Alpine skiing generally slays the competition when it comes to winter fun in New England, and with the lure of ski chalets, the après ski scene and our many mountains dusted with fresh powder, it’s easy to see why. But in a small town in eastern Vermont, there’s a resort that makes a strong case for forgoing the slopes and heading out to the ice instead—if only for a weekend.
A snowball’s throw from the New Hampshire border, two-and-a-half hours from Boston, Fairlee’s Lake Morey Resort boasts prime access to its namesake 600-acre lake, as well as 130 rooms and suites, 14 function rooms used for conferences and weddings in the summer months, and its own movie theater. There are also 2,500 square feet of luxury living in the works for this summer. Named for the owners’ ancestor, who illustrated L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the Denslow Cottages are under construction right next door to the main hotel building, just feet from the lake’s shoreline.
It’s this proximity that makes guests feel like they have the run of the ice, especially during one winter weekend when Lake Morey transforms into Ice Sports University. While guests have access to skate and ski equipment rentals throughout the winter, “students” who book a “dorm” for this annual college-themed weekend (most recently held in late January) are able to enroll in complimentary classes taught by seasoned ice pros.
The agenda includes pond hockey and snowshoeing, but in terms of the intrigue level, curling takes the gold, drawing interest from those who have watched the Olympic competition and thought, “Wait, this is a sport?” Oh, is it a sport. Under the patient guidance of members of the Woodstock Curling Club, amateur curlers use their core strength and balance to push themselves off a block of wood, slide forward on a Teflon-soled shoe and aim a 42-pound stone. Arm and shoulder strength are tested next as teammates run alongside the stone, sweeping a broom with the ferocity of someone whose in-laws are on their way for an impromptu visit.
Lest the lower body not feel enough of a burn, guests can then strap on a pair of Nordic skates for a leisurely spin around Lake Morey’s 4.5-mile skating trail, the longest of its kind in the country. Because the skates feature longer blades than their hockey brethren and heels that lift as they would on cross-country skis, skaters can complete the loop in less than half an hour if their glutes are up for it. Otherwise, it’s the perfect time to catch your breath and take in the lakeside scenery of colorful houses visible through the bare trees.
Learning the finer points of ice fishing is perhaps the least labor-intensive activity of the weekend, and it welcomes those with the fortitude to stand in the middle of a frozen lake for an afternoon with cups of hot cocoa. (Drink up, you’ve earned it.) Once you drill a hole and drop a line, it’s just a waiting game. But before there’s even time to worry about how frozen water, even at 13 inches thick, can support both a fire and the fisherman’s pickup truck without cracking, an orange flag rigged to one of the lines springs up into the air—there’s a bite. In less than an hour, three perch are brought in and thrown in the truck as a treat for the kitchen staff, who keep comfort food, like root vegetable bisque, at the ready at the resort’s lobby-adjacent Steamboat Lounge.
There’s also a white-tablecloth dining room, but a quick walk across the hotel parking lot brings guests to the Skate Shack, a clubhouse that overlooks Lake Morey Resort’s 18-hole golf course and doubles as a skate and Nordic ski rental facility. Its best feature is the kitchen; warm up with a cup of beef chili and the Morey panini of turkey, cheddar and cranberry sauce. And save room for dessert. The Skate Shack serves up “beaver tails”: fried dough topped with Nutella, cinnamon sugar or maple butter.
Of course, if by this point you’re already popping the Aleve, it may be time to support the state’s maple industry from inside the resort’s Waters Spa. A housemade sugar scrub treatment of honey, oats and Vermont maple syrup exfoliates tired winter skin, then soothes it with an almond oil massage. There is also access to the sauna and poolside hot tub, located next to a wall of windows with an unobstructed view of the lake, making it the perfect spot to relax for a spell, whether you’re escaping the winter chill or eagerly awaiting the next cold front.
Lake Morey Resort, 1 Clubhouse Road, Fairlee, Vt. (800-423-1211) lakemoreyresort.com