Wintervention: Vermonters Spill Their Secrets to Surviving the Cold Season
By Sally Pollak
On a June day in 1922, the month of the summer solstice, Vermont's first poet laureate wrote "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening." Six months separated Robert Frost from the cold, dark days of winter, yet he immortalized the season for generations of Vermonters.These are the days when Vermonters consider the question: What should we do when the sun sets at four o'clock in the afternoon and it's 12 degrees outside? While it's tempting to crawl under a blanket with a cup of cocoa and a book of poetry, it's exhilarating to don a pair of skis or swim in an outdoor, heated pool as snowflakes fall.
Continuing a series started last year, we asked five Vermonters to share their favorite winter activities and destinations — the things they do and places they go not simply to survive winter, but to celebrate it. None of them suggested reading Frost's poem, but bookseller Kari Meutsch said she loves "any book where winter is as much a part of the story as any human character."
Winter weather is a central theme in Vermont for at least four months a year. Here's hoping these suggestions from fellow Vermonters will help brighten and enliven the season.
Occupations: Entrepreneur; cofounder of the Skinny Pancake; founder of a base camp for bikers and skiers opening in Waitsfield in 2023
You're a super experienced downhill skier. When you want to push the Alpine envelope, where do you go for backcountry skiing?
Oh man, where to start?! David Goodman's Best Backcountry Skiing in the Northeast is the single best resource to get into the sport, with 50 classic ski tours, almost all of which are doable as day trips from anywhere in Vermont.
To self-guide your way into the sport, I highly recommend Braintree Mountain Forest and Brandon Gap because they have fantastic terrain and they are mapped and maintained by the backcountry heroes at the Ridgeline Outdoor Collective.
For a little more help, Bolton Valley is your spot. You can get instruction and even hire a guide to tour around thousands of acres of mostly north- and east-facing terrain. For a unique adventure that's off the beaten path and super scenic, check out the Willoughby State Forest zone maintained by the Northeast Kingdom Backcountry Coalition.
What are your favorite winter hikes?
For those who love to hike, I can't recommend enough buying a pair of skinny skis and a season pass to your local cross-country ski area. When you do, you get one free day at basically every cross-country center in the state.
What adventures do you recommend for parents of young kids?
Love of winter recreation starts with sledding in the middle of a snowstorm at your nearest hill. For kids who can already ski a bit, the two standout gems are Cochran's Ski Area in Richmond and Northeast Slopes in East Corinth. Both are powered by T-bars and handle tows, both have really good pitch, and both are pure skiing the way it should be.
At Cochran's, you can gather round a bonfire right at the base and watch the bigger kids race training. Cochran's Friday Night Lights program offers an affordable, family-friendly dinner with a thousand other kids and super-fun night skiing for (not kidding) $5 per person.
Northeast Slopes is a true gem: 100 percent volunteer-run, 100 percent natural snow, actual glades, open faces and steep spots, and just a little shoebox at the bottom to gear up and get a burger.
After a day of playing in the snow, where do you like to go for food and drink?
We live in Stowe and ski there often. On the way back down the Mountain Road, our car pretty much turns itself into the Piecasso parking lot to get a hot slice or two. If you're heading back to Burlington, hot cider and a doughnut at Cold Hollow Cider Mill hit the spot. According to a data-driven study by my 6- and 8-year-old nephews, Lake Champlain Chocolates has the best hot cocoa around.
Town: Waterbury Center
Occupation: Entrepreneur who runs the wellness center at Zenbarn; co-owner of Zenbarn Farms
Where do you find your winter zen in Vermont?
I find zen cross-country skiing in the field outside my house and through the trails on Camel's Hump. One of my new favorite places to cross-country ski is around Blueberry Lake near Warren. I find my zen dancing to live music at Zenbarn in Waterbury Center and sitting by the firepit. As I answer this question, I realize there are, gratefully, so many places I find my zen in Vermont. I also find my zen at the Grange in Montpelier, doing West African drum and dance every Tuesday, 6:30 to 8 p.m.
It's a surprise snow day, and you and your husband are playing hooky and spending it with your sons. Where do you go, and what do you do?
Oh, I love days like this. We usually venture up to Spruce Peak Lodge in Stowe for a mini staycation and enjoy the outdoor hot tub and heated pool. If not keeping hot in water, head to Lincoln Gap; the road is closed in the wintertime. It's a nice two-mile walk up and epic sled ride down the winding road.
For a restaurant meal not at Zenbarn, where does your family head?
You can't go wrong with Butler's Pantry or Doc Ponds in Stowe, depending on the time of the day. For family enjoyment and great food in downtown Waterbury, the Reservoir it is! Barbara Jean's Southern Kitchen [offering takeout in Burlington] is great soul food to break the cabin fever.
Occupation: Program manager at Catamount Trail Association
Can you recommend three stretches of the Catamount Trail for three levels of Nordic skier: novice, some experience and hard-core skier?
The Catamount Trail is divided into 31 sections based on geographic location. So, for a novice skier, I'd recommend sections 1 to 4 in southern Vermont. These sections have gentle terrain without steep inclines, following the Deerfield River and the shores of Somerset and Harriman reservoirs, making for a beautiful beginner ski.
