would be our family’s first at Stratton. I’d had the good fortune to ski Stratton the previous winter during one of the resort’s fabulous Women on Snow (WoW) clinics with the All Mountain Mamas—which gave me the lay of the land. I knew that Stratton’s cozy on-mountain lodging, superb grooming, and uber-fun après ski scene would appeal to my husband and daughters as much as it had for the Mamas a year earlier. We booked a three-bedroom condo in the Styles Brook neighborhood, a short shuttle ride from the base, wrapped his presents, and were on our way.
Normally when we plan a Vermont ski weekend, we get on the road from our home in New York as soon as school lets out, aiming to stay ahead of the Friday night traffic and have more time together as a family. This time, however, our youngest daughter had an important presentation with her Girl Scout troop and we didn’t get on our way until close to eight that evening. No matter. The combination of light traffic and our southern Vermont mountain destination had us pulling onto Stratton’s access road just past 11 p.m.
Meet the Mountain – Stratton 101
We woke early on Saturday to see the lawn behind our condo blanketed in snow with a big storm on the horizon the next morning. We’d contend with the snowy forecast later. Instead, we focused on enjoying one of our favorite parts about traveling to Vermont—leaving our dry, brown backyard the night before and arriving in winter’s wonderland. Gearing up quickly, we headed outside to climb aboard the shuttle that would take us from the Styles Brook condos to the base area. Stratton’s shuttles are a great way to travel to and from the mountain. They run frequently and offer myriad, convenient stops throughout the resort, making it unnecessary to drive your own car and deal with parking. For families, it’s a pleasure having one less thing to deal with.
As this was our first family trip to Stratton Mountain, we planned to make Saturday our meet-the-mountain day. We put on our boots in the base lodge and stored our stuff in a couple of the big cubbies available—another family-friendly perk—before making our way out to the American Express for a few warm-up runs on Snow Bowl Alley, Old Log Road, and Lower Wanderer. Though our girls have definitely become daredevils on the slopes over the past few years, Log Road became a fast favorite, with its classic, woodsy scenery. A greeting by an adorable black lab puppy out for a snowy walk helped, too.
The rest of the morning was spent alternating between riding the gondola to the summit and hopping on the Snow Bowl lift. My husband and middle daughter enjoyed popping into the pretty birch glades off Work Road while the rest of us swooped and carved our way down the powdery surfaces of East and West Meadows. A few inches of snow had fallen the night before offering especially smooth sailing on our early runs. Even without that dusting, Stratton’s conditions erred on the side of fabulous—the resort is frequently lauded for its excellent grooming and has upped the ante with two new fuel-efficient snowcats for the coming season.
Having gotten our bearings on the main mountain, we decided it was time to head over to the Sun Bowl where we grabbed lunch in the base lodge. Stratton’s cafeteria offerings are among some of the best and healthiest—albeit at a higher price point—of the Vermont resorts. The big noodle bowls over at the Market in the main base lodge are my favorites, but fare at the Sun Bowl didn’t disappoint.
Afternoon saw us making big turns on Sunriser Supertrail and alternating with runs down Kidderbrook. We hopped over to the Ursa chair several times to ski Polar Bear and Upper Tamarack before cruising back down to the base on 91. Lines weren’t as long on this side of the mountain and we enjoyed the mellow vibe and great snow we found over there.
Fun Under the Lights
Stratton Mountain’s vibrant après ski culture is yet another of its strong suits and the resort has a wide variety of offerings to please skiers and riders of all ages. Back at the main base area, Grizzly’s, on the second floor, had live music and folks were lined up at the huge bar three deep. If my husband and I had been there solo, that definitely would have been our scene, but with the girls in tow, Stratton’s Tube Park was calling our names.
Our tickets were for five o’clock and entitled us to a half-hour of tubing under the lights. As a family, we love sledding on the big hill behind our house. Trudging back up after a ride? Not so much. Stratton’s hill has four tubing lanes served by two rope tows and we had a ball plopping ourselves down onto our tubes and getting pulled up to the top. After several runs in which we competed to see who could go the furthest—I think it was a tie between Dad and our middle one—it was time to head back to Stratton Village to pick up a pizza.
I called Village Pie from the tubing hill to place our order and was told that our pies would be ready in about 90-minutes. When my initial shock wore off I realized that it was the Saturday evening of a very snowy weekend. Stratton tip? Give them a ring early if you want to grab your pizzas before leaving the mountain. No worries. It was plenty early and everything at Stratton is close and easy to access. We went back to Styles Brook to change out of our gear and hang wet mittens and balaclavas to dry before hopping in the car over to Village Square a five-minute drive from the condo.
The next time I visit Stratton, I’m going to make a point to spend a bit more time strolling through this area—there are a ton of great shops and eateries spread throughout the charming alpine-style enclave, which sparkles with twinkle lights after dark. Just a door away from the pizza place, Stratton Mountain Market was a great place to grab a few extra provisions for dinner—salad makings, hummus and carrots, ice cream, and some Trapp Lagers for Mom and Dad. Back at the condo we made a fire in the fireplace and spent the evening chatting about our day, reading our books, and having a family movie night. Toy Story, anyone?
Should we Stay or Should we Go Now?
In the midst of the cozy, however, the forecast loomed large. Sunday’s impending storm had been on our minds throughout the day and we’d deliberated our options over lunch and on the chair lift. We hit refresh on the hourly weather one more time, but still hadn’t made a decision. It was due to snow most of the day and through the night on Sunday—my husband’s birthday. We either had to abandon the idea of skiing and hit the road first thing in the morning or ride it out until Monday, playing hooky. Something we’d never done but always imagined doing.
The next morning my husband and I woke early to the see the first flurries coming down and decided to leave our final decision up to the lodging-gods. If our condo was available for Sunday night, we’d stay. If not, we’d pack up and get going. A call to the office cinched the deal—no one was due to check into our unit. Hooky it was. The girls were delighted by the news and my middle daughter and I made a quick jaunt down the access road to visit the Winhall Market to assemble the ingredients for a birthday dinner for Dad—we even got an ice cream cake. When we got back, the rest of the family was in various stages of suiting up for the day and we were soon back outside at the shuttle stop to kick off day two.
Putting Family First – the Birthday Bonus Edition
It would be easy to wax poetic about way the powder piled up on the trails throughout the day, giving our girls one of their first experiences of skiing on thick blankets of fresh, ungroomed snow. Suffice it to say that the day was a memorable one—one that involved all of us wishing that we had tiny windshield wipers on our goggles by afternoon!
We packed in as many runs as we could, hopping onto the gondola for one last hurrah right before the lifts stopped spinning and taking as long as possible to cruise our way down Janeway Junction and over to the winding bliss of Drifter back to the main base area, where the old-fashioned school bus shuttles would be waiting for our snowy skis and tired selves.
If the storm hadn’t come, we likely would have skied into the afternoon and gotten on the road at the end of the day, getting home in time to pack the backpacks and get ourselves in gear for a typical Monday morning. And though there was a twinge of guilt in the air when we tucked in again in front of the fire that evening, it didn’t last very long. In our hyper-scheduled daily life, these stolen hours were a huge treat, one we celebrated with an impromptu birthday dinner and some well-deserved family time, thanks to Mother Nature—and Stratton Mountain.
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