Vermont has become an increasingly appealing destination for March Break this year. Aside from winter sports for kids of all ages at many of its 21 ski resorts, there are loads of family attractions, diversions for nonskiers, and now, new direct seasonal flights between Toronto and Burlington Vt., on Porter Airlines.
Here are highlights of four resorts -- Jay Peak, Smugglers' Notch Resort, Stowe Mountain Resort, Sugarbush Resort -- with which Porter has special packages.
Skiing tops the list of outdoor fun at this time of year, but many resorts have a range of other outdoor activities. For example, Stowe Mountain Resort has snowboarding, snowshoeing, ice fishing, dog-sledding, snowmobiling, horse-drawn sleigh rides, and ice climbing. At Smugglers' Notch, there is a skating rink and an extensive zip-line canopy tour -- called Arbortrek -- with eight zip-lines, two skybridges and two rappels. Over at Sugarbush, you can go snow-tubing on Sir Henry's Hill or ride the Lincoln Limo, a 12-passenger cabin cat that brings skiers and riders to the top of Lincoln Peak for Powder Day First Tracks.
It just opened in December and already the new Pump House Indoor Water Park at the new Hotel Jay (at Jay Peak) is a hit with families -- and no wonder.
The $20 million, 4,645-sq.-metre attraction has the longest indoor activity river in the U.S., multiple tube slides (on one you reach speeds of 65 km/h and drop 20 metres per second), a double standing surf wave, the Big Falls climbing wall, the Mill Pond children's play structure and splash zone, hot tubs, rental cabanas, and the Warming Shelter snack bar. In the summer, a retractable roof opens for natural cooling.
Get the scoop
Enjoying a Ben & Jerry's ice cream is a quintessential Vermont experience and something the whole family can enjoy (especially the samples). And to think it all started in Vermont when childhood friends Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield took a correspondence course on ice-cream making.
That was in 1978 and since then it's become a global ice-cream phenomenon. Ben & Jerry's shops are everywhere, but for a glimpse at the heart of the operation, take the Ben & Jerry's Factory Tour in Waterbury. The 30-minute tour (they leave at least every half an hour) includes a short film on the company's history, view of the production room, and a sample of ice cream (flavour of the day).
Check the list of Top 10 flavours, then visit the Scoop Shop to buy a cone. Don't miss the ice cream "graveyard," where flavours that didn't make the cut (such as Dublin Mudslide and Minter Wonderland) end up. Open daily except for Christmas, New Year's and Thanksgiving. Cost is $3 for adults, and free for kids 12 and under.
Waterbury is the also place to learn about other locally made products including Lake Champlain Chocolates, Cold Hollow Cider -- visit the mill to watch it being made, and Green Mountain Coffee, which has a Visitor Center & Cafe located in a restored historic train station.
Ski with a legend
He has skied down peaks others deemed unskiable. John Egan is recognized around the world as a pioneer of extreme sports, and you can hire him to ski with you for a few hours or a day at Sugarbush, where he founded the Adventure Learning Center.
"Powder Magazine labelled him one of the 50 most influential skiers of all time, and he's got a great philosophy on skiing," says resort spokesman Patrick Brown. "He can offer advice and tips for everyone from the beginner to seasoned experts and brings an enthusiasm to skiing that just really excites the day."
Who knows, after a few hours with Egan, you too could be skiing Like There's No Tomorrow (the title of one of 18 Warren Miller films that features Egan).
Farm-to-table menus and spectacular venues are highlights of dining at Vermont's ski resorts. The eat-local food movement is thriving at places such Solstice at Stowe Mountain Lodge, which features an excellent artisan cheese plate among other locally produced offerings, and Timbers Restaurant at Sugarbush, where you can find locally raised yak meat paired with Vermont's Switchback Ale. These are just two of many restaurants that make up the Vermont Fresh Network.
The Green Mountain State also takes dining to higher levels -- literally. Cliff House dining room at Stowe Mountain Resort is high up Mt. Mansfield and overlooks the surrounding peaks. At Sugarbush, groups can arrange to dine at Allyn's Lodge atop Gadd Peak. Guests are transported to the lodge in the Lincoln Limo (a luxe 12 passenger cabin snow cat) for a three-course meal served at a fireside table. Then return on the limo or ski down with a guide and regroup at Timbers for dessert.
The great indoors
Not into skiing? No problem. Take in a free movie or ticketed shows at the Spruce Peak Performing Arts Center at Stowe Mountain Lodge. Coming up March 15 is the Official Blues Brothers Revue, followed by Danu on March 18. Or sign up for a day tour -- Historic Stowe Tour, A Taste of Vermont, Wine Tours and Tastings. You can also take out a Mercedes-Benz for a test drive or take a Vermont covered bridge tour.
Smugglers' Notch bills itself as America's Family Resort and there's something for all ages including the Treasures child care centre, where kids as young as two-and-a-half can ski on a tiny slope, the Fun Zone recreation centre (giant slide, table games, arcade and bouncy house) and Teen Alley (Internet access, Xbox 360, DVDs, Ping Pong, music and more). Many resorts, such as Stowe Mountain Resort have ski and snowboard schools for children. Sugarbush has the School House -- a base for kids divided into four different age groups, plus the annual Vermont Teddy Bear Ski Race for ages 3-8 coming up on March 18. Winners receive a customized teddy bear.
If you go
Porter has twice-weekly (Thursdays and Sundays) roundtrip flights (about 70 minutes one-way) from Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport to Burlington until April 8. (Long weekends offer Monday return option). One-way fares start at $109, plus taxes. Porter offers ski packages and shuttle bus service for Jay Peak, Smugglers' Notch Resort, Stowe Mountain Resort and Sugarbush Resort. For more, visit skivermont.com or skivermont.com/flyporter.