Three Wintry Ways to Get Outside in Vermont

Words and photos courtesy of Seven Days

Three Wintry Ways to Get Outside in Vermont
By Carolyn Fox

Winter Dipping in Lake Champlain

In January, the UK's Guardian wrote about "the exhilarating joy of outdoor ice-bathing," a centuries-old practice that has "soared during lockdown" as a much-needed stress reliever and endorphin releaser.

"It's pretty normal if you're in Sweden or Denmark or Finland," said Burlington painter Katharine Montstream of the pastime. "In the UK, this is huge, and it's really blowing up. Especially with [the] pandemic, they have had a huge surge of people wanting to do this and needing outlets."

The same is true in Vermont, it seems. Montstream has been winter dipping regularly in Lake Champlain for three years, but the pandemic prompted her to begin plunging in nearly every day. She's amassed a group of friends, playfully dubbed the Red Hot Chilly Dippers, who join in her shivery adventures. Montstream documents their dips through photos and videos on an Instagram page that has more than 1,500 followers.

Featured in a recent episode of "Stuck in Vermont," a Seven Days web series hosted by Eva Sollberger, the group is seen wading into icy waters at Burlington's Oakledge Park, Perkins Pier and south of Texaco Beach.

There have been themed dunks — for everything from Thanksgiving to Inauguration Day — involving costumes, wigs and flags. But mostly the focus is on "getting in the lake and letting yourself forget about some of the really difficult things that are going on in the world right now," Montstream told Sollberger.

"When you go in the lake, the tactile sensation is so intense, you absolutely cannot think of anything else except what's happening to your body," she said.

And if you need inspiration to get through the season, Montstream also noted that the cold-weather dips are equivalent to "not letting winter win."

Learn more...

Trapp Family Lodge Outdoor Center
700 Trapp Hill Rd., Stowe, 253-8511

Stowe's Trapp Family Lodge may be known for its singing founders, but its reputation also rests on stunning mountain scenery. The place was named one of "the most breathtaking mountain lodges in North America" by Passport magazine. Locals love it, too: They've voted the place Vermont's best cross-country ski area more than a dozen times in the Seven Days readers' choice awards.

The on-site Nordic center is widely considered America's oldest; it celebrated 50 years in 2018. As Vermonters continue their quest for fresh-air fun, Trapp has had "an uptick of season pass sales this year," said marketing manager Benjamin Gilbert.

Cross country skiing in the green mountain state

"With plenty of wide-open spaces and room for distancing, cross-country skiing is one of the safest ways to recreate this season," he noted.

Visitors will find 37 miles of groomed trails on the 2,600-acre mountaintop property, suitable for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. More advanced skiers can also lay tracks on 62 miles of ungroomed backcountry territory. One popular trek is the three-mile journey to Slayton Pasture Cabin, a rustic waystation for skiers built by the von Trapp family in 1971.

Refuel après-ski with schnitzel and a Berliner Weisse: The nearby von Trapp Brewing Bierhall Restaurant is open for takeout and dining.

Also try...

Vermont Farm Trail Network
Find a full list of winter farm trails at diginvt.com.

Imagine snowshoeing through a forest of maple trees, past sap lines running from trunk to tank, then stopping at a sugarhouse to pick up some of that just-made maple syrup. This sugaring season treat is now accessible at Randolph Center's Silloway Maple, thanks to the Vermont Farm Trail Network, launched by Dig In Vermont late last summer.

This directory of farm trails open to the public is a collaborative project supported by the Farm-Based Education Network, Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont, Shelburne Farms, University of Vermont Extension, Vermont Fresh Network and Vermont Department of Tourism & Marketing. The goal: to connect visitors with new food and farm experiences.

"There's nothing better than walking around a farm, seeing animals and just being outside," said Tara Pereira, executive director of Vermont Fresh Network.

The winter excursion options are plentiful. At Fayston's Knoll Farm, one cross-country skiing trail ascends to 1,800 feet for a fabulous view of the Mad River Valley. (You might also spot some of the farm's Icelandic sheep.) Shoreham's Trade Winds Farm invites guests to ski on groomed trails, slide down the sledding hill or skate on a lighted rink. And Wolcott's Sandiwood Farm allows visitors to ski, snowshoe or fat-bike through the sugarbush, enjoying views of Mount Mansfield and, on select dates, a bonfire.

Visit Dig In's website to learn more about participating locations and read the Farm Trail Ethic before you go. Pereira hopes to add more farms from all across Vermont in the future, suitable for visits in every season.

"Farms are such a big sector in our state," said Pereira. "This is another way to experience, explore [and] see the beauty of farms in Vermont."

Farm trails to try...

About the series

This series, a partnership between Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing and Seven Days, will run weekly through mid-October, 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.