Northern Vermont
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Northern Vermont

Leave hassles behind at these tot-friendly ski resorts.

Goodbye Slippery Slopes!


Had it with overcrowded trails, long snack bar lines, and grumbling kids? Northern Vermont will change your attitude about family skiing in the East.

This picture postcard region is home to 4,000-foot, snow-capped mountains, powdery slopes, and luxuriously long downhill and cross-country trails. You won't see any of those tacky neon signs and tourist traps common to most downhill areas. Log cabins and lifts are about as manmade as it gets.

More important, the skiing is top-notch. Mt. Mansfield, the state's highest peak at 4,395 feet, makes Stowe Mountain Resort the preferred destination of hotdoggers and snowboarders.

But here's a secret: It's great for families too, thanks in part to Smuggler's Notch, a world-class ski area that caters to kids on the other side of the mountain (if you have the right lift ticket, you can ski between Stowe and Smuggler's Notch).

In summer, Stowe and Smuggler's Notch are a Mecca for mountain bikers and hikers. Nearby Lake Champlain (at 278,400 acres, it's more a mini-ocean than a lake) attracts boaters, swimmers, and anglers. And in fall, the state plays host to the great spectator sport of leaf peeping.

Downhill All the Way


Stowe Mountain Resort
(c) Landewehrle Studio

More than 200 inches of snow each year make winter THE time to come here. Although the area is loaded with ski resorts, most folks pick Stowe and Smugglers' because they get the most powder. Plus, there are sleigh rides and snowmobiling for non-skiers.

Smugglers' Notch: "Awesome" is how kids describe this self-contained village with stores, restaurants, and 550 condominiums. The skiing is great, the instructors are cool, there are two terrain parks for snowboarders, and there's great stuff to do at night.

Parents love it because they can drop kids off at Snow Sport University (a skiing day camp) during the day, and slip away unencumbered. Day skiers, too, can pay to put their kids in the camp (but the rest of the resort's amenities are off limits).

On the slopes, there are 67 trails, including the East's only triple-black-diamond run. It's definitely not an easy ski area, but the academy trains these kids to be great skiers.

Besides skiing, there's also a mind-boggling number of distractions for infants and older kids. One of the most popular is The Outer Limits. This room is fully loaded with Internet access, movies, karaoke, laser tag, foosball, and salsa socials -- total teen heaven. So, while your 14-year-old is hanging with newfound friends at night, put the tots in free child care and ride the lift to Top of the Notch, where you'll be served a candle-lit, gourmet meal.

Stowe: For a more adult-friendly place, try Stowe on the other side of the mountain. With 47 wide trails and more skiable acres than Smuggler's Notch, it's more like skiing in the West or Europe. Stowe's average trail length is 3,603 feet, the longest in New England. Stowe's also a leader in snowboarding instruction for all ages. Once you know how it's done, ride its terrain park, with world-class pipes. Kids' programs are available, but unlike Smugglers', they're not the main attraction. You can stay slopeside, or in nearby motels, hotels, or antique-filled B&Bs.

If you want to ski both resorts, one trail will get you there when the conditions are right (you must ski over a pond, which, of course, has to be frozen). Lift privileges, however, change every year. Officially, you must buy a lift ticket to ski the other side of the mountain at that area's office (Smugglers' Notch packages generally include a lift ticket for Stowe). But, word of mouth has it that both Stowe and Smugglers' give "visiting" skiers one free lift ride back to their original area.

For Cross-Country Lovers


(c) Smugglers' Notch Resort

The hills here may be alive with downhill skiing, but flat cross-country trails are the main attraction at the Trapp Family Lodge (run by the original Trapp family of Sound of Music fame). Even locals use the extensive network of trails -- 45 kilometers of groomed trails, 100 kilometers of backcountry trails. It's also a snowshoeing center, and there are sleigh rides as well.

Leaf Peeper's Paradise

With its high elevations and maple trees, Northern Vermont is usually first on the fall foliage calendar. Leaves start turning the third week in September and maintain their brilliant colors through mid-October. Planning tip: Reserve your hotel room early -- by September, most accommodations are sold out.

