Vermont

Where do you go if you want the privacy of minor royals out for a spot of skiing practice? Brigid McConville finds the perfect place - and it's family friendly, too

Two-and-a-half feet of snow fell in upstate New York the week we left for America. And the US telephone snow lines told us that their ski resorts had been making snow for a month, no problem ...

So it seemed a cruel twist of fate when the thermometer climbed 30 degrees the day after our arrival, heralding 24 hours of relentless rain. "Skiing?" laughed the gas station attendants. "You'd have to go as far as Maine, or even Canada, to find any snow." Yet as we travelled up into the mountains, patches of white hinted that all was not lost, and sure enough, the "ski area" signs into Vermont led us to a little place called Bromley.

Bromley, celebrating its 60th birthday this year, is antique by US standards. The main lodge is all brown wood, with dusty heads of deer mounted on panelled walls. Many Americans prefer this small, family resort, famed for its friendly staff and excellent creche for up to 60 children, to larger, more expensive resorts such as Stratton Mountain, 20 minutes' drive away.

As we snapped on our ski boots and stepped into the hired Rossignols, we realised that Bromley was waiting just for us, because no one else was there to ski. On another hillside was a single graceful snowboarder. I wondered which is worse when you haven't skied for ages: to stumble about under the disdainful eyes of bronzed, supercool habitues; or be exposed as the only duffer on the slopes?

"Hi! Was that good?" grinned the chair-lift operatives as we shuffled towards them after each rattling descent. "Lovely!" we assured them politely, feeling like minor royals out for a bit of practice in private.

I had loved skiing as a child living in Canada and the speed, freedom and perfection of flying over snow still beckon to me from that time. But apart from a few forays on freezing Scottish mountains, I hadn't been on skis since. Would I be able to recapture the easy exhilaration I remembered, or had those days gone for ever? As the lift took us higher and higher above slopes called "Shin Cracker" and "Nightmare", I thought of broken bones, I thought of my children (mostly at home in England), and I thought of taking my skis off and walking down the mountain through the trees. After all, who would ever know?

The first run was a graceless ordeal, and by the end of it my knees were trembling. The snow surface, raked and then rained upon, was like crinkle- cut crisps; my skis clattered and shook in sympathy with my legs.

"Hi! Have another go!" shouted the lift attendants, as I reached the safety of level ground. The second run was better, and the third better than that. Gradually I progressed from power-snowplough into what used to be called the "stem christie", and by the end of the day I could get down the intermediate-level slopes in a series of acceptable swishes.

And once the initial fear had gone, I could take in the view: a giant sweeping panorama of low, forested hills backed by range after range of impressive, snow-capped mountains. Straight ahead stood Stratton Mountain, a lofty peak streaked with white.

As it got dark I went to collect our toddler, who was happily playing with Lorraine, who has run Bromley's daycare centre for 27 years. She now looks after the children of children who came to her back in the Sixties - when I learned to ski. The sport is far more accessible now, she believes. Local schoolchildren come to Bromley to learn to ski once a week, and the sport is a valuable source of jobs for Vermont's young people.

The other dramatic change has been the advent of snowboarding, which threatens to make skiing a sport for old fogies. Lorraine still skis regularly. But that is not good enough for her young colleagues at Bromley, who are always nagging her to take up snowboarding. They don't realise, she says, that bruises last longer when you get older.

From the nursery window we watched in admiration as the solitary snowboarder carved and floated his way to the bottom of the hill, his board a fourth dimension of liberation from gravity. Neither of us would ever do that, we knew. But with that feeling of being at peace which follows a day's skiing, I personally didn't mind a bit

Vermont essentials

The closest gateways from Britain to reach Vermont are Boston - served direct by American Airlines, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic - and Montreal, served by BA and Air Canada. Fares to these destinations are relatively high, however, at pounds 260 return or more. It is much cheaper to fly to Newark (New York) and travel overland from there by rental car or Greyhound bus. For example, Trailfinders (0171-937 5400) has a fare of pounds 185 on Continental from Gatwick or pounds 191 on Delta/Virgin from Heathrow. From Manchester, Airline Network (01772 727272) has a fare of pounds 197 on Continental.

Vermont's Department of Tourism and Marketing in Burlington can be called on 001 802 828 3237 (office open 12.45pm-9.30pm British time). For details on the resort of Bromley, call 001-802-824 5522.

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