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Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Mt Ascutney - a Vermont Winter Getaway

I am great at traveling but I have to admit, I am terrible at relaxing. Lazy days aren't in my wheelhouse and if there's a quiet day on my weekly planner, you know I am going to fill it with something (a new house project, a house deep clean, etc). There is nothing like the holidays and getting sick to show you just how run down you are. I also took a few new projects for work which added to my work and stress load. Holiday hustle, work, and back-to-back colds left me worn down. I was all ragged edges and little patience, so much congestion and attitude, all just in time for another COVID surge. 

Winters can be long and dark here in New England. The only way to survive is to find something you love to do in the winter. For me, it's skiing and we planned a winter ski trip in January, strategically placed before Adam's parents head out for a month-long trek to Florida. We bought Epic passes, so excited to ski after being pregnant last winter, only to forget we were running really low in the childcare department. We invited Adam's parents to stay with us (and watch the baby while we skied) and it could not have worked out better. They were happy to hang out at the condo, we snuck away to ski, and we all spent the afternoons and evenings relaxing. Vermont is a perfect place to unwind, to acknowledge that winter is a season of stillness. That you can spend cold bright sunny days enjoying the mountains but when the sun goes down at five, it's time for stillness.  The landscape reminds you to slow down as you drive down its windy roads. No traffic, just long drives through small towns that beg you to pull over and admire a covered bridge or winding river. Four nights in Vermont recharges your batteries. It was slow mornings, easy days, and lazy afternoons. We went out to dinner one night and the rest of the time, opted to stay in the condo, cooking meals and enjoying the slow pace of life. Nowhere to be, nothing to do, no project to be completed. 

It was one of the best trips we have taken in a while. A search for an affordable yet updated and spacious place to stay led us to Holiday Inn Club Vacations Mount Ascutney Resort. This beautiful resort sits at the foot of what was once a bustling ski resort, Mount Ascutney (started in the 1940s with a rope tow and expanded until eventually going into foreclosure and closing in 2010). The mountain is in southern Vermont, right off I-91, and was actually the first place I ever learned to ski. The mountain closed in 2010 and now operates on a much smaller scale. 

At first, I was a little disappointed to see this beautiful ski resort closed, but there is something just so lovely about seeing a place return to a bit of its wild side. There is a rope tow and t bar lift on the lower part of the mountain run by Ascutney Outdoors on weekends only, snow permitting.  There is a sledding hill with a 500-foot tow rope. You can backcountry ski the trails and snowshoe, you can cross country ski at a groomed loop at the Mile Long Field - all free of charge. Ascutney is a quiet mountain that you can explore at your own pace, very inexpensively or free. It's weekend solitude and family-friendly, what feels like a budget-friendly quiet oasis as the neighboring mountains endure lengthy lift lines and rising lift ticket prices.  

There wasn't enough snow for us to enjoy the mountain but we loved waking up every morning to the gorgeous snowy views, taking Whitney out in the afternoons for his first sledding experiences. The resort (independent of Ascutney Outdoors) had a gigantic indoor heated pool, a movie theatre, a nice gym, a restaurant, and just about every amenity you needed. Quiet mountainside relaxation at its finest. 

When we wanted to ski, we made the 35-minute trek to Okemo. We skied Thursday and Friday, disappointed by the lack of snow and open terrain (less than 50% open in January), but so excited to be back on the mountain. We took the 2020/2021 winter off of skiing because I was (very) pregnant and our 2019/2020 season was cut very short due to COVID. We were two parents let loose on the ski slope, free to enjoy our days at whatever pace we wanted. We usually skied from about 9/10 to 1/2, opting for shorter days with the icy conditions and limited terrain. 

When the line of cars pulling into the parking lot at Okemo on a Saturday morning had us cringing, we turned around and headed back to Ascutney. I checked google maps and found "Sitzmark Ski Shop" 5 minutes away from where we were staying. Adam called the number and got a hold of Tom, the 87-year-old shop owner who had called this shop home for a long long time. He told us he had just retired but would be willing to rent us something he had leftover, his last customer he claimed. We pulled up to the old A-Frame and Tom drove down the hill across the street to meet us. 

Immediately, he was a tornado of personality. His persona was larger than life and he told us story after story of his life. He told us about his glory days as a lacrosse player, how he bought the 2 acres the ski shop sits on for $600 many many years ago. He talked about his college friends, his sons, his life on skis, about his first tick in Old Lyme Connecticut, his college friend in Fenwick, and so much more. He was so knowledgeable, so entertaining, and so full of life. We rented skis for next to nothing and ended up eventually buying a pair of cross country skis at a fair price. You could tell Tom was sad to see his shop slowly empty, but I promised him these skis would be well-loved and used. Meeting Tom was just another lovely part of the trip, meeting the friendliest Vermonter, seeing his passion, and scoring some affordable rentals and used gear.

We took them back to Ascutney where Adam quickly learned cross country skiing was nothing like downhill skiing and we laughed and fell all over the place as we enjoyed an afternoon at the mountain. We eventually drove a few miles to another part of the mountain, a piece of private land that is open to cross country skiers. We were quickly reminded just how much of a workout this was and we were happy to enjoy the outdoors on a cold sunny Vermont day. We eventually packed up our skis, missing our little boy already and scheming an afternoon of taking him sledding again while the sun was shining. 

Seeing kids out on the slopes made my heart swell seven sizes. We saw the sweetest family towing their kids up the mountain on cross country skis, a family outing to spend some time on the snow. Tom's ski shop had a lineup of the tiniest skis that made me beam with excitement for the future. Every time I saw a family with their kids on the mountain, or a pack of ski schoolers go by, I nearly squealed, knowing this was going to be Whitney someday soon.

We love traveling with Whitney and it's only gotten easier with time. Putting him on a schedule and sleep training has been the best gift to us, to him, and anyone who watches him. My mother-in-law couldn't get over just how easy he is. He went to bed at 6:30 every night with roughly 5 seconds of crying before he put himself to sleep. He woke up 12 hours later, napped twice a day at 9 and 1, ate everything we put in front of him and spent his waking hours tearing around the house in his walker and smiling at us adoringly. He is an absolute joy to be around and his schedule and sleeping habits make it easy for anyone to watch him. 

Adam and I spent so many moments looking at each other smiling, commenting how lucky we are that this little human, this vacation, this life is ours. We are over the moon lucky he is ours and as I like to remind Adam with a coy smile, he is lucky we are his too. He has a full life ahead of him, one with road trips to deserts, treks up mountains, winters skiing and plane rides to exotic places. We loved the condo, the view, and the family-friendly resort at the bottom of Mount Ascutney in its entirety. We loved looking out our window to watch the snowfall, heading out to sled the hills watching the kids play in the snow. It's the perfect family-friendly vacation, with the lower section of the mountain perfect for beginners and insanely affordable for families. 

The mountain offers hiking, mountain biking, and horse trails in the summer and you bet I am already planning a trip back in the warmer months. This beautiful resort on this quiet mountain less than three hours from the Connecticut shoreline is the vacation you didn't know you needed. 

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