Stowe kicks it up a notch this winter with a new base area pavilion, skating rinks, backcountry tours, breweries and après-ski spots.
While winter got a slow start in the rest of Vermont, snowmaking allowed skiing to start pre-Thanksgiving in the mountains around Stowe. And as snow has dusted the hills around town, storefronts and homes have sparkled with white lights and it seems everywhere the holiday spirit has taken hold.
That’s one reason why Stowe draws visitors from around the world and why the week between Christmas and New Year’s is probably the busiest of the year. But there’s also another part of this mountain town that many don’t know about: the backcountry powder stashes, the ice falls of The Notch and the empty, groomed XC trails that make this an athlete’s winter playground.
There’s so much new in Stowe this year it’s worth a visit even if you think you know it well. Go in the quieter weeks after January 2. Or, best of all hit up town during Winter Carnival and plan to try some of the wackier winter sports such as snow golf, broom ball and snow volleyball.
Ski and Skate
In the last year, Stowe Mountain Resort has seen one of the biggest makeovers since the Spruce Peak base area was built. It started several years back with vastly improved snowmaking that has meant trails are covered with ample snow, refreshed daily, even when Mother Nature doesn’t do it on her own. Gone are the days of early season Ice Capades.
But if you like ice, head to Spruce Peak. On December 19, the resort will host a holiday crafts fair and tree lighting as it unveils its new plaza and skating rink. The rink will be open until 10 p.m., as will the Over Easy gondola, this year. That’s a good thing because unless you intend to valet park, are a guest at the hotel or a member of the private Alpine Club, you will need to take the Over Easy to get back to the parking lot at the Mansfield base area.
Later in the year, the resort hopes to open the new kid’s adventure center, complete with an impressive two-story climbing wall, day care center and a cafeteria.
Kick and Glide
The most famous of Stowe’s cross country centers, Trapp Family Lodge, which sits high on a ridge with 2,500 acres of fields and forests, has extended its snowmaking as well. Don’t miss a six-kilometer ski up to the Slayton Pasture Cabin for a cup of hot soup by the fire. Cap it off with one of Trapp’s award-winning beers, brewed at the 40,000-square-foot brewery that opened last summer.
While Trapp’s has the most extensive and scenic of cross-country trails in the area, Stowe Mountain Resort also has a great network as well as rentals at its cross-country center. You can also ski for free on the Recreation Path, which goes between town and Topnotch Resort. And if you have never done it, sign up for the legendary Stowe Derby, the race that starts at the top of Stowe Mountain Resort and finishes in town. The 71st running is scheduled for February 28 and will have starts for skate skiers, classic (or any kind of ski) and fat bikes.
Take a Brewery Tour
Stowe is also fast becoming a beer destination. In addition to the new Von Trapp Brewery, the Alchemist is in the process of building a brewery right off the Mountain Road. It won’t be done until spring, but in the meantime you can sample Heady Toppers and a variety of Vermont’s other small-batch craft brews at Doc Ponds, the new brewpub Eric Warnstedt (co-founder of Hen of the Wood) opened on the Mountain Road.
Also stop by Idletyme (formerly Crop Bistro and, before that, The Shed). Laura and Michael Kloeti of Michael’s on the Hill have taken it over and renamed the brewery, bar and bistro. And if you want a professional beer tour with a designated driver, Rick Sokoloff (one of the early boosters of the Stowe Mountain Bike Club) offers guided brewery tours. His Four Points company will pick you up at your hotel, give you a tour of the breweries from Trapps to Hill Farmstead in Greensboro, flights of beer and snacks for $89 per person.
Ice Climb, Snowshoe and Sled the Notch
There are few places that make you feel more like you are in the big mountains than The Notch, the name locals give to the top of the pass on Route 108 which cuts steeply across the mountains between Stowe and Smuggler’s Notch resorts. Closed to vehicles in the winter, it becomes a virtual parkway for backcountry adventures. Bring your dogs along and you can cross country ski or snowshoe for miles up the quiet road. Or for a mile-long downhill sled, sign up for Umiak Outfitter’s “Top of the Notch” backcountry sledding adventures. For $79 per person, you get rental sleds, snowshoes, a guide and snacks.
Later in the year, the Notch is also the place to ice climb. Burlington’s Petra Cliffs offers beginner half-day courses starting at $160. On January 22-24, the climbing center also helps put on the 10th annual Smuggler’s Notch Ice Bash with equipment demos and clinics on everything from ‘Learning to Lead’ to ‘Ski Mountaineering.’ www.petracliffs.com
Explore the Backcountry
Stowe has some big-mountain backcountry which can be epic if you know it—and horrific if you don’t and get lost. And each year, people do get lost, occasionally requiring rescue. If you want to get to know the terrain, there are few better guides than Sunrise Mountain Guides’ Alex Sargent (a climber and former instructor at the U.S. Army Mountain Warfare School) and Greg Speer (a member of the Stowe Mountain Rescue). The duo offers backcountry ski clinics, guided tours and ice climbing and avalanche courses.
If you’re serious about backcountry skiing, but don’t feel like roughing it, sign up for a new inn-to-inn backcountry tour being offered by Bredeson Outdoor Adventures and the Catamount Trail Association. The four-day tour is set for February 5-8 and takes you on several sections of the Catamount Trail, with shuttles bringing you back to your hotel in town each night.
Hit the New Hot Spots
While there is tons to do in town, here are four new hot spots: After a full day, head to TopNotch Resort and grab a drink at the recently revised bar, the Roost, then have night skating at its new outdoor rink. Or check out the scene at the swank new Field Guide hotel on the Mountain Road. For a special treat, book a room at the beautifully revamped classic Edson Hill Inn, and in January, the Sun and Ski Motel hopes to open Stowe Bowl, a cool new bowling alley on the Mountain Road.
Last, if the weather turns bad or you need a day off, visit the Vermont Ski Museum, which has an amazing exhibit documenting the history of the National Ski Patrol. The Helen Day Art Center is also a great place to see local artists exhibit. And for one of the best pools and fitness centers in the state (and a spiral slide kids will love), head to The Swimming Hole.