Sam von Trapp at work on the trails.
Two years ago Sam von Trapp, now 36, came home to Stowe after 14 years of traveling and working as a year-round ski instructor in Colorado, Brazil, and Chile. As Sam is the only son of the resort's manager Johannes von Trapp—who is himself the son of the legendary Maria von Trapp of Sound of Music fame—curiosity abounds about his present and future roles at the resort.
Why come home?
There are so many things to return to, but it breaks down mostly to family and business. I was born here and I grew up right on the property, where my sister Kristina now lives with her husband and two children. I always knew I wanted to come back here and be part of the resort. I studied economics and geography in college (Dartmouth) as a sort of preparation for the family business.
Describe the last two years being back in Stowe.
I'm an extremely gung-ho person, very intense about everything I do, whether it's learning a new language, skiing, surfing. At first, I didn't want to rest. Everywhere I looked I would see things I could help out with, but now I'm learning to pace myself. And I'm learning to balance my love of working outdoors—splitting wood, digging ditches, fixing the deck on the cabin—with interacting with people. At some point I have to accept that my time is better spent indoors.
Since you've returned, Trapps has started making snow for its cross-country trails. Whose idea was that?
The idea came from Charlie Yerrick, the director of our Nordic Center. Initially the plan was to spend the 2007-2008 season checking out basic snowmaking systems and then install one for the following winter. But when I saw I could do a fairly basic portable system, we just went ahead and did it. We dug the ditches for the pipes and put in the hydrants. I enjoyed the topography of it—the physics of nature. It will mean we can stay open a little later and be able to maintain a more predictable level of snow throughout the winter.
For 12 years you've followed the snow as a ski instructor, from Colorado to Chile. This must be a big change.
For 12 years I've pretty much seen only winter—Aspen and then Chile and Brazil. But since I've been back I have loved the flow of the seasons. I still find myself looking forward to winter, the time when we really shine at the resort, when we have that vibrant outdoorsy clientele. And I love being outdoors, whether it's shoveling snow onto trails, trimming branches, making snow—everything that helps make good skiing. It's fun having been a skier for so long and now I'm working on operations, creating trails where other people can compete and train and just enjoy themselves.
So is your skiing connection with alpine, Nordic, or both?
Both. I've always loved downhill as a kid growing up here, and my interest spread to Nordic skiing because of family. I taught downhill skiing here for five years before I went out West and (Stowe Ski School Director) Dave Merriam was pivotal in helping to get me a job in Chile. I love the idea of teaching at the mountain again with my sister Kristina. It's exciting that we might be working together.
There's a general consensus in Stowe that some day you'll be managing your family's resort. Is there a timetable in place?
It seems like a natural step, somewhere down the line, to move into a management role. We haven't set a date. I have a lot to learn about a lot of things, including patience! My job now, in a lot of ways, is making sure people are having fun here. In August my father resumed his role as general manager of the resort, which is really neat. A lot of people thought he would step back, but instead he's getting more involved. It's been great to see the energy he puts into it.
What does the enormous development at Stowe Mountain Resort mean for Trapps?
It's an exciting time to be in Stowe. When I was a kid we always talked about Stowe as the Ski Capital of East and now, with new lifts, more snowmaking, and the Spruce Peak development, Stowe is poised to retake that title. We're working together with Stowe Mountain Resort to have the best possible set of interconnected cross-country trails in New England.
Any backcountry ski plans?
I love to backcountry ski. One of most significant things I've done is to participate in the Crested Butte to Aspen backcountry race. It's 40 miles long, starts at midnight and goes through two 12,000-foot passes—very exciting and challenging. Last year, I was all excited to get backcountry going at Trapps and was very pleased when Jim Fredericks (head of the Catamount Trail Association) stepped in and organized the first Trapps to Bolton race. One of our plans here at Trapps is to begin offering guided backcountry trips.
Any other projects?
My dad has always been a fan of change, of new and exciting developments, and he's been gung-ho about plans to develop mountain biking trails here, for guests and members of the Stowe Mountain Bike Club. I've been working a bit on trails and there will be some in place for our guests next summer. It will take about five years to have everything we would like but we want to be able to link to trails in Cottonbrook and other areas. I wouldn't be surprised if down the line you would be able to mountain bike the entire length and breadth of Vermont.
So you're getting married?
Yes! We were engaged last summer and Elisa came here in September. We met in 1996 in Chile where Elisa grew up and it became pretty evident to both of us that we are happiest when we're together. She'll be a natural fit at the hotel, but I think I better let her decide what she wants to do! She has a degree in landscape architecture from UC Davis and has worked as a landscape contractor for last few years in California. With 2,400 acres here we have plenty of places she could spruce up.