The Trapp Family Lodge: room at the inn Essay

If the Trapp Family Singers still sang, they would spread musical
word that their wide-gabled, Alpine-style lodge is once again welcoming
guests, following a disastrous pre-Christmas fire in 1980 that leveled
the original inn. The Sound of Music people may be retired from show
business, but their beaming faces are ready and willing to welcome
guests to the Green Mountains around Stowe, Vermont.



That frigid December 1980 night, a flash fire forced Baroness Maria
von Trapp and her full house of guests to flee their blazing building.
The calamity marked the end of a happy era for the landmark mountain
resort. “I lost just plain everything,” recalls Maria, who
was 75 when her annual Austrian Christmas celebration was tragically
preempted. Along with the quaint, rambling inn that oozed with the
Trapp version of gemutlichkeit, Maria lost her home and a lifetime of
memories. At dawn, the Trapp Family Lodge was a smoking ruin, and the
only salvaged items were the fireplace andirons and an antique chest in
the repair shop.



While the embers still smoldered, the von Trapps vowed to rebuild
their lodge. Today, following a thorny, three-year refinancing,
revamping and rebuilding period, the lodge once again stands sentinel on
its original site overlooking one of New England’s grandest
panoramas: the Stowe Valley and the Worcester Range of the Green
Mountains. The lodge is a four-season resort, from blossoming springs
spreading over misty, green hillsides to verdant summers and colored
autumns. But winter activities are considered the highlight by legions
of vacationers who wind their way up Trapp Hill Road during the snow
season. This Christmas, the first holiday celebrated since the
lodge’s official opening in January, visitors will be greeted with
a scene true to the Trapps’ slogan: “A little of Austria, a
lot of Vermont.”


The 1,700 acres of the Trapp estate bustle with the activity
associated with a world-class resort. But the spot was a remote
mountain farm when the home-hunting family visited Stowe in 1941. The
buildings, Baroness Maria jokes, “couldn’t decide which side
to collapse on.” Her family unanimously agreed that a house they
could build–the spectacular mountain setting they could not. Though
they had visited 48 states on singing tours, the Trapps found the
Vermont mountains most reminiscent of the Austrian countryside they had
left in 1938 as refugees from Hitler. They bought the property with
proceeds from their increasingly popular concert tours and were
introduced, as Maria recalls, to another new American custom: the down
payment.



Soon after moving to Stowe from Philadelphia, a blizzard blew down
most of the existing farmhouse and forced Baron Georg von Trapp, his
wife, Maria, their seven daughters, three sons and priest-musical
director Franz Wasner to learn carpentry and to work together
constructing the first version of the Trapp Family Lodge. Between
performing schedules, the family operated a dairy farm and a
maple-sugaring business and established a summer music camp at the foot
of their hill.



The Trapps had a problem: where to house the nonsinging relatives
of their camp participants. First they housed the relatives in their
growing farmhouse; from that start evolved the Trapp Family Lodge. As
visitors kept returning and skiers asked to use rooms vacated by the
Trapps when they were touring, the family found themselves in the lodge
business. When the Trapp Family Singers retired from the stage in 1956,
they made the official transition from part-time hosts to full-time
inn-keepers. The fame garnered by stage and movie versions of the
family’s life story in The Sound of Music increased the reputation
of the lodge, which featured a homey atmosphere, an Austrian menu and
the convivial hostessing of Baroness von Trapp and any of her children
who happened to be in residence.



The new, 73-room main lodge, twice as large as its predecessor,
faithfully duplicates the features of the converted farmhouse the Trapps
had festooned with Austrian gables and porches, balconies, balustrades,
a bell tower and a bay window when they arrived on the Vermont hill in
the early 1940s. During the holiday season, the lodge is bedecked with
ropes of greenery, scores of fresh pine trees and wreaths and thousands
of miniature white lights that glow against the dark-stained pine siding
at dusk. The snowy Green Mountain peaks provide a backdrop and make the
scene as Tyrolean as any Austrian glen.


