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Vermonters Spill Their Secrets to Surviving Winter

Words and photos courtesy of Seven Days

Vermonters Spill Their Secrets to Surviving Winter
By Jordan Barry, Carolyn Fox, Melissa Pasanen & Ken Picard

Getting through a Vermont winter is no joke. While most of us have a reliable repertoire of winter pastimes, even folks who love snow and subzero temps might run out of creative ways to stay entertained and active by month three or four.

But imagine combining our collective winter wisdom and using it as a road map for surviving and thriving through the season. With that goal, we asked an array of Vermonters — snowboarders, bookworms, artists, innkeepers, farmers, foodies and more — to spill their best winter secrets. They generously gave up the goods on everything from favorite snowy destinations and cozy après-ski spots to personal winter rituals and reading lists.

Wherever the winter takes you, follow this practical yet profound advice from the Featherbed Inn's Karen Rookwood: "My main winter survival tip is simply to embrace the cold, to welcome that feeling of frigid air hitting your face and your lungs the first time you walk outside in the morning, and to find an outdoor activity that brings you joy."

Erin Torres
Town: Colchester
Occupation: Realtor and president at Livian at Keller Williams; blogger and influencer of Travel Like a Local: Vermont; and author of Classic Diners of Vermont

What's your favorite hidden-gem winter destination?
Last winter, we had a siblings' trip to Woodstock and discovered the warming huts at Harpoon brewery in nearby Windsor. They have four huts that are reservation-only and reminded me of ice-fishing huts on the lake. It was one of the best winter afternoons I've had and such a unique experience — with a heater and hut service! They also have outdoor fire pits, and it's fun to see people enjoying some Vermont craft beer in the snow. You can also snowmobile to Harpoon; we saw a lot of people coming for an après-snowmobile beer!

Where would you go for a winter getaway?
I love a good staycation in the winter. You don't have to worry about traveling too far in snowstorms, and a fresh snowfall gives everything a new perspective. I would opt to stay at [Burlington's] Hotel Vermont, where they provide snowshoes for snowshoeing on the lake once it's frozen! There's something magical about walking down Church Street at night in the winter under the festive lights.

Or, if I wanted to truly get away in another part of the state, I would head to Stone City Treehouse in Hardwick for a tiny-house treehouse experience or, with a group, the Gregoire Castle in Irasburg. The Northeast Kingdom is an underrated escape in the winter, with lots of snowshoeing opportunities and hot pizzas from [Glover's] Parker Pie!

Do you have a favorite spa treatment to beat the winter blahs?
I am a huge fan of the CBD facial and CBD body scrub, wrap and massage at the Spa at the Essex. It's super quenching and alleviates the dry skin that plagues us all in the winter months. Hanging out in their relaxation rooms is a nice way to decompress, as well.

Any après-ski spots you dream about all year long?
Hands down, General Stark's Pub at Mad River Glen [in Waitsfield] when the Grift is playing! Everyone works up a sweat dancing, and the floor literally shakes. There's nothing like sipping a Lawson's Sip of Sunshine at the base of the mountain while listening to the Grift in a room full of Vermont- and winter-loving people!

Don Stevens
Town: Shelburne
Occupation: Chief of the Nulhegan Band of the Coosuk-Abenaki Nation

What are some of your winter traditions?
[The Abenaki Forgiveness Moon] is a tradition, held on the first new moon after the Winter Solstice, where you approach people you have wronged throughout that year and ask them for their forgiveness. So, not only is it a communal fire where you have conversations with people, but you go into winter confinement not holding that anger in your heart, so you can actually work together. It's about opening a dialogue with someone who may be angry with you and taking responsibility, being sincere and making amends. If the person you wronged isn't there, you can write it down, ask to be forgiven, then offer that prayer into a fire.

Do you attend any communal activities outdoors in winter?
Usually in February, when people start getting cabin fever, we hold Snow Snake Games to break up the monotony of the winter. Beforehand, we'll prepare by hand-carving snow snakes — Psôn Skoks — out of wood and getting ready for the competition. This is an ancient tradition where you slide a stick down a track, and whoever throws it the farthest wins. We may do some games locally this year, maybe at one of the local ski resorts.

Do you have a favorite outdoor winter destination?
Personally, I just like being out in the woods in the Jericho forest, walking those trails when it's quiet, no one is around and the pines give you protection from the wind. Just being alone in the woods and having time alone with yourself in nature to reflect. That's when Mother Earth is covered in a blanket of snow and resting for the spring.

Karen Rookwood
Town: Waitsfield
Occupation: Owner/innkeeper of the Featherbed Inn

Describe your ideal winter day of adventuring.

