Last week entailed hiking, trail running, and only one day of skiing – not exactly an ideal array of winter outdoor activities. We did have a significant ice storm, which resulted in my first ever Middlebury College snow-day (not school-wide, just my professor’s executive decision), but otherwise, the week was beginning to drive a stake through the heart of what I originally thought was going to be an above-average winter. December was great, but January just hasn’t been cutting it.
That is, until now. I celebrated my 22nd birthday on Friday, and the best gift that I received was a drop in the temperature. With it, the mountains and the Mad River Valley have received much needed snow-dumps. We’re still waiting on Middlebury to catch up, but we’re back to strapping on skis when we head into the hills.
Two venues that were in the most dire need of snow were Ole’s and Mad River Glen. Both are in the Mad River Valley – an area with which I quickly fell in love, especially because Maddie went to high school there and knew all of the best spots to take me. Ole’s is a small cross-country skiing center in Warren, and unlike many of the other venues where I ski, Ole’s predominantly features open fields instead of wooded trails. Both are nice, but the change of pace is always appreciated. Maddie and I skied there on Sunday, and it was special for two reasons: first, it was our first visit of the winter, and second, it was my first time attempting classic skiing. I’m grateful for Maddie’s patience and wax knowledge, and I found it to be a unique and exhilarating challenge. I hope for more “extra blue” days and chances to improve as fast as I can!
Today (Monday), I bolted from class at 12:30 and was strapping up my boots an hour later for an afternoon of alpine skiing at Mad River Glen. This infamous skiers-only destination has no frills – only an old school ski lodge and the most interesting, gnarly terrain in the East. Because they don’t make snow, good days at MRG are often few and far between, but when they’re good, they’re impossible to beat. Today was one of those days. The weekend snow they received provided a solid base, and the six inches of powder from the night before rendered ideal conditions. I can’t remember the last time I skied until the lifts closed, but there was no reason to quit today.
With two trail runs, a day of nordic skiing, and a pow day at MRG, my first days of my 22nd year leave me feeling optimistic. The snow and cold bode well for February. J-Term has flown by; we’re in our final week, and soon I will be on vacation. I am hopeful that this cold stretch stays for as long as possible, because with all of the independent work that I’ll be doing this spring semester, I’ll have the flexibility to ski on a pow day at a moment’s notice. Still, it will not be J-Term, and I will miss it. J-Term is hands down the best opportunity to get off campus, take on new adventures, spend time with a wide variety of friends, attend events, and take a step back from the rigor and stress of normal semesters to appreciate all that Middlebury has to offer. Oh, and I’ve always had a birthday to celebrate during the month. Looking back on my four J-Terms, I can say without a doubt that this year I’ve taken advantage of it all more than any of the previous. Each served a unique purpose for me – sometimes for academic, sometimes for athletic, and sometimes for personal reasons. I would like to think that this final J-Term has been the optimal combination of all three.
I want to carry these vibes with me into my final semester. I’ll compare it to my summers at Camp Dudley; when I’ve returned from the Dudley bubble to the realities of life beyond summer camp, I’ve always tried to keep the Dudley spirit alive in me for as long as possible. Now, I hope to do the same with J-Term – a month where I’ve found it easiest to say “yes” to as much as possible. All of these “yeses” have made my recent experiences fun and fulfilling, and more importantly, they’ve been on my own terms.
For now, I will close out the final few days of class, do some serious thinking about my goals for my 22nd year, and pack my gear for my upcoming trip with Maddie – to Oslo, Norway! Much more on that to come soon – I couldn’t be more stoked for the adventure.
I spent time in the Adirondacks recently, and the hours were filled with spontaneous adventures, homey comforts, and good company. Having my grandparents’ farmhouse just a forty-five minute drive from Middlebury has been one of the greatest blessings of my college experience – one that I feel incredibly lucky to have. Westport is the gateway to the Adirondacks for me, and looking west from Middlebury at snow-covered ridges or glowing sunsets stirs in me the desire simply to go. Go to Westport for an overnight, clean laundry, and a home-cooked meal; go to Camp Dudley for a visit with my cousins or a good conversation with whomever is around; or go to the mountains for old stomping grounds or new discoveries.
