Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Dog Days Already?

Hot enough for ya? It's not the heat, it's the humidity. It's early July and we're getting our first Dog Days of Summer right on time. That means just one thing - it's time to head for the swimming holes of Okemo Valley.

The Old Farmer's Almanac lists the traditional timing of the Dog Days as the 40 days beginning July 3 and ending August 11, coinciding with the heliacal (at sunrise) rising of the Dog Star, Sirius. The rising of Sirius does not actually affect the weather, but for the ancient Egyptians, Sirius appeared just before the season of the Nile's flooding, so they used the star as a "watchdog" for that event. Since its rising also coincided with a time of extreme heat, the connection with hot, sultry weather was made for all time.

"Swimming? Where to go? It's a question I often get asked," says Bill Graf, the concierge at the Jackson Gore Inn. "The swimming is pretty good here."

That good?

"Oh yes," he says. "There is a lot to choose from."

The easy way out for Graf is to point to the pool connected to the Inn. It’s so convenient for guests. The Inn’s swimming area features a couple of outdoor hot tubs, which seem to be the most popular spot after a day of mountain biking or a round of golf. There’s also a large pool that starts indoors and continues outside. Then there’s the Spring House – just a few steps from the Inn. There’s another large hot tub, a family pool with designated times for swimming laps, and a shallow kids’ pool with fountains and splash features.

"The smaller pool is very popular with the young people," Graf says with a laugh. "Sometimes it's hard to get the kids out of there."

Over at The Spring House, a giant fiberglass frog knows exactly what Graf is talking about - and he’s laughing even harder. The frog presides over a splash pool adjacent to the main 35,000-gallon pool at the Spring House. Children can climb up his back, step into his mouth and then slide down his tongue into the water. The pool, which ranges in depth from six inches to two feet, also has three working fountains. It can be more popular than a Hanna Montana concert.

"I am flabbergasted at how many people come in here ," says Okemo Recreation Facilities Manager K.C. Gandee. "The kids can’t get enough of it. Even the bigger kids ... they come in here and say, "sweet, look at the frog’s mouth ... I’m there … It’s great to see the kids have so much fun."

How popular is the frog? One Okemo official chuckles at the thought while saying, "It just spits out kids all day long."

The main pool ranges in depth from three- to four-and-a-half feet. A section is roped off for lap swimming at designated times during each day. Other scheduled activities include water aerobics classes and water volleyball. At the deeper end is an eight-foot spiral slide, for bigger kids or just in case there’s a line at the frog slide.

For the less adventurous - or those who are just sore from that morning hike or a hard day of touring the local sites - the Spring House also features an indoor, six-person hot tub.

"The facility really is a multi-use recreational pool," Gandee says. "We are very happy with how much it is being used already."

Membership in the Spring House is included with Jackson Gore unit ownership and guests of the Inn can use the facility free of charge. The Spring House is also open to the public. Day passes are available and a variety of monthly and season-long passes for individuals and families can be purchased. Offering much more than swimming, the resort’s new source for relaxation and rejuvenation is a two-level, 18,000-square-foot fitness and aquatic center featuring free weights, exercise equipment, a racquetball court, a studio for fitness classes, locker rooms with saunas and showers, plus a separate family locker room for parents with opposite-sex youngsters.

Ready for a swim a little farther afield? Graf likes to let Okemo guests in on a little secret. It’s called Buttermilk Falls.

"It’s a longtime secret swimming hole for Vermonters," he says. "A lot of people are seeking a place out, off the beaten track, and it’s definitely one of the places to go if you like a cool, refreshing dip on a hot day."

Graf will point guests to an access road almost directly across from the Rt. 103 turnoff to Jackson Gore, near the old VFW hall. With the name Buttermilk Falls Road, it's easy
to remember, even for the first-time visitor. About two miles in, after the Vermont forest sign, is a small parking area. About 50 yards from that is the best place to swim - pools that serve as the upper and lower falls’ basins. The Web site newenglandwaterfalls.com calls Buttermilk "one of the few great swimming holes in southern Vermont," because the natural pools are deep enough for "complete submersion." The lower falls empty into a 25-foot-wide pool of clear, olive-green water. At the upper falls, two streams of water flow into a large swimming pool with clear water and a pebble-covered bottom. Buttermilk Falls is a popular swimming hole that has been preserved thanks to the efforts of The Vermont River Conservancy.

Watersports and lake swimming are also available a short distance from Okemo. Four beautiful lakes along Rt. 100 North, have been a popular destination for generations of summer visitors. At Camp Plymouth State Park, which offers a big sandy beach, grassy lawns and wooded picnic sites, plus a snack bar and changing facilities, families can spend sunny summer days playing in the cool, clear mountain water.

Graf says he can also arrange whitewater and flatwater canoe and kayak trips from his concierge desk. He says his first choice will always be Buttermilk Falls, however.

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