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By Robert Audette
I had only completed one day of skiing, but my body felt like it had surmounted a week of double black diamonds. All I could think about was slipping into the hot tub at the Sun & Ski Inn and Suites. As the Jacuzzi jets massaged my muscles, I silently thanked my wife for insisting we book a room for our winter escape.
We had visited Stowe and stayed at the inn the summer before. We were so impressed by the accommodations that we began planning our yearly winter family vacation on the drive home from our summer getaway. We drove by the Stowe Mountain Resort and my 5-year-old son, Gus, asked if we could go skiing sometime. I promised him we would return to the Sun & Ski Inn and his eyes lit up at the prospect.
Luckily, the owner found us a great mid-week special at the end of the year for a room with two queen beds in the newly renovated section of the mountain retreat. So, here we were, following up on the promise we made to Gus and enjoying every minute of it.
Hitting the slopes
This was Gus’ first time on the mountain, but the Stowe Mountain Resort has an incredible ski school that offers lessons for all levels of skiers. I didn’t want to leave Gus alone for one minute on the mountain—not because I worry about him in the care of others, but because I wanted to witness my son’s first ski experience. Instead of opting for the kids-only ski class, we booked a private lesson for a half-day and Gus got some one-on-one instruction.
He took to the slopes like a natural, and like most kids his age, he had no fear and was smiling nearly every minute of the day. We stayed on the gentle slopes, but after chasing him around all day, I was beat and dreaming of the hot tub back in our room.
When we got back to the inn, we found my wife, Becky, who prefers cross-country to downhill skiing, in the common area. She was sitting in a cozy chair next to a crackling fire, enjoying sips of tea. Hot tub or hot beverage—either is the perfect cap to an active day in the snow. As Gus and I walked up to her with rosy cheeks and giggles, she was having a lively conversation with a woman from Chile, whose family was skiing at nearby Smuggler’s Notch. We made a plan to meet the woman and her family for dinner and games at Stowe Bowl, the in-house boutique bowling alley we fell in love with during our last visit. But first, Curious George for Gus and the hot tub for me.
Making new friends
Once I felt I could hurl a ball down an alley—approximately 20 minutes of tub time later, for future reference—we all walked down the hall to Stowe Bowl. First, perusing the menu of plush leather sofas.
While Gus, of course, thought he had to have French fries, I insisted he try the Bitterballen—tasty Dutch beef-based fritters served with mustard. The owner mentioned that he had moved here from the Netherlands, and he obviously brought a recipe or two with him. I ordered a house burger topped with crispy fried onions, tomato aioli and sharp cheddar (Vermont cheddar, of course), while Becky got the butternut squash salad. We also ordered drinks from the full-service bar and Gus asked for a Roy Rogers, his favorite drink ever since he had it for the first time last summer.
We sipped our drinks while waiting for our food and Becky’s new friend and her family to arrive. When they came, we made introductions all the way around and I was happy to see they had two kids around Gus’ age. While they perused the menu, we laced our bowling shoes and got ready to do some serious pin toppling.
Gus bowled—or what passes as bowling for a 5-year-old—with the other kids, while Becky and I chatted with their parents, genuinely enjoying each other’s company. It reminded me of something I often forget: Despite our differences, we are all very much alike, hoping to provide the best life possible for our children. So often we get caught up in our daily lives—packing lunches, rushing to work, answering calls and emails, getting dinner ready, starting all over again—that we forget about the simple pleasure of connection and living and learning in and from the moment. That’s really why you need a vacation, and we got just what we needed.
A snowshoe side trip
The next day, while Gus and Becky arranged a snowshoe rental with help from the inn, I headed over to Smuggler’s Notch to ski with an old college friend who lives near Burlington. After I returned from my day of tearing up the mountain and reminiscing with my buddy, I found Becky and Gus taking their turn in the hot tub. Gus told me excitedly about driving to a trailhead, strapping on the snowshoes and heading into the forest. After about a 50-minute romp along a well-packed trail, they came upon the partially frozen Bingham Falls, a 40-foot cascade.
I listened closely as Gus told me about their hike; how he glided across the snow and how he could hear the waterfall before he got to it. His eyes lit up as he told the story and he tried hard to find the right words to describe the wonder and awe he felt when they finally spotted the waterfall.
As Gus chattered away, I could see that no promise would be necessary to bring us back here. Obviously, we’d already created lifetime memories on this trip and the one before—now, what’s going on here in spring and fall?
Reserve now for your winter getaway in Stowe.
By Robert Audette
Before we even had a chance to check in to the Sun & Ski Inn and Suites, Becky and our son, Gus, ran across a pristine and plush grass lawn to the rope hammock hanging between two maple trees. They kicked off their shoes and swung in the shade as a cool breeze calmly ruffled their hair.
The sunlight danced through the rustling leaves and I could imagine how glorious Stowe, Vermont would look in the fall, maples in shades of yellow, orange and bright red. While they swung in the hammock with the sound of the river burbling in the background, I walked to the front lobby, already knowing we had made the right choice.
