Hot Air Balloons in Quechee

No matter how many times you see hot air balloons – and it’s pretty often in Quechee (including at the annual Hot Air Balloon festival), you have to stop and stare.  It is seriously like a religious experience.  There are 2 main companies that launch balloons from the Quechee Green:  Balloons of Vermont and Balloons over New England.  Lisa took me on one a few years back for my birthday (in early October) – one of those “bucket list” things to add to your life to-do list.  I prefer the dusk excursions, since you get to see the sun set, and fall time is great since you get insane views of the foliage from up high.

It’s not for the faint of heart… the thought that you’re in something that the balloon master only has moderate control over… you typically land in a random person’s yard.  The first few seconds are frightening as you slowly lift off… then you’re gliding effortlessly in the air… what’s amazing is how peaceful it is… and how quiet – you look down and see everyone pull their cars over, people come out of their houses and wave, and you can hear everyone screaming from the ground.  Nothing like it… our kids have seen so many get blown up and they never tire of the experience.  Definitely something we’ll do with them when they get older… but watching the process is so magical… we even had a balloon land in our yard last time we were there!

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Yes Owen, I see the hot air balloon… and no you can’t catch it!

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Lisa & Maya posing before they chase the balloon!

Strawberry / Blueberry Pick Your Own (PYO) @ Cedar Circle

Nothing better on a cloudy day that Pick Your Own strawberry & blueberries!  Our favorite in the Upper Valley is Cedar Circle Farm in Thetford, VT.  It’s about 10 minutes north of Norwich – so not a bad option to tag along to a visit to Montshire / Hanover / King Arthur.

It used to be a family-run farm, but has since transitioned to a part of the Vermont Land Trust – basically, it’s historical… and they’ve maintained all the charm that we love about Vermont – complete with farm stand, beautiful green house & flowers, and even dock access to a river which our kids love to play in…

NOTE:  Both the strawberry and blueberry picking seasons are REALLY short (3 wks each in June for strawberries and July for blueberries), so plan ahead!  And pick more than you need (you can always freeze a bunch!).  Our kids LOVE pick your own – and who could blame them?

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Way smaller than what we find in grocery stores – but way more delicious too. Literally bursting with juices…

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Maya tries not to eat TOO many strawberries ; )

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It’s a family affair, this strawberry picking is…

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Owen’s first visit is a SUCCESS

End of a GREAT first Winter Season

A little less than 2 weeks left in the season, and it was GREAT for us… we had a nice balance of renters, along with using it ourselves (and getting Maya up on skis for the first time!).  Quick update on Maya – 3 half-days of lessons, and she went to the top of the mountain for her last run!  My wife & I were shocked as we thought she was done for the day – only to head straight to the chair lift!  Not to mention, this happened right after the Sugar Loaf chair lift accident… needless to say, we were nervous / worried about her first trip up – would she be scared up so high, would she freeze on the way down… she made it down in about 10 minutes, and her biggest issue was needing to pee!

After giving high fives to Kylie (her teacher) and getting her prize, the only sad feelings came from Owen (22 mos old) bawling as he couldn’t go skiing with Maya.  Nice thing is they let him take a prize… he’ll definitely get up on skis next year (Kylie started right around 2 years old).

Thank you to everyone who rented our place in our inaugural Winter Season – there were probably some bumps in the road as we did this for the first time, but I think it was wildly successful – with many people inquiring about extra weekends and someone even asking to rent out 6 weekends next winter already!  We’re going to be lowering rates for the “shoulder” season (April / May and Sep / Nov – except Foliage Season in Oct), so check out the lower rates!

Get your requests in early if you are interested in renting again – and we’re essentially fully-booked for June already – as such, we’re moving to week-only rentals in July & August (we’ll make occasional exceptions).

Thanks again for your support!

Learn to Ski @ Quechee – more than just skiing – life lessons

So we’ve heard a lot of friends say their kids learned to ski / snowboard at Quechee.  Every weekend this winter we see a lot of kids there running off to ski school.  We’ve rented to a lot of families looking to get their kids to learn – they always ask the question – what’s the right age to start?  Honestly, it depends on the kid, but most kids start around 4, but I’ve heard as early as 2.

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Our oldest daughter is 3.5 years old – and we finally had the chance to get her on skis.  To be honest, we weren’t sure whether it was worth it to spend $35 on rentals, and $75 for group lessons.  Maya has always been initially shy – at soccer class, gym class, swim class, even her pre-school where she’s been going for 2 years!  We thought we’d spend all the money and she would refuse to leave us and go to class… but we decided to go with the plunge anyway.  The first few minutes were every parent’s nightmare – Maya screaming, crying and clutching with all her might to me… Paul comes by and suggests we just separate (and eases my parental guilt – saying he’s only had one kid in all his years teaching who didn’t cry on the first day).  He pairs Maya up with an amazing teacher Kristy – who proceeds to show Maya all the animals at her house – 2 dogs, a pig, several horses, a few goats – Maya is immediately smitten and forgets about her fear.  She holds Kristy’s hand and marches confidently up the hill to the T-bar.  Parents are asked to keep their distance for fear of distracting the kids, but I can’t help but sneak a few close peeks.  I was amazed by how happy and confident Maya was after Day 1 (more than 2 hours of non-stop teaching – mostly 2:1 and 1:1).  Maya LOVED it, couldn’t stop talking about skiing.  Here’s a video I snapped of her learning to snow-plow on day 1 – notice the pure joy in her face after she gets a high five and waves to me.  Importantly, was exhausted and slept like a baby that night.

