Stowe Will Give Families The Ultimate Ski Vacation

By Jeff and Stephanie Sylva

Whether you are planning a family ski trip for the 2007 season, or want to get an early start on planning a fabulous family ski vacation for the 2007-2008 season, you should consider a trip to Stowe, Vermont. Recent snowstorms have given Vermont ski areas new life for this season, and conditions at Stowe are so good that the resort plans to remain open until April 22, 2007. As a result, there’s plenty of good skiing left this season. The multitude of choices for family activities in the Stowe area has always made this quintessential New England ski town a great destination for skiing families. With the grand opening of the ultra-luxurious Stowe Mountain Resort at Spruce Peak set for late 2007, families will soon have a ski destination like no other in the East.

The New Stowe

Most families planning a ski vacation have often overlooked Stowe because of the challenging terrain of Mt. Mansfield, a lack of adequate snowmaking and grooming, and the antiquated lifts of Spruce Peak. Now, the Mt. Mansfield Company, owners and operators of Stowe Mountain Resort, are refocused on attracting families to Stowe. New high-speed quad lifts at Spruce Peak as well as the brand new Over Easy Gondola linking Spruce Peak’s base area with Mt. Mansfield’s base area (no more riding the old green school buses), vastly improved snowmaking and grooming capabilities, and some restructuring of trails have made Spruce Peak and Mt. Mansfield a great destination for skiing families. These recent upgrades are just a small part of the grand plan for the exciting alpine village of Spruce Peak at Stowe.

A Vision Long in the Making

For decades Stowe has attracted a dedicated following of skiers eager for the challenge of its exhilarating terrain. However, as other ski areas have upgraded their base areas, creating luxurious on-mountain accommodations and vibrant, convenient pedestrian villages, Stowe continued to send its skiers back down the mountain road at the end of the day to find lodging in the town’s many inns, B&Bs, and resort hotels. Although these accommodations were not lacking in any way, the Mt. Mansfield Company realized that they needed to compete with other resorts, both here in the East as well as those in the West. Those resorts have luxury hotels and accommodations areas incorporated as part of their master plan. This realization is about to come to fruition, as Spruce Peak at Stowe is set to open in the fall of 2007.

The centerpiece of this $300 million makeover is the Stowe Mountain Lodge, a new ski-in, ski-out luxury hotel and spa that will rival those at ski resorts anywhere. “We benchmarked to places like Deer Valley (Utah) and Beaver Creek (Colorado),” says project manager David Norden, referring to some of the West’s premier ski areas. Stowe Mountain Lodge promises to set a new standard of luxury and aesthetics for ski destinations. Built in the new “Vermont-Alpine” style, the Lodge will offer a truly luxurious setting with majestic views of Mt. Mansfield and Spruce Peak. The 139 guestrooms, ranging from one to four-bedrooms, will feature imported Egyptian cotton bed linens, goose down comforters, feature beds, and a selection of international pillows. Other luxuries include stone-framed fireplaces, oversized relaxation tubs, marble bathroom floors, granite countertops and flat screen TV’s. Oversized windows and outdoor balconies will allow guests to take full advantage of the remarkable mountain landscape.

Service at Stowe Mountain Lodge is planned to be superb, with underground valet parking, twice-daily housekeeping, 24-hour in-room dining, customized personal bars stocked with handpicked treats, and a concierge service that will attend to every guest’s slightest whim. This Alpine Concierge service is available this season to Stone Mountain owners in a temporary location at the Spruce Peak Base Lodge and offers superior personal service. Parents will welcome the attentive service as they deal with all their kids’ ski equipment.

Complementing the Stowe Mountain Lodge will be the pedestrian village of Spruce Peak at Stowe, with cafes, restaurants, taverns, and retail stores. An integral feature of the base area and the new hotel will be convenience. The new Easy Over Gondola is located in close proximity to the Lodge. Spruce Peak’s lifts are also just steps away. Stowe, with its challenging terrain, has long been a skiers’ mountain, often at the expense of families looking for a family-friendly ski destination. This will no longer be the case, as many of the resort’s upgrades and building developments were designed specifically with families in mind.

