Schussing and noshing in Stowe, Vermont, the ski capital of the East.
By Annie Graves
Dec 20 2018
Looking west toward Mount Mansfield State Forest along Main Street in Stowe.Photo Credit : Mark Fleming
Four inches of fresh powder has fallen overnight, and so, digging out skis that have been moldering in the attic for too long, I head north to a Vermont village that wraps itself in a mantle of snow and an Alpine aura. In Stowe, the self-proclaimed “ski capital of the East,” it’s as common to see pedestrians toting skis and snowboards in the downtown as it is to find the word artisanal on restaurant menus. If you’re local, the joke goes, your ski gear is made mostly of duct tape.
Chalets abound, craft beers flow, fires crackle, and the slopes at Spruce Peak … well, I’m a swift convert to the Toll Road, a green trail that spirals down Mount Mansfield, Vermont’s tallest peak. The air is fresher at 4,395 feet, the powder softer. Experts favor the Front Four, including Goat and Starr, verticals that are the stuff of ski legend. I’m schussing down Lullaby Lane and Tyro practically alone. A sudden quiet descends, peculiar to snow. Behind me trail memories of rope tows, T-bars, and a daredevil dad who grew up skiing the Whites. Tracks stretch out in my wake, then disappear.
Stowe straps on its ski heritage with gusto. Inns, shops, and restaurants all proudly display their own private cache of memorabilia. Vintage photos show fit men cutting Vermont’s first ski trail in the 1930s; there are pictures of Sepp Ruschp, who arrived in Stowe from Austria in 1936 to spearhead a ski school and promote the new sport. On Main Street, the old meetinghouse (c. 1818) is now the Vermont Ski and Snowboard Museum, filled with old-fashioned lift chairs, retro ski gear, and vintage Burton snowboards (fitting, since Jake Burton Carpenter lives here).
I’m smitten by the snowy evergreens … stormy skies promising more snow … tiny Stowe Village, sparkling with fairy lights … the deep family roots, generations passing down their stores, their inns. I’m checking the weather report not for predictions of snowmelt, but for more snow. I don’t drink beer, but I’ve developed a taste for Heady Topper, a local favorite. And I’m in awe of Stowe’s creative uses for Vermont maple syrup. Predictably great on pancakes, it also makes a mean margarita and puts a nice spin on Stowe Cider’s Berry Merrill hard cider. I’m sure it’s a delectable addition to Stoweflake Mountain Resort & Spa’s full-body maple scrub too.
Wedged in by mountains, Stowe sits in the northern reaches of Vermont, a 45-minute drive east of Burlington and less than three hours south of Montreal (which explains the fun of hearing French on the streets). Mountain Road stretches like a rope tow from the village center to the ski resort: six snowy miles dotted with inns, resorts, eateries, and breweries. In the distance, Mount Mansfield is veined with ski trails; its newer Spruce Peak area is popular with beginners, but it also has its share of blue runs and black diamonds. A free winter bus shuttles handily from town to mountain, with stops along the way.
How can there be so many dining options in a town of 4,314? And where to begin? “Doc Ponds,” advises our ski shuttle driver. The local hot spot hit the mark—from the juicy pork taco I practically end up wearing, to my first Heady Topper (brewed down the street at the Alchemist), to my companion’s crusty grilled cheese that crackled like a Cheeto. At Butler’s Pantry, the breakfast acai bowl is like an addictive slushy topped with granola and fruit, and its homemade friends—chunky warm biscuits, cheesy grits, maple sausage—are more comforting than flannel. The rustic-contemporary restaurant Plate produces curry-roasted cauliflower charred in all the right places, spindly parsnips glazed in honey, and a wood-smoked burger, complemented with a winter cocktail made with apple cider and bitters. Set on a snowy hillside, the Dining Room at Edson Hill has a beauty matched by that of its food: fried Brussels sprouts, delicate mussels, duck toast, and, for dessert, warm quince and cranberry galette with rosemary-vanilla ice cream. Much is locally sourced—because it’s Vermont, and they can.
