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Spa and travel review: Mount Snow in West Dover, Vermont

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I've slid effortlessly into a cozy blue climate-controlled pod that whisks me to a summit elevation of 3,600 feet in just over 7 minutes. Way too short, if you ask me, for the most comfortable chairlift I've ever been on. It's such a pleasant experience I secretly wish the ride was just a bit longer.

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I'm at Mount Snow in West Dover, Vermont to explore the lodging, dining and après ski options for families. And the skiing, of course. Our family is attempting to stay active despite the harsh winter. Getting outdoors has been a challenge with temperatures below average, harsh wind chills and what seems like constant snow and ice; we've found that skiing is really the perfect healthy winter family activity. But back to the chairlift that I'm absolutely fixated on. It's the Bluebird Express, North America's only 6-passenger bubble chairlift. The seat is padded and the bubble is warm and whisper quiet. So quiet, in fact, at times I forget that I'm on a ski lift. It feels more like a gondola except for one major benefit: you get to keep your skis on.

Favorite mountain face: Do you usually avoid the teen set and the snowboard crowd? Me too. Here's a Mount Snow insider secret: Carinthia, an entire mountain face dedicated to terrain park features, has plenty of great skiing and none of the crowds of the main faces. Even if you're not into features, you should go! Carinthia has some of the best snowmaking and grooming on the mountain, lively music blasting from speakers and a mesmerizing show as skiers and boarders slice their way back and forth across the expertly carved half pipe. The lack of crowds was a pleasant refuge on an otherwise very crowded Saturday.

Favorite trail: From the Carinthia base lodge, take the Heavy Metal double chair to Prospector. Yes, it's a terrain park but there is plenty of space for those of us who don't get an adrenaline rush from flying through the air. It's the most unique terrain park trail we've ever seen made up entirely of natural features (rocks, trees and logs).

Where to stay: There is a roaring fire in the bustling lobby at the slopeside Grand Summit Resort Hotel. That's one of the reasons we loved it there! We also appreciated not having to scramble for parking spaces each morning when we were ready to ski. You get on the slopes much faster when your lodging is ski in/ski out. You just can't put a price on this level of convenience. It was a 5 minute walk to the main base area with its many dining outlets, several chairlifts and the ski and snowboard school. And when the lifts closed we were close to everywhere we wanted to be. The hotel is home to Harriman's Farm to Table Restaurant, the Grand Country Deli, naturspa and many more amenities.

Our studio suite has a smart layout with an extra sink and vanity area that is separate from the main bathroom. It slept the 3 of us (2 adults, 1 child) comfortably. We didn't cook in the compact kitchen, but appreciated the fridge to store our drinks and leftovers and the microwave to warm said leftovers and make popcorn. Bedding consisted of a Murphy Bed and a pull out sofa. Small families and groups also have the option to stay in a regular inn room without the kitchen facilities. Larger families and groups have multi-bedroom options available. A hearty breakfast at Harriman's Tavern is included and it offers everything you need to fuel up for your ski day.

Where to eat: How does a Vermont Maple Mudslide Martini sound? I decidedly order this indigenous cocktail after perusing the menu Harriman's Farm to Table. It's smooth, rich and fantastic. Vermont maple is the star on Harriman's menu this season. Its sweetness is woven into my cocktail, the vinaigrette on salads and in the creme brûlée. Harriman's is a prime example of how chefs honor ingredients that come out of their own backyard. There are traditional fine dining selections (fish, duck, lamb, beef, pork), but we're drawn to the less traditional selections. The Vermont Cheese Board featured a selection of local cheeses but it was the jams and honey that really amped up the flavor profile of the cheeses. Everything we sampled was utterly delicious. The service blended accomplished and casual; it's by far the finest dining experience at Mount Snow. A spectacular evening and meal.

Restaurants and lodges can be crowded at lunchtimes during the high season and this was true at Mount Snow on a bustling Saturday as well. Not wanting to miss more than a few minutes of time on the slopes, we grabbed slices from Tony's Pizza at the main base lodge and ate them outside where it was a comfortable 37 degrees. The pizza was yummy New York style with thin crust but it was the smell of the famous sugar waffles from the Waffle Cabin that never fails to get me to abandon a healthy eating program. It's a must-try.

For dinner on Saturday night, families flocked to 1900' Burger for satisfying burgers, "griddled" cheese and hearty sides. The pulled pork sandwich with a side of onion rings and mac and cheese was a fabulous way to replenish the calories burned skiing. No one was disappointed and no one left hungry and the bill was half of what we might have expected.

Learning: Being with a ski instructor has one terrific benefit beyond the obvious: you don't have to wait in lift lines. It's like having an on-mountain E-Z Pass. Herb, our instructor for the day, has been guiding skiers to excellence since 1992; we're in good hands. He doubles as our mountain guide as we work our way across multiple mountain faces. But the best part of the lesson for me is that I get to learn alongside my 11 year-old son. Herb somehow manages to take skiers of two differing abilities and instruct us both simultaneously - and it hardly feels like work. His teaching style is informal - he is showing us a good time while dishing out pointers along the way. He even manages to teach my normally lesson-shy husband, who joins us for the second half of the four-hour lesson, a few new techniques.

Bonus feature: The morning starts with hazy sunshine. But something happens in the last hour of our ski day. The clouds thicken and the skies open up and quickly dump powder. Any bit of scratchiness disappears and the conditions are enhanced immediately. It's the finest hour of the day.

When the lifts close: We head up to our room to change out of our ski boots. We crank open the window to get some fresh air and that's when we hear it: an orchestra of sounds. It's a symphony of music and laughter and screams of delight from children. We peer out the window to see what we're missing. It's après ski for families - a festive, partying atmosphere for the youngest crowd. Families are gathered at the tubing hill roasting marshmallows and speeding down the hill. We join them and have a blast too!

If you're traveling without the family, Cuzzins Bar & Grill is the place to be for après food and fun. The live entertainment and raucous atmosphere leans toward a more mature crowd.

To get some pampering: Head to naturespa at the Grand Summit Resort Hotel. My treatment of choice is the 80-minute light-hearted, a lavender sugar body polish followed by a relaxing full body massage with neroli body butter. My therapist Sarah is a passionate herbalist, gifted massage therapist and an absolute nurturer. I sink into the warmest treatment table ever underneath soft, pillowy blankets and it makes me feel safe and cocooned. Afterwards my skin is smooth and my muscles are eternally grateful for Sarah's expert attention.

When I sat down with Spa Director Lucy Imperatore, she said one thing that really resonated with me: "naturespa utilizes the Green Mountains as a playground". It goes beyond a typical spa where treatments are the only thing on the menu. Take some time before or after your treatment to browse the cute, locally-sourced boutique that offers a real sense of authentic Vermont. Many products are handcrafted by local Vermont residents, like the heavenly Trinity Botanicals infused with herbs and essential oils by one of naturespa's own massage therapists Michele Mazur. Take a guided snowshoe tour followed by a relaxation massage, a journal writing session or a guided mediation massage. The spa also offers a robust fitness and yoga schedule with top-notch instructors.

Fun tips:

  • See if you can spot the gold colored chairs on each lift, painted to commemorate Mount Snow's 50th anniversary in 2004.
  • Interesting historical photographs line the walls of the hallway leading to the conference center at the Grand Summit Hotel.

As is common in the travel industry, Mount Snow hosted the writer and her family. While this did not influence the writers opinions, Examiner.com believes in full disclosure of potential conflicts of interest.

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