It would be difficult to imagine a more sublime setting for perfecting your faceplant than along the 200 miles of cross-country ski trails that wind among the mountains and molehills here.
The sky is brilliantly blue; the trees sport perfect coifs of snow; and the sun beams a flattering glow across a panorama of mountains. Tucked up in the flanks of the Green Mountains is the Trapp Family Lodge Nordic Ski Center, an exquisitely groomed collection of trails with a rustic warming cabin at the 2,100-foot apex.
The ski center maintains 31 miles of groomed trails and 27 miles of ungroomed backcountry stashes.
It's little wonder the von Trapps decided to settle in the mountains four years after leaving Nazi-occupied Austria in 1938 -- a story immortalized in the play and the 1965 movie ''The Sound of Music." In the late 1960s their cross-country ski center was the first in the country to offer trails, equipment, and instruction all in one place.
You run out of superlatives as you gape at the soaring peaks and alpine meadows that surround you. And that's just while you're unloading your skis in the parking lot.
Down in the rental room of the ski center, skiers clamp their impossibly skinny skate skis to customer workbenches and dig into toolboxes overflowing with widgets and waxes that enable them to get another fraction of a mile-per-hour out of their skis.
Outside, cross-country ski, telemark, and snowshoe trails disappear into the trees, reappear on ridgelines and meadows, and then plunge back into the drapery of the forest: sweeping pines; thick stands of paper birches fattened by the cool altitude; and gnarly grandfather maples.
Ever upward, the trails twist and weave toward a steaming bowl of soup and a chewy brownie in front of the fireplace at Slayton Pasture Cabin, a 3.1-mile, 775-foot climb from the lodge.
It seems there are at least as many locals on the trails here as tourists, and they are diehard skiers.
''Well, you could head up Parizo, backtrack onto Oslo, come around Haul Road, and then take Bobcat to Hare Line," comes the reply when we ask a fellow skier for an interesting route to the cabin. And he's not even consulting a map. As he vanishes around the next bend, we consult the handy maps located at each intersection to make sure we're on the right track, and settle on a decidedly more direct squiggle.
Skate skiers blow by us. Snowshoers plod staunchly along. Newbie telemarkers eke out wobbly turns. Parents pull miniature sleighs (available for rent at the ski center) that are enclosed pods on runners for children too young to make it all the way up under their own power.
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We fall in with a woman hauling one. She has climbing skins attached to her skis -- strips covered with a short, synthetic, fur-like material that keep her from sliding backward as she takes on the hills with the sleigh in tow. One of her favorite runs, solo, is the 10-mile Bolto to Stowe trail, a wildly challenging, staggeringly beautiful trek along a ridgeline of vistas.
At the cabin, a simple yet dreamy structure of log and stone, chickadees, tufted titmice, and downy woodpeckers flit around a birdfeeder hanging from a sunny porch, a ski pole's length away from some snowshoers soaking up the sun. Inside, a fire crackles in a stone hearth and though the long tables are occupied, space is cheerily found for everyone who staggers through the door.
If it's split-pea-soup day, you're in for a treat, but everything is tasty since it's loosely based on recipes sent up from the chef at the fine restaurant at the lodge.
Mike Gora, who lives in the cabin, cooks and serves up three vats of soup on this busy day.
''It's beautiful up here, especially at night," he says. ''Even when the moon isn't full, it's so bright you don't need a headlamp to get around."
A short list of his mountaintop compatriots includes coyotes, snowshoe hares, foxes, barred owls, moose, bobcats, and pileated woodpeckers.
We share a table with a couple from Montreal (one of them originally from the former Soviet Union) who come here frequently. Conversation veers from life in Russia to civil unions in Vermont. A couple of high-powered fundraisers who met on the trail are networking at the next table.
We stand with our backs to the fire, drying our fleecy layers and soaking up as much warmth as possible before the trails coax us back outside.
On Hare Line Trail, the sun has begun to turn the Green Mountains to gold as we head around the backside of Round Top Mountain to take the long way back to the lodge. On this quieter side of the ski area, animal tracks come closer to the trails, and narrower, ungroomed snowshoe paths nearly entice us to follow.
The final glow of the day on Mount Mansfield and Spruce and Sterling peaks makes us stop in our tracks, savoring a silence sweetened by a whisper of wind.
We make it back to the parking lot with just enough light to enjoy the wooded back road that leads to Stowe Valley and our journey homeward.
Contact Clare Innes, a freelance writer in Vermont, at firstname.lastname@example.org.