Stowe is one of America's oldest ski resorts. Skiing on Mount Mansfield dates back to the 1930's. Like many of the original prewar American ski resorts, the ski area is located some distance from the village. The two are separated by the 6.2 mile Mountain Road.
Stowe has an impressive vertical drop (by New England standards) of 2,160 feet (659 m). From the top of Mt. Mansfield skiers have views of the Green Mountains of Vermont, the White Mountains of New Hampshire, and the Adirondack Mountains of New York. The resort is a 15-minute drive from the village of Stowe; there is a regular shuttle bus service.
Stowe's 48 trails ("The Great 48") cover a distance of 39 miles (62 km) and include the longest average trail length and the most challenging fall line in New England. Best known are the imposing double black diamond "Front Four" trails-Starr, Goat, National, and Lift Line-but as a whole the resort is perfect for typical recreational skiers, with a wide range of intermediate terrain and plenty of variety from top-to-bottom trails with groomed cruisers, bump trails, and some truly fine glade skiing. There is also good beginner skiing, mainly on Spruce Peak.
There are free daily mountain tours led by a mountain host to introduce skiers to the area. Despite the resort's popularity, midweek skiing, outside peak holiday times, is uncrowded. Night skiing is available during midwinter from Thursday to Saturday.
There are eight chairlifts including three high-speed quads, one eight-passenger gondola that carries skiers from bottom to top in just seven and a half minutes, and two surface tows. The high-speed quads and the gondola are state of the art and the fastest way up the mountain. The Spruce Peak and Mount Mansfield are connected by the Over Easy gondola.
Normal operating times are generous: 8:00 am to 4:00 pm, although the Forerunner Quad opens at 7:30 am on weekends and holidays. Lift lines can be expected, according to the resort, principally between 10:00 am and 2:00 pm on Saturdays, at Christmas, and during President's Week, but you can take it for granted that weekends will be busy.
Spruce Peak is the main beginner area and is where the ski school is located. The two main bunny slopes are Easy Street and Meadows. These two side by side wide runs are serviced by their own double chair. Adjoining them is the green Inspiration run, which is slightly steeper than Easy Street and Meadows. Ironically, some expert skiers will venture over to the tops of these runs where beginners tend to skip skiing the ungroomed sections that can hold powder for days after a storm.
When novices are ready to progress beyond this small area at the bottom of the mountain, they must take the Over Easy gondola across to the Mount Mansfield side of the resort. There are no green trails from the top of Spruce Peak. Once on the Mansfield side, beginners should bypass the gondola and head for the Forerunner Quad.
The Forerunner Quad provides access from the Mansfield Base to the longest green run on the mountain, the famous Toll Road. The Toll Road is one of the best beginner trails in New England. Beginning in the shadow of Vermont's highest peak, skiers can descend 3.7 miles (5.9 km) all the way to the base of the Toll House Double. As skiers pass the top of the Toll House Double, they should note the Crossover trail which heads back to the Mansfield Base.
The Toll House Double services long green runs and is the best place for seasoned beginners to start their day. This area is rarely crowded and the novice runs are actually quite interesting. Laps on the lower third of Toll Road are popular as are cruising runs on the mellow Easy Mile run under the liftline. The Inn at the Mountain at the base area is a great place to warm up with lunch or hot chocolate.
Even though only 16% of the terrain is graded suitable for beginners, there is plenty of chance to progress from easy greens to gentler blue intermediate trails. The Side Street trail on the top of the Sunny Spruce Express Quad is one of the easier blue run and is a good starting point for stepping up in difficulty.
The Spruce Peak Area is home to Stowe's easier intermediate terrain. The Sunny Spruce and Sensation Quad provide blue skiers with over a dozen options. Only a handful of trails on the Spruce Peak side of the resort are rated expert. The runs off the Sunny Spruce tend to be less challenging than the runs higher up the hill serviced by the Sensation Quad.
From the top, Upper Main Street is the most popular choice. It's wide and gradually steps its way down a series of relatively steep pitches followed by flatter run outs. The most interesting run is Sterling, which wraps its way around the skier's left perimeter of the resort.
On the Mansfield side, the gondola is popular with intermediates. Perry Merrill is the longest blue run at the resort and zig zags its way from the top of the gondola with consistent pitch from start to finish. Directly under the gondola is Gondolier - our favorite blue run at Stowe. Gondolier is straight as an arrow and always impeccably groomed. Catch it in first thing in the morning when the corduroy is fresh for some excellent high speed turns.
