Accommodating Places

A menu of outdoor activities off the beaten path

by Virginia Lindauer Simmon

So much has been written, and written well, about Vermont its myriad activities and breathtaking, four-season beauty that it can seem daunting to try to find a story that feels fresh. When we happened across a couple of Web sites for inns with a twist, the germ of an idea took hold. We hope you find it edifying, entertaining and informative.

Bring your dog

Eden Mountain Lodge is a place in Eden Mills, about 25 miles north of Stowe, where dog-lovers can visit (with or without their canine companions) and immerse themselves in the world of dogsledding and skijoring. Skijoring, for the uninitiated, is a fast and thrilling sport that combines cross-country skiing with sled-dog mushing. In effect, you put on skis, and your dog pulls you.

Eden Mountain is owned and operated by national skijor champion Jim Blair, who bought the place about five years ago. "Being a pet-lover myself, for my whole life, I crossed over from a cross-country ski background, where I was competitive for years, to skijoring. I started chasing competition, going to different events, just training through the winter and what little you can with the dog in the summer, and it became my sport of choice." These days, Blair says, he feels lonely out on the trail with no dog.

Guests at Eden Mountain are invited to bring their own dogs to learn skijoring or bring only their enthusiasm and take dogsled rides with Blair's 25 dogs. "When I arrived here, I only had five dogs," he says. "Then they began to multiply. It got to the point where there were so many dogs, and there's no free lunch around here, so the dogsled touring evolved." He's quick to add that the dogs are all part of the family great pets and hard-working sled dogs.

"I run Alaskan huskies," says Blair. "They're pretty much bred for performance. Some of the breeds, you could just show them, but with Alaskans, there is no conformity."

At Eden Mountain Lodge in Eden Mills, dog lovers may visit (with or without their canine companions) and immerse themselves in the world of dogsledding and skijoring. Two fully-equipped cabins sleep six each.

He has just instituted a warmer-weather program using carts. He's hoping it allows a way to keep the dogs from "lying around bored" in the warmer months.

For folks wishing to try skijoring with their own dogs, Blair cautions them to bring realistic expectations. "It's like dog obedience and training," he says. "It takes more than a few hours to train a dog to skijor." He recommends a multi-day lesson package. On the first day, he'll hitch your dog up with his own team for a crash course in pulling. Then you and your dog will hit the trail. Over the next few days, he'll show you the ropes and give you enough guidance to work with your dog. "We just hope the dog's going to be listening and has a good memory," he quips.

Eden Mountain Lodge sits on 75 open and wooded acres surrounded by several thousand acres of preserved wilderness owned and maintained by the Nature Conservancy and the Vermont Land Trust. Blair has two cabins for rent: a log home and a guest house. Each has two bedrooms and sleeps six. Each comes fully equipped with kitchens, towels and linens "pretty much turnkey," says Blair. Blair has developed relationships with other area inns, whose guests also use his services.

The private trail system is designed for dogsledding activities, but the trails are also great for walking, skiing and horseback riding. Eden Mountain is a short jaunt away from three of Vermont's most popular ski areas: Stowe, Jay Peak and Smugglers' Notch.
(802) 635-9070; www.edenmountainlodge.com.

Bring your horse

Dennis and Carol Hysko have owned the Russell Young Farm in Jerusalem since 1996, when they lived in Rhode Island. Dennis was involved in family businesses, and Carol was a teacher. They bought the farm with the future in mind, renting it out until Carol retired and they moved to Vermont.

The farm was built in the late 1800s as a working dairy farm. In the '60s, it was made into a ski lodge; in the mid-'80s, a new owner turned it into a family vacation retreat. The Hyskos opened their bed and breakfast two years ago.

Dennis and Carol Hysko of Russell Young Farm, Jerusalem.

"We didn't think we would do much business in the winter, due to the fact that there's nothing much in the area," says Dennis. "We're on what we refer to as the 'quiet side of the mountain,' but very close to the ski areas in the Mad River Valley," notably Mad River Glen.

Jerusalem is near Bristol, just off Vermont 17. The farm sits on 70 acres of pasture and woods with stunning views of the Green Mountains. In fact, you can see three of Vermont's five highest mountains from the farm: Mount Ellen, Mount Abe and Camels Hump. The Hyskos serve only breakfast with maple syrup made from their own trees, processed by a nearby sugarhouse but superb dining is short minutes away in Bristol at the likes of Mary's at Baldwin Creek or the Bobcat Cafe.

It's the creative list of services the Hyskos offer that intrigued us. While they don't encourage dogs "we have a yellow Lab and don't want a confrontation, but there are pet accommodations nearby," says Dennis they do accept guests with horses.

Dennis and Carol have shared their love of horses for more than 30 years. "We own two horses and a donkey, so we have a pasture and everything," says Dennis. Guests may bring their horses to the farm in spring, summer and fall and ride Vermont's lush countryside.

For winter visitors, the Hyskos list several options besides the obvious one of skiing at the mountain or across the fields. Guests interested in motor sports will find snowmobile trails less than a mile away. The Hyskos offer complimentary snowshoes or Mad River Rocket Sleds, made in Waitsfield. This year for the first time, they'll also offer sweeper skis, made by Karhu in St. Albans. The sweeper ski is a combination of cross-country ski and snowshoe. "It's a short, flat, pudgy ski, so if you go up a hill, you can walk, because they have what they call 'bearskin' on the bottom for traction. Then you can ski down," says Dennis.

