When people ask where I’m from, I frequently say southern Vermont. But to be more specific, I grew up in the Deerfield Valley, and when it comes to a classic Vermont skiing experience, it still one of my favorite places.
Set between the Connecticut River and the southern-most range of the Green Mountain National Forest, the Deerfield Valley is a shallow trough that stretches from the southern limit of Vermont’s Route 100 north to Wilmington, West Dover and Wardsboro. For years, the valley has been a starting point for skiers heading to Mount Snow or Haystack. It’s also home recently become home to one of the swankiest new private clubs in ski country. And it has a few of my favorite backcountry stashes. But more on that later.
While in many Vermont towns, things never change, the Deerfield Valley has seen some dramatic growth in the past few years. After the 2011 Tropical Storm Irene brought massive devastation, the valley has made a rebound. Here’s our local’s guide of what’s new and not-to-miss.
Rising 3,586 feet, Mount Snow, Vermont’s southern-most ski area, was where I learned to ski. My father worked in the marketing department and after I mastered my driveway ski trail, I made my first turns on the mountain’s green circle trails.
A lot has changed since then, especially in the past two years. For one, Mount Snow now has one of the most expansive snowmaking systems in the country, not to mention New England’s only all-park mountain face, Carinthia. Olympic medalists, including snowboarder Kelly Clark and skier Devin Logan, made their names here. Today, Carinthia’s park features giant gas tanks, suspended wrecking balls, staircases and a host of imaginative features inspired by the Vermont landscape (think sap buckets, barns and fences). No wonder Transworld Snowboarding magazine readers recently named it the best park in the East.
For a very different experience—and if you want a mountain all to yourself and your closest (wealthy) friends—the Hermitage Club, one of Vermont’s few private ski clubs, is the place for you. Located on neighboring 3,200-foot Haystack Mountain, the club offers 194 skiable acres and 45 trails, plus an impressive 80,000 square-foot post-and-beam clubhouse with restaurants, locker rooms, spa, retail shops and a recreation center for kids and teens – all members only. In addition to the mountain, the club has also purchased the Deerfield Valley Airport. Starting in 2016, the club has partnered with Tradewind Aviation to provide shuttle service for members and guests between the Deerfield Valley and the Westchester County Airport for $321.13 each way.
All of this can be yours for the private ski club price tag that comes with it. A family initiation fee is $85,000 with annual dues of $8,500.
A little farther north, Stratton recently made elegant renovations to its historic base lodge and the Grizzly Bear Pub this winter. The resort also offers weekend bus service from Manhattan via the Hampton Jitney.
SECRET TRAILS & BACKCOUNTRY STASHES
For a morning showshoe or a headlamp-lit kick and glide, Wilmington and Dover have a number of connected trails. My favorite snowshoe trail is behind the Chimney Hill development just off of Route 9 in Wilmington. The trail leaves Upper Dam Road for a moderate 2.4-mile hike to the summit of Haystack Mountain, gaining some 1,200 feet and culminating with views across the Deerfield Valley to Mount Snow to the north and the Harriman Reservoir to the south.
The area also has plenty of Nordic skiing, thanks to the classic and skate trails at Timber Creek, across the road from Mount Snow’s north entrance. For a guided experience, Zoar Adventure Center, located in downtown Wilmington, offers a six-mile out-and-back snowshoe tour that follows a branch of the Deerfield River past the Searsburg Dam, as well as a cross country ski trip on the Hoot, Toot & Whistle Trail to the Harriman Reservoir.
For some sweet backcountry turns, head east on Route 9 to Hogback Mountain in neighboring Marlboro. This tiny ski area closed in the 1980s, but a group of locals has begun to reclaim some of the 14 original trails for backcountry skiing. So when the snow gets deep, you’ll be able to find some powder within hiking distance of your car.
(REALLY) FINE DINING
For breakfast, the locals’ choice is Dots, right in the middle of Wilmington. Since 1980, every Vermont governor has posed for a photo-op there and Gourmet magazine once described the pancakes as “a national treasure.” My father had breakfast there the day I was born and got his meal for free.
In the past couple of years, the Deerfield Valley has become one of the culinary hotspots in the state, with several new restaurants opening this year. In August, Mangia e Beve opened in Wilmington with Italian fare including homemade breads, pasta and gelato. In May, Cask & Kiln Kitchen set up in the restored Parmalee & Howe Building at the intersection of Route 9 and Route 100, serving dishes-to-share downstairs like Maine mussels in beer butter. The upstairs area features a more relaxed lounge and bar area, serving winter squash pappardelle or venison stew. Another newcomer, the Village Roost specializes in non-GMO foods and serves up soups, sandwiches and burgers and doubles as a retail market.
The Hermitage Club’s latest contribution to the Valley dining experience was unveiled in December: Piacenza at the Inn at Sawmill Farm features seasonal Italian-inspired dishes designed by culinary consultant and Michelin-starred chef Terrance Brennan. And you don’t have to be a Hermitage member to get a table.
Located within walking distance from downtown Wilmington, Pizzapalooza serves hand-tossed pizza with local ingredients and more than 14 rotating taps pouring Vermont beers including Hermit Thrush from Brattleboro and brews from Bennington’s Madison Brewing Co. In June, the owners plan to open the Beer Naked Brewery, which will brew small batches for pouring right next door.
Up Route 100 in Dover, the Dover Forge offers fresh salads and house-smoked meats in a comfortable space. If you’re waiting for a table or not quite ready for the night to end, head next door to One More Time, a low-key spot for a game of pool and a pint.
The Valley’s lodging options range from refined bed and breakfasts to comfortable inns. In addition to a critically acclaimed restaurant, the Hermitage Inn offers 15 individually-decorated rooms ($229 – $492) with access to the nearby Hermitage Club’s alpine and Nordic trails, snowshoeing and horse-drawn sleigh rides (no need to be a club member to stay at this inn).
Wilmington’s Old Red Mill Inn, which dates to 1828 when the building served as a sawmill, has rooms for $65 – $110. You’ll find plenty of vintage décor in a clean and comfortable setting that’s not far from cross country or alpine skiing. The Nutmeg Inn, also close to the center of Wilmington, is a restored 1777 farmhouse with ten rooms and four suites, each individually appointed ($140 – $245).
While I get to travel and ski throughout much of the state, the Deerfield Valley remains one of my favorite places in Vermont. It still feels like home.