OKEMO MOUNTAIN RESORT REACHES NEW HEIGHTS OF LUXURY

New Jackson-Gore Inn provides world-class ski experience.

By Karen Rubin with
Eric & David Leiberman

Pure contentment.

That is what I am feeling as I am swimming outdoors as snowflakes burst through the black of night, and lights shining through the steam at the heat of the water rises to the cold air mimic flickering flames. The feeling as we are soaking in a hot tub after a full day on the slopes, shushing through powder snow of the sort that is treasured in New England.

Skiing at Okemo Mountain Resort, in southern Vermont, has always been a particular pleasure for our family-the artfully carved trails that take advantage of the magnificent scenery but are wide enough where they need to be to let you nudge up your skill as they inspire you with their natural beauty, the warmth and hospitality of the staff, from the lift operators to the housekeepers that has become legendary and makes you feel like a regular. It’s always been a place that created just the right combination of elements to make for a perfect family experience.

The new Jackson-Gore Inn has given Okemo Mountain Resort in southern Vermont a new level of luxury, (Copyright 2005 Karen Rubin).

But with the opening of a new base area and mountain, Jackson-Gore, centered by a world-class slope-side condominium-style resort hotel with ski in/ski out convenience, Okemo now offers a level of luxury and pampering that can rival Vail and Beaver Creek, in Colorado, but only a five-hour drive away.

When you pull up to the Jackson-Gore Inn, nestled in the woods, a valet takes your car. There is an underground garage for guests or if you park outside in the lot, the valet will dust it off before returning it to you. Regardless of how late you arrive, there is a person at the front desk to greet you; the hotel also offers other accoutrements of a luxury resort: concierge, bell and room service, daily housekeeping, a fine dining restaurant, a large and well outfitted fitness room, and the indoor/outdoor swimming pool and whirlpool Spa which put such a special cap on our visit.

As soon as you enter Jackson-Gore Inn’s magnificent lobby area, with a grand lounge set around a roaring fireplace, or at the Coleman Brook bar (a popular area to socialize), you feel the tensions and pressures of the city just melt away.

Jackson-Gore is a complete, self-contained ski resort within the ski resort, with everything you might need within this cozy complex, including a complete learning center and rental facility and on-site Penguin Playground, a licensed child care center for nonskiing children six months to six years old (reservations required, 802-228-1780). The large, airy, and colorful child care center also provides Saturday night and select holidays “Kids Night Out” for the guests of Okemo, with pizza and a movie for children 5-12 until 6-10 p.m. so parents can have an evening to themselves (you must reserve a place in advance, 802-228-1780).

On the slopes at Okemo Mountain Resort (Copyright 2005 Karen Rubin).

Okemo has always been guest friendly, and this was always apparent in the rental facility. This is true, also, at the Jackson-Gore rental shop. Okemo has a policy of keeping the rental shop open late on Friday evenings (until 11 p.m. at both the Okemo Express Rental Shop at the main base and at Jackson Gore), so you can obtain your lift tickets and rentals the night before), but even if you walk in during the morning, it is well organized to minimize the time spent before you can attack the slopes. The quality of the rental equipment-for skiing as well as snowboarding-is also top of the line and state of the art. Okemo was among the first to offer parabolic skis (which proved a godsend for skiers like me because of the ease of turning, the way they hold on ice and plow through heavy snow); this season, the skis also have a new laminate designed to shed snow and ice so that they did not become heavy. The snowboard equipment our teenage sons rented also were topnotch. This enhances the downhill experience immeasurably.

You also can purchase lift tickets and lessons for the next day up from 3 to 4:30 p.m. midweek and from 3 to 5 p.m. on weekends and holidays.

When you return to the Inn for any length of time at all, you can check your skis or snowboard in a special check room-another luxury. (At the Okemo base, there is a Stor-A-Ski facility, also, giving skiers and riders unlimited in/out access all day, as well as overnight).

Jackson-Gore Inn’s rooms, set up like condominium-style apartments, are spacious and comfortably appointed. The 400 units, ranging from a classic hotel room to a three-bedroom apartment, are all owned, under a quarter-fractional ownership plan. That means that owners can use the units 13 weeks a year (every fourth week, so each owner gets the prime holiday weeks every four years), they can make them available for rental (which is why guests have access to the units) and receive 55 percent of the revenue; or exchange the week

The Waffle Haus, a fun, on-the-slopes eatery, let's you fuel up on the fly (Copyright 2005 Karen Rubin).

The rooms are so comfortable-a feature you really appreciate after a day out on the slopes-with a full entertainment center (bring your DVDs). For dinner, we had a choice of the fine dining Coleman Brook Tavern, a lovely room with a New England feel and a wide selection of dining options from fish to chops; and the Vermont Pizza Company, a casual yet upscale eatery with wait service offering marvelous personal pizzas ($8-$10), like a delicious white pizza with garlic, riccota cheese and olive oil, as well as a selection of hot and cold subs and pastas, soups and salads.

During the day, there is also The Roundhouse, the cafeteria-style eatery that serves skiers, but closes in the evening. The architecture of the building-and the décor of the carpeted room is much nicer than most base lodges.

