Trapp Family Lodge: The hills are alive and open for skiing

Featured in Forever Young on February 25, 2018

Photo - Diana Ballon
Photo by Diana Ballon

I’m not clear who Sam is when we first meet in the lounge at the Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, Vermont. He tells me he works at the lodge doing a lot of different things and admits to living on property but without a TV, which is why his young son Wolfy is staring mesmerized at the TV screen.

”Workers here get to live at the lodge?” I ask. “Well, my family own the lodge,” he says. Oh my god. You’re a Trapp!

That’s my first initiation into the Trapp family here at the lodge, which began welcoming guests to what was originally a 27-room family home in 1950. Later the lodge expanded with an addition of its Nordic centre in 1968, establishing itself as one of the oldest Nordic centres in the United States and the largest in Stowe. After a fire in 1980, the lodge was rebuilt with 96 rooms—and then later expanded further with the addition of villas and guest houses.

Sam is the grandchild of Maria and the Captain (Georg) Von Trapp, and son of their youngest son Johannes, who is the president of the resort. Laid back, affable and a family man—Sam sets the tone of the place, a welcoming destination for grandparents, children and everyone in between looking for a relaxed holiday in the mountains.

I must confess to being a bit gobsmacked at meeting a Trapp. While the kids were young, we had an annual tradition of watching “The Sound of Music,” the 1965 film on which the Trapp family’s memoir was very loosely based, and like my children, I had a childhood love of the film.

Admittedly the half-hour documentary about the Trapps screened regularly at the lodge dispels some myths we had about the family from the Hollywood drama. The family didn’t actually escape the Nazis by climbing the mountains and “walking” to neighbouring Switzerland. They took the train to Italy instead. The Captain and Maria didn’t actually have a wild romance. Maria admits to initially merely liking him—but agreeing to marry the Captain on the advice of the nuns. And although the film painted the captain as a harsh disciplinarian who discouraged music, he was clearly much kinder than the film portrayed. 

The Trapps fell in love with Vermont because it reminded them of Austria. And those memories of their home country are infused throughout the resort today. You’ll find framed memorabilia of early days—the bus in which the Trapp Family singers toured, and many other family portraits on the walls of the dark-stained alpine-style hotel. And you can sample traditional dishes—like the schnitzel and spatzle served by waitresses wearing traditional dirndl in the main dining room.

But there have also been efforts to upgrade the resort—blending old school nostalgia with more modern services and amenities—as they compete with many other ski resorts in the area. They now have a state-of-the-art fitness centre that includes a pool, outdoor hot tub, sauna and yoga studio. 

In September 2016, they opened the impressive Von Trapp Brewing Bierhall Restaurant, with its lofty ceilings, glassed in views of Mount Mansfield and the Worcester Mountains and lagers on tap from their own brewery now housed on site.  (Last year, they served 60,000 gallons of the stuff.) Their restaurant also offers some mouthwatering dishes: after a day’s skiing, you can’t go wrong with the Johannesburger made with grass-fed beef from cattle at the Trapp Family Lodge farm. 

My 12-year-old son Felix and I spent a long weekend here in early January, taking advantage of the one hour-15 minute Porter flights from Toronto to nearby Burlington for a cross-country ski holiday across the border.

Over 72 hours, we managed to have an action-packaged vacation, one that would also be ideal for active grandparents and their grandkids.

“The highlights?” I ask Felix.

“The moonlight snowshoe tour to the Bierhall, all the skiing, the steak and eggs at breakfast, the hot chocolate (five in all), the outdoor hot tub, the malt shop [in the village] and Ben and Jerry’s [factory tour on the way back to the airport].”

For the most part, that sums up our trip.

Despite some cold weather, the sky was blue, the sun shining and the tall forest of birch, maple and pine trees kept us protected from the wind as we meandered on skis through trails on the property. The first day, we skied about five kilometres to the Slayton Pasture Cabin in the woods, where a big fire in the hearth awaited us, along with steaming bowls of soup and hot chocolate. Then it was back on the trail, and straight downhill for a large section on the Parizo Trail. We needed to do our best snow plow!

The next day, we took a different route, starting with a few kilometre loop on the Telemark trail, and then a larger loop – stopping at the Austrian Tea & Tap Room for a delicious pastry from the bakery.

That night, the moonlight snowshoe tour to the bierhall was sublime. Led by activities director Bob Stafford, Felix and I and another mother and son snow-shoed about an hour through narrow paths in the woods, spotting recent coyote tracks in the snow, and pointing out ways to distinguish the different types
of trees.

The snowshoe tour is just one of the many activities at the lodge: daily schedules include everything from lap swimming to a “good morning yoga” class in their fitness centre to a sugar maple tour, horse-drawn sleigh rides, a “Von Trapp Family Talk” of the family’s history, and screening of old timely films, like the 1925 “The Gold Rush” and “The Wizard of Oz “in the evenings.

This is all good family fun—and a great way to connect across the generations.