America’s East Coast classic tends to get overlooked by UK travellers. But Jon Secrett’s road trip through Vermont discovered cross-country heaven.
Colorado, California, Utah… when Brits hit the US with wintersports on their minds, it’s usually en route to one of the big three. Yet Vermont, on the opposite side of the country, has a special place in US ski history. It was here that America’s first alpine ski lift was built, and the East Coast state has long been home to many snowsports Olympians (learn to ski in sometimes icy, wind-blown Vermont, say locals, and you can do it absolutely anywhere). What’s more, it’s a far shorter hike for UK travellers than its western rivals, a three-hour drive from either Boston or Montréal, both of which make for excellent city-break pit stops on a trip.
And while New England lacks the Alps’ spectacular drama, the scenery here has a sleepy, seductive prettiness that’s not confined to its famous displays of autumn colours, with large, clear frozen lakes and woodland cascading down each mountainside. Towns drip picture-postcard New England charm and a tranquillity that feels light years from modern life, and their proximity to each other makes skiing several areas in one trip a breeze.
Okemo is an efficient, family-run resort built on good snow – easy mountain access, nifty groomers – and great service, with the brand new Jackson Gore resort its high-luxury jewel. Beginners and intermediates are the best catered for on the slopes, and an impressive 97 per cent snow-making coverage keeps the surface pretty reliable. (There’s no hiding from the cold, though, when Vermont’s biting Atlantic winds kick in – investing in quality thermals, handwarmers and neck gaters is a no-brainer.
At the other end of the scale, Killington is Vermont’s party-animal playground. The state’s busiest ski area, Killington’s seven mountains combine 200 trails and 140km of terrain for all levels, plus enough lodges, hotels, bars and restaurants to keep any visitor happy for weeks on end. The Wobbly Barn’s rickety architecture, friendly vibe and hearty fare is an unpretentious slice of rustic Americana, and its upstairs venue hosts regular live bands and club nights.
Next stop is Sugarbush, an hour down Route 100 through picturesque towns and villages seemingly untouched in years, and just screaming ‘Coffee stop!’ (sorry, eco-worriers, but hire car is so the best way to cruise America). Sugarbush caters for all abilities, and more experienced riders can take advantage of the resort’s best feature – its ungroomed runs. Some – Castlerock, Middle Earth – get a bashing just twice a year, making for fantastic, challenging terrain whatever the conditions. After a good snowfall, it’s phenomenal.
The final resort on my tour of Vermont’s greatest hits was Stowe, a prototype Vermont town, with a church steeple rising above tree-lined streets of tidy clapboard houses. Like its neighbour resorts, Stowe lays on every modern comfort and convenience, without diluting the sense of local history that makes Vermont feel so unique as a wintersports destination. More evidence of the state’s pedigree as the US’s original skiing heartland is on show at the quaint Vermont Ski Museum, and nearby Mount Mansfield, the state’s highest peak, is your playground, another decent all-rounder.
The big cultural draw, whether by virtue of passion for postwar Euro-American history or the trillings of Dame Julie Andrews, is the Trapp Family Lodge, with its Nordic Ski Centre, opened in 1968 by Johannes von Trapp (yes, of the famous singing alpinists). Vermont is virtually synonymous with cross-country skiing, and the Trapp centre offers more than 100km of back-country trails which heave on beautiful winter days with skiers shooshing their way through magnificent mountain scenery. The Lodge is a magnificent place to stay too, among breathtaking views and dishing up gourmet dining in a cosy, European-lodge style. Night skiing is among the après choices, and a drink at the imposing antique mahogany bar at the Stowe Inn and Tavern is a classic evening ritual.
If you’re all about downhilling all day long, snow conditons and occasionally brutal weather may make Vermont just a little too risky as a transatlantic prospect. For the cross-country crew, and those prepared to give it a shot on a day off the mountain, its an unmatched Eden of big skies and endlessly varied terrain. Those who are all about relaxing in luxury will find the usual American hospitality deal here – quietly spectacular services and facilities (and if you simply must have a ski concierge, darling, Stowe Mountain Lodge is where you should park your matching designer luggage).
Getting there: Boston and Montreal are both realistic gateways with 3-4 hour transfer times. For Boston, British Airways (www.ba.com), from £249 return and American Airlines (www.americanairlines.co.uk), from £228 return fly from London Heathrow. For Heathrow to Montreal, Air Canada (www.aircanada.co.uk), from £296 return are your options.
high-end: Virgin Holidays (www.virginholidays.co.uk)
mid-range: Crystal ski (www.crystalski.co.uk)
budget: Ifyouski.com (www.ifyouski.com)