To further add to guest comfort, there are guest laundry rooms on each floor, and a convenience store sells the basics for breakfasts and snacks.

The Jackson-Gore Inn set records in Vermont for selling out all 400 units prior to opening; now Okemo Resort’s owners, the Mueller family, are in the process of selling units in Stage II. This will consist of three units, the Adams House, Bixby House and Coolidge House.

The elegance of the place, coupled with function and meeting rooms, have made Okemo a new venue for business and social functions, combining skiing (and in summer, golfing) activities.

New Trails

The new Jackson-Gore mountain area offers some of the most delightful trails on the mountain. They tended to be out of direct sun so more powder, and because the section is set off to the side, away from the main base at Okemo, it tended to have fewer people.

Okemo's SoBe Superpipe measures 500 feet in length, with walls extending 19 feet high and is serviced by its own surface lift (Copyright 2005 Karen Rubin).

At the Jackson Gore base, a “magic carpet” lift lets never-evers glide to the top of the beginner slope for a gentle introduction to skiing and boarding basics. A detachable quad, right outside the Inn’s door, takes you up to mid-mountain for longer beginner trails and the Jackson-Gore Express Quad, which whisks you 4,099 feet up to the 2,725-foot summit of Jackson-Gore Peak in just 4 ½ minutes. Five trails are now open from the top-some of the best at Okemo. Green skiers will enjoy Tuckered Out, a long, rambling run that is anything but boring; Blue Moon is an exquisite blue trail that has the best of “real Vermont skiing” and the more modern (and forgiving) wider trail design; expert skiers will thrill to Upper Limelight, Vortex and Quantum Leap. There are also two new glade trails: a 1,500-foot long double-black trail through the glades, Black Hole, that is steep, undulating and extremely challenging and the 3,200-foot long Supernova, that total nearly 10 acres of “au natural” tree skiing.

Indeed, Okemo Mountain Resort, under the loving care of Tim and Diane Mueller since 1982, has grown into a world-class ski area offering 43 miles (610 acres) of skiable terrain-a total of 115 slopes, trails and glades. Novice skiers have a selection of 38 trails (33 percent) including long, scenic coasters. Intermediates are treated to 44 trails (38 percent of the mountain)-wonderfully long runs that are both challenging and confidence building. Advanced and expert downhillers are challenged by 33 trails (29 percent). Okemo offers a vertical of 2,200 feet-the highest in southern Vermont, from the summit of 3,344 feet. The longest trail, Mountain Road, winds 4 ½ miles around. In all, the trail system superbly links five mountain areas: Jackson-Gore Peak, Solitude Peak, South Face, Glades Peak and South Ridge.

Skiers and riders ready to take a run “on the wild side” and experience terrain features head for Okemo’s ample selection of parks and pipes, jibs and boxes. Okemo’s specialists (a.k.a. Park Rangers) design their features with staggered take-offs so a variety of ability levels can enjoy the hits and jumps. Park Rangers are constantly adding new features to keep the terrain ever changing and evolving.

The SoBe Superpipe measures 500 feet in length, with walls extending 19 feet high and is serviced by its own surface lift; the Bull Run Superpipe measures 400 feet in length, is 18 feet in height; Hot Dog Hill’s mini pipe is ideal for kids and beginners just starting out.

There are also a variety of terrain parks–Nor’Easter Super Park is the longest park and contains air features varying from 20 ft. to 70 ft. in length, rails, spines and fun boxes, plus a 20 ft. x 20 ft. Vert Wall; the lift-accessed Dew Zone is especially fun, with music to accompany the tricks on various sized rails, boxes, table tops, picnic table and a quarter pipe; Blind Faith Terrain Park is a Boarder/Skier Cross Track with rollers, bank turns and tabletops; Jackson Gore Snowskate Park has smaller air features and mini rails and boxes (snowskate rentals available).

Everything about the ski experience at Okemo is designed to maximize the experience. The lift system for example-to me, the greatest invention in skiing was the detachable high-speed quad, making it easy to get on and off, and whisking you up the mountain with minimal time exposed to the elements, and also minimal time spent waiting on the lift line. Okemo has 11 lifts-most of them detachable high-speed quads, cleverly situated to minimize wait time; in fact, the lifts carry 32,250 skiers an hour. Another nice feature is that the lifts also have message boards, so family members can link up with each other, or you can be summoned back to the child care center, if necessary.

It cannot be overstated how well marked and maintained the trails are. The signage makes it easy to get around and not get lost (all the trails tell you which base the trail leads to, and whether you will not be able to get back to the Okemo base; there are warnings not to go down past 3:30 p.m., for example, if you need to return to Okemo Base); signs warn to slow down where trails merge, or whether there is thin cover, moguls ahead, no jumping. You feel comfortable letting your more adventuresome kids go off on their own, to the terrain parks and expert trails.