A Legendary Ski Destination

Stowe’s heritage as the premier ski destination in the East is well earned. Stowe was at the forefront of the advent of skiing in the 1930’s, and continued to be a favorite destination for many of the best of American and foreign skiers such as Jean-Claude Killy and Billy Kidd. The complexity and variety of the ski terrain on Mt. Mansfield, Stowe’s main ski mountain and Vermont’s highest, has always inspired passion among Stowe skiers. Charlie Lord, who with the Civilian Conservation Corps cut most of the original trails by hand, created trails that run downhill “as naturally as water.” This sense of fall line is most evident in Mt. Mansfield’s infamous “Front Four,” a set of double-black diamond trails that has thrilled even the most expert of skiers for decades.

Over the years Stowe has added a good number of groomed and intermediate trails, both on Mt. Mansfield and Spruce Peak. Stowe’s long-standing reputation as an expert mountain should not deter families seeking less aggressive skiing; there are plenty of great cruising and beginner trails. Most of the trails run from the top of the mountain to the bottom, which is why the number of trails at Stowe – 48 – can be misleading. With a vertical drop of 2,360 feet and 485 skiable acres, this is no small mountain. The trails at Spruce Peak offer some great family skiing, with most of the terrain being classified as intermediate or beginner. And with the newly improved lift system and the snowmaking and grooming upgrades, Spruce Peak makes for a great day of family skiing. The Toll Road Trail is a great trail on Mt. Mansfield that allows for even beginners to slide from the top of the Forerunner Quad to the very bottom, nearly 4 miles of trail. The base of the Toll Road gives access to some of the easy green trails that are perfect for beginners. This is also the location of the resort’s Inn at the Mountain, which offers 33 rooms and suites just steps from the Toll House Double and access to all the trails of Mt. Mansfield.

A Vermont Classic

The town of Stowe, with its white church steeple and complete absence of stoplights, is a quintessential New England town, attractive not only for its great skiing, but also for its unique character and natural beauty. It has always been Stowe’s small town charm that has lured visitors for more than a century. And it is a fierce resistance to over development and chain store blight that has kept this tourist mecca a Vermont small-town treasure. There used to be a MacDonald’s on the mountain road, but that has disappeared. The town of Stowe, with its small, three-block long Main Street and 7-mile long Mountain Road, is home to a wide variety of cozy shops selling handmade crafts, furniture and a plethora of skiing and outdoor sports equipment. There is also a wide selection of family-run inns, cafes, and restaurants of all types, from inexpensive yet unique pizza parlors and sandwich shops to some very upscale dinning from some of Vermont’s finest chefs.

Families will have no trouble finding the type of restaurant that is right for them. Any of the restaurants in town welcome families; after all, this is a resort town. A popular choice for breakfast is McCarthy’s on Mountain Road, which has a kids’ menu. Another good choice for breakfast is the Dutch Pancake Cafe at the Grey Fox Inn, also on Mountain Road. One place that kids and parents like, and it has moderately priced lunches and dinners, is the Depot Street Malt Shop. The 50’s soda fountain atmosphere is a lot of fun and everyone will love the thick and creamy malts and frappes. In addition to serving burgers, salads, and homemade soups, there is a kids’ menu.

A great choice for a special on-mountain dining experience is the Cliff House atop Mt. Mansfield. The Cliff House serves lunch everyday that the gondola is operating and offers breathtaking views of the Worcester Mountains. However, for a special Saturday evening “Parents Night Out” dining experience, make a reservation to ride the gondola with night skiers as dining patrons are given a fleece throw and a cup of hot mulled cider to fight off the winter’s chill. Once at the top, diners are greeted with a complimentary flute of champagne to start their six-course menu that focuses on fresh local food products. Each night the menu changes while offering such local delights as Vermont-raised venison, duck or turkey, native beef or pork, and is certain to include local artisan cheeses, fresh hot-house greens and vegetables and home-made baked goods, pastries, and ice creams. Diners are offered a choice of two appetizers, three main course selections and two desserts, as well as amuse, salad, and an intermezzo sorbet. The recently renovated restaurant is both elegant and cozy, and the patrons reflect this blend as diners come in their best dress evening attire or in typical ski resort fleece and khaki. Cost for the Saturday dinner is $75 per person. On the last Saturday of each month, Cliff House hosts a Vermont Cheese and Wine social with live music from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Cost for the wine and cheese social is $50 per person. Reservations are a must and can be made online at www.stowe.com.

