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Mountain Magic in Central Vermont

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Photo: David Nicolas

Maybe it's the sign at the lift line that intimidates me. It warns: Rocks, Stumps, Cliffs, and oh, did we mention rocks? Western skiers have a hard time admitting that their Yankee cousins are sometimes more competent mountaineers, gliding through deep woods and tight chutes. But the view from Lincoln Peak proves worth the trek.

Right up the road, on Stark Mountain, Mad River Glen is an obstinate throwback. It is owned cooperatively by shareholders whose vehicles are plastered with red-and-white ski it if you can bumper stickers. Mad River Glen has no snowmaking equipment. Boarding is banned. No one in the cafeteria objects to brown-bag lunches. Last winter was the final season for the famous single chairlift. It was replaced by, no kidding, another single chairlift. Atop Stark Mountain, the Appalachian Gap crosses over the Long Trail, blazed by the Green Mountain Club between 1910 and 1930. The nation's oldest long-distance trail, the 270-mile footpath follows the Green Mountains' main ridge all the way to Canada. The Club's 1921 guidebook advises that "No person should attempt to tramp the Trail without a light axe and a good compass. Woolen underwear is also important as you will sweat heavily; it prevents chill on the mountain tops where winds are keen..." Since I possess none of these useful items, I keep warm with a bowl of thick chili and a pint of Single Chair Ale in General Stark's Pub.

Does a manifesto taste good?That's a question I consider at every meal in central Vermont, over Yankee pot roast at the Barnard Inn, sunny eggs in the Farmers Diner, lamb stew at Cliff House, and smoked LaBelle Farms duck breast with pinot noir–braised cranberries at Hen of the Wood. The New Oxford American Dictionary recently declared locavore—one who seeks out locally sourced food for its freshness and sustainability—its new word of the year. It's not really surprising that a state that rigorously protects its green spaces would be an equally avid supporter of ethical native foodways. Righteous chefs and fry cooks list their neighboring suppliers on recycled paper–and–soy ink menus.

Before returning to New York, I stop at the Trapp Family Lodge near Stowe. "How many Dartmouth grads does it take to dig a ditch?" cracks Sam von Trapp as he breaks from hard labor on a new snowmaking system for the cross-country trails on his family's 2,400-acre property. There seem to be an inordinate number of Ivy Leaguers in the dining room when we grab a cup of coffee. Trapp has returned from a wayward decade in Colorado and Chile as a private ski guide to shift the resort's emphasis, as he claims, away from its Sound of Music image. Walking out the Austrian-style lodge's front door, however, the first thing we both do is admire the surrounding peaks. Von Trapp's father, Johannes, opened North America's first commercial Nordic ski center here in 1968.

Heading down Mountain Road, I get stuck in a traffic jam caused by another local institution: participants in the Stowe Derby are gliding across the public recreation path. This annual 10-mile cross-country skiing event starts on the summit of 4,393-foot Mount Mansfield, the state's highest peak, and winds up in the village of Stowe, an architectural rival of Woodstock. Watching the colorful parade of stretch Lycra and Gore-Tex, I am content as a snowshoeing convert to no longer be bound by ski fashions, or even groomed trails. Alone in the pinched-up winter woods, no one cares what I'm wearing anyway.

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