Fun Abounds On & Off Slopes at Cozy Vermont Resort
David Leiberman & Michael Marco
The panoramic view of Vermont’s Green Mountains from Ascutney’s peak, while beautiful, may be misleading. Gazing down from the 2,520-foot summit upon one of the few remaining “Currier & Ives” countrysides left in Vermont, the wayfaring skier might be confused about exactly where (or when!) you have ventured for the weekend.
In fact, from most spots on the mountain and in the quiet village areas near the resort, it is easy to forget that you are only six miles from I-91, two hours by car from Boston, four hours driving from New York City, and ten minutes down the road from Amtrak’s Windsor Station.
The resort is self-contained with 100 percent slopeside condominium-style accommodations flanking an inn with two restaurants and a café, game room with arcade games and billiards, and lovely lounge areas for sitting and chatting. The inn nestles a tiny pond, which is used for skating as well as for tubing and as a scenically central place for activities like bonfires.
Ascutney manages to offer skiers a getaway that is quaint and uncommercialized while also being entertaining and fun for families. Although the resort has seen recent renovations, there remains a certain raw feel to skiing at Ascutney that parents may find to be reminiscent of “the way skiing used to be.” (Indeed, the new “Ascutney Ski Train Special”, offering discount ski and transit packages for visitors looking to avoid snowy roads or steep gas prices, is modeled after the “Snow Special” trains of the 1930s and ’40s.) There are no futuristic-looking gondolas or waffle-making huts on the mountain. Instead, there is plenty of snow to enjoy (enhanced by snowmaking on 95 percent of the mountain, the highest percentage coverage in Vermont) and activities for most ages.
The mountain boasts 57 trails that range from very short to 2-1/2 miles in length – 150 acres of groomed terrain and 50 acres of glades in all. The mix is 30 percent novice (almost all of that on the lower mountain with not much variety of trails), 40 percent intermediate and 30 percent advanced (of which nine trails are rated double-diamond expert trails). The halfpipe and terrain park did not score high marks.
There is a naturally separated learning area, with the mountain essentially consisting of two bases divided by a road. A lift from the lower base where the resort and Cunningham’s Rental Shop are located will bring you to the base of the upper mountain. Even in the lower section, a 10-acre learning park, the children’s learning area is pretty much separated from everything else; it is on the lower part of the mountain and off to a side, with its own lift and delightful wood cutouts of animals and characters that will engage kids. The section includes Cheddar’s Discovery Zone, with a Wonder Carpet surface lift and a “Mouse House Lodge”, a cabin where the children in the learn-to-ski program can warm up and have snacks.
The main mountain is bigger than you would expect: the vertical, at 1,800 ft., is 100 ft. more than Mount Snow’s at 1,700 ft., and the trails are steeper than you might associate with a “family” mountain. Even so, it is easy to catch up with your better-downhilling kids, since the trails return to the same base area.
Children are a central focus at Ascutney. During the day, Cheddar the Mouse and pals are on the slopes delighting the children and inviting them to special activities. “Cheddar’s Kids Club” on Saturday evenings gives parents the opportunity to have a dinner alone, while kids enjoy face painting, games, dancing and limbo-ing to DJ music, a pizza party and a movie (ages 4-10, $5/child). The “Alpine Cinema” on the hotel’s ground floor screens Warren Miller movies on Monday evenings and family/teen movies on Thursday and Saturday nights.
There are also activities for families to enjoy together, such as an outdoor tubing hill in the center of the Resort Village (open from 9am-9pm, with bonfires at dusk), a terrain park with a music-blasting sound system, and a fitness center with an indoor swimming pool, hot tub, dry heat saunas, weight room, and courts for racquetball and basketball.
Other activities have adults in mind, including live apr�s-ski entertainment in Brown’s Tavern, massages and other TLC in the new Strong House Spa, and fitness classes such as aqua aerobics at the sports and fitness center.
Ascutney has added some additional spice to the calendar this year with exciting events like the first nationally sanctioned “Ski-Jouring” competition on March 1, a sport originating in Colorado in which a skier is pulled behind a galloping horse over and around obstacles. There is also the 5th Annual Vermont Antique Ski Race Weekend on March 16, an event benefiting the Vermont Ski Museum in which guests compete against former U.S. Olympians and Ski Team members on vintage skis. A two-night package, March 14-16, includes two nights slopeside lodging, lift tickets, entrance fee to the race, complimentary breakfast with the ski celebrities and an apr�s-ski award ceremony ($179 per person).
The resort’s family focus is evident in the on-mountain programs, packaging and some of the best value pricing of any major ski resort. Upcoming events include Easter Weekend with a Sunrise Service and Easter Egg Hunt March 21-22, the Red Stripe Reggae Spring Fling Weekend March 28-29, and Margaritaville Spring Fling April 4-5 (all $91 per person per night including lodging, lift tickets, and admission to all entertainment).
Ascutney also offers midweek getaway packages that include lodging, lift tickets, group lessons, and all resort amenities for $91 per person per night.
The new Ascutney Ski Train Special offers a 20% discount on Amtrak train fare and a free third night of lodging with a two-night stay booked at Ascutney ($270 pp midweek; $364 per adult and $324 per child for a three-day weekend package, including three nights lodging and lift tickets for two full days and the third morning).