I had chosen the Sun & Ski Inn for our summer jaunt because it seemed like it had all the leisure we needed with no additional driving to attractions required. It has a miniature golf course and, what I was really looking forward to, an eight-lane, “boutique” bowling alley. It is also just a stone’s throw from a meandering bike path and a few minutes from several accessible waterfalls.
At the front desk, Jack seemed genuinely pleased to meet me. He gave me a quick rundown on what the inn has to offer, including a cozy reading room stocked with guilt-free blockbusters and classics with board games for the children. There was also a lovely wood fireplace that I imagined would be glorious in the winter after a long day of skiing at one of the nearby resorts. Jack also showed me the well-equipped fitness room and where the complimentary breakfast is rolled out each morning from the onsite restaurant. I found the inn’s outlying cottages quite serene, and passed a lush green lawn with Adirondack and lawn chairs that I couldn’t wait to kick back in later.
I headed back to enjoy the hammock with my wife and son, but it was swinging unoccupied. Then I heard a scream of joy through the bushes lining the nearby Little River and rushed over to the bank to see Becky and Gus combing through rocks in the shallows. Gus was handing smooth and sparkly stones to Becky to store in her pockets and add to his collection back home.
At its widest point, the Little River is not more than 20 feet across. The crystal-clear water was gently gurgling along, only about calf deep at its deepest points (about waist-deep on seven-year-old Gus), and it reminded me of when my brothers and I used to wade into local creeks and ponds in search of tadpoles, toads and salamanders. As I thought of those carefree days and watched Gus reveling in the joy of being in nature, I smiled. The river was carrying my worries of today away and I could feel my shoulders lift in relief from embracing simple pleasure in the outdoors with my family.
I took off my shoes and socks, rolled my jeans up and walked into the marvelously cool water. Gus, Becky and I walked hand in hand downriver, happy in our own quiet little world.
As the sun set, we got back on dry land and strolled with prune-like bare feet through the verdant lawn behind the hotel to our room. Our room was in the new addition, a two-story building with 16 rooms, six of which are fireplace suites. Some favorite amenities inside were the large bed, big-screen TV, several plush easy chairs and small kitchen with a refrigerator. We also had views of the backyard and the river flowing along the edge of the property.
Bowling a strike
When we walked into the Stowe Bowl bowling alley, Becky was instantly smitten. Everything was slick and modern, yet still casual and comfortable because of its cozy furnishings. This was nothing like the bowling alley I grew up with—it was much better.
Becky sprawled out on one of the sofas as she eyed the food menu, which featured tantalizing items such as popcorn with shaved asiago cheese, French onion soup, burgers, sandwiches and flatbreads. From the full-service bar, I ordered a Roy Rogers for Gus and a mixed drink for Becky and me.
I hadn’t bowled in years and was afraid I might embarrass myself with my more-than-rusty skills. But, as I watched other families bowl, I realized no one really cared how good or bad anyone was—everyone was just having a good time, munching on food and sipping ice-cold drinks. In fact, the entire time we were surrounded by the sounds of excited families and balls rolling down the alleys and striking the pins—the thunder of my youth.
More memories were stirred that I hadn’t thought about for a long time. Bowling with my dad, who was always intent on finding the sweet spot but patient enough to instruct me on how to accurately launch a ball down the lane. My father had died many years before Gus was born, but this unexpected opportunity was my chance to share with him memories of his grandfather.
While Gus and I bowled and I went way back, Becky made small talk with a mom whose husband and 7- and 11-year-old boys were bowling in the next lane. I listened as the mom told Becky how conveniently located the inn is to a plethora of activities in Stowe. She said it was the perfect spot to just hangout and plan adventures from. Before they left—Gus and their youngest were already chatting—we made plans to meet up the next day to try our hand at the Sun & Ski Inn’s miniature golf course.
Hitting the links
In the morning, we met our new friends at the inn’s cozy dining room and shared a table for breakfast. As we talked, we watched people coming and going, listening to them speaking in different languages. Apparently, Stowe and the Sun & Ski Inn have a very good reputation with international travel agencies, and it showed by the smiles and nods we gave each other.
With three kids in tow, we went outside to the Stowe Golf Park and whacked the balls around for nearly an hour. The attendant on duty told us a professional golf-course designer created the 18-hole putting course and it showed: well landscaped, sand traps and doglegs added to the fun. It was so realistic that each hole reminded me of a miniature version of the golf courses I used to visit with my dad, who golfed on the company team. Each Wednesday night in the summer, I would caddy for him while learning the game. I watched Gus play with the two older boys, hoping we too would soon make our own memories of hitting the links.
Our trip to Stowe and the Sun & Ski Inn was much more than just a short jaunt to the mountains to get away. The inn was comfortable and offered some unique amenities, but it mostly gave us an opportunity to spend quality time with each other, make new friends and enjoy the Vermont countryside.
On the drive back, Gus couldn’t stop talking about our trip. “Daddy, when can we come back?” He asked. “I really liked bowling and golfing, but can we go skiing next time, too?”
“Absolutely,” I said. “But, we’ll have to wait a few months for the snow to fall.”
I could already picture him trotting through the snow with his mom trailing close behind. Next time our family visited, we would continue making the memories that Gus would remember forever.
Book your summer vacation at Sun & Ski Inn and Suites, where a wealth of activity is just steps away.