The winter day of my dreams would be a bit of a smorgasbord, combining snowshoeing in the magical woods off of our meadow, skiing at Mad River Glen with friends or with our kids, soaking in our hot tub and rolling in the snow, and eating a scrumptious dinner cooked by someone other than myself. If I were a visitor to the Mad River Valley, I'd want to take an evening snowshoe tour from the Featherbed, led by Umiak [Outdoor] Outfitters, through the dark woods off of our meadow to a tipi warmed by a fire, to eat [my husband] Mick's ridiculously delicious chili and my yummy cornbread and brownies.

Where would you like to get away?
I would love to stay at the Inn at Mountain View Farm, in East Burke. When I was a kid, my family went there every winter for a week (sometimes twice) to cross-country ski, back when it was the Darion Inn. Mick and I spent several New Year's weekends there when we first married, filling the entire inn with our closest friends. I have many happy memories of that beautiful place.

What's a favorite après-ski spot?
We are really excited about a new après-ski option practically across the road from our inn — a new wine bar called Alpino Vino. It's cozy and warm, with a fabulous wine selection, delicious and locally made pâtés and cheeses, and a friendly vibe. I seem to lack all self-control when it comes to the 5th Quarter pâté.

Are there any local winter events you look forward to?
One thing we really look forward to is Mad River Glen's Roll Back the Clock Day, when MRG celebrates its anniversary by rolling back ticket prices to the 1949 price of $3.50. Even though Roll Back the Clock Day gets pretty nuts, with so many people coming to ski, it's a great scene, a big party on the hill.

Hiking through the snowy terrain

A snowshoe tour with Umiak Outdoor Outfitters; courtesy of Umiak Outdoor Outfitters


Elizabeth Bluemle
Town: Burlington
Occupation: Children's book author; owner of the Flying Pig Bookstore

What's on your winter reading list this year?
This is a crazy-hard question for a bookseller to answer. So many books! Three by Vermonters I can't wait to read are Kekla Magoon's Revolution in Our Time: The Black Panther Party's Promise to the People (a National Book Award finalist, woot!), Brad Kessler's North, and Kimberly Harrington's But You Seemed So Happy: A Marriage, in Pieces and Bits. All three writers are exceptionally accomplished. I think Vermont has more fine writers per capita than any other state.

Do you have a favorite book or poem about winter?
I love Gary Paulsen's Winterdance, a memoir recounting his rookie Iditarod. It's laugh-out-loud funny and a great winter adventure that's full of misadventures along the trail during the great Alaskan dog sled race. I also have to binge-read mountain-climbing books every January. It's a thing.

What's your favorite destination for winter recreation?
The Phineas Swann Inn in Montgomery has great riverside suites with full kitchens, a back deck, outside firepits and plenty of trails to take our pup for long walks. It's also near Jay Peak. And they've added a spa since I was last there, so it's about time for another visit.

Do you have any winter traditions?
We used to head to Montréal for a winter overnight trip; the Old Port is magical with lights and ice and little shops and bakeries. I can't wait until it's easier to zip up there again.

Grant Wieler
Town: Morristown
Occupation: Realtor at Element Real Estate VT; freelance photographer

Where do you head for winter recreation?
One of my favorite destinations in the Stowe area is up in Sterling Valley, where I enjoy backcountry skiing along the Sterling-Ruschp and Catamount trails. Sterling Valley is off the beaten path, quiet, scenic and historic! There are homesites up there dating back to the late 17th century. It always amazes me to find old farming equipment and homesites up in the woods and wonder what it would have been like to live on a homestead in the mountains back then.

What's your favorite scenic winter overlook?
My go-to overlook is the fire tower atop Mount Elmore in Elmore State Park. It grants you a stunning 360, panoramic view along the Worcester Range and across the valley to Mount Mansfield. During the winter, while the park is shut down, you hike in from the beach parking, a moderate two-mile trek with snowshoes. The last 10th of a mile does get a bit technical; I would suggest swapping snowshoes for microspikes for the top section.

Where will you take your family this winter?
I'm looking forward to taking the family to the Catamount Outdoor [Family] Center [in Williston] and pulling the kids in a sled.

My wife and I cross-country ski around the Craftsbury Outdoor Center [in Craftsbury Common] — some of the best cross-country ski trails around!

What winter treat is worth driving for?
It's really fun to explore some of the more rural parts of the state in the late winter/spring and sample maple sugar candy at sugaring houses as the maple sugaring season begins.

Melissa Hessney Masters
Town: Brookline
Occupation: Owner of Tanglebloom Flower Farm

What meal or treat is worth driving for in winter?
It doesn't take much convincing for me to make the hourlong drive to Piecemeal Pies in White River Junction for boozy brunch or takeaway hand pies and fancy coffee drinks. The whole experience is a treat, from the creative menu — rabbit! beet ketchup! breakfast beer! — to their ethics.

