People, Planet, Profit: Austrian Hospitality Enables Sustainability in Vermont’s Green Mountains

Written By:
Riley Nelson ’22
Contributing Writer
Connect with Riley on LinkedIn

This article from the Graduate Family Business Sustainability Club focuses on the von Trapp family and the Trapp Family Lodge. Four current SI-MBA students traveled to Stowe, Vermont and spoke with Kristina von Trapp and Walter Frame about the family business and the importance of sustainability.

Etched into Vermont’s horizon, the Green Mountains lure those far and wide with their humble magic. For the von Trapp family, they provided a new home while evoking reminiscent feelings of their Austrian past. Take a journey to the hills of Stowe, Vermont, and you’ll discover how the Trapp Family Lodge seamlessly blends Austrian hospitality with values rooted in creating a sustainable future—or as the family says, “A Little of Austria…a Lot of Vermont®!”

In 1950 Maria von Trapp created what became a 2,500-acre hospitality sanctuary. Maria’s son Johannes is now president and, at 82, remains highly involved in the lodge’s day-to-day operations. Johannes lives on the property with his wife, Lynne. Their two children, Kristina and Sam, each built homes for their families down the road from where they grew up and are co-owners and operators of the family business, along with Kristina’s husband, Walter Frame.

Image courtesy of: Allyson Rigutto, SI-MBA ’22

The Trapp Family Lodge recently celebrated 70 years of business, with sustainability at its core from the start. Protecting and caring for the land is both a fundamental value and essential business practice for the family. As a founding member, Johannes set aside roughly 1,500 of the family’s 2,500 acres for conservation under the Stowe Land Trust. Guests are encouraged to explore the property’s 60 miles of ski, bike, and hiking trails and contribute to conservation with a $1-per-night trust donation built into each reservation. The land also supports a maple sugaring operation and rotating timber harvests to create a healthy forest and provide wood to heat the lodge.

Johannes defines sustainability as, “Working off the land, getting what you could from close by, and reusing everything you could.” Ingredients sourced directly from the property create a farm-to-table experience for guests. In addition to fresh produce, the family raises numerous animals including layer-egg chickens, pigs, cows, and sheep. Longstanding composting practices are intended to both reduce inputs into local dumps and enrich soil for more abundant crops and livestock. The von Trapp Brewing launch in 2010 was an important test of sustainable expansion. Today, von Trapp beer is sold in 10 states, and the byproducts of the beer-making process are spread across the acreage.

An aerial view of the Trapp Family Lodge property (Photo courtesy of Trapp Family Lodge)

For the von Trapps, sustainability extends beyond respecting the planet. The family believes in “Gemütlichkeit,” the German term meaning cozy, unpretentious, and professional hospitality. This value of care is extended to both guests and the community. The von Trapps engage in various philanthropic initiatives in the greater Stowe area, including afterschool fitness and recreation programs. With approximately 300 employees on payroll today, the von Trapps understand that supporting peoples’ livelihoods is an integral part of success. Providing employees with stable, well-paying, and purpose-driven jobs is key to the business’s resilience and growth during challenging times.

As for the traditional bottom line, embracing all facets of sustainability enabled the Trapp Family Lodge to have its most profitable year to date, despite a global pandemic. The von Trapp family is a pillar of success in the greater Vermont community because they keep people and planet at their core, showcasing what it truly means to be a sustainable family business.

Kristina von Trapp accepting the 2019 Multi-Gen Family Enterprise award at the Grossman School of Business’s Family Business Awards