Vermont isn’t that far from Greenwich, in spirit anyway
And just when you think you can’t get through another Greenwich winter, you arrive at the solution: Vermont.
We spent winter school break in Vermont, splitting our time between two houses in the Mad River Valley area. Our intention was to ski some local mountains and check things out in the Green Mountain State.
It turns out Vermont is one of those weird Greenwich traditions that everybody knows about but no one acknowledges, sort of like Hoagland’s. Lots of old Greenwich families go to Vermont in the winter; it’s like a thing.
“You have to remember that growing up in Greenwich 40 years ago, no one flew out West to ski,” a Greenwich old-timer told me. “If you wanted to ski, you went to Vermont.”
Well, it’s still happening. You pick up the kids early on Friday to beat traffic, drive five hours north, enroll everyone in a ski class at the nearest mountain, and kick back and enjoy the cheddar cheese.
“It is so great,” a friend gushed. “The kids get to their seasonal ski program at 9, and we come pick them up at 4:30. In the middle of the winter you have them outside all day, and when they get back they’re exhausted, no iPads in sight.”
Of course, all this requires a significant seasonal cost, but no one talks about that either — other than the Bernie Sanders supporters who live there.
I asked a clerk at the Warren General Store how she liked living in Vermont year-round.
“It’s expensive,” she said as she made her way past the potbelly stove, and then the turkey and cranberry sandwiches, and maple truffle gourmet popcorn, which somehow I doubt is consumed by the locals.
You can take Greenwich families out of Greenwich, but you can’t take the Greenwich out of … Vermont?
There are ski homes that had been in Greenwich families for generations all over the place — especially in this corner of Vermont, where it seemed time has stood still. There was even a single-person chairlift from the 1940s at the local ski mountain.
Enter the Haft family. We had won a vacation stay in “old Vermont” at a charity auction a while back that turned out to be a family home of people we know in Greenwich.
“Wait, you are staying in our house,” our friend chortled at a Christmas party when I described where we going to ski in February. “You have been emailing with my mother!”
Sure enough, we stayed at our friend’s childhood ski home. It had been in the family for over 50 years. Every room screamed old Vermont ... and Greenwich. The only caveat was come Thursday morning, we had to move out because the long weekend had been promised to one of the many relatives who uses the place.
Enter Greenwich friend No. 2, who had a ski house only a few miles away and graciously invited us to stay for rest of our vacation. We were officially house-hopping Greenwich/Vermont ski vacation homes.
Neither house was used as a rental, which made it extra special to stay in as guests. Everywhere you looked were old family photographs, well-loved dog beds and half-finished games of chess; each room was like a warm hug from a friend who was not there but had somehow lingered. We were visiting another family’s history and way of life.
Which brings me to Raymond Carver. In 1971, Carver wrote a short story that has always freaked me out. “Neighbors” is the story of a couple who stays in another family’s home for a week while they are away, and soon start to pretend that they have swapped lives with their hosts.
“Don’t go there, Claire,” my husband warned me when I raised the story during our visit.
Fear not. The Haft family couldn’t swap lives with anyone if we tried, in part because we haven’t figured out our own lives. Still, I was struck how each family home rubbed off on us.
Our first house was a gorgeous old farmhouse dating back to the first Vermont settlers. Everything was hand-hewn, with wardrobes promising Narnia and all sorts of family nostalgia winking at us from every corner. This was a home where the Haft family skied together by day and ate together by night, as if we had been doing this for generations.
And as we gazed upon the antique farming implements, we started to speak fondly of our old chicken coop back in Greenwich and our failed tomato plants last summer; maybe it was time to try again. Perhaps we could even tap our trees for maple syrup and harvest together as a family.
As if ...
The next home we visited was a gorgeous cabin that was all about Vermont wilderness. When I say cabin, I mean our kids hollered, “It’s a Lincoln Log house” as we pulled up the driveway. There were animal heads that would make Hemingway drool, bearskin rugs, Native American blankets and tapestries. There were even tribal drums as side tables.
And as if by osmosis, we found ourselves skiing like wild animals by day on trails with misleading names like “Paradise” (which really should be called “If You are Over 40, You Will Die”). By night, we sat by the hearth and talked of hunting, which turned into a complicated game involving hunting each other, which culminated in our 7-year-old drumming on a side table while his 9-year-old sister did her “animal spirit dance.”
I’m sure they can’t wait to have us back.
But because we were so graciously invited into the whole Greenwich/Vermont thing by way of special friends and homes, we suddenly got it. The trek up I-91, the old family house, the single-person chairlift. There is a history and tradition there that is palpable, and it’s one we can’t wait to get back to ... even if it involves a spirit animal and truffle popcorn.
Claire Tisne Haft is a former publishing and film executive, raising her family in Greenwich while working on a freelance basis on books and films.