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Skiing to the Sound of ... Silence

Discovering backcountry solitude at Trapp Family Lodge


Published January 26, 2011 at 10:09 a.m.

Setting off from the Slayton Pasture Cabin toward an untracked hardwood glade at Trapps.
  • Setting off from the Slayton Pasture Cabin toward an untracked hardwood glade at Trapps.

Since the 1960s, when Johannes von Trapp and his family first opened the Trapp Family Lodge above Stowe, skiing has been at the heart of the winter experience there. In the early days, von Trapp might have been content simply to escape into the pristine woods for a few hours alone on skis. His development of a modern Nordic skiing center shifted the focus to groomed trails, fitness and racing, and made “Trapps” a prized destination for lovers of the sport. Today, however, the growing demand for untracked snow and backcountry solitude is bringing skiing at Trapps full circle.

“What my dad was envisioning back then is what we are really getting back to now,” says Johannes’ son, Sam von Trapp, who is helping to run the family business. “After 42 years, we are really getting back to skiing in the woods again.”

He’s referring to the kind of skiing that defined the sport in a time before chairlifts and grooming machines, when skiers would venture freely into the mountains with the aid of climbing skins and kick wax in search of an adventurous descent. Sam von Trapp, 38, is part of a generation that embraces all forms of modern skiing, from Nordic trail and lift-served alpine to backcountry skiing through the woods and wild mountains.

“There’s nothing like the feeling of skiing untracked snow,” says Dana Jourdan, who helps manage the ski shop at Trapps, “especially when you catch a great view that you have never seen before.”

The Trapp Family Lodge is catering to the growing interest in skiing adventure by offering backcountry-oriented instruction, guided tours and gear rentals, and by making its abundance of natural glades and backcountry terrain more accessible. Some of this land — the low-angle glades of the family’s working sugarbush, the gently sloping apple orchard, the more moderately pitched Chapel Woods — is just minutes from the main lodge and outdoor center. A more extended tour, with steeper tree lines and ungroomed trail descents through the woods, can be found around Roundtop Mountain and off Skytop Ridge, which extends west from the Trapps property toward the Green Mountain divide.

“We’re trying to be adaptable to every level of skier,” says Sam von Trapp. “Some skiers will show up just looking to make a few turns in the fresh powder off the side of a trail … while others are really looking for a bigger backcountry adventure.”

Earlier this month, my wife, Emily Johnson, and I spent the morning sampling some of the goods with Sam von Trapp. We slid away on waxless backcountry skis to explore the beautiful network of groomed trails. Within minutes, a fellow passed us skate-skiing — a popular Nordic activity at Trapps — with a pair of wide backcountry skis strapped to his pack.


Sam von Trapp links a few turns in the fresh snow. Photo by Brian Mohr.

A gentle, 30-minute climb brought us to the old Slayton Pasture Cabin, where we sipped hot cider and watched a few chickadees sing in the winter sunshine. Outside the cabin, we attached climbing skins to our skis and set off into the woods of Roundtop Mountain. It didn’t take us long to spot a few tempting ski lines through the mixed hardwood forest, and to prepare for a multipitched descent through the powder-coated woods below. We spotted another set of tracks. Perhaps Johannes had been out skiing that morning.


A skier enjoys fresh powder on backcountry ski terrain easily accessible from Trapps. Photo by Brian Mohr.

The descent led us to another groomed trail. We parted ways with Sam — who skied off to a meeting — and enjoyed an easy ski back to the lodge, which has its very own brewery and café. While eating lunch and sipping on a delicious dunkel beer, we decided that Trapps’ emergence as a skiing-adventure center was a very good thing for skiers in Vermont.