Overhead view of Stowe mountain trails
Stowe Mountain, Vermont

Travel

Stowe, Vermont is an East Coast gem with a West Coast vibe.

By Larry Olmsted
Red gondola in the snowy mountains
Gondola SkyRide

Snowboarder going downhill on snowy mountain
Snowboarding

Winter Ski Vacation

Great ski towns are the heart and soul of a winter vacation. The average skier hits the slope for just five to six hours a day, while most of the trip is spent eating, drinking, shopping, trying other outdoor recreation, or diving into the spa and après-ski scene. But while the mountains of the West are full of legendary ski towns—Aspen, Jackson, Telluride, Park City, and so on—ski resorts in the East are typically standalone offerings with an access road instead of a quaint village. Here the ski town concept is almost non-existent—except for Stowe, which happens to be the nation’s oldest.

From its walkable Main Street with 19th-century church steeple and country stores to art galleries, craft breweries, an outdoor sculpture garden, a famed multiuse recreation path, and three different Nordic ski systems, the loveable Vermont town, founded in 1763, is awash in both charm and accolades. The ski resort birthed the nation’s first ski patrol and spans two peaks, including the highest in Vermont, Mount Mansfield, at 4,395 feet. An influx of European immigrants brought telemark skiing here in the 19th century, and Stowe is also home to the nation’s first commercial cross-country ski center, the Trapp Family Lodge (of Sound of Music fame). These transplants still leave an indelible mark on the town, which features Swiss, German, and Austrian restaurants and inns serving up schnitzel and fondue alongside more quintessentially Vermont options such as pancakes, maple syrup, and cheddar cheese. The Ben & Jerry’s ice cream factory, a hugely popular attraction, is just down the road.

But as charming as the town is, the skiing is the main winter draw, and Stowe is especially infamous for its double black “Front Four” (National, Starr, Goat, and Liftline), all very steep, usually heavily bumped up, and intimidatingly obvious as you pull up to the mountain. These trails have been drawing experts for years, just as Corbet’s Couloir at Jackson Hole, KT-22 at Palisades Tahoe, and other sinisterly named trails do out West. But Stowe has a kinder, gentler side and like Sun Valley, features a second excellent teaching mountain, Spruce Peak, which may well be the best place in New England to learn the sport. Between the two, there is a staggering array of terrain for all abilities, including glades, bumps, and groomers, and a wave of upgrades in recent years finally added a gondola linking the two mountains into a single 127 trail behemoth. The gondola was part of a complete redevelopment of the Spruce base area into an upscale ski-in/ski-out village along the lines of Colorado’s tony Beaver Creek and Snowmass, complete with an ice rink, performing arts center, Bob Cupp–designed golf course (ranked number one in Vermont), members club, lots of luxury homes and condos, shops, and restaurants (there’s even a WhistlePig Pavilion, celebrating Vermont’s most famous spirit and the world’s most collectible rye whiskey). The village also includes Stowe’s fanciest hotel and only ski-in/ski-out option, The Lodge at Spruce Peak, which is very dog friendly, with a great spa and a high-end, locally sourced, ingredient-driven farm-to-table restaurant. A few minutes down the road from the slopes, other excellent full-service resort choices include Topnotch and The Stoweflake.

The ski resort is now owned by Colorado-based giant Vail Resorts, and the improvements and major investments keep coming. The next big upgrade is the replacement of the old Mountain Triple with a high-speed six-passenger chair, the Sunrise, which will debut this season and alleviate lines at the two most popular lifts: the Fourrunner Quad and the main Gondola. Vail’s industry-leading global lift ticket, the Epic Pass, has helped make Stowe a top choice for Eastern skiers who also vacation out West (or in the Alps or Japan) when not driving to the slopes, as the pass is good at Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Park City, Whistler, and dozens of other top ski resorts worldwide. The luxury residences at Spruce Peak have proven a desirable second-home destination for those from Boston, Connecticut, and New York, but Stowe is surprisingly popular in summer for South American travelers, mainly from Brazil, Argentina, and Peru, escaping the Southern hemisphere winter for amazing hiking, mountain biking, golf, and Vermont’s world-famous fall foliage viewing. The town of Stowe has long been home to an endless series of summer festivals and farmers markets, from concerts to classic car events, but the redevelopment of Spruce Peak helped make it a true four-season mountain town destination—the best in the East. stowe.com