Maine Home + Design Magazine, 2016
The assessment of our health relies heavily on numbers. How well our bodies are performing is measured in neat, abbreviated units: BPMs and °F and O2 saturation. But when it comes to big-picture health and wellness, our vitality matters just as much as our vitals. How are we feeling mentally, emotionally, spiritually? What habits do we practice that make us feel good and are also good for us? We know that a nutritious diet, regular exercise, and good sleep matter. But what if just as important to our health were far less measurable entities—like joy? What if we had the luxury to focus more on quality time with loved ones, R&R, fresh air, a sense of belonging, tradition, being present?
Ask Leandra and Tom Fremont-Smith if they practice healthy living with their two children, Harper, 10, and Tommy, 7, and they’ll tell you that they eat well, they find time to exercise regularly, they go to the dentist. But one of their family’s healthiest habits comes to mind later, almost an afterthought: they get away together. If this sounds like a stretch, consider the sheer logistics of a week in a household with school-aged children and two parent work schedules. “The kids always have an activity or appointment,” says Leandra, who runs her interior design business out of her home and is frequently on the road for client meetings and installations. “Aside from when I’m sleeping, there really isn’t an hour that I’m not working, at least checking email,” she says. Tom’s job as president of Winterstick Snowboards requires a similar a similar around-the-clock mentality.
At their cabin in the woods at Sugarloaf Mountain, the Fremont-Smiths are fortunate enough to have permission, and a place, to let go of all that—to unplug, get outside, play hard, eat hearty, and above all, just be together in the moment. “Fun just sort of pops up here,” says Leandra. The occasional weekend away, break from routine, deviations from—better yet, the absence of—a plan is more than just a luxury for the Fremont-Smiths. It’s an intentional part of their family’s physical and emotional well-being.
Even more than Tom and Leandra value this kind of spontaneity, they value tradition. “Being able to pass this experience down to our kids was a big part of our decision to start coming to Sugarloaf,” says Tom, a lifelong ’Loafer and Carrabassett Valley Academy graduate. Sugarloaf even played a part in how the couple met: Tom’s classmate’s sister was Leandra’s best friend. Before they married, Tom asked her to sign a napkin contract pledging her allegiance to Sugarloaf over another favorite Maine ski resort; she obliged. He wanted their children to know the community he had grown up a part of. “I guess I wanted to live it all again, vicariously through our kids this time,” he says. While the couple had rented at the mountain for years, it was time to plant more permanent roots there.
When Leandra first laid eyes on a cabin on the access road in Village II, she couldn’t stop thinking about it. “During construction, I walked in and pretended I was the interior designer on the job. I went home and started having so many ideas.” The couple decided to buy the house, and Leandra put her design touches on it, creating a beautiful, rustically inspired, kid-friendly space. “It’s the best investment we ever made,” says Tom.
Here, the Fremont-Smiths spend the kind of spontaneous, fresh-air family time that all too often gets lost at home under the mountain of homework and repetitive chores and chauffeuring around to various activities. (Parents who’ve mastered mindfulness aside, it’s not always easy to be “present” when you’re knee-deep in dishes and late to soccer.) But when the Fremont-Smiths are at Sugarloaf, they aren’t attached to a strict schedule. This go-where-the-wind-takes- them outlook puts everyone at ease. “If we run into friends on the mountain, we can spend time with them instead of having to rush off to the next thing,” says Leandra. “I’m a very plan- oriented person—I need to be for my business—but up here, it feels really good to let that go.”
Anyone who’s ever been “up to camp” knows the feeling begins long before you get there. For the Fremont-Smiths, it starts on the two-hour drive from their home in Yarmouth, often on a Friday after school. “Once you drive into Kingfield, the feeling of relaxation washes over you,” says Tom. The cabin is rustic and cozy, and the family usually gathers around the fireplace, rather than the TV. “We’ll put everyone in their pajamas and make dinner—usually comfort food,” says Leandra. “The kids play and read, and it’s just nice to be together without a bunch of glowing screens.” Afterward, everyone goes to bed so they can wake up early and be among the first on the mountain, a practice Tom remembers from his days at CVA.
After a big breakfast, everyone gears up to go ski for the day. While Harper and Tommy are in the CVA Weekend and Bubblecuffer programs, Tom and Leandra will hit the slopes on their own then meet up with friends at the Bag and Kettle for a hot cup of cocoa, curly fries, and a bag burger. You won’t find these items on any nutritionist’s list, but when the cold air makes you hungry, why not feed it with a hearty meal? “I don’t know about physically, but from a mental health perspective,” says Tom with a laugh, “it’s awfully good.”
It’s this kind of attitude that makes the Fremont-Smith family’s approach to health so accessible: it’s not about a rigorous set of guidelines or an all-or-nothing philosophy. No strict organic diet or unwavering nap schedules—just a common-sense approach that views health holistically, something that fits in naturally with their lifestyle.
Of course, the Fremont-Smiths don’t shy away from the more traditional components of healthy living as well—namely exercise. “Winter is long in Maine,” says Tom. “If you don’t ski or board, it can be hard to remain active. We didn’t want the kids to have sedentary lives.” When the family isn’t downhill skiing, they’re getting their hearts pumping in other ways: hiking, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, or mountain biking, depending on the season. They visit the Anti-Gravity Complex where the CVA students train, and Harper and Tommy explore the climbing wall and trampolines, or shoot hoops in the gym while Leandra and Tom work out. If the word “exercise” is laced with connotations of drudgery and obligation, then let’s not call any of this that. This, especially for the kids, is just fun.
Perhaps more than being active, this time is about the Fremont-Smiths being together—not just with one another as a family, but with their friends too. If it takes a village to raise a child, then Sugarloaf has nurtured generations. “It’s more than just a mountain: it’s a full-on community,” says Tom. “We have special relationships with other families up here,” says Leandra. “The kids go back and forth to each others’ houses, and the moms will have coffee together, and it’s all just so relaxed. Harper and Tommy love the independence they have here.” As parents, so do Leandra and Tom, who feel that the self-contained community at Sugarloaf allows their children a degree of freedom they simply don’t have at home. “They can do things on their own, safely. They’ll be skiing in their class and ride the chairlift with one of our friends. We know they’re being watched out for. And they get to form these unique relationships with their friends and get a sense of themselves as well.”
Before they had a house at Sugarloaf, Leandra spent a lot of time packing. She had to wrangle all the provisions required for two adults, two kids, and a dog: all the ski equipment, food, bedding, towels, toiletries, work supplies. Now, the majority of things they need stay at the house, and packing is kept to a minimum. “I used to bring my laptop bag, but eventually I started noticing the whole weekend would go by without me opening it,” says Leandra. “Every time we go now, the bags get smaller and smaller.” It’s an apt metaphor. Isn’t that really what healthy living is about, from a mental perspective anyway? Making our “baggage” smaller and smaller?
As a former advanced EMT, someone trained in vital signs, Tom has a unique view of vitality. “People spend time going in for checkups and getting screenings, but not too many people take care of their mental health,” he says. “Sugarloaf is where we go to do that. We relax, we get fresh air, we spend time together.”
Maybe it’s even simpler than that: “Everyone is just happier up here.”