If staying at the new Stowe Mountain Lodge proves a little too rich for your taste, there are numerous other lodging choices in Stowe. The best way to explore these options is to visit www.gostowe.com. Listings include comfortable yet rustic motel-style lodging starting at just under $100 a night for a two double-bed room, to well-furnished, upscale townhomes and condos with up to four bedrooms for as much as $1000 or more per night. Some less expensive places for families include the Commodores Inn, where a spacious room with two double beds starts at $123 a night. The Golden Eagle has Deluxe Rooms with two double beds for $184 per night. The Town & Country Resort has bedrooms with two queen beds for $126.50. A great deal is available at the Innsbruck Inn, which offers a two-bedroom suite for $189. Other family friendly possibilities include the Trapp Family Lodge, with deluxe rooms starting at $295 and family suites ranging from $395 to $495. Two- and three-bedroom villas are also available starting at $575. Topnotch Resort and Spa offers bed & breakfast specials starting at $299, plus townhouse and resort home accommodations are also available. At Snowflake Mountain Resort and Spa, rooms with two double beds are offered at $252 per night and the property’s two- and three-bedroom townhouses easily accommodate families as well.

Off the Mountain

Stowe certainly has great skiing, but some of your family members may be interested in more than just skiing. The numerous outdoor activities that the Stowe area provides are another reason that makes it a great winter family destination. In addition to the downhill skiing at Mt. Mansfield and Spruce Peak, cross-country ski areas abound in the area. There are more than 150 kilometers of groomed trails at such places as Trapp Family Lodge, Stowe Mountain Resort, and Edson Hill Manor ski touring centers. There is even a town-maintained 5.5-mile Recreation Path that affords a quick and easy means to try Nordic skiing.

Other winter activities include horse-drawn sleigh rides and dog-sled rides, horseback riding on winter trails, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, and ice skating. Information on all of these activities can be found at www.gostowe.com and clicking on “Things To Do.”

And if you’re looking for things to do to escape the cold, try these attractions:

  • Learn how apple cider is made and taste some of the freshest around at the Cold Hollow Cider Mill on Rt. 100 in nearby Waterbury, Vermont.
  • Check out the fun guided factory tour of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream and sample the flavor of the day. Ben & Jerry’s has also hooked up with Umiak Outfitters to present a Snowshoe & Ice Cream Too tour. This tour includes a half-hour walk in the beautiful hemlock forest behind the factory is followed by the factory tour. Ben & Jerry’s is located on Rt. 100 just a mile from Cold Hollow.
  • Located in between Cold Hollow and Ben & Jerry’s is A Special Place – and indeed it is. Housing the Cabot Cheese Annex Store and Lake Champlain Chocolates, this small outlet store is a “must do” stop to taste some of Vermont’s finest cheeses and chocolates. Kids and parents will especially enjoy tasting the selection of hot chocolate drinks. From Traditional, or slightly spicy Aztec, to the Old World and New World selections featuring increasingly more dark cocoa and less sugar, these drinking chocolates are truly a taste sensation. There is also an outlet for the Vermont Teddy Bear Co. Kids can choose from a wide variety of pre-made bears, or they can choose to create their own from a small selection of choices.

If You Go:

  • For information on restaurants, accommodations, and activities in the Stowe area: call 1-877-GOSTOWE or visit www.gostowe.com.
  • For information on Stone Mountain Lodge and Spruce Peak at Stowe call 1-888-403-7739 or visit www.livestowe.com.
  • Kids’ Ski Programs: visit www.stowe.com/lessons/children to view all the options and pricing. The most intensive program is the Full Day Adventure for 4-14 year-olds skiing and 7-14 year-olds snowboarding. For kids with just a little experience try the Big Easy program for 4-14 year-olds on levels 1 & 2. For young ones just 3 years old there is 3 Ski, a program for young ones to become introduced to snow sliding in a low-pressure environment. Full day care is also available at Cubs Day Care. All of these programs are located at the Spruce Peak Base Area.
  • Snowshoe rentals and tours, including a winter evening adventure that ends with a crackling fire and some great food and drink; and information on snowmobile tours visit www.umiak.com.

Jeff and Stephanie Sylva are retired high school teachers and have been professional travel writers for 18 years. Their daughter Jennifer, who is currently in college, often travels with them.

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