What's your favorite hidden-gem winter destination?
Southern Vermonters are going to scorn me for giving this up, but: Grout Pond in the Green Mountain National Forest. It's a wilderness area that sees a lot of visitors in summer, but it quiets right down in winter. Kids play hockey at the same spot where they swim in summer. You can access the Catamount Trail for intermediate-level backcountry skiing.

My favorite way to enjoy it, however, is cross-country skiing a loop [on] the pond itself. It's great for an extended lunch break for locals who work from home, and when my 6-year-old tires of skiing, we can easily pull him the rest of the way on a sled. When kids are along, we'll pack a thermos of hot cider and muffins. The snow-covered campsites along the pond's shore make for good pit stops.

What's on your winter reading list?
I'll be getting inspiration for our farm-stay cabin rentals reading Cabin Tripping by JJ Eggers. Usually I steer towards nonfiction, but I'm looking forward to diving into Charlotte McConaghy's newest novel, Once There Were Wolves. The Snowy Cabin Cookbook: Meals and Drinks for Adventurous Days and Cozy Nights by Marnie Hanel and Jen Stevenson sounds like it should be on every Vermonter's bookshelf, so I'm really looking forward to that one!

Aisha Bassett
Town: Winooski
Occupation: Owner of plant-based Offbeat Creemee

What are your favorite ways to enjoy Vermont during your winter slow season?
When my husband, Dan, and I aren't making ice cream, you can find us out exploring Vermont with our pup, Stella, by our side, eating good food and staying as cozy as possible. [We like to] visit greenhouses on bitter-cold days, browsing plants and soaking up all the warmth, or drive through the App Gap enjoying all the different views and ending it with tacos at Mad Taco in Waitsfield.

What are your go-to winter recreation destinations?
Winter hikes and walks on [Route] 108 starting at Stowe. 108 is like a playground; it's the equivalent to the sledding hill in adult form. So many people are enjoying the path, from cross-country skiing to snowboarding.

[And in Huntington, the Green Mountain Audubon Center's] river walk is my favorite in the winter. The sound of running water is all you hear, and the contrast of the white snow and blue river is stunning. You'll find us at both of these places after a fresh snow.

What's the coziest winter meal?
Herb-roasted spatchcocked chicken with Parmesan mashed potatoes, pan gravy and lemon asparagus. Sorry to all my vegan people — I can't resist a spatchcocked chicken.

I hope everyone knows we're not vegan! Worthy Burger [in South Royalton] is one of our favorite places to stop for a fried chicken sandwich. Tuckerbox [in White River Junction] never disappoints in anything you order, but kebabs are the go-to.

Do you still eat creemees in the winter?
In pie form! We make a cardamom-sweet-potato ice cream pie.

Jackson Tupper
Town: Burlington
Occupation: Illustrator and graphic designer/artist; former designer at Burton Snowboards

Describe your ideal winter day of adventuring.
I snowboard all winter long, and the best days always start with a Feldman's [Bagels] bacon-egg-and-cheese on the way to the mountain — whether it's riding at Sugarbush, splitboarding around the Notch or driving through rural Vermont looking for hills to pow surf on.

What's your favorite hidden-gem winter destination?
Cochran's Ski Area in Richmond is a true gem. The tiny, family-run nonprofit ski hill is geared toward affordable and accessible family skiing and has such a wonderful community vibe. It only has a tow rope and T-bars, but it's such a fun way to slow down and spend a day snowboarding off the main resorts. I can get a hot dog and a lift ticket for under $25, and they offer night skiing under the lights on Fridays.

Just last winter, I also discovered the pond off the side of Route 127 in Burlington where the secret "sea caves" exist. It's accessible only from North Ave., right across from the Burlington High School entrance, and last winter the city plowed and maintained the pond for ice skating.

What's one of your top places to see art around the state?
The Vermont Ski & Snowboard Museum in Stowe is hosting a show this winter called "The Art of the Graphic," which will exhibit ski and snowboard graphics from a handful of designers in the industry (including myself). The VTSSM is a historic gem and definitely worth a visit any time of year.

Do you have any winter "survival" tips?
Cozy pants under Carhartts all winter long. Other than that, keeping my soul warm with the ramen and udon bowls from Shinjuku Station on North Street in Burlington is key to my survival.





About the series


This series, a partnership between Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing and Seven Days, will run seasonally, presenting curated excursions in every corner of Vermont. The idea is to highlight the state's restaurants, retailers, attractions and outdoor adventures so Vermonters and visitors alike can plan safe, local trips and discover new corners of the state. Happy traveling, and stay safe.