Long heralded as the ski capital of the East, the slopes of Mount Mansfield and Stowe Mountain Resort have been skied since the early pioneers of the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930’s, who cut the original trails along the mountainside that later became the backbone of the ski resort. Receiving an average of 314 inches, the mountain is famous for its front-four trails that cascade 2,350 feet down the fall line and well-spaced tree skiing. And while not to discount the on-piste trails and posh resort amenities, for a core skier, Stowe is all about the access, terrain, and unique local vibe that has survived the resort-millionaire influx.
Exploring the easy-access backcountry, then skiing deep in Smugglers’ Notch with the old legends that placed its ice-flow chute skiing on the map, is a rite of passage. The Notch is created by the closed Route 108 that separates Stowe Mountain Resort with Smugglers’ Notch Ski Resort. Both ski areas offer completely different experiences— a Range Rover versus rusted old Subarus. But both, with a little or a lot of work, can dump skiers into a euphoria that will eliminate the disdainful term ‘ice coast’ from your eastern skiing vocabulary. There have been years, like last season, or 2007, or 2001, where the skiing was just as good as it is anywhere.
Start your day off by visiting the Harvest Market. The market is overpriced for anything except coffee, fresh baked bread, and baked goods, but their homemade egg sandwiches are worth it and you’ll be slamming energy bars the rest of the day, anyway.
If it’s a powder day, then get to the Fore-Runner Quad early. Lifts begin spinning at 8:00 a.m., and 7:30 a.m. on weekends/holidays. Pro tip: Stowe also allows uphill touring before the lifts open.
Before disappearing into the woods, don’t miss Lookout or Starr. Both feature double fall lines and natural terrain features. Then it’s into the forest and the conundrum/powder panic begins. Either spin the Quad again and dip left from the top of the Bypass trail and into Bypass woods, find someone who will take you into the Kitchen Wall, or head straight to the gondola to access the Notch.
At the top of the gondola, you can either hike to the summit heading toward the Hourglass Chute and Hellbrook, or venture farther (note, bring avie gear if you head beyond Hellbrook and a guide who knows the way—following tracks isn’t always the best move as locals create a lost track for amateur poachers). If you don’t feel like hiking, ski a bit down Chin Clip and follow the obvious pump track/traverse into the woods. From here, as in hiking to the Chin, you are on your own. The traverse off Chin Clip leads to a series of stashes from Angel Food to The Planets.
All of the tree shots lead to Route 108, where you can skate back to the lifts on Mount Mansfield or dip across to Spruce and find more of the same on the other side of the road. Spruce Peak at Stowe unofficially connects to Smuggler’s Notch near Sterling Pond. Here the resorts share a popular backcountry zone called the Birthday Bowls. The exit, however, brings you toward Jeffersonville, so be prepared to walk if you’re heading back to Stowe.
Après, Lodging, Food
Once you’ve had your fill of hiking, traversing and slaying pow, head down the mountain road to Pie-Casso for a quick slice and a beer, then make your way to the newly opened Doc Ponds—once you’re out of your ski boots—for pub food and 24 taps of local craft beer. If you’ve been skiing Smuggs’, avoiding the crowds and lapping steep trails and empty tree stashes, head toward town and the Brewster River Pub. Also 158 Main in Jeffersonville serves a mean breakfast, bacon on bacon to go, and is next to the local pizza joint.
While you can stay slopeside, local inns and lodges like The Green Mountain Inn, Edison Hill, or Trapp Family Lodge are the way to go to avoid breaking the bank by staying at the Stowe Mountain Lodge.