WEST DOVER, Vt. — The birds up here have it made.
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From the 3,600-foot-tall summit at Mount Snow in Vermont, they can see all the beauty of a quaint New England community that loves to ski, hike and mountain bike, among other clean-air, sporty pursuits.
The view can be had by those without wings, too, thanks to the chairlift rides offered three seasons a year. From this height, you can hardly see the traffic that clogs Route 100, delivering eager weekend outdoorsmen from the New York and Boston areas.
During the winter, the purpose of the 10-minute lift ride is singular, bringing you to the mountaintop so you can ski down. Huddled with up to three other passengers, you might check out whether the mountain has a good base of snow, if the snow-making machines are roaring, and whether the skiers in the ski school crowd below are better than you are. Either way, the chairlift ride will likely be the least eventful part of your day.
But in the months before the cold hits, a chairlift ride is an outing worth doing for its own sake, popular with summer visitors as well as autumn leaf-peepers. Tickets are $10 per adult, $5 for a child.
A recent ride with my family on the Grand Summit Express, one of two lifts on the mountain, lifted our spirits and was a highlight of our day. With two kids, we played "I Spy" in the sky, looking for leaves, critters and clouds.
On the way up, you notice lush green all around. The trails are carved into the mountain between rows of evergreens, all part of the Green Mountain National Forest (Mount Snow operates with permission from the federal Forest Service).
You can also spot the edges of the 1,600-acre Somerset Reservoir, which sits to the north of the black diamond-heavy North Face of the mountain. Depending on the season, the reservoir hosts canoers, kayakers and fisherman looking for trout and panfish, or snowmobilers who probably go just as fast as all those cars on Route 100.
Directly ahead are fields of wildflowers and the critters they attract, from gentle ladybugs and butterflies to coyotes and even black bears, which are not uncommon in the Deerfield Valley area. Earlier this summer, the local Deerfield Valley News even reported sightings of catamount nearby, though the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department didn't confirm it.
Once at the top, other cloud-tipped mountains from the range come into view. It's amazing how the lessons of stratus and cumulus clouds come back to you when the day and mind are both clear.
The clusters of condominiums that crowd the bases of these mountains appear small and inconsequential when you see just how much forest and farmland there are in comparison.
Slideshow: Autumn’s awesome rainbow The real game of "I Spy," however, comes on the trip down as you look out over the valley. Even in August, it starts to get a backdrop of spectacularly colored red, gold and orange leaves — many of them handprint-size maples. The view only gets better in September and October.
Dotting the landscape are log cabins, white churches and country inns. You can see an occasional MOOver bus — free transportation between the towns of Wilmington and West Dover that's decorated in the spirit of local dairy cows — chugging along.
The red roof of the popular (and otherwise green) burger-joint Silo restaurant comes into view and so does the Mount Snow Golf Course to the south. The Snow Den that attracts local bands in the evening becomes apparent as you near the bottom of the ride.
Mountain bikers are becoming an increasingly popular sight, and Mount Snow has given them (in addition to access to many of the trails) their own daredevil area of dirt mini-mountains on the spot that in winter is the home of the tubing park.
We strained our eyes to find Adams Family Farm, where tourists can feed animals and learn about shearing sheep and milking goats, but we couldn't see it from the lift.
No problem. Once back on the ground, we planned to drive a few country miles along Route 100 in that direction, hoping to score some Vermont-made ice cream at one of the many roadside stands, while knowing that the colder hot-chocolate weather isn't too far away.
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