Off the Slopes
Ascutney Resort is designed to be self-contained, so you really do not have to go off property. Even so, you find yourself having to drive, instead of walk (unless you are in the Windham hotel building), to the restaurants (Brown’s Tavern, a casual eatery; The Harvest Inn for finer dining, and the extremely casual Biscotti’s Café), as well as to the sports and fitness center. This is particularly so if you are in one of the condominium units along the mountain road. (Perhaps, someday, there will be some kind of interior boardwalk to eliminate having to drive at all). The Windham Building is also where the small tubing hill and the bonfire-type activities are located; it also offers the Sidewinders game room and arcade, and a pleasant billiard room.
2004 marked the rebirth of the Ascutney Nordic Center, when trails were cleared and delineated for both cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Ascutney now has about 10 km of snowshoe trails and 25 km of cross-country trails. The snowshoe trails are a lovely wooded section of Ascutney mountainside with very pretty mountain views. The cross-country network is a combination of classic groomed meadow and forest trails and is available for use free of charge. Daily equipment rental and weekend lessons are available.
Also, every Wednesday evening there is a guided moonlit snowshoe hike to a bonfire nearby where you can warm yourself with hot cocoa and s’mores.
Though there is no convenience store on-property, just across from the hotel and normally only a walk of a few minutes, there is a small footbridge over a stream which takes you into Brownsville-a village with a classic white steepled church and red-brick buildings which gives you the feeling of falling into that Currier & Ives print you see from the mountain-where you can stock up with supplies or even eat in at the General Store.
Looking for something distinctive and unusual to do? Activities Concierge Jonathan Robinson shares his local insight and can point you in the right direction for a tour of the historic and natural beauty of Vermont. He will make reservations for snowmobiling, dog-sledding and snowshoeing, in winter.
Take a ride into Windsor, just about 15 minutes away, where Vermont’s Constitution was signed in 1777 and which is considered “The Birthplace of Vermont”. (You will also find an intersection of “State” and “Main”.) It was also the cradle of the machine tool industry and its architecture is evidence of its industrial past and historic roots. The Cornish-Windsor Covered Bridge is the longest in the nation. Year-round you can visit Simon Pearce Glassblowing & Pottery and Constitution House, formerly the tavern where the Constitution of the Republic of Vermont was written in 1777.
Windsor Station (Depot Avenue, 802-674-2052) is a delightful pub-style restaurant set in an actual railroad station and we heartily recommend it for an evening out. The restaurant, a Victorian treasure with wood paneling, switching devices and train signals, and a delightful circular ticket-office which is used for private groups, shakes when the train rumbles past (only about once a night).
Ascutney resort is just about 25 minutes away from Woodstock, the exquisitely charming, quintessentially New England village that offers boutiques and eateries. Families should definitely make time to visit Marsh Billings Rockefeller National Historical Park, a legacy of conservationist and town benefactor Laurance S. Rockefeller, as well as to the Billings Farm and Museum, a working dairy farm reflecting rural Vermont life at the turn of the 20th century. Other local curiosities include VINS, a rescue center for more than 20 species of hawk, falcons, eagles, and owls. Also, the Woodstock touring center is magnificent for cross-country skiing enthusiasts.
In scenic Quechee, you can visit the Sugarbush Farm, a family-run working farm famous for its cheese and pure maple syrup (open year round, 802-457-1757).
Enjoy a sleigh ride (or in warmer season, a horseback trail ride) at Cavendish Trail Horse Rides, (802-226-7821).
Ascutney is also near to Hanover, New Hampshire, where Dartmouth College is located and where there is antiquing, shopping and dining.
The family focus at Ascutney, reminiscent of the style of programming offered at Smuggler’s Notch in northern Vermont, is very much the design of Susan and Steven Plausteiner, Ascutney’s owners who purchased the resort in 1993. The couple, who were formerly of Lake Placid where they managed Whiteface Mountain during the 1980 Olympics, has invested $10 million in on-mountain and resort village improvements over the period, including the major North Peak expansion and installation of the mile-long North Peak Express high speed quad in 2000.
The Plausteiners acquired property with a marvelous history that goes back to 1825, when Mt. Ascutney was said to be the first mountain in America to have a proper hiking trail-cleared by local townspeople in an attempt to attract General Lafayette to visit. A rustic ski area was first established in 1956.
Ascutney Mountain Resort is very proud to announce a new alliance with The Family of Orange Lake Resorts, one of the largest vacation clubs in the world with over 110,000 members in 120 countries.
Ascutney is emerging as a four-season resort. New this year, are the complete renovations of the indoor and outdoor swimming pools, new kids’ playground and new tennis courts. Other on-property activities include hiking, biking, volleyball and horseshoes as well as a kids’ camp for tennis and outdoor adventures.
Vermont Summer Adventure packages are the highlight of Ascutney’s programming and lodging packages during the summer and fall. The resort’s Activities Director helps guests explore all their options right from the lobby of the hotel, like booking a tee time for golf and scheduling horseback riding, or simply giving helpful information about other activities in the region.
Other activities include hiking, famous swimming holes, canoeing and kayaking, mountain and road biking, hang gliding, Orvis fishing guides.
Unique to the area are many of Vermont’s special attractions like the American Precision Museum, Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site, Simon Pearce Glass Blowing, art galleries, Harpoon and Long Trail Breweries, plus antique shops, quaint country stores, never-ending dirt roads, and a slower way of life.
Special lodging packages are available for the Quechee Hot Air Balloon Festival in June and the Vermont Symphony Orchestra’s Summer Concert in July. Other specialty lodging packages are centered on regional events like Harpoon Brewery’s BBQ Championship, Green Mountain Horse events and the Quechee Scottish Festival.
Tuesday, 19 February, 2008
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