Ice skating on Lake Paran
Ice skating on Lake Paran. Photo credit: Camille Kauffman

December 29, 2022

Think globally all you like – all of us should – but come to Bennington this winter if you are ready to recreate locally. There are lots of fun ways to do it, many of them free.

Bennington doesn’t have a downhill ski area of its own, but it does provide a base from which to go to Mt. Snow in Dover (40 min.), and Bromley and Stratton east of Manchester (40-45 min.).

Snowy day on Prospect Mountain in Woodford.
Prospect Mountain Ski Area. Photo credit: Phil Holland

If you’re a Nordic skier, Prospect Mountain is only 15 minutes away on Route 9 East. Organized as a non-profit, Prospect has upgraded its facilities in recent years and keeps 30 kilometers of trails in great shape for both track and skate styles.

There are snowshoeing trails too, and an attractive lodge provides lunch and warmth. Passes are available at various prices, all of them modest as ski areas go.

Skier at Prospect Mountain ski area.
A skier at Prospect Mountain. Photo credit: Phil Holland

See last year’s January post and the Prospect website for further details.

Whether you call it sledding, sliding, or coasting, all it takes is a snowy hill and a seat (or belly) on something that will keep you from falling off as you slip down.

gleeful boys sledding
Sledding at Willow Park

Bennington’s Willow Park, at the north end of town, has a couple of open, moderate slopes that are just right for kids of all ages. Access is free, and the parking lots are kept plowed. Enter off Performance Drive at the low end or off East Road at the high end. Enjoy views of the Bennington Monument as you (or your children) pick up speed going down.

North Bennington also provides some classic local winter recreation. The Mile Around Woods is a nature reserve and recreation area just outside of the village that is managed by a community organization.

Trails near Mile Around Woods in North Bennington.
Mile Around Woods (and fields). Photo credit: Tara Schatz

The beautiful, mostly flat, mile-long Nordic ski trail passes through woods and fields. Park on West St. past the Park McCullough Historic Governor’s Mansion. The trails are not groomed, but you’re likely to find them broken in and ideal for a brisk and scenic run. Or a romp on snowshoes. Or a winter hike if the snow has disappeared.

North Bennington is also home to Lake Paran, an undeveloped 35-acre lake with two access points: one is the Vermont Fish and Wildlife area on the east side of the lake, and the other is by way of Paran Recreations on the west; you’ll have to walk down to the shore for the latter.

You’ll be going to skate, to fish, to walk, or to snowshoe.

Volunteers keep a skating area clear of snow on the west side, and sometimes conditions are such that the entire lake is one big rink. The Lake Paran Facebook page will keep you abreast of conditions.

If you came to fish, you’ve probably brought along a spud or auger to get through the ice, a slotted spoon to get the chips out, line, bait, and a set of jigs, and maybe a shack to keep the wind off while you watch your holes. You could pull a perch, a pike, or some other fine fish out of the lake (see photo!).

Don’t have a license? Acquire one online from Fish and Wildlife or drop in on Vermont’s annual free ice fishing day, for residents and non-residents alike; this year it’s Saturday, January 28.

The Village of North Bennington will hold its annual Winterfest on Saturday, February 4th. The event will kick off with the Paran Plunge, where teams or individuals jump into the lake to raise money for lake conservation and the North Bennington Fire Department. 

If freezing your body for charity is not your style, why not try your luck at the 5th Annual Catch and Release Ice Fishing Derby on Saturday, February 11th?

Robert Frost House in Winter.
Robert Frost Stone House Museum in winter. Photo credit: Tara Schatz

To walk: sometimes the snow gets washed away, even in January. If so, a walk to (or from) the Robert Frost Stone House Museum via the Lake Paran Robert Frost Trail makes for a nice outing. Snowshoeing the route on fresh powder is even nicer. It’s two miles from the pavilion on the west side of Lake Paran to the Frost House on Route 7A .

Most snowmobilers are already in the know, but if you’re new in town or from away, you’ll soon discover that Bennington has a well-organized snowmobiling scene, as does Vermont as a whole.

VAST – the acronym for the evocatively named Vermont Association of Snow Travelers – maintains a statewide system of trails. Their website is a good introduction to the rules and regs.

Locally, the Woodford Snobusters take care of trails and provide information on access and parking. Their website has maps and a trailcam.

You can get on a trail in Woodford, ten minutes east of Bennington, that will take you to Somerset and beyond. If you haven’t been on a snowmobile lately, you’ll be surprised at how sleek and maneuverable the new machines are: not your father’s snowmobiles.

Phil Holland of Pownal writes for Vermont Begins Here and skis locally when the snow falls.