Vermont vacation: skiing isn't the only game in town

You can forget your skis and still have a great winter vacation in Vermont. Every cold-weather month in this mountain-studded New England state is heightened by special doings - none of them dependent on a slope or cross-country trail.

For those who want only to relax by a fireplace and do little, there are always cozy inns tucked among the hills where settings are serene and the hospitality bountiful.

Among the February attractions are the dog sled races on Lake Memphremagog in Newport and the Woodstock Winter Carnival. And, come March, the Ninth Annual Spring Triathlon at Wilmington offers a three-leg event: biking, running, and skiing.

Skiing is not the only game in town at Mount Snow. February and March hold at least three family-oriented non-ski activities at the Mount Snow Resort area.

In February, the valley-wide Snow Sculpture Contest is a local event among area businesses. Prizes are awarded for the most artistic and most original, with all of the submissions bordering on the unusual. The best time to see the sculptures is on Friday, Feb. 12, when the judging takes place.

It's at this time, too, that Bill Adams takes guests for sleigh rides around the perimeter of his Wilmington farm. The ride climaxes with a leisurely pause in the woods at a cozy log cabin constructed by Bill. The cabin is lit by gas lamps and heated by wood stoves. Here, guests entertain themselves on an old-time player piano, while Bill's wife, Sharon, serves hot chocolate. Call (802) 464-3762 for reservations.

The biggest non-ski March event at Mount Snow may well be Vermont Day on March 19. That's when maple sugaring and sugar-on-snow are demonstrated just outside the Mount Snow Base Lodge and a variety of Vermont-made products are displayed inside.

In the heart of Vermont's Northeast Kingdom, which includes such towns as Lyndonville, Lyndon Center, and East Burke, there's an old-fashioned New England winter pick-me-up called the Snowflake Festival Winter Carnival, Feb. 12-21.

Viewers watch the opening parade from inside the heated base lodge at the Burke Mountain Ski area. The parade is a spectacular pattern of light against the slopes at night as experienced skiers, carrying torches, glide down the mountain in a rehearsed routine.

The Northeast Kingdom Craft Show fills a Saturday in Lyndonville, on Feb. 13. Crafts by local men and women are featured: pillows, knitwear, wood crafts, furniture, doll clothing, stenciled lampshades, and free samples of the River Valley Christmas Club's own 12-Bean Soup Mix.

A homey potpourri of Snowflake Festival events also includes a figure-skating exhibition at Lyndon Center (Feb. 14) by the Northeast Kingdom Skating Club. The group returns home from performing around the country to introduce its award-winning skills. Also, a snow sculpture competition that is likely to be highlighted by representations of the familiar Ice Swan and Care Bear, and of local and national landmarks and figures.

Added attractions are concerts and art events, varsity sports at Lyndon Institute and Lyndon State College, and pancake breakfasts where the pancakes are topped by homemade butter and syrup.

Visitors can take gentle tours of the hills and valleys in hay-filled, horse-drawn sleighs accompanied by local driver Jeff Simpson's stories of life in this rural and peaceful ``Northeast Kingdom.''

Of course, for those who do bring skis, there are always the slopes and trails to add an extra fillip of fun to a wintertime respite in Vermont.

If you're looking ahead to next winter, it might be helpful to know that Vermont's non-ski winter season actually kicked off with the ``First Night '88'' festivities in Burlington - a 10-hour New Year's Eve celebration described with pride by the nonprofit sponsoring group as ``family oriented and nonalcoholic.'' It was, in fact, a festival of the performing arts - dance, children's music, storytelling, folk music, the symphony, marionette theater - staged at schools, churches, shopping malls, and libraries throughout the city.

January events also included hot air balloon rides at Bolton Valley. And at Stowe's week-long January Winter Carnival there was golfing in the snow, as well as Monopoly and backgammon tournaments, and the New England Sled Dog competitions.

Practical information.

For details about other non-skiing Vermont winter events, inns, and ski activities write or call: Vermont Travel Division, Agency of Development & Community Affairs, Montpelier, VT 05602; (802) 828-3236.

For specific details about the events mentioned, contact Stowe Winter Carnival, Box 1230, Stowe, VT 05672, (802) 253-7326; Mount Snow Resort, Mount Snow, VT 05356, (802) 464-3333; Bruce James, Lyndonville, VT 05851.

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