For me, the Adirondacks in the summer are synonymous with my quest to become a 46er – to climb all forty-six peaks above 4000 feet. I’m two-thirds through, although most of the remaining mountains are more remote than those I’ve already summited.
But in the winter, the Adirondacks present a different challenge: finding fun and warmth in the sparseness and cold. It is the quiet of the Adirondacks in winter that will always remain with me – a quiet that I often seek out, but one that can also feel so foreign. When I go, I am both reveling in the silence and constantly seeking to fill it.
By now, I have my essentials figured out – my preferences, tricks, and tips. These essentials help me evoke feelings of summer, when the Storey Farm is often a busy, multi-generational community in constant flux. More importantly, they allow me to reflect with the hindsight the cold provides and to anticipate with the promise of the seasons. Compiling this list makes me mindful of what is meaningful to me – distinguishing between what I want and what I need.
ADIRONDACK WINTER ESSENTIALS
Eggs fresh from the Storey Farm chickens – I am happy to brave the icy morning air to collect warm eggs from the chicken coop. The “girls” are also happy to eat any and all of our vegetable scraps, which makes the eggs taste even better.
Good coffee – Sipping a warm cup of coffee is the perfect way to start a winter weekend day, whether I’m fueling up for an adventure or preparing for a cozy day of reading. I like making my own coffee, but I also highly recommend SubAlpine Coffee in Keene Valley and Dogwood Bakery in Wadhams!
Skinny skis and fat skis – Despite occasionally uncooperative snow conditions over the past two winters, nordic and alpine skiing have become two of my favorite activities. I have a good coach in Maddie, which makes these sports even more fun for me. When in the ADKs, visit Mt. Van Hoevenberg for nordic and Whiteface for alpine; both venues played host to the 1980 Winter Olympics!
A good pair of trail shoes – There’s always the possibility that Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate and skiing becomes impossible or too unpleasant. When this happens, I turn to the trails. Hiking and trail running can be a fantastic winter activity, as the bare trees open expansive views of high peaks. Good shoes or boots, wool socks (DarnTough all the way!), micro-spikes, and trekking poles are all useful tools to have.
Evenings by the fireplace – After a cold or wet day of adventuring, or if I’m just in the mood to sit and relax, a fire in the fireplace welcomes warmth into the farmhouse.
Cozy slippers– Besides a fire, the coziest thing about winter is slipping into a pair of slippers. I received Haflinger wool slippers for Christmas, and they are everything good slippers should be and so much more.
Good company– Sharing with others a place I love makes me happy, and unequivocally, the best way to stay cheery and warm is to be surrounded by friends.
I think I subconsciously became hooked on Vermont craft beer years before I sipped my first Vermont IPA, when my dad reported enthusiastically about a new beer he’d found in the Burlington area. It had a strange name and came in tall silver cans.
I liked the originality. I liked the hyper-locality. I liked the idea of discovering something new.
Fast-forward to my gap year, when I was living in Germany. I was exposed to a drinking culture vastly different than what college social life is portrayed to be in the U.S. I could explore and discover good beer when I was hanging out with my teammates, when I was traveling throughout the country, or simply when I was passing by the local Getrankmarkt a few hundred yards from my homestay residence. My time in Germany gave me a glimpse of what a reasonable drinking culture looks like – one that I appreciated both for its general good-naturedness and its attention to quality.
Thus I began my four years in Vermont. I feel lucky that my budding interest in craft beer aligned with a location that is leading the craft beer movement in the U.S. It’s been a fantastic way to learn about the state and its people, and especially since turning twenty-one, I have thoroughly enjoyed detouring to breweries and tap rooms when traveling. I’ve driven the extra miles, waited in line a few times for longer than I’d care to admit, and planned my days around deliveries, but it’s all been worth it. Having some of the best beer in the world easily accessible is one thing, but being able to share these beers with family and friends and give gifts that truly make someone’s day is what it’s all about.
Before I offer my recommendations on craft beer – which should be useful for any Middlebury student, Vermonter, or visitor – I do want to share a few personal opinions on alcohol that might not be easily inferred from this post.