Though the lodge’s exterior suggests that the original was
merely enlarged and turned clockwise to enjoy a better view of the
landscape, the interior of the new building is a superb improvement over
the low-ceilinged, pine-paneled rooms of the Trapps’ first
home-cum-hotel. The original lodge was laden with nostalgic reminders
of the singing Trapps and full of curiosities gathered by the group on
international travels, but the narrow guest rooms lacked such comforts
as private baths, telephones and assured silence. A good night’s
sleep was uncertain for occupants of rooms near the Tirolerstueberl, and
there was no need for a wake-up call for rooms near the kitchen.



Today’s Trapp Family Lodge is designed with mountain views
from windows and balconies in all visitors’ rooms–the five living
rooms, the bay-windowed library, the cocktail lounge, the dining room
and the guest quarters on the second, third and fourth floors.
Second-floor rooms all open to individual balconies or to a broad patio
overlooking the courtyard. Because the lodge is virtually built into
the rising hillside, third- and fourth-floor rooms have entrances
opening at ground level and lead to the apple orchard, the pool, hiking
and cross-country ski trails and the lush Trapp gardens with the family
cemetery. Guest rooms are spacious and reflect an elegant, Old World
atmosphere with richly carved oak furnishings. Each corridor of rooms is
flanked by a comfortably furnished living room with a Count Rumford
fireplace.



Johannes von Trapp, the only one of Maria’s offspring who
remains permanently involved in operating the lodge, is responsible for
the resort’s most popular winter activity: cross-country skiing. A
forester by profession, Johannes recognized the potential of his
family’s land as a ski-touring center. In 1968 he pioneered the
idea and started with a small ski-rental service in the corner of a
garage and a nucleus of trails traversing the wooded hills and mountain
meadows behind the lodge. The ideal terrain at the Trapp estate, along
with Johannes’ careful nurturing, encouraged cross-country touring
as an alternative to the downhill trade at Stowe’s fabled Mount
Mansfield.



Like the lodge, the touring center has experienced an amazing
metamorphosis from a simple start. Sixty miles of tempting woodland
trails geared for all levels of skiers crisscrosses the Trapp property,
and on peak winter days the land is alive with hundreds of houseguests
and daytime skiers. The trails wind past a cluster of newly constructed
time-sharing guesthouses to the Trapps’ Austrian Tea Room; they
climb steeper ascents approaching Werner von Trapp’s fieldstone chapel and proceed to back country, where skiers learn winter survival
and nature study on daylong trips.



At the ski-touring center adjacent to the lodge, 20 instructors
share the intricacies of cross-country kick and glide and how to handle
some of Trapp’s peskier downhill runs. For die-hard downhill
skiers, the slopes of Mount Mansfield (at 4,303 feet, Vermont’s
highest peak) are ten minutes from the Trapp Family Lodge. Nonskiing
guests can catch a lift with Kate and Nancy, the matched Percherons who
transport an oversized red sleigh across the Trapp meadow and beyond, to
the tearoom and Maria’s gift shop down the hill and back to the
main lodge.



Dinner is often accompanied by the mellow music of a classical
guitarist, but for many lodgers the main attraction of the evening meal
is the appearance of Maria von Trapp, who uses the dining room as the
place to meet and mingle with her guests. “That’s something
she would never give up,” says Johannes of the personal contact his
mother maintains with visitors in her home.



For Maria herself, the highlight of the year at the lodge is
Christmas Eve. “We brought our own Christmas celebration across
the Atlantic Ocean,” Maria explains, and that includes an immense
evergreen, placed in the main living room and garbed in the Austrian
fashion with candy, cookies, tiny lights and trinkets. After a
traditional feast featuring Austrian goose, there is caroling with the
Trapps, their staff and guests; Maria tells the story of Christmas in
Austria; and her youngest grandchild reads the Christmas story. The
atmosphere of the gathering is like a huge family, which is exactly how
the Trapps feel about their guests. Christmas–and events all year long
at the lodge–has always been a main ingredient in what Maria calls
“the very, very beautiful, beautiful story of my life.”