The Trapp Family Lodge will forever be famous for its association with a beloved Broadway musical and movie, but first-time visitors be warned: It's not a theme park for "The Sound...
STOWE, Vt. The Trapp Family Lodge will forever be famous for its association with a beloved Broadway musical and movie, but first-time visitors be warned: It’s not a theme park for “The Sound of Music.”
You won’t hear strains of “Edelweiss” playing in the lobby. Apple-cheeked children don’t hang around the hallways to bid guests goodnight with a chorus of “So Long, Farewell.” And it’s hard to find images on the walls of Julie Andrews portraying the feisty young Austrian nun Maria, who came to the von Trapp family as a governess, fell in love and married the baron and helped the children escape from the Nazis in 1938.
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Those are deliberate choices made by Johannes von Trapp, the youngest child of the real Georg and Maria von Trapp, who recently celebrated his 65th birthday. He favors truth over fictional versions of his family’s story. His mother was pregnant with him when they abandoned all of their connections in Austria to make a new life in America, and he’s president of the company running the lodge and ski resort that bear the family name.
Von Trapp has, understandably, grown weary of being asked about the movie. But as he granted a rare interview from his threadbare office at the snow-covered resort here, he admitted to a grudging affection for the 1965 Oscar winner for best picture, with its themes of family love and standing up for one’s beliefs.
“It’s hard to be critical of it, even though it is such a Holly-woodization of our family,” he said. “It is such an inspiration to so many people. How can you be critical of something that has helped so many?”
Instead of focusing on the movie, a visit to the lodge brings a strong sense of the Austrian homeland that von Trapp’s family left behind.
It’s oft-repeated lore that Maria and Georg von Trapp chose to settle in Stowe because its snow-capped peaks reminded them of the Austrian mountains. But that’s only part of the story, von Trapp said. When the family arrived there in the 1940s, it was a sleepy farm community full of self-reliant mountain people who struck a chord with the Von Trapps: “Nobody here had any money, and neither did we,” he said.
In their early days, the family ran a music camp on the property and rented out their rooms to winter skiers during their two decades of touring and giving concerts. That evolved into the property’s life as a tourist destination, and Johannes von Trapp started one of the nation’s first cross-country ski resorts there in 1968. He credits the idea to a Norwegian roommate he had at Dartmouth, where he studied forestry.
“Of course, when I was growing up, it wasn’t cross-country or downhill skiing,” he said. “You had leather boots with adjustable cables and you kept your heel down or allowed it to go up” depending on the terrain.
The property still enjoys worldwide renown for its network of cross-country ski trails. Travel and Leisure Family magazine recently selected the lodge as “One of the Best 500 Hotels in the World,” and one of the “Top 20 Most Family Friendly Resorts” in the United States and Canada.
Its other amenities include wintertime sleigh rides and snowshoe hiking, cozy meals in the Austrian Tea Room restaurant, a bakery serving authentic linzertortes and apfelstrudels and a gift shop blending Vermont souvenirs with postcards, CDs and books commemorating both the fictional and factual von Trapp families.
Those who are drawn to the lodge primarily because of its affiliation with Hollywood will find plenty of points of interest. Posters of the early European movie versions of the von Trapp tales are on walls near cheerful 1940s-era photos of the real von Trapps at work on their farm. A long hallway contains cherubic illustrations from a book version of the von Trapp story.
Occasionally, one of Johannes von Trapp’s sisters, Rosmarie, entertains guests with sing-alongs that have been known to include songs from the movie. And both the Julie Andrews movie and a documentary, “The Real Maria,” are screened there regularly.
One fact the film got right: Georg von Trapp did indeed have seven children with his first wife, who died in 1922, before the governess Maria joined his household. After their marriage, they had three more children together.
The aspect of the Hollywood story the family objects to most, though, is its portrayal of him as disapproving, aloof and opposed to music. In fact, they say, he spent much time playing music with his family and was extremely warm and supportive of their love of traditional Austrian songs.
Six of the 10 von Trapp children survive, with five living nearby in Vermont and the eldest survivor, Agathe, in Baltimore at 90.