There's also a toboggan for guests to use and an outdoor hot tub. "According to the state of Vermont health inspector," says Dennis, "we have one of the largest fireplaces of any bed and breakfast in Addison County.

The Russell Young Farm Bed and Breakfast has three guest rooms.
(802) 453-7026; www.russellyoungfarm.com.

Bring your appetite.

Sitting at the edge of Vermont's Northeast Kingdom is Craftsbury Common. It is one of the state's most photographed hill towns, with its sturdy white clapboard buildings framed by towering oaks and stands of pine. It is home to Sterling College, a small, four-year school specializing in environmental studies, leadership and small-scale agriculture.

The Common is also home to the Inn on the Common, an elegant, classic country inn owned by Jim and Judi Lamberti. The Lambertis were the founders and, for many years, the innkeepers at The Inn at Essex. A few years ago, wanting to recapture their dream of running a small inn the Inn at Essex has more than a hundred rooms they left Essex for Craftsbury Common.

The inn has three houses. "Two of them were built between 1795 and 1798; one was built

The Inn on the Common in Craftsbury Common, owned by Jim and Judi Lamberti, features a small, romantic, special-occasion restaurant.

around 1820 or '30," says Jim. Five of the rooms feature fireplaces. He and Judi live right on the property. "We're a quintessential country inn," says Jim. There are no phones or televisions in our rooms."

There's an outdoor pool for summer guests and beautiful gardens. Winter is hopping in the Northeast Kingdom and brings much business to the inn from mid-December to about the middle of March. That's because Craftsbury Common is in a snow belt, where snow can almost be guaranteed.

Activities include cross-country skiing and ice skating, and an arrangement for dogsledding with Eden Mountain Lodge, which is about 20 minutes away. The Lambertis are excited about the sport and have recently tried the summer dog cart rides there.

The inn's restaurant which has a good reputation is open to the public Thursday through Sunday by reservation. It's a very small, romantic, special-occasion restaurant, says Jim, who is also the inn's chef. In summer, people dine on the back deck overlooking the rose garden and mountains. In winter, "it's candlelit, soft and romantic."

Knowing the focus on food, it's no surprise to learn that one of the highlights of winter at the Inn on the Common is the annual Banknorth Craftsbury Outdoor Center Ski Marathon and Tour. "Craftsbury Outdoor Center, combined with Highland Lodge, has something like 130 kilometers of groomed trails," says Jim. "You can access the trails from our property."

In its 25th year, the marathon is a point-to-point race and tour that occurs each January on the second Saturday after Martin Luther King Day, "so mostly the last Saturday," says John Broadhead, director of marketing at the Outdoor Center.

About four years ago, the format was switched to the point-to-point format, Broadhead says. A touring feature was added for people who might not want to race but would be attracted to skiing from inn to inn for gourmet food. The organizers went to local innkeepers and asked them if they wanted to participate by providing on-course food specialties and then sent invitations to skiers.

Since the switch, the race has grown from about 150 participants to 1,000 about 500 racers and 500 tourers making it the largest cross-country ski tour and race in the United States. One thousand is the limit, and reservations fill up early.

"Everybody arrives at Craftsbury Common," says Broadhead, "get on buses and go to Highland Lodge in Greensboro. Then they ski all the way back over trails, through the Outdoor Center, ending up on the Common."

Highland Lodge puts on a pre-race breakfast "with Green Mountain Coffee Roasters coffee, bagels, doughnuts, home-baked muffins and so on," says Broadhead. Then the skiing starts. Racers leave at 9 a.m., and the tourers go off from 9:30 to 10:30. They ski to the Lakeview Inn's food station, where, last year, they were served "a fancy soup, I think a squash soup, and baguettes with cheese hot out of the oven they had an oven outside."

The skiers continue toward Craftsbury village to the Craftsbury-Greensboro Road crossing and the Inn on the Common, which last year served hot potato soup with white truffle sauce and, according to Jim Lamberti, "little cocktail hot dogs."

Leaving the Inn on the Common, skiers continue down into Craftsbury village, where the Craftsbury Inn puts on what Broadhead calls "a great feed, with homemade pea soup, homemade bread and so on." Skiers then continue on the 25K tour back up to the Common where, after the race, Sterling College puts out a big buffet for everyone.

Donna Smyers (left), a world-class triathlete and a Vermonter, skis in the Banknorth Craftsbury Marathon.

The racers usually don't partake in the gourmet offerings, opting instead for hydration drinks and power bars, he says. Most of them continue for another 25K loop that runs up through the Outdoor Center's trail; it also finishes on the Common.

People come to the marathon and tour from all over the Northeast, says Broadhead. "We don't advertise it until the end of October; Nov. 1, we open registration. It usually sells out by January.

Entry fees vary according to class, from $70 per racer to $60 for touring adults and $30 for children 13 and under. These are early registration charges; after Dec. 1, they go up. Online entries are discounted $5.

Inn on the Common (802) 586-9619; innonthecommon.com.

Banknorth Craftsbury Outdoor Center Ski Marathon and Tour: www.craftsbury.com.

Originally published in August 2005 Business People-Vermont