Skiers with some experience would enjoy sections 15 and 16, which go through the Moosalamoo National Recreation Area in central Vermont. These sections follow rolling backcountry terrain with various ungroomed and groomed portions, passing through both Blueberry Hill and Rikert Nordic Center.
For more hard-core skiers, I'd recommend section 22 [Bolton Valley to Trapp Family Lodge]. It's a popular, rugged backcountry tour that has both challenging climbing and descending portions.
Where do you like to cross-country ski that's not on the Catamount Trail?
I love to ski at Sleepy Hollow Inn's Nordic center in Huntington, which is run by a multigenerational family and has plenty of varied terrain and scenic views at Butternut Cabin. Also, you can't go wrong spending the day at Craftsbury Outdoor Center, which has over 100 kilometers of groomed trails, great food and fantastic terrain.
What are some favorite spots to chill with a drink or a meal after a day of winter recreation?
I'd recommend a meal at the Blueberry Hill Inn in Goshen, Edson Hill in Stowe, or the von Trapp Brewing Bierhall Restaurant in Stowe.
It's February, and you need a pick-me-up. What do you do to kick the winter blues?
I'd head to Blueberry Hill Outdoor Center, which has rustic, woodsy trails and feels like a getaway. I'd take a stop in Bristol for a pastry at Jones the Boy or Minifactory on the way up and stop in Middlebury for some Thai food on the way home.
Occupation: Inn and hospitality director at Shelburne Farms
You live on the property of Shelburne Farms year-round. What do you enjoy doing there when the inn's season winds down?
I have a very rambunctious 9-year-old golden retriever, Maisy. On any given day, she and I will walk three to five miles on the farm, just enjoying the scenery. Even on the coldest winter day, the farm is a beautiful place to spend time and explore.
When I'm not doing that, I am usually neck-deep in overly ambitious cooking projects.
Where do you take pleasure being a guest while other people run the show?
I am a terrible homebody. That being said, I am very keen to try the Tillerman in Bristol. If their inn experience is as great as their dining experience, then I'm all in! Their chef, Justin Wright, does a great job.
What other dining destinations make the most of the season?
This is a hard one, because we are so lucky to have great options in the area. In Burlington, I think Hen of the Wood does a wonderful job, and I particularly enjoy sitting at the counter, watching their talented staff do their thing. I love the warmth and conviviality of small, intimate places like Honey Road and Poco, both of which have awesome small-plate-focused menus.
I am an enormous fan of Pizzeria Ida. Owners Dan Pizzutillo and Erika Strand are incredibly dedicated to their craft, use amazing ingredients, and produce pizzas, salads and other items that are unlike anything else in the area. I'm particularly addicted to their square pie.
Last but certainly not least, Zabby & Elf's Stone Soup is a personal favorite, with great baked goods and such a genuine community vibe! In my opinion, it is the epitome of what a neighborhood spot should feel like.
What are your go-to stores for winter shopping in Burlington?
Patagonia has good gear with a great social and environmental mission. I also love Outdoor Gear Exchange, even though I'm not super sporty. The shop covers so many bases, is locally owned and I especially love that their consignment program helps keep used gear in action rather than fill landfills! We also do a lot of shopping at Monelle, a favorite of my two daughters’ and my go-to when I'm trying to find gifts for them.
Town: Bridgewater Corners
Occupation: Yankee Bookshop co-owner
You're holed up in a snowstorm on a winter day. Where are you?
When I heard about the impending storm, I managed to book myself a massage at the Spa at the Woodstock Inn — and while the massage is great, the real reason I'm here is the opportunity to relax in their common room afterwards. I'm curled up in a comfy chair, watching the snow through a wall of windows, wrapped in a blanket and settled in next to a woodstove, while reading whatever fun, new witchy and magical novel has caught my eye.
What are your winter traditions?
I always want a bonfire around the time of solstice, but we're often too busy with the bookstore in the lead-up to gift-giving holidays to make that happen. So in the quieter months, I try to take time to walk through the woods in the snow when I can and enjoy the quiet. Sometimes I'll take my camera along, but it's nice to be out there alone without distraction, too.
Do you have a favorite book or poem about winter?
For me, it's any book where winter is as much a part of the story as any human character — and there has to be magic. I have to mention The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden, because although it's set in historical Russia and chock-full of fairy tales and folklore from that space and time, you can tell that Arden resides here in Vermont. The way she describes the cold and the snow and the woods and the trees, it makes you feel like everything could be happening right now, just outside the door, in our own backyard. Plus, it's the first in a fantastic trilogy — and it's always nice to have a long story to dive into and carry you through the darker months.
Describe your dream day of a winter adventure.
Snowshoeing on the trails at the Vermont Institute of Natural Science with friends, enjoying the quiet and beauty of the winter woods before visiting with all of the rescued birds. Then heading to the Ransom Tavern in South Woodstock for a delicious wood-fired pizza and the cozy ambience (and tasty drinks). And, of course, we'll end the night with their Nutella pizza, because it's absolutely the stuff of dreams.
These interviews were edited and condensed for clarity and length.
Backyard sledding in Jericho; Kirsten Thompson