After last season’s record-breaking snowfall — it was the whitest February in Vermont’s history, with more than 3 feet on the ground in Burlington alone — skiers are crossing their tips in hopes that 2008-2009 will be another snow-show. Resorts are banking on it, too: Ski Vermont reports that 11 of them have spent $22.5 million on infrastructure upgrades for the winter ahead.
But even if Jack Frost is slow leaving the starting gate or lags behind all season, the 12,000 people who work at Vermont resorts will still offer dozens of creative distractions to their guests. And if snow does arrive, family members who don’t ski or board can try other, less edgy ways to go downhill fast. (Think tubes. The inflatable discs are popping up all over at resorts, along with conveyor-belt-type lifts to let folks skip the soggy hike back up the hill.) Here’s a look at what’s in store at some Vermont ski areas, besides the obvious skiing and snowboarding.
Maybe the whir of mountain-bike wheels on the Kingdom Trails or the swish of a paddle dipped in Lake Willoughby is enough music for some in the Northeast Kingdom. Not at Burke Mountain, where a new live music series will make some noise at the 240-acre resort. Held at the Tamarack Grill, it features such artists as the Two Man Gentleman Band, a kazoo-and-banjo-playing duo that performs for under $10 per customer on November 20. To help get things wacky, Tamarack has 14 beers on tap.
With $8.4 million in upgrades to its skiing and snowboarding experience — including two new lifts, new trails and the Burton-built Stash (an “organic” terrain park) — the Big K is focusing mostly on its on-slope activities this season. But one of the country’s most renowned après-ski areas also has a big party planned for its 50th-anniversary celebration from December 12 to 14. Early comers can enjoy a founder’s dinner at the Grand Resort Hotel, a torchlight parade, a birthday bash and plenty of the area’s legendary wings and Goombay Smash drinks.
To non-skiers and riders, spending hundreds on a couple of boards and a pair of uncomfortable boots may seem like throwing money down the toilet. But Mad River Glen has actually thrown its money in the toilet: Its newly renovated bathrooms are one of the area’s highlights for the 2008-2009 season. “Ladies will notice the new flooring and ceilings, stall dividers, sinks and a diaper-changing table,” reports the resort’s Echo newsletter. Naturalists, meanwhile, can check out some of MRG’s environmental programs, which include hikes and slideshows to familiarize guests with Mother Nature as they patiently await her goods.
You must be at least 44 inches tall to enter Magic Mountain’s sole off-slope activity (unless you count drinking Genny on tap at Goniff’s Pub). That’s the Alakazam Tube Park, where the Londonderry resort charges $20 for twilight tubing from 4 to 7 p.m., $25 for a half-day and $35 for a full day — which is a lot of time on an inner tube.
Southern Vermont’s latest attraction is a brand-new tubing park in the “Mixing Bowl” area near the Grand Summit Resort Hotel, where sliding fans can get a session for $20 or a single ride for $10. Think sledding without the slog back up the hill, since tubers (at least 42 inches tall, the average height of a 6-year-old boy) get their own Magic Carpet lift to ascend the 650 feet to the top. Another new twist on the toboggan tradition: Top- 40 music plays from 10:30 a.m. until 7 p.m. on Saturdays and the rest of the week on a slightly more restricted schedule. Should no snow fall in the Mixing Bowl, Mount Snow has an arsenal of 250 high-tech fan guns to help blow some manmade pow.
Like Mount Snow, Okemo’s got a new tubing park — it officially opened last season. For $9 an hour, sliders can ride up the Magic Carpet and zip down inner tubes on one of four groomed chutes, provided they measure 42 inches or more. Meanwhile, a 6000-square-foot indoor golf-training center with a computerized virtual simulator gives duffers an ersatz day on the links. And a new 18,000-square-foot fitness center called the Spring House, featuring pools, a hot tub, a studio and courts, keeps skiers and riders busy even when conditions are a little too late-spring-like.
Smuggs is known for keeping even the crankiest of families happy with a blizzard of off-hill activities. Among the latest attractions: airboarding, which involves flying down the hill on an inflated, raft-sized sled. For $25 you can learn the basics, plus rent the board and get in an hour of sliding. (Helmets, not surprisingly, are required.)
For something even more out there, check out the “Flower of Life” workshop at Smuggs from November 14 to 16. According to coordinator Peter Katz, participants will practice “MerKaBa” meditation to attune and activate their first energy field, discover “how the human race actually began,” and learn how the “Ascension and Second Coming are at hand.” The cost is $250, not including meals or lodging.
By Christmas week, Sugarbush will have a nifty gift ready for its après addicts: 1200 more square feet in its Castlerock Pub and a bigger kitchen to produce a more varied menu. Maximizing the new space, the resort will turn the addition’s roof into a barbecue deck with a fire pit. The ‘Bush’s biggest buzz is a 12-passenger Pisten Bully snowcat to be used for the East’s only cat-skiing (riding a snowcat up the mountain to prime powder stashes). Its other job will be to take guests up to Allyn’s Lodge for special fireside dinners, even when the skies serve up a meager snow dish.
It’s hard to care about bare slopes when you’re wrapped in Icelandic-moss-infused seaweed after a rosemary-and-citrus Vichy shower and a scalp massage with white pine, balsam fir and silver fir extracts. At $195, the “Pure Nature” body treatment at the Spa at the Stowe Mountain Lodge is part of the $400 million spruce-up to the resort’s Spruce Peak, which is filled with enough shiny new stuff to lure skiers and riders from the fabled Front Four when the snow’s not flying.
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