First, I have never and will never condone drinking and driving. Second, when it comes to alcohol and athletics, the immediate allure of drinking with your teammates after a victory should be tempered with the knowledge that any amount of alcohol, especially binge drinking for one “big night,” is incredibly detrimental to the technique, strength, and endurance that an athlete works to improve in practice week to week. The single healthiest choice an athlete can make is to eliminate alcohol, or at the very least avoid binge drinking at all costs. Third, alcohol consumption doesn’t only decrease athletic performance, it also hinders mental acuity. If operating at a high level and/or reducing stress and anxiety are your goals, drinking will prohibit your ability to achieve them. I aspire to be someone who works hard during the day, sleeps well at night, and doesn’t need alcohol to have fun. Lastly, and along those lines, it’s not only acceptable but truly awesome to be the sober one among friends. Having gone dry for both work and soccer-related reasons for long stretches over the past few years, I can attest that the stigma of not drinking is overwhelmingly surpassed by the feeling of supporting a friend in need. Plus, there are so many ways to reach life’s “highs” – friendship, laughter, and dancing to name a few – that alcohol should never be considered a necessity.
With that, I introduce my Vermont Craft Beer Manifesto – recommendations for how to make the most of the state’s epic craft beer scene. And remember, quality over quantity.
Listed alphabetically, not ranked unless otherwise noted; ** = top pick per category
** My favorite pizza and one of best breweries in Vermont, and they share a building.
Top 4 Taprooms – Restaurants / Bars with Excellent Tap Lists
Doc Ponds, Stowe
Farmhouse Tap and Grill, Burlington **
The Blackback Pub, Waterbury
Three Penny Taproom, Montpellier
Bonus recommendation: In Middlebury, it’s hard to beat Two Brothers!
Top 3 Brewery Destinations
New to the Vermont craft beer scene, Foam made a splash in 2016 when it opened at the Waterfront Park in Burlington. Foam is ideal in so many ways: easy access, a funky taproom, hazy beers that are bursting with flavor, and frequent events. Plus, their beer is exclusive – you can only get it at the brewery. Bring a growler or hope they have bottles on hand (but those sell out fast!) – there’s something at Foam for everyone. (Bonus: visit Zero Gravity or Fiddlehead on your way to or from Foam!)
Hill Farmstead, Greensboro Bend **
It’s not considered the World’s best brewery for nothing! Hill Farmstead is the ultimate destination, and a visit epitomizes Vermont in so many ways. It’s remote – dirt roads and no cell service remote. If you think you’ve driven far enough, you’re probably still thirty minutes away. Perched on a gentle hillside with expansive views of the Green Mountains, the brewery is a Mecca for beer lovers. They fill growlers and release bottles weekly, and visiting the brewery is the only way to get HF in either form. Make a day of it by planning a hike or ski, and bring friends (and your wallet). It’s a special trip to take, but it’s always worth it. (Bonus: for an even more remote destination, visit Kingdom Brewery in Newport – you’ll practically be in Canada!)
The Alchemist, Stowe
Gone are the days when obtaining Heady Topper required long lines at beer stores or planning trips around delivery days. The new Alchemist brewery and visitor center in Stowe is massive, and it enables increased production and availability of not only Heady but Focal Banger, The Crusher, and other special releases. And they always sell their beer at $12.50 a four-pack, some of the best value out there. While Heady may be less elusive, the tradeoff that occurred makes the Stowe visitor center a must-see destination. (Bonus: Idletyme Brewery is under a mile from The Alchemist, and the new Von Trapp Beerhall is only a few miles away – both are excellent food and beer stops!)
These are the pinnacle, but bottom line, visiting any brewery is always an excellent idea.
WHAT MY NEW PASSION FOR THE THIRD WAVE COFFEE MOVEMENT SAYS ABOUT ME
I’m on a coffee kick right now. Not in your typical “I’m in college so I need to drink ten cups a day to function” kind of way, but rather as a budding interest in discovering high quality coffee and learning better brewing techniques. Full credit goes to my teammate and barista-extraordinaire James Scott for inspiring me. I’d had plenty of coffee before he gave me a pour of his Kenyan-bean brew this fall, but one sip of that made me realize that drinking coffee could be an experience that transcends the mere need for caffeine.
