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BEHIND THE SCENES OF FOUR LONG-STANDING MOUNTAIN TRADITIONS

By Molly Triffin

From rock concerts to farm table dinners to kids’ activities, there’s always something new and exciting happening at Spruce Peak. But in equal measure, there are long-standing traditions that we celebrate at Spruce year after year.

Research has found that family rituals, such as those we practice around the holidays, strengthen our relationships with loved ones and help children build a sense of identity. Looking back at past group photos snapped in front of our legendary poinsettia tree, reminiscing about laughs at the annual Club at Spruce Peak sledding party, and counting down the days until our epic New Year’s bash—these memory-making traditions become integrated into your own family story.

Here, we take a closer look at four seasonal rituals weaving meaning into the heart of our community. 

The Poinsettia Tree

When you step into the Lodge at Spruce Peak during the holidays, you’ll be greeted by a towering Christmas “tree”—crafted from vibrant poinsettia plants. “The poinsettia tree is the pinnacle of our holiday decorations,” says Bradley Greiner, exterior operations manager at Spruce Peak. “It has been a gathering place for friends and family since the Lodge first opened in 2008.”

Greiner’s team stealthily assembles the tree in the middle of the night before Thanksgiving. “That way, guests and residents can wake up on Thanksgiving morning to the sight of the magnificent tree in the lobby,” Greiner says.

As you might expect, bringing the tree to life is no easy feat. It takes about six hours to install the plants around the tall metal frame, plus another three hours each day of watering and pruning. “The tree is watered from the inside,” Grenier says. “We set a 12-foot ladder in the middle of the tree and use a backpack sprayer to water each plant individually, while pruning dead and dying leaves.”

Funny interactions with guests ensue during the watering process, as they observe the plants moving, but don't know what’s causing them to shake and sway. “I also love seeing the surprise on people’s faces when we tell them the tree is real,” Greiner says.

The tree is composed of about 400 plants, stacked 17 feet high. 

Spruce Peak Lights Festival

Spruce Peak always has a joyful spirit, but during the holidays, the brightly lit trees adorning the Village—which are illuminated for the first time during our Lights Festival—make the mood even more merry than usual.

The fun kicks off in the early afternoon of December 17 in Spruce Peak Village, with ice-skating, outdoor music, family- friendly activities, photos with Santa, and performances by Ice Dance International. Warm your toes by the WhistlePig bonfire as you savor a hot toddy and cheesy pretzel raclette (don’t miss our Spruce toast and cider donut pass!).

As the day winds down, there’s a final ice dance show featuring Olympic figure skating medalist and two-time National Champion Ashley Wagner, followed by a countdown to the official tree and Village lighting. The event ends with a bang— literally: A spectacular fireworks display lights up the night!

But the twinkling trees are more than simply decorations; they’re also a fundraiser for the Spruce Peak Performing Arts Center. Supporters can “sponsor” trees; the money is used to fund performing arts education programs for students across Northern and Central Vermont.

“The annual Lights Festival began five years ago and has raised more than $100,000 to date,” says Hope Sullivan, director of the Spruce Peak Performing Arts Center. “The intention is to ‘light up’ learning and creativity, while celebrating the kick-off of winter and all of the best things about Stowe and Spruce Peak Performing Arts.”

The 35 trees (mostly spruce, naturally!) are strung with more than 500 individual strands of LED lights—that’s about 9,300 feet, or more than a mile and a half long.

New Year’s Eve Torchlight Parade

Our ode to the New Year is a world away from the Times Square ball drop, but equally as dazzling. On December 31 at dusk,agroupof50-75skiinstructorsand mountain staff members jump onto the Meadows quad. At the summit, they ignite flares in the crisp, cool night—one of the darkest of the year. Then, one by one, they slowly ski down Spruce Peak, tracing big, arcing turns in formation. Listen closely and you can hear their whoops and hollers of sheer exhilaration.

“The torchlight parade is stunning,” says Dave Merriam, former head of mountain services and ski school at Stowe Mountain Resort, who has led countless parades. “As the skiers snake down over the terrain, it almost looks alive.”

When they reach the bottom of the hill, the skiers gather in a big semi-circle close to the gawking crowd and simultaneously extinguish their torches in the snow with a sizzle. Next, a fireworks display commences, the colorful sparks reflecting off the powder, transforming it into a giant rainbow-hued snow cone.

Stowe has been organizing torchlight parades for as long as Merriam can remember (he arrived here in 1989). “But they have been a part of ski culture for eons,” he says. “They take place on mountains all over the world, from Europe to Australia to South America.”

And it’s an unforgettable family event. “Little kids are just filled with wonder,” Merriam says. “I know the image of us skiing down by torchlight is forever etched in my children’s memories.”

The torches are made from a road safety flare duct-taped to a two-foot length of bamboo (salvaged from the fences and signage you see along ski runs).

Easter Sunday Sunrise Service

In the early morning hours of Easter Sunday, when the skies are still shrouded in black, hundreds of people flock to the base of the Cliff House for a long-running tradition unique to Stowe: the sunrise service.

“This inclusive and spirited service celebrates a love for the mountain and a sense of community,” says Dan Haugh, pastor at Stowe Community Church on Main Street. “We gather in the dark, braving the cold together; and by the time the service begins, light is breaking over the horizon, illuminating us all.”

Despite being held on Easter, it’s not a Christian service. “It is open to all traditions and backgrounds,” Haugh says, noting that last year’s opening hymn was “Here Comes the Sun” by the Beatles. The half- hour ceremony includes songs, poems, prayers, and musicians. Afterward, you can either return on the gondola or ski or snowboard down.

The tradition dates back to 1954, when theformerreverendatStoweCommunity Church Doug Brayton began holding an 8am “skier’s service” at the bottom of the mountain on Sundays. It grew popular with touristsandresidentsalike,sohedecidedto hold the first Easter Sunday sunrise service on April 10, 1955, outside the Octagon.

Today, the sunrise service draws 500- 1500 people from all over Vermont and New Hampshire. “It is the highest Easter service in New England,” Haugh says. “The vistas are breathtaking and seeing the sun come up over the valley is spectacular.”

After the service, take a few more runs and then head over to Alpine Hall for an Easter brunch and egg hunt.

This year’s sunrise service takes place on April 8, with free gondola rides available between 4:30- 5:30am. (Depending which trails are open, you may also be able to uphill ski.) 

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