Traveling With Kids: Okemo Mountain Resort
Last year we tried skiing for the first time as a family and loved it so much that we locked in our seasonal ski and boot rentals all the way back in August. Jon and I decided that if we could get in 5 days of skiing (so, 2-3 weekends) this winter, that would be a big success. And after our first trip last weekend -- to Okemo Mountain Resort in Vermont -- I’m feeling more than ever an itch to fulfill that goal as a family. And quite frankly, I’m already fantasizing about playing hooky for a few local day trips on my own! Here are my thoughts on why Okemo is a spectacular ski option for families.
1. All manner of skiing!
We are definitely a lower lift level family, so the magic carpet (it’s like an escalator up the bunny hill instead of a rope tow) and green trails were perfectly fine for us! But there are tons of options for all levels. Okemo has 121 trails, 20 lifts, and 98% overall terrain with snowmaking coverage (ranking #1 in VT). We visited early in the season and their snowmaking crew was ON IT. There were plenty of trails open and the lift lines were quick.
2. Excellent instruction
This was the third time I have been skiing in my life -- the first time was in middle school, the second time was last year. I took a lesson for the first time at Okemo and it was AMAZING. My instructor Tom Fox is a nationally recognized, award-winning ski instructor (he’s humble, but I pried out his history while we were hanging on the ski lift!) and he was the perfect blend of explaining technical details and just getting out there and doing. He taught me some basics and after a couple of runs on the magic carpet we headed up on the lifts. The lesson totally gave me the confidence to try new green trails on my own. Laurel and Jon also took lessons and both had fantastic instructors.
3. Lodging options
Okemo has a number of lodging options; we stayed in Jackson Gore Village at the Jackson Gore Inn, which is a fantastic option for families due to proximity to amenities (I’ll get to that in a minute). What was particularly excellent about our arrangement was that we were in side by side rooms where one room had two Queen beds and the other had a Murphy bed, living area, and kitchen. SO HANDY!
4. Underground parking
The Jackson Gore Inn offers underground parking, which may not seem like a big deal but ended up being a game changer given that the car was home base for our ski gear. On day 1, the Jackson Gore lifts were not open so we went to Okemo’s Clock Tower base area. Shuttles are available throughout the property, but for our mix of needs -- read: uncertainty about how long Violet would last on the slopes -- we wanted to drive. On day 2, when the Jackson Gore lifts open it was AWESOME. We were able to suit up in our room, go to the underground garage to get our ski gear, then go one floor up and walk right out to the slopes. It was amazingly easy, which was fantastic given that this was our first family ski trip figuring out gear and getting around on our own (our trip last year was with friends who knew the ropes).
5. Amenities in Jackson Gore Village
If you want a range of amenities and options, I can’t recommend Jackson Gore Village enough (in addition to the Jackson Gore Inn, there are two other properties in this village -- the Adams and Bixby Houses). We’re in a position where Laurel is old and interested enough to want to get in as much skiing is possible and Violet is good for maybe 1 or 2 outings then wants to do something else. In Jackson Gore Village there’s an ice rink, snow tubing area, mountain coaster, pool, and a fitness center. And if you can manage time away, there’s also a spa. I could easily envision spending a week there, there was so much to do!
6. Plenty of food options on site
Okemo is replete with food options. I mean, hello, you can even get waffles (OMG THE WAFFLE SMELL) midway during a ski run if you like. We primarily dined at the Coleman Brook Tavern and then also at Epic Restaurant and on all counts, the food was fantastic. And we’re food snobs, so that’s saying something.
7. Kid’s zone
On Saturday night there was a grownups-only media dinner and for the first time ever, Jon and I were able to take advantage of the kid’s zone. Due to the variability in temperament and age of our kids at different phases of life, we have never been able to take advantage of a kid’s zone before so it was pretty epic. The staff was great, and I was relieved that it’s a nut-free zone so I didn’t have to worry about Violet’s allergies (we entered the world of EpiPen’s this fall).
8. Fantastic staff
Okemo talks about something called “The Okemo Difference,” which may sound a tad jargon-y, but they actually totally deliver on it. The service was excellent on all counts and I don’t know if it’s an Okemo thing or a Vermont thing in general, but everyone was so incredibly friendly and helpful!
9. Creative inspiration throughout
I’m a designer, so visuals are important to me. Subsequently, it was such a treat to walk through various buildings at Okemo with an eye for the walls. Okemo co-owner Diane Mueller is an artist and her commitment to supporting fellow artists is evident throughout the property’s rooms and public spaces. Okemo’s collection represents a variety of mediums (paintings, photography, photo montage, printmaking) and nearly a dozen Vermont artists (in addition to other artists from MA, NH, NY, and Canada), including a commissioned series of paintings by Vermont artist Donald Saaf at Solitude Village.
10. Local options in Ludlow
Ludlow, VT is small but cute. We didn’t have a ton of time to explore but on our way in, we stopped at Mr. Darcy’s for dinner and the truffle fries are, in fact, off the hook. We also had tasty snacks (including alligator satay -- which Violet tried!) at Mojo Cafe. There are a few little gift stores too.
11. Other cultural attractions nearby
As I mentioned, you could easily book a week at Okemo and have plenty of fun. But if you’re looking for a day outing, in striking distance of Ludlow are Brattleboro (26 minute drive), Woodstock (38 minute drive), Killington (34 minute drive), and Rutland (34 minute drive).
I was originally planning on scoping out Rutland to explore The Paramount Theatre (an historic opera house turned current performing arts venue), Castleton University’s Castleton Downtown Gallery, Chaffee Art Center, the Carving Studio and Sculpture Center (it’s situated at an historic marble quarry!), and the West Rutland Art Park (which seems akin to the deCordova), but needed to edit our plans given timing -- I hope to fulfill this mission soon!
In a nutshell, Okemo is WONDERFUL. If you ski, you will certainly want to go there! And if you don’t ski, go during the summer! I was just talking about the property with some friends this past weekend and it turns out that they stay there over the summer and love it! Meanwhile, our repeated visits to Vermont over the last couple of years have made clear how beautifully committed Vermont is to the arts (for a glimpse take a look at the Vermont Arts Council’s calendar!). Jon and I feel so at home in Vermont and I can’t wait for my next visit.
Disclosure: I was invited to explore Okemo during their media weekend, through which we were provided lodging, some meals, and lift tickets. All opinions about the property are, of course, my own.