Weekend Getaway: Okemo
Written by Alexa Owen • Sep 28, 2016
Okemo may have come across your radar when it received press for installing the first bubble lift with heated seats 2 years ago -- but that's not the only reason we're recommending it for a weekend getaway.
Yes, the heated seats rock. So do those fluorescent orange bubbles that shield you from the wind on bitter February mornings. What also rocks about Okemo is its family friendly environment, strong sense of community, varied terrain and surprisingly strong selection of great restaurants. Since spinning its first Poma lift in 1956 (the longest in New England at the time), Okemo has grown into a destination resort with 121 trails spanning 667 acres. And while it’s inherited the nickname “Slow-kemo” by some, you’ll find that the expert terrain, although scarce, is quite steep – especially in the most recently developed Jackson Gore area.
Okemo has always been a solid Vermont ski destination, but recent infrastructure improvements have put it back on the map as a top New England resort. On-mountain restaurant remodels, investments in snowmaking, and the installation of a high speed six pack with bubble shield and heated seats have caused ticket sales to skyrocket. Amongst all the improvements, the mountain has still maintained its family-run charm. The name Okemo is claimed to mean all come home.
The main base area is compact, with a lodge, ski shop, restaurant and condo complexes. The more modern base area (which we recommend as your ski and stay base) is Jackson Gore, which resembles that of western resorts. There’s a beautiful hotel, fine dining restaurants, spa and outdoor ice skating rink. From here you can access the best advanced terrain on the mountain, as well as trails that link to the intermediate area called Solitude. Okemo does not have a developed base village, but the town of Ludlow is one mile down the access road – there you’ll find a main street dotted with local shops, restaurants, and a few bars. The main reason we love Okemo is that it’s maintained its old Vermont character over the decades – something that’s dissolved from many neighboring resorts.
Fly into Bradley International Airport, Albany International, or Manchester-Boston Regional Airport – each 2 hours drive away. Cape Air offers 3 daily non-stop flights from Boston Logan to Rutland Regional Airport. Okemo offers an express shuttle from Rutland and regional Amtrak stations. If driving, expect 5 hrs drive from New York City, 2.5 hours from Hartford, and 3 hours from Boston. Traffic increases substantially on Friday evenings; duck out of work midday if you can!
Okemo is a popular destination for tristate area folks, and lift lines swell mid-morning and early afternoon; catch first chair at 8am for the best snow, and ski through lunch hour to avoid crowds.
If you plan on renting gear, do so when you arrive Friday night: you’ll avoid excruciatingly long wait times and chaos the next morning.
The development of the Jackson Gore Inn and base village in 2003 marked a milestone for Okemo, whose previous lodging options primarily consisted on slopeside condo clusters and private homes. The Inn boasts 200 guest rooms ranging from standard hotel to 3-bedroom suites, all including valet and shuttle services, spa, game room, ski check, and instant access to the village. As for a room with slopeside views.
Siena is located in Jackson Gore, just next to the Inn. It’s a favorite spot for fine Italian fare that blends locally sourced ingredients (like Vermont Fresh Pasta Company ravioli and Cavendish pork) with classic Italian flavors. You’ll appreciate the warm ambiance on a cold night. The wine list is short, but selections are delightfully varied, and servers are well-informed on the best pairings.
Head downtown to The Killarney for a pint and live music. This restaurant bar boasts the best selection of Irish spirits in the area, and a fun-loving atmosphere akin to its homeland. While some Irish bars can come off a bit chintzy, The Killarney’s old wood décor and vibrant atmosphere read authentic. Weekend nights get lively after 9pm; if you’re craving a late night snack, opt for their award-winning wings.
The Roundhouse at Jackson Gore is the main cafeteria-style dining area, and serves up surprisingly delicious hot breakfast fare. Sit down with an omlette and pancakes, or opt for a quick bite from the in-house Starbucks. Get an early start so you can hit the slopes when lifts open.
Location is a major perk of staying at Jackson Gore: you’ll have immediate access to some of the best terrain directly from the village base. Take the Quantum Four lift to Jackson Gore Peak; get a warm up lap on Tuckered Out, then explore some of the advanced trails like Upper Limelight and White Lightening. Head across the mountain to Solitude for intermediate cruisers, and be sure to take a lap on the Morning Star Triple.
We think you’ll be delighted by the creative menu at Epic. Chef Jason Tostrup crafts delectable dishes sourced from local Vermont ingredients and incorporating international flair. We recommend the signature duck quesadilla: shredded BBQ duck confit with melted Jack cheese and black bean salsa. The Jamaican goat curry is also a local favorite. The restaurant is located at the base of the Solitude lift.
Head to the Spring House at Jackson Gore for spa and massage services. Massage therapists offer specialty treatments like Swedish, deep tissue, and sports massage. The body scrubs are ideal for dry New England winter weather. We recommend the Vermont maple and brown sugar scrub: it’s delicious for the skin and the senses.
Pair your Long Trail Ale with a mixed charcuterie board for an elegant après hour at Siena. If you enjoyed the spot for dinner Friday, you’ll love returning for a quiet drink in front of the fire. The bar has 10 beers on draft, specialty coffee drinks, and spiked hot chocolate creations like Coloraodo Bulldog: hot chocolate with rum and kahlua.
The Downtown Grocery is Ludlow’s newest casual fine dining hot spot (which means make a reservation at least one week in advance!) Chef Rogan Leichthaler heads up a menu the includes house made pastas, fresh, sustainable seafood and house-cured meats sourced from local Vermont farms. Start with Bangs Island mussels in curry wine, followed by TDG-cut grilled ribeye au poivre with braised endive and torched artisan blue cheese. Be sure to save room for the house-made ice cream and molten chocolate soufflé.
Immerse yourself in the local crowd at The Loft, the legendary Okemo bar. Located in a wooden tavern at the main base area, The Loft represents the classic ski town bar with its eclectic trinkets pinned to the walls, a dozen or so local draft beers on tap, and a weekend buzz of excited skiers and riders. The juke box is usually cranking classic rock, but feel free to put your favorite hits in the queue. This place is packed shoulder-to-shoulder on Friday and Saturday nights: enjoy.
Get an early start and make your way across the main mountain to Southface. This area of the mountain is rarely crowded in the mornings, and offers spacious trails and varied terrain for intermediate and advanced skiers. Ski the bumps down Punch Line if there’s been a dusting of fresh snow; Off The Rim and Dreamweaver are fun cruisers for groomer fans.
Newly renovated in 2015, the Sitting Bull has a hip modern look and a menu to match. It’s located at the main base area adjacent to the base lodge, and boasts classic comfort foods like turkey, bacon, cheddar panini and steak chili. A few TVs in the bar area have the big sports games showing, while seating in the upstairs dining area is a bit more private. You can make your way back to Jackson Gore afterward by way of the lifts, or catch the shuttle.
The town of Ludlow is unique in that it maintains a separate identity from Okemo Mountain Resort. Downtown is located about one mile from the resort access road, and is dotted with dozens of cutesy Vermont shops along its main street. Drop into Blue Sky Trading Company for gifts like handmade jewelry and pottery. The Wine & Cheese Depot is half a block from Main Street, and boasts the best selections of local Vermont cheeses and fine wines. For crafty artwork and goods by regional artists, head to Depot Street Gallery.
On your way out of down, take a short detour to Singleton’s Store – an authentic country store offering everything from cobb smoked bacon to fine outdoor clothing.