Boy, did we need to get outside and play in the snow!
And so we did on Explore New England’s recent shoot in the Okemo Valley Region of south-central Vermont. We kicked things off on a gorgeous Saturday at Magic Mountain Ski Area in Londonderry, a place near and dear to many a local skier, including our cameraman: Stefan Beaumont of Red Vault Productions. We filmed the ski operations and interviewed owner Geoff Hatheway, who also grew up skiing in the Okemo Valley Region. When the opportunity to buy the dormant ski area arose five years ago, he assembled a group of investors and re-opened the mountain, with the goal of preserving its old-school ski vibe.
Magic is a far cry from the big, busy ski resorts, with short lift lines, uncrowded slopes, and a community spirit. While not as tall or expansive as nearby Okemo or Killington, Magic nevertheless boasts some steep and varied terrain, and is known for its great glade skiing. I’m admittedly no glade or mogul skier, but Hatheway is, and he showed off his skills amid the trees. Meanwhile, Beaumont filmed the action with a gyro contraption, often skiing backwards down the slopes.
My home away from home on this shoot was the historic Echo Lake Inn, where owner/innkeeper Tom Gianola made us feel very welcome. The Inn has been a fixture in the Tyson area since the 1700’s, and is just a few minutes from Okemo Mountain Resort and 15 miles from Killington. It’s also home to an acclaimed 4 ½-star restaurant, and serves as a popular wedding venue.
On Sunday, I met up with cameraman Matt Rissell at Grafton Trails & Outdoor Center in the town of Grafton. While light, fluffy snow sifted over the woods and fields, manager Bob Culver led me on a fat-bike tour of the groomed and single-track trail system. Grafton Trails is open to biking, crosscountry skiing, and snowshoeing in winter, and in “normal” years boasts one of the longest tubing parks in the state. The Center rents snowshoes, bikes, and skis to kids and adults alike, and also offers lessons. It’s a wonderful local resource, and great place to spend a few hours on the snow.
Next, Matt and I raced back to Tyson in time to meet fishing guide Matt Twombley of Third Alarm Charters, who was waiting for us on frozen Echo Lake. Matt had already set several tip-ups on the lake in the hope of catching us a “film fish,” but the quarry had other ideas (the Super Fish Bowl perhaps?). Even though the fish gave us the Heisman, we learned a lot from Matt about the local ice-fishing scene and what newbie ice anglers need to know about the sport.
Monday morning found Rissell, Beaumont, and me in the town of Chester, where we met with Lee Whiting and Stan Choiniere of the Chester Snowmobile Club. Stan and Lee (that’s an easy one to remember) had procured a couple of sleds for the crew, and we soon headed off down the many interconnecting groomed trails in the VAST network, which covers the entire state.
Our first stop was the top of Glebe Mountain, where a reality TV show had turned a former chair-lift station at a now-defunct ski area into a cabin. After that we entered Molly Beattie State Forest and made our way to the CCC warming hut, where some friends of Lee and Stan were waiting with a roaring fire and plenty of hot dogs ready for roasting. In subsequent interviews, we learned how much work goes into maintaining the VAST trails and ensuring public access. Stan, who serves as a VAST ambassador, also detailed some aspects of snowmobiling safety and etiquette.
It was a spectacular end to an exciting, action-packed, and much-needed winter escape. The only challenge will be fitting all of the footage into a single episode! But that’s a good problem to have.