When asked if she wanted to go back the next day, Maya gave me an emphatic “YES!”.  So we wake up extra early, load up on pancakes, and get out to the hill early.  This day, instead of tears and crying, she marches confidently right up to Kristy, all smiles.  The morning session is 3 hrs of sessions – I don’t remember Maya doing ANYTHING for 3 hrs – especially in the freezing cold.  At the end, Maya wants to show off her new skills to mommy.  Instead of snow plows and turns, Maya bombs down the hill – while I scream for her to slow-down and do her “big pizza” (their term for snow plow).  She just laughs as she flies by me…

Honestly, it’s hard to put into words how proud I was of Maya – turning her fear into accomplishment, learning a new skill, and having a blast.  Most importantly, I actually think Maya had a breakthrough at Quechee – I believe that she’s gained a huge amount of self-confidence.  As a dad, that’s all I want for my little girl – for her to be happy, and approach life with confidence.  I just had no idea she’d get all that from skiing!  Just another reason to love Quechee and look forward to an extended ski session!  Now we can’t wait to get our son Owen on skis – we might even start him at 2!

Winter in Quechee – Skating / Sledding / Cardboard Box Derby!

Skiing / snowboarding ain’t your bag?  Poor conditions at the mountain?  Just need a day off from downhill?  Quechee still has you covered with tons of alternate winter activities…   from ice skating, to sledding, to x-country, to snow shoeing, to just taking a sleigh ride, or getting a massage at the club.  There’s something for everyone.

This year, we’ve enjoyed ice skating on the pond behind the Club House.  We’ve done indoor skating at Babson, even the local high school back home was nice enough to put out a temporary skating rink for the wintertime… but there’s just something so much more magical about skating on an actual pond.  Definitely brings me back to my childhood where I was fortunate enough to have a pond just behind the house I grew up in.  I never really became a great skater, but I can’t tell you how many countless winter afternoons were spent out there with my friends messing around.  Great times and great memories.  Hopefully our kids will have the same experience!  Not really “skating” per se, but getting Owen out on the pond.  In the background there were a bunch of kids / parents playing ice hockey and another group learning to skate.

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Sledding is another winter pastime that I remember fondly – my same childhood home had an AWESOME hill (the more I think about it, my house growing up was pretty cool!).  So we would basically sled until my parents called us in for bed time – often going right through dinnertime!  Quechee is great in that they have a HUGE sledding hill right next to the Ski Mountain (so you know it’s big time) – perfect in that the base lodge is right there to warm up by the fire, and for a quick hot chocolate break!

One of the big annual events at Quechee is the Cardbord Box Derby – 2015 will actually be the 18th year of this wild & crazy event.  People go crazy at this event – and for good reason – it’s just good ol’ fashioned fun for the family.  Dad gets to exercise his creative muscles by helping to design an over the top cardboard box… kids embarrassment is quickly washed away with their first ride down in the pimped out box.

Cardboard Box Derby

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There’s also a great video on YouTube showcasing the awesome event (a little crazy that there are actually sponsors for this thing, no?):

This year’s event is Saturday Feb 21st at 2PM – it’s so big, there’s a huge reception the night before.  For more information, check out the Quechee Club website.

Winter in Quechee – Perfect baby steps into skiing / snowboarding for kids!

We always wanted to get our kids on skis early.  Last year, we pulled our daughter on a set of skis for a total of 5 minutes – she loved it!  This year, she’s 3.5 and will hopefully get started on skis – I think the hardcore ski families have little ones on skis as soon as they can walk, but for the rest of us mere mortals, generally 4 years old is on the early side.

Quechee has a great Kids program – including “day care” which is basically games and activities for the younger ones… Ski Bees is the group program for 4-7 year olds, then a more intense “Skills & Drills” class for 8-12 year olds.  We have friends with older kids who are on the Quechee Ski Team (which goes up until age 18).  I met a guy who’s kids learned to ski at Quechee, were now nationally ranked juniors and were currently touring in Germany on a ski program.  Not too shabby!  Skiing / snowboarding has gotten so expensive, I love that Quechee is still pretty affordable – you can bring a family of 4 for about $100 (if you buy tickets in advance) and don’t stress out if one in the group has a melt down, or another’s foot hurts, or if mom just wants to relax at the fire.

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3 lifts, 13 trails and a Terrain Park – and that’s just the skiing / snowboarding!

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Ken Kramberg’s ski school is renowned for teaching kids the basics for being safe, excelling, and having fun… more than a few accomplished skiers and riders started at Quechee.

Quechee Club organizes tons of family activities - there are free Sleigh Rides from Quechee Base Lodge (next to Ski Mountiain & Sledding Hill).

