Finding Christmas Spirit in Vermont

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We all want snow right now, even if only for a few days. When snow falls in mid December, the child in us that hides as a grownup most of the time, feels safe to emerge, to want to play outside, and look skyward with our own children searching for the magical sleigh.

But nowhere do they want snow more than in the mountains. Skiing in the mountains of Vermont, for instance, is not just a recreation—it is a way of life and provides a living for hundreds of locals. Snow brings people to the mountain towns, and the people bring their money and that money keeps the economies in the small towns humming for months. And the people of Vermont have earned a right to a lucky winter.

Okemo’s Jackson Gore is praying for fresh snow.

Last weekend we visited Okemo Mountain resort in Ludlow, Vermont and left time for a strolling sort of Sunday in Woodstock, about 30 miles away. I have been coming to Okemo since my sons first stood on skis over 20 years ago. It’s a big mountain with a big heart—and has never felt like a super heated resort with its Vermont character stripped away. Last year my son Josh spent his winter on Okemo’s slopes as a ski patrolman and blogged about his experiences.

At this same time last year Okemo boasted 50 open trails, and most were corduroy perfect with great base. The weather this year has challenged even the most skilled snow makers. New England skiers know that if there’s going to be snow on a mountain anywhere it will be Okemo, that reputation lets them compete on equal footing with mountains with loftier steeps and even more expansive terrain. But we were looking at 5-9 trails tops, with the infamous New England boiler plate that sets your teeth on edge even if your metal edges are razor sharp.

Tropical waters are just a step away at Jackson Gore.

So was the mountain visit a loss? No, no , no. On a near full moon night we swam in an 86 degree outdoor pool, and then sunk into a 95+ degree (my guess) outdoor hot tub. I wasn’t really soothing tired skiing muscles but who would know? Maybe I was soothing my ego since a few hours earlier I had taken two runs on the Timber Ripper (think mountain roller coaster where you control the speed) and while I’d like to say I never touched the hand brake because I wanted to rip full throttle, some nervous tic in my hand must have forced it onto the brake a few times.

Ascending the Timber Ripper.

Or maybe I was simply soaking off a few too many “samples” that are always at hand at the Vermont Country Store in Weston.

If you’re on a diet, enter the Vermont Country Store at your own risk.

A seemingly endless variety of crackers and dips await you.

Your sweet tooth will feel like it’s gone to heaven.

The Sunday drive to Woodstock from Ludlow brought to life the power of the Black and Ottauquechee Rivers to tear apart lives during the late August flooding and the power of community and neighbors to keep going and rebuild. (Don’t miss Ian Aldrich’s compelling “Voices From the Flood” series.)

Imagine the power of this water to deposit a bicycle so high.

Ludlow’s citizens and visitors have longed counted on their downtown Shaw’s for groceries. While the standing Shaw’s is still being readied—within days after the flood this tent city of provisions gave hope that rebuilding was just a matter of will and time.

From a tent, Shaw’s continues to feed its loyal customers.

Roaming the aisles of a cavernous tent gives new meaning to shopping.

A crumpled sugar house by the side of the road with a plaintive message was a reminder that words alone cannot rebuild. That proud Vermonters still need strangers to pitch in and help.

A sobering stop en route to Woodstock.

It was a strange feeling to pass now serene rivers, even to stroll through Woodstock’s covered bridge and look down at the water, curling through the town with a friendly current.

Walking through a covered bridge never gets old.

The Ottauquechee River now at rest.

This was the last day of Wassail Weekend.

It was a day to admire the venerable Woodstock Inn and then to meander through inviting side streets. My eye goes to cared for wood piles, the way someone else might admire cars.

The Woodstock Inn is widely considered one of the finest country inns in America.

On a side street in Woodstock, one porch dries bedsheets and wood.

This home had mastered the art of drying wood and clothes on a single porch.

The people who make thousands of wreaths in Maine might like to visit Woodstock for it seems as if everyone in town has agreed to hang a wreath.

Wherever you looked in downtown Woodstock, a wreath met your eye.

The local gathering place in Woodstock is Bentley’s, the sort of cozy casual spot you wish you had where you lived.  It was Sunday, it was afternoon and a small crowd of strangers gathered around the televisions to watch what turned out to be a Patriot’s cliffhanger victory over the Redskins. The decorations were festive,

Can you get any more festive?

and the burgers were perfect; the Pats, alas were not, but good enough, just good enough.

We drove away in the gathering dark, through the string of villages that lead to the interstate. No snow in the forecast, but there was hope in the air, a lot of hope, that soon winter would get back to normal, even as the good people of Vermont kept on going.

Two undaunted Vermonters hope for a white Christmas.

  • I was just in the Vermont Country store and ate my heart out!!
    Beautiful pictures, sad times.

  • Can’t say it any better than those above. Terrific photos, profound thoughts. Thanks for taking us along on your trips.

  • If there is any state I could live in again it would have to be Vermont. We lived and worked in both Ludlow and Woodstock. My son went to preschool in Weston. It was and still is beautiful and the people are amazing. I loved reading this. Thanks.

  • Really enjoyed this – photos are beautiful. You have me longing for a Vermont road trip. Loved the hooray for well constructed wood piles!

  • I have always wanted to visit Okemo mtn and the woodstock area for more than 25+ years. But you *finally* have gotten me motivated. Thanks Mel!

  • Oh, the brilliant blue-sky photos at Okemo and the ride on the Ripper that gave me a thrill, all the color and festivity of the towns’ celebrations, and then…the one lone sign that stopped me short and made me cry. The light and the dark living side by side, as it always does in life. What a beautiful montage of our season, with its joys and travails. Lovely photos, beautiful words…xoxo

  • Lovely reminders of the strength and grace of Vermonters. The bicycle dangling from the tree and the Shaw’s in a tent were very sobering sights, and at the same time it is reassuring to see so many treasures intact — The Woodstock Inn, the covered bridge, Vermont Country Store. Thank you for taking us with you!

  • brings back fond memories of skiing at Okemo as a child………..great photos and thanks for including me! xo


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