Denizens of Quebec City and Montreal have a knack for weathering the big chill in style, and the same is true of Stowe. In its 70-plus shops, the fleece seems fleecier, the Nordic sweaters more Nordic-y. There’s all manner of winter gear at the resort, but on Main Street I duck into Shaw’s General Store, a fixture since 1895, where fifth-generation proprietor Alex Stevens steers me through a tidy maze of hats, vintage-inspired T-shirts, and cozy sweaters. “Dogs and well-behaved people are welcome,” he says. Farther down the road, I drop in on the truffle makers at Laughing Moon Chocolates, who are practically up to their elbows in the sweet stuff. Across the street is Chalet Life, filled with choice antiques from France and Belgium; the porch alone is wintery inspiration, strewn with vintage trunks and snowy decorations.
A quick walk downhill from the Trapp Family Lodge brings me to what looks like a reunion on skis. Folks of all ages keep arriving at the lodge’s cross-country ski center, snapping into their gear, and sweeping off into the snow-covered fields. Johannes von Trapp, the Trapp Family Singers’ youngest member (now 79 and president of the resort), established this, North America’s first cross-country ski center, which offers 37 miles of groomed trails on 2,500 acres. Closer to town, the 5.3-mile Stowe Recreation Path draws skiers and snowshoers alike as it winds from the village to Topnotch Resort, through woods, over bridges, and past iconic red barns.
Stowe excels at the artisanal, and its carefully crafted brews and ciders are prime examples. Here’s a quick list of where to go to sample the goods at the source: 1) The Alchemist, home to Heady Topper, the now-legendary IPA that caused a sensation when first released by John and Jen Kimmich; 2) Idletyme Brewing Company, an après-ski brewpub housed in a former blacksmith shop, where brewmaster Will Gilson brings 20 years of expertise to bear; 3) Stowe Cider, a family-run cidery that blends 100 percent Vermont apples into small-batch hard ciders and offers up to eight varieties on tap; 4) Von Trapp Brewing, a brewery inspired by Johannes von Trapp’s trips to Austria and which produces “crisp, clean Austrian lagers,” served up in the bierhall with schnitzel.
Stowe’s Alpine vibe attracted the famous singing family the von Trapps, who moved here from their native Austria in 1942. Today, the family’s resort business is thriving partly because of the beautiful setting, but also for its glimpse beneath the familiar surface of The Sound of Music. (At the Trapp Family Lodge, take a moment to watch the BBC documentary The Real Maria. I thought I knew the story by heart, but it’s an interesting contrast to hear Maria’s version.)
And of course, there’s the mountain that started it all: Mansfield, with its 116 trails. Not into skiing? Strap on skates and tackle Spruce Peak’s free ice rink. Or simply snowshoe, anywhere.
Where to Stay
Stowe has one of the highest concentrations of famous mountain inns and resorts in the Northeast. It also has a superb chamber of commerce ready to help visitors get their bearings. We checked into Stoweflake Mountain Resort & Spa, where third-generation owner Scot Baraw helms a greatly expanded version of the 16-room inn that his grandmother started. The Mountain Road shuttle swings by the lobby and whisks guests right to the slopes. Other worthy accommodations in Stowe include Topnotch Resort; the upscale Green Mountain Inn; country-chic newcomer Field Guide; and the sleek Stowe Mountain Lodge, at the base of the resort.
If You Could Live Here
In one of the most renowned ski resorts in the country, it should come as no surprise that you can spend millions on a 9,000-square-foot slopeside palace—but Stowe has its affordable side too. You’ll find everything from a three-bedroom Trapp Family timeshare for $30,000 to a north-side Stowe Village home with four bedrooms and a view of Mount Mansfield for $255,000.
To see more photos from our visit to Stowe, Vermont, go to newengland.com/stowe-2019.
You can browse additional installments of our Could You Live Here? series—ranging from a Rhode Island beach getaway to a classic New Hampshire college town—by going to newengland.com/CYLH.