Okemo has a wonderful group of ski ambassadors and ski patrolers, too. You will see these friendly and informative folks on weekends and holiday periods riding on the shuttle buses, greeting guests in the drop off area, giving mountain tours and skiing and snowboarding with trail maps in-hand ready to assist and direct guests to the on-mountain “hot spots”. They are easily recognized by their bright blue jackets. You can stop by the Mountain Information Booth located at the Sugar House Lodge (at midmountain) to find out “what’s hot” at Okemo. Mountain Ambassadors provide updated information on snow conditions and the “trail of the day”. They offer free guided tours to intermediate and advanced skiers and riders on weekends and during holiday vacation weeks from 9 am until 2 pm.

The feeling is contagious; we have generally found Okemo’s regulars to be particularly nice. This is luxury without snobbery or pretension.

Okemo provides an unusually pleasurable on-mountain experience-everything from music at the lift- served Dew Zone, to the on-mountain Waffle Haus, at the bottom of the Black Ridge Triple chairlift, open Friday to Mondays, offering freshly baked Belgian sugar waffles. Eric and David didn’t even have to take off their snowboards to buy their waffles; they even took the hot apple cider ” to go” as they continued on their way riding down the mountain.

A new feature this year is Telemark Skiing. The Okemo Cutting Edge Learning Center is now offering Telemark Private Lesson instruction for beginners and advanced skiers. Atomic TM 22 Telemark skis are available for rent (advanced reservations are required and lessons and equipment are subject to availability).

For cross-country skiers the Okemo Valley Nordic Center, set on its golf course one mile from the Okemo base, is complete center with Rossignol cross-country equipment and Atlas snowshoes (you can mix and match cross-country skis and snowshoes).

Then, at the end of the day, another nice feature is the Okemo Resort Shuttle, which operates daily, serves Okemo Mountain Resort Properties (rental guests & owners), the Jackson Gore Inn and base area, the Okemo base area, Okemo Valley Nordic Center and Willie Dunn’s Grille. Also available on weekends and holidays through March is the Okemo Village Shuttle, a complimentary service to convenient locations throughout the Ludlow/Proctorsville region.

Dining has also been significantly upgraded in recent years. Besides the Coleman Brook Tavern and Vermont Pizza Company at Jackson Gore, the Solitude base area offers the Gables Restaurant for an upscale repast. The on-mountain eateries are also marvelous: like Sugar House Café, Smokey Jo’s BBQ, Ozone Pizza Pub, Carver’s Deli at mid-mountain; and Summit Café, Sky Bar, and Robin’s Nest (selections with an Asian flare!) at the Summit Lodge.

Family Friendly

Okemo’s policies are very welcoming for families. For example, Okemo provides free skiing and riding for children ages 6 and under and free lodging for children 12 and under at Okemo Mountain Resort Properties when sharing a unit with their parents. Also, it provides access to two beginner poma surface lifts at the Okemo base at no charge; carpet surface lifts at each Snow Stars teaching slope; and a Young Adult lift ticket category for ages 13-18 (a significant savings).

Customized children’s learning programs include Snow Star Skiers (ages 4-7) and Snow Star Riders (ages 5-7); Young Mountain Explorers (ages 7-14) and Young Riders (ages 7-14). A novel instructional program is the Parent Tot Private for parents and their kids six and under: parents can see their child progress with an Okemo teaching pro and learn tips on how to help them progress when skiing or riding together (parents should be able to ski or ride at least at level 3). Also, Mini Stars (ages 3-4) provides an introduction to skiing in the Penguin Playground Day Care Center, with one-hour sessions both morning and afternoon.

Downhilling Deals

Okemo offers an innovative “Sunday Solution” morning half-day lift ticket for weekend skiers and riders who prefer to ski in the morning, from 8 through 1:30 p.m. and get an early start home on Sunday afternoon (and Monday holidays), allowing Valid from 8:00 am until 1:30 pm, for $55 for an adult ticket.

The Lo-o-ong Weekender package, priced from $103.50 pp/day includes either a Jackson Gore Inn room, a 1BR Okemo Mountain Lodge, 2BR Kettle Brook mountainside, or a 3BR Winterplace mountainside unit, and daily lift tickets; the 3-day/3-night getaway is available either as a Thursday-Sunday or Friday-Monday stays.

Other deals include “March Madness Getaway” midweek from $73.25 pp/day; and Spring Values Weekend in April from $65.25 pp/day.

In addition to Jackson-Gore Inn, Okemo offers a variety of slopeside condominium lodging choices:
Okemo Mountain Lodge, Kettle Brook, Winterplace, Ledgewood and Solitude Village condominiums offer direct ski-in/ski-out and mountainside access.

Check for the latest packages, pricing, and availability at www.skistay.okemo.com or call the Okemo Lodging Line at 800-78-OKEMO (786-5366). For information about conditions, call the SnowLine at 802-228-5222.
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© 2005 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Send comments or travel questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com.

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About Travel Features Syndicate

Karen Rubin is an eclectic travel writer who has been spanning the globe for more than 30 years reporting on interesting, intriguing people and places to explore for magazines, newspapers and online. She publishes Travel Features Syndicate in newspapers and online including examiner.com, Huffington Post and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate and blogs at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com. "Travel is a life-changing and an interactive experience that mutually benefits travelers and community." Contact Karen at FamTravLtr@aol.com. 'Like' us at www.facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

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