Now I’m fairly hooked, brewing a cup or two a day using an AeroPress or a Chemex pour-over. I’m embracing the “third wave coffee movement” – an effort to produce high quality coffee and consider it as artisanal foodstuff rather than a commodity. As a geography buff and spatial thinker, I like learning about the range of locations that coffee is grown and harvested. I’ve tried to invest in higher quality beans and learn about different flavor profiles. I’ve also experimented with brewing techniques, so much so that I asked for a temperature controlled hot water boiler for Christmas. My skills are incredibly rudimentary, but I’m getting better.
Mostly, I’m glad I can appreciate higher quality coffee. It’s like stepping up from Busch heavies to IPAs. (This comparison is exclusively for me, because I’m also a huge craft beer nerd. I’m sure I’ll post about craft beer in Vermont sometime soon.) It gives me something to seek out when I travel anywhere new. One of the most exciting parts about my upcoming trip to Oslo is that the city is known for it’s coffee scene.
Lastly, it’s something that Maddie and I can appreciate together. Her gluten intolerance eliminates any chance of her enjoying craft beers the way I do, but coffee has become a shared passion of ours.
It’s a better fit for our personalities, too. Yes, I know that coffee has health benefits. Yes, I’ve studied that it can improve athletic performance. Yes, I believe in sustainably and humanely sourcing food. Yes, I prefer quality over quantity. Yes, I like discovering new cafes. Yes, I sometimes just need a caffeine boost.
But most of all, the process of slowing down to craft a cup of coffee is a good metaphor for how I’m trying to operate. I want to have a routine, to be able to slow down, to aspire to quality, to experiment, and to approach all that I do with mental alertness so that I can observe and produce. I’m working towards using my morning coffee routine to fulfill meditative needs so that I can attack each with a clear mind and a positive spirit. Not everything should be automatic, and I value the minutes it takes to make coffee. The result is usually something worth savoring. And oh, the caffeine doesn’t hurt, either.
Current Favorite Coffee Roaster
Brio Coffeeworks – Burlington, VT
Current Favorite Cafe(s)
Onyx Tonics Specialty Coffee – Burlington, VT SubAlpine Coffee – Keene Valley, NY
I’ve found myself thinking and talking about New York more frequently. Besides the obvious explanation – whenever any senior in college comes home for the holidays he or she will get asked “so, any plans for next year?” a few dozen times (especially in a small town like Williamstown) – I think that I’m coming to terms with the reality of what awaits me.
But I will take a step back. I visited New York twice recently – first in November for my interview, and second for the Camp Dudley Leaders’ Luncheon a month later. In between, I was offered the position and took it. A lot changed, or at least was clarified, for me between those two visits. In November, the foreignness of a big city was augmented by the nervous anticipation I felt about my interview. I’d interviewed for various opportunities before, and I’ve always felt relatively comfortable conversing with others and thinking on my feet, but I’d never walked a mile in a suit on a cold New York morning or spent six straight hours with fielding questions. And even though I walked out of the office feeling excellent about the day (the most technical aspect was a writing sample, of all things!), I kept wanting to convince myself that I was an unworthy candidate. That a position in a New York office would take months and months of seeking a needle in a haystack.
A month later, I arrived in New York, still as inexperienced to city life as ever, but with a clear vision about my future. I bought a MetroCard and loaded it with $40. I sipped a coffee and thought about the small shop not as a tourist stop but as a cafe that could be an everyday destination on my way to work. I went for a run and realized the biggest hills that will be available to me are ramps leading up to bridges and overpasses. Amidst all these thoughts of change, I felt confident–optimistic about the transition my life will undergo in six months’ time and appreciative of my rural upbringing and college experience.
In November, I was just trying to fit a mold of what I thought a young New York employee should be. Fortunately for me, I think enough of my true self shown through. When I returned in December, I realized I won’t have to hide in any shadow–that I can adapt to New York without having to change a thing about my motivations and aspirations.
It will be a big adventure. I hope to always have the big picture in mind, so that when things get craziest, I can take a step back and laugh about it. But mostly, I want to embrace it all as a learning opportunity. If I learn every day, I know that will love it.