Quechee Club organizes tons of family activities – there are free Sleigh Rides from Quechee Base Lodge (next to Ski Mountiain & Sledding Hill).

The Swiss Alps, it ain’t.  Then again, if you’re looking for more intense downhill action, there are many within a short drive:

  • Suicide Six (Woodstock, about 15 mins drive):  2 lifts, 1 J-bar, 23 runs, 650′ vertical
  • Mt Sunapee (Sunapee NH, about 30 mins drive):  11 lifts, 63 trails, 1510′ vertical
  • Killington + Pico (Rutland VT, about 40 mins drive):  29 lifts, 212 trails, 3050′ vertical
  • Swiss Alps (Switzerland, about 6 hrs flight)

The best part about Quechee is there’s tons of activities even if you don’t like skiing (or just want a day off):  from ice skating, to sledding, to x-country, to snow shoeing, to just taking a sleigh ride, or getting a massage at the club.  There’s something for everyone.

Norwich VT: A Perfect Half Day

Besides all the great activities at the Quechee Club, we love the proximity to many other amazing areas – like Norwich VT.  Just a short 20 minute drive up I-91 leads to a mecca of amazing activities for the whole family.

Here’s one itinerary we like to do ALOT – with everything in short proximity to each other.

Breakfast at King Arthur Flour

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If you’ve ever shopped for flour at a grocery store before, you’ve probably seen the packs above.  Now, they’re not necessarily as well-known as Pillsbury or Gold Medal, but I always like smaller more premium brands – especially when they’re local to New England.  King Arthur Flour definitely fits the bill.  The company was actually founded in 1790 in Boston, MA so to say it’s been around a while is a massive understatement.  They’ve focused on more serious / professional bakers, with a flour that’s never bleached.  From the flour, they’ve expanded into a ton of high-end baking products / supplies, and now a bakery store / cafe / class.  Lucky for us, they’re located in nearby Norwich VT and in 2012 opened up a completely renovated facility which is simply gorgeous.  We go for the amazing pastries, sandwiches, and pancake mix (to pair with Vermont Maple Syrup).  Have yet to try a class (since they’re almost always sold out), but definitely going to try and hit one soon.

Check out the Yelp reviews for King Arthur Flour

Outside King Arthur Flour's flagship store in Norwich - it's a beautiful, modern yet rustic building with equal parts show, shopping, classes, food.

Outside King Arthur Flour’s flagship store in Norwich – it’s a beautiful, modern yet rustic building with equal parts show, shopping, classes, food.

KAF retail store is a baker's paradise.  Try and get out of there without buying home made marshmallows & graham crackers for s'mores.

KAF retail store is a baker’s paradise. Try and get out of there without buying home made marshmallows & graham crackers for s’mores.

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Never taken a class, since they’re always sold out, but they’re highly rated.

Montshire Museum of Science

After stuffing ourselves with breakfast, head over to nearby Montshire with the kiddos.  They call it a Museum of Science, but it’s more like a Discovery Playland for the young folk.  Lots of things to see, feel, touch, interact with – with a side of learning and creativity building.  A great place to burn a few hours – especially if the weather is bad and the kids are going stir crazy.  In the summertime, bring swimsuits as they have an amazing fountain playground for the kids to play in.  We’ve heard the hiking paths are pretty cool too (but we haven’t been yet).  Open daily from 10AM to 5PM.

Massive musical displays to interact with...

Massive musical displays to interact with…

Montshire

A giant lithophone…

Montshire

Who doesn’t love bubbles?

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Water park – learn how water moves, behaves, and get wet while you do it. What’s not to love?

Check out the Yelp reviews for Montshire

Norwich Farmers Market

We love hitting farmers markets in VT… because often the stuff was picked the day before, so it’s hard to get it any fresher.  Norwich has one of the best farmers markets around.  In the wintertime they move indoors and it becomes more artisan, but still worth the visit.  Pick up a fresh loaf of bread, some veggies for an amazing salad & side dish for the dinner you cook at home.  The restaurants are great, but we love a few meals at home as well…

Unbelievable selection and freshly picked.

Unbelievable selection and freshly picked.

Beautiful eggplant

Beautiful eggplant

Check out the Yelp reviews for Norwich Farmers Market

Lunch at Norwich Inn

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A fresh brewed pint – try the cask conditioned ales… the way beer was meant to be drank (or drunk).

If you’re still with us at this point, congrats!  A nice way to cap off the half day is stopping at the Norwich Inn… they’ve got a great pub where they only use local ingredients, and more importantly, brew their own beer.  Typically have 4-6 rotating beers on tap.  They have a nicer dining room, but we prefer the more casual pub.

Check out the Yelp reviews for Norwich Inn

If you’ve got kids who still nap, it’s time to head home!  If you’re out of the nap zone, take the short trip to Hanover, NH – home to Dartmouth College.  Lots of parents wish their kids got in there (until they see the bill and realize no scholarships).  Still, a cute little college town with lots of shops, a few nice restaurants, and a dash of culture as well.  Hanover merits its own blog post… coming soon.