Ski lodge offers family a chance to bond on and off the slopes

Sunday, December 5, 2004

WEST DOVER, Vt. -- A four-generation ski trip to a picturesque and pastoral Vermont village sounded like the ideal family vacation. It had something for everyone: sports, shopping, great restaurants -- many of them with children's menus, ambient fireplaces and plenty of babysitters, which to the mother of a 6-week-old baby might have been the most tempting of all.

What we didn't realize until we packed for the two-week vacation at Mount Snow was that a vacation that had something for everyone meant bringing something for everyone -- about 10 times over.

In addition to the ski gear for six -- it was decided ahead of time that 91-year-old great-grandma and baby were probably better suited for lodge life -- there was the oatmeal, peanut butter, books, board games, Barbies, laptop computers, diapers, videos, art supplies, medicine, sleds, shampoo and econo-size bottles of laundry detergent that would sustain us for two weeks.

And that's not including the three large dogs and their supplies.

Needless to say, we didn't take one car to the cozy (read "small") rented house just two miles from the slopes; it took two SUVs and two cars, all filled to the point that the rearview mirrors were useless.

We're a family that has been going to Mount Snow for years. My parents, now married 36 years, first met there and we had a second home in nearby Wilmington growing up, so the much-unchanged landscape is like a comfortable parka that provides warmth and comfort. Seeing that restaurants such as Poncho's Wreck, the Silo, the Hermitage Inn and the Cup N' Saucer diner were still in business was an added bonus.

Terrain for all abilities

The Mount Snow Valley, which spreads mostly over West Dover, Wilimington and Wardsboro, also has things to do for non-skiers or on bad weather days. In the Mountain Park Plaza, there is a "multiplex," better described as a movie house with a few small viewing rooms and even smaller screens. There are many art galleries and unique craft shops; an indoor petting zoo at Adams Farm, which also offers sleigh rides and nature walks; and the designer outlets in Manchester are less than an hour away.

The focus, though, is on skiing, with most stores and restaurants posting ski reports in their entryways and old skis and poles in an "X" above the door.

Mount Snow offers terrain for all abilities and personalities, and my family runs the gamut.

Despite skiing for more than three decades, my mom sticks to the bunny trails -- her favorite green-dot slope is the long, gently winding Deer Run. Since it starts at the summit, a 3,600-foot elevation, she can do the run twice and then call it a day. I think she skis only because the rest of us do and because she likes the apres-ski life, eating sharp Vermont cheddar and grilled kielbasa in front of the roaring fire with a glass of red wine in her hand.

My father is a strong skier who can get down just about any trail, even Mount Snow's steep North Face, but since he still adores my mother after all these years, he's usually on the easiest trails, maybe taking his last run of the day with my sister and me, who are middle-of-the-road skiers.

We're neither fast nor slow, not hot-doggers nor scaredy-cats. You'll find us on intermediate trails such as the broad Snowdance or the narrow Upper Canyon, which is more challenging but less crowded. It's these Main Mountain trails bordering the North Face that represent Northeast skiing at its best: The snow-covered evergreen trees are tall, creating a barrier to the outside world. These runs are quiet, peaceful and, because they don't face the sun, quite cold in the late afternoon.

My husband is more daring, and when he has a friend to ski with, he'll go down any black-diamond that's in front of him. (He agrees that its generally not a good idea to go on the most difficult, which are often the most deserted, trails alone.)

Get youngsters involved

Mount Snow's learn-to-ski program has grown considerably over the years, and there is a full-time day care center, a playground and a mini-skier-only slope. My then-3-year-old daughter was enrolled in the Bears Den program, which divided her day into ski lessons, snack breaks and indoor playtime in the pretend beauty salon.

Several times an hour, messages are broadcast over the public-address system, which can be heard in and around the main lodges and in the main lift lines. My guess is only parents with kids at the child care center pay attention to the announcements, since this is how they'll find out if their little skier took a spill -- either on the slopes or with a cup of very hot cocoa.

The problem is that you're out of range for the public-address system if you are on a lift or actually skiing, thus requiring yet another piece of gear: two-way radios. This way, even if you are out of earshot, a friend or relative who is nearby can contact you.

The radios also are helpful if you want to meet up with friends and family while at the mountain, though with that limited reception you might find yourself finishing lunch in a designated spot as the rest of the group arrives.

You might be better served starting a family tradition that will last for years: Start the day doing your own thing -- ski, eat, shop, watch passers-by (that's what great-grandma and baby were doing most of the time) -- but come together at sundown in front of the giant fireplace at the lodge to warm your toes and your heart. It's what we do.

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