Overview of Stowe Mountain Resort, Vermont
Written by Greg and Heather Burke
Stowe is a dichotomy for downhillers, a beauty queen with a beastly side, glamorous with gritty steeps. Since Stowe’s 1930’s inception, Mt. Mansfield’s challenging terrain has called to core skiers, earning it the moniker “Ski Capital of the East.” Meanwhile, the swank Spruce Peak Village, the church-steepled Main Street of Stowe and the bustling Mountain Road of European inspired establishments lend a sophistication and elegance to this Vermont vacation spot.
Lately, the classic Stowe has become “classier” as the venerable Vermont ski area revealed the swank new Stowe Mountain Lodge and Spruce Base Camp. After 15 years of master planning, and $400-million dollars, this massive mountainside development adds a Deer Valley vibe and brings luxury lodging “slope-side,” something Stowe previously lacked. Enter Vail Resorts, purchasing Stowe Mountain, the ski terrain - not the village, for $50 million, Vail's first East Coast ski resort - to be part of their Epic Pass.
For decades Stowe’s ski terrain was divided into two faces. Mansfield featured big mountain skiing for big dogs, and Spruce Peak was Stowe’s sleepier side, with learning terrain, anchored by a funky Austrian style base lodge. Now Spruce Peak is stately and stylish, with outdoor fireplaces dotting the pedestrian village, a massive 139-room hotel and spa, mountain “cabins” (rich people code for monstrous $3-mill mansions) hugging the hillside, and a Performing Arts Center with top music, entertainment, and theatre.
New lifts have revitalized the Spruce Peak terrain (which abuts Smugglers’ Notch Resort). Stowe even installed New England’s only 10-person gondola, Over Easy, which travels over the notch road connecting Stowe’s two mountains. So skiers staying or parking at Spruce are just moments from the base of the ForeRunner Quad or the Gondola that access Mt Mansfield (skiing on Vermont’s highest mountain at 4,395’).
Traditionalists needn’t worry about all this transformation; because Stowe’s legendary terrain remains. Original trails like Nose Dive and the famous Front Four, dating back to the 1930’s when Perry Merrill and Charlie Lord cut the first ski runs with the help of the CCC, have been altered and widened over the years to accommodate snowmaking and grooming. But they are still 2,055’ of butt-kicking vertical, just as steep and stunningly scenic. The rugged 1936 Stone Hut still stands at the summit as a testament to early ski pioneers that shaped this mountain. Stowe’s local skiers line up for the first quad at 7:30 am on weekends, 8 am midweek. Stowe’s toughest trails, namely Starr and Goat, haven’t gotten any tamer with age. But Stowe’s more forgiving runs – Lord and Sunrise remain scenic and serene.
Stowe’s bright red 8-passenger gondola lifts you 2,160’ vertical up another flank of Mt Mansfield, which features classic runs like Gondolier and my personal favorite Perry Merrill. If you have tackled your "10 by 10", a Stowe locals’ thing, you start craving lunch at The Cliff House, in the Tyrolean lodge at 3,625’ atop the gondola. The fondue will melt away your morning fatigue.
Stowe’s clientele is as split as its two mountains, Spruce and Mansfield. The separate social circles share quads and polite conversations, call them the rich and the radical, tycoons, the elegant and the earthy. The well-pitched terrain attracts the east coast’s best backcountry blazers (I have been sworn to secrecy about Stowe’s awesome off piste skiing), but Stowe is equally popular with Bogner wearing city folk who bomb the groomed boulevards of Stowe on their ski holidays.
Now the powder-loving pedigree, Bostonians, and New Yorkers, have luxury on-mountain lodging to buy and call home, and an Alpine Concierge at their beckon call to store their skis and boots, and fetch wine & cheese when they are ready for après ski or a spa treatment. This Concierge service is very Four Seasons – and included when you stay (and when you buy ownership) at Spruce Peak’s posh hotel. The Stowe Mountain Lodge decor is rocky mountain regal and the slope views are “reach out and touch” close.
If the tariff for Stowe’s supreme alpine accommodation is too steep, (prices are $500-$1,500 a night), head down the Mountain Road. This Vermont ski town is soup to nuts when it comes to colorful and varied lodging and dining, you have full-service resorts like Topnotch, to European hillside chalets at Trapp Family Lodge, modern hotels on the Mountain Road like Field Guide, or stay in Stowe village the original Green Mountain Inn.
Save après ski time to tour the dreamy postcard village of Stowe, which dates back to 1763. Along Main Street, you can find everything from penny candy and Vermont-made wool pants at Shaw’s century-old General Store, to runway fashions and designer downhill apparel. Stowe’s gallery and boutique scene will keep even the most sophisticated shoppers amused. A visit to the Vermont Ski Museum in the historic Town Hall gives a glimpse of Stowe’s skiing past. The Green Mountain Inn offers excellent après ski and Vermont cuisine at their cozy bar, The Whip.
If you still have outdoor energy, the 5.5-mile recreation path is perfect for cross-country skiing or winter walks winding along the river. There’s even a year-round “Swimming Hole,” an indoor pool and athletic facility funded largely by local snowboard success Jake Burton.
If Nordic skiing is your knack, Stowe has an impressive network of touring trails encompassing 150-kilometers of groomed tracks and 100-kilometers of backcountry trails. The most famous Nordic facility is The Trapp Family Lodge - the first touring center in North America, btw. This “Sound of Music” family’s settlement is now a phenomenal resort perched on a gorgeous hillside, with the must-see scenery.
Stowe’s dining repertoire is a rainbow of 60 some-odd restaurants, from elegant après at Stowe Mountain Lodge's Hourglass and fine dining at Solstice, to family-friendly pizzerias, organic cafés, and cozy pubs, to candlelit inns and upscale bistros, Stowe’s diverse demographic inspires a culinary contest, like “Top Chef in ski country,”. Then there is rocking nightlife at Rusty Nail or the Matterhorn - a Stowe après ski classic.
Stowe proudly embraces tradition with mantras like “If you can ski Stowe, you can ski anywhere” and “there’s always snow in Stowe you know.” At the same time, this Vermont ski town continues to evolve with avant-garde restaurants, chic shops, and a stylish slopeside village at Spruce Camp. As the two interconnected ski mountains, Spruce and Mansfield, straddle the Notch Road, Stowe Mountain Resort bridges the gap between old-school classic and trendsetter.
Stowe is one of my favorites in the late Northeast season due to the amount of natural snow they get, and also, after the powder has been tracked up to the south, winds over the Champlain Valley dump copious amounts of fresh powder there for days after many storms. It's a longer trip for me, but when I make it, it's always worth the drive.
its the biggest and best snow and best lifts. even tho its the furthest from my house we still love it