Colors can easily be seen by car, from the porch of a country inn, or by cruising among the treetops in a gondola at Stowe. But the best way is by foot, on many of the great local trails:

  • For serious hikers: Get a workout on Sunset Ridge Trail. It's a classic ascent up Mt. Mansfield, climbing 2,500 feet in 3.3 miles. Hiking is mostly on bare rock.
  • The easy route: At Camel's Hump State Park, 10 miles from Stowe, trails leading to the 4,083-foot summit are surprisingly easy and perfect for family hikes.

Maple Sugaring and Mountain Biking


Mount Mansfield (c) Allen Karsh

When Northern Vermont melts, it's just the beginning. Come summer, there's even more to do here:

  • Mountain biking: For daredevils, try one of the 20 trails Stowe has carved into its downhill slopes for advanced riders. There are also hooks on the lift for your bike. For rookie riders, Smuggler's Notch has retrofitted its X-C ski trails for biking -- a considerably tamer experience. Stowe, too, is doing the same.
  • Fishing: The Green Mountains are known for great wilderness fishing. You'll find trout in the cold streams of the backcountry, or under one of Vermont's many covered bridges. Get a fishing map and a Vermont fishing license at Fly Fish Vermont in Stowe.
  • Maple sugaring: Anyone can watch famous Vermont maple syrup being tapped from March to April at the Trapp Family Lodge. There are also demonstrations showing syrup being made into sugar. Lodge guests can taste one of Vermont's favorite delicacies in a traditional "sugar-on-snow" party every Saturday (it's literally maple sugar on snow).

Dashboard

Type of trip: Skiing, outdoor sports, scenic drive

Best ages: Kids ages 2 and up and active adults

Ideal trip length: You'll need at least three days to explore all the slopes.

Distance: Burlington (36 miles); Montreal, Canada (131 miles); Boston (200 miles)

Best time to go: Winter. Slopes are generally open from Thanksgiving through mid-April.

Weather: Winter temperatures usually include a "minus" in front of them. January highs hit 25 degrees, at best; April's average is only 53; July can climb to 81.

Squirm factor: None

If You Go...


(c) Smugglers'
Notch Resort

Smugglers' Notch 4323 Route 108 S, Jeffersonville Phone: 800-451-8752

 

Stowe 5781 Mountain Rd. Route 108 Phone: 888-253-4849

 

Stowe Village (c) Stowe Mountain Resort Landewehrle Studio 1999

Trapp Family Lodge 700 Trapp Hill Road, Stowe Phone: 800-826-7000

 

Fishing: Get a fishing map and a Vermont fishing license at Fly Fish Vermont in Stowe Phone: 802-253-3964

More Information:

Lamoille Valley Chamber of Commerce Phone: 802-888-7607

 

Stowe Area Association Phone: 802-253-7321 Note: Also offers hiking maps

Skiing: Vermont Ski Association

 

Foliage: Get Vermont Foliage Reports from the Vermont Dept. of Tourism, complete with suggested driving loops. Phone: 1-800-837-6668

 

Covered Bridges


Covered Bridges (c) Art Phaneuf

Complete the Vermont experience by driving past a covered bridge or two -- there are 14 in Lamoille County, where Stowe is located; the most in any county in the state. They're fairly spread out, so you'll need a car, a horse, or a snowmobile to see more than one. Vermont has more standing covered bridges than anywhere else. Prevailing wisdom has it that they were built in the late 1800s, long after those in other states. For a map of local covered bridges, call Stowe Area Association at 802-253-7321.

 

Best souvenir: Maple syrup and maple sugar candy, available at most stores. The best stuff is from local sugarhouses. Try Nebraska Knoll Sugarhouse, 256 Falls Brook Lane, Stowe, 802-253-4655. Both places are tiny, so call ahead to make sure they're open before you go.

Traffic Alert: Smuggler's Pass on Route 108 is closed during the winter. Smuggler's Notch Ski Area and Stowe are completely accessible at all times. Reviewed April 2004

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