A run down the Cliff Trail moves skiers from the Gondola over to Mansfield Base Lodge side of this part of the resort. Cliff Trail is notable because it runs through the rugged wilderness between the gondola area and the Forerunner Quad portion of the resort. It's a beautiful run through an ancient forest (with plenty of places for advanced skiers to pop into the trees).
From the top of the Forerunner Quad the two blue options are Lord and Ridgeview. Lord seems to receive most of the traffic and as a result tends to get skied off fairly early in the day. We prefer taking Ridgeview to Sunrise to access the pod of blue terrain on the looker's left side of the resort. This area is serviced by the Mountain Triple and is home to about a half dozen named trails which comprise approximately four intermediate runs. All are on the easier end of the intermediate spectrum.
Unfortuntately, many of Stowe's other blue terrain, notably the bottom halves of many of the Front Four trails, are difficult to access. While's it's possible to traverse accross from Lower Nosedive to access some of these blue runs, it's not a particularly fun run. Much poling is required.
They account for most of the 25 percent of Stowe's terrain that is suitable for advanced skiers. Goat has a double fall line and big moguls; Starr is the place for steeps. The best powder is usually found at Lookout.
Stowe gets its fair share of powder, so if you want fresh tracks, it is best to arrive early. The high-speed quads open at 7:30 am and the gondola fires up at 8:30 am. It's not uncommon to find a dozen people ahead of you waiting for the first lift to open, and on powder days there can be many more skiers eager to grab the best snow conditions of the day in the stunning early morning light on Mansfield. For the first couple of hours the pace is quick and the average standard of skier and rider out on the slopes is noticeably higher than later in the day.
Almost all the out of bounds terrain is for expert skiers only, and visitors are recommended to go with someone who knows the area. Several gladed areas are skiable, but if you ski or ride in the woods outside the designated ski area you must be aware that it is not patrolled and there are no first aid or rescue services. There is no organized guiding for off-piste groups.
The Burton Method Center is a popular place to take up boarding, with its combination of special techniques and learning equipment to get you over the painful early stages. The success rate for newcomers to snowboarding (in terms of them continuing to board) is far higher here than elsewhere.
Carvers and freeriders have plenty of options and there are few flat spots on the mountain. There are several terrain parks, of which Tyro and Midway are the toughest, with rail slides and barrels. There's a Superpipe on North Slope and there's even a separate website dedicated to boarders and freestylers at www.ridestowe.com.
The Cliff House at the top of the gondola is an upmarket restaurant with quality wines and great views; it is also open for dinner. Also on-mountain is the Octagon Web Café at the top of the quad. For mid-range eating, try the Fireside Tavern at the base of the Toll House lift.
Stowe's new Spruce Peak base area is home to the Stowe Mountain Lodge, several new restaurants and shops as well as the Spruce Peak Performing Arts Center. In winter months, the golf clubhouse turns into the "Winter Cottage" which hosts Stowe's nordic and snowshoeing activities.
There are plenty of lodging choices along the Mountain Road from four-star resorts to 150-year-old, B&Bs. Dating back to the early 1800s as an old stagecoach town, Stowe is one of America's oldest tourist destinations. Skiing came early to Stowe-it's one of America's first ski resorts and, as with many of the resorts that followed, the skiing is quite separate from the village. In Stowe's case, the foot of the mountain is 6 miles distant (9.6 km). There is a regular shuttle bus service that takes people from the village to the mountain with regular stops along Mountain Road.
Nightlife is generally quiet. Most popular venue is The Matterhorn-it has a very lively atmosphere when full at the weekends. The Rusty Nail has dancing and live music; The Shed also has music and brews its own beer. You need to be over 21 to drink alcohol in the bars, although children can accompany their parents.
There are plenty of restaurants serving American, European, Italian, Mexican, and Japanese cuisine but they are not all to be found in the village itself, so be prepared to travel a few miles along Mountain Road and Route 108 to experience the best of them.
Charlie B's Pub & Restaurant at 1746 Mountain Road offers a diverse menu and award-winning wine list with over 50 wines by the glass and 10 beers on tap; Winfield's Bistro at the same address also has an award-winning wine list. For more information on restaurants check out the websites www.stowe.com and www.gostowe.com
Skating at the Jackson Ice Arena, snowmobile tours, dogsledding, horse-drawn sleigh rides, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing with Stowe's interconnected cross-country centers covering more than 22 miles (35 km) of groomed and 25 miles (40 km) of backcountry trails, much of it very scenic.