A third generation Vermont maple syrup producer, Krista Powers finds a home for her family’s sappy sweet syrup on Colorado’s Western Slope
When Krista Powers opens the door to her family’s sugarhouse in Vermont, she can be sure she’ll be greeted with family hugs, sweet smells of maple and a drove of bustling bodies.
Sweet maple steam rises from the large pan where the sap boils and bubbles into syrup. Her dad, the de facto leader of the family syrup operation, always has his head on a swivel checking a gage or the flow of sap or the flavor of the syrup.
Aunts and uncles move in and out, busy trucking sap from a holding tank just down the road. Cousins continuously test the syrup for perfection, making sure it doesn’t burn or boil over the pan.
Everyone is busy, everyone is moving while keeping a watchful eye on the syrup production. The days are long — the family often works 16-hour days for weeks on end each spring, often fueled by warm donuts topped with syrup, keeping everyone energized.
Few things fill Powers’ heart like time spent at the sugarhouse.
“The sugarhouse elicits warm feelings of being with family and friends of family; it’s a gathering place,” Powers said.
Powers, who now lives in Crested Butte, Colorado, has a lifetime of memories in her family’s sugarhouse and sugarbush. Both sit on a 300-acre property in the Northern Kingdom of Vermont, 15 miles from the Canadian border. She spent her childhood climbing trees, driving tractors and jumping into mud puddles.
She also worked. Powers got her hands sticky during Vermont’s cold spring months helping the family sugar, the process of turning sap to syrup.
Her work as a maple syrup producer makes Powers the third generation to boil, mix and bottle sticky sap. Her Grandpa Archie bought property and started the family syrup business in the 1950s. His legacy continues with Powers, her dad, uncle and cousins.
Yet, Powers took a chance to do something different. She is the only family member who brands, markets and sells the family syrup in Colorado.
Each spring, when her friends head out on alpine ski missions in search of soft and slushy corn snow, Powers loads up her van and heads east where the sugaring season is in full swing.
After a 2,000 mile drive, she jumps in to help prep the sugarbush for the season. Holes are drilled into maple trees and spouts are attached where buckets hang to collect sap. Often the preparation is followed by waiting and anticipation for sap to run. Warm days bring flowing sap that drips and oozes from tree to spout to bucket.
BRINGING VERMONT’S SYRUP TO COLORADO’S HIGH COUNTRY
It wasn’t always Powers’ plan to settle into the family business. In 1999, she moved to Colorado in search of skiing and powder. To her surprise, she discovered friends who felt like family, and a place to plant new roots.
During her time as a ski bum, Powers’ dad kept syrup flowing in Vermont, and each year he hopped into his truck, packed to the brim with sweet golden Vermont maple syrup, and drove to Crested Butte.
“My dad would come visit for the holidays, and would bring syrup as gifts for me and all of my friends,” Powers recalled. “After a few years, people started talking about it and word got out as it usually does in a small town. People started reaching out and asking if they could order a gallon or two.”
It was clear to Powers that her small Colorado mountain town had a taste for quality maple syrup. So in 2016, she took a chance and created her own brand in Crested Butte: Vermont Sticky.
Since then, her syrup has evolved into a well-loved product that is stocked in health food stores, farmers markets and restaurants along Colorado’s Western Slope.
Powers dares people to try her syrup on more than just pancakes. There are countless ways to use maple syrup in ways most people never consider.
“It’s a great sweetener for things like coffee, cooking, baking and sauces,” she said. “You can substitute maple syrup in any recipe that calls for sweetener.”
Powers, like many Crested Butte residents, tends to spend her time playing outside in the mountains.
“Being outside in the mountains is what fills my bucket; it brings me peace,” Powers said. “I’m always curious about the natural environment: I want to look under every rock and explore every mountain top. Even if I’ve been on a trail multiple times, there is always something new to see.”
For years, Powers fueled her body with different flavors and brands of sports goo. But, every brand left her stomach tied up in knots. One day, inspired by memories of childhood adventures, she poured maple syrup and some salt into a squeeze bottle. After a long day of adventuring, her stomach felt great. She realized she had discovered her new favorite endurance energy fuel.
She started to fill multiple squeeze bottles full of syrup to carry in her pack on bike rides and ski tours to share with her friends. Maple syrup as an energy food slowly started to catch on with her friends — many of them love slurping the sticky goo on their adventures.
Powers’ inspiration to fuel her and friends’ adventures didn’t stop with syrup-filled squeeze bottles.
On a gorgeous spring day in 2018, while pedaling the technical and rocky trails at Hartman Rocks, Powers experienced an “AHA” moment.
“I started thinking about this drink that my grandfather’s generation used to make, Switchel,” she remembered. “I had been making my own version of it at home.”
Switchel is an “old-timer” drink made from apple cider vinegar, maple syrup, lemon, ginger and salt. Her grandfather, Archie, along with others in his generation, drank it to stay hydrated during hot summer days while working in the hayfields.
By the time she finished her ride, she committed to figuring out a way to deliver her version of her grandfather’s drink to endurance athletes. Her goal was to convert the concoction into a powder form while adding electrolytes.
After days spent in her kitchen tampering with different recipes, she settled on a slightly bitter and fruity mix: Tree Juice.
The powder drink is now available in a variety of flavors, and Powers maintains that it is different from other energy drinks.
“Tree juice is unique because it’s not super sweet like other sports drinks,” she explained. “It’s a subtle sweet and a little bitter.”
Powers spreads the joy of Tree Juice by donating samples to local organizations, races and events in and around Crested Butte.
In her fifth year in business as a Vermont maple syrup producer on Colorado’s Western Slope, Powers is ready for anything. From a global pandemic to a warmer than average year on the sugarbush, she’s stocked with syrup and ready to fuel her customer’s adventures.
Perhaps that means chugging Tree Juice on the top of a mountain, or squeezing syrup onto pancakes during a lazy Sunday morning brunch (really, it’s ok if you eat it on pancakes).
STEPHANIE MALTARICH is a writer and audio producer who loves stories about humans doing interesting things in the wild. She lives off a country road in Gunnison, Colorado. When she’s not glued to her computer, you’ll find her searching for less-traveled trails in the Elk Mountains by foot, bike or ski.