The village of STOWE, VT with Mt. Mansfield in the background, the highest mountain in Vermont and home to Stowe Mountain Resort
Exploring Stowe Vermont
by Christine Lynn Harvey

Getting the Right Ski Boot Fit

Think of Vermont in winter and Stowe immediately comes to mind. Up the northern latitudes of the eastern United States, Stowe is a winter sports wonderland. At 4,395 feet, Stowe’s Mt. Mansfield is the highest point in Vermont. It’s where Stowe Mountain Resort (Stowe.com; 1-800-253-4754) is located, one of the world’s premier ski destinations.

Stowe Mountain Resort boasts 48 great trails that are spread between the Mt. Mansfield area and Gondola area of the resort. A high speed quad whisks you up the mountain to tackle the incomparably challenging Front Four Trails or the four mile long historic Toll Road trail. Stowe’s high speed gondola travels 8,000 feet bringing you to the top of Vermont’s highest peak. Each trail is as unique as the skier who explores it. Freestyle skiers and snowboarders can get more information about slope characteristics and conditions at Ridestowe.com which features Quicktime videos of snowboarders zipping down Mt. Mansfield. There’s also an online magazine featuring stories about local people and happenings on the mountain at 13pitch.com.

Stowe’s only slopeside lodging accommodations can be found at the Stowe Mountain Resort’s Inn at the Mountain just south of the ski area. Lodging runs about $159 per room and a one bedroom condo costs $239 per night during peak season. Combo ski and lodging packages are also offered. You can ride the ski lift behind the Inn halfway up the mountain, connecting to another lift that takes you to the top of Mt. Mansfield. Stowe Mountain Resort offers a ski and snowboard school, a children’s adventure center, mountainside restaurants and the Stowe Toys Demo Center where you can “test-drive” the newest equipment while getting coached on it. For more info, visit stowe.com for more details.

But the best feature of Stowe Mountain Resort has yet to materialize form and that will take ten years to accomplish. Spruce Peak at Stowe is the resort’s newest and most exciting expansion plan to date. It will feature 400 units including time shares and fractional units (a 95 room hotel) and luxury mountain cabins starting around $1 million each. The new resort will be a year-round focal point of sports, culture and entertainment, featuring a performing arts center, retail shops, restaurants, a world class spa & fitness center, a 6,400 yard 18-hole golf course and ski slopes. “The resort will be very different than a purpose-built resort. At Spruce Peak, we are focused on developing character and a pulse to the place,” says Kirt Zimmer, Stowe’s marketing director. The developers’ plans are also sensitive to the natural environment of the area; they consulted over 27 organizations for their input and are building in accordance with Vermont’s Act 250, all things that Zimmer says “appeals to a market who care about preserving the natural beauty around them.” Of the 2,000 acres that Stowe Mountain Resort has donated to the state, only 35 acres of it will be developed for the new resort. For more info, visit Sprucepeak.com or call 1-877-9-SPRUCE.

The best way to enjoy winter sports in Stowe is to make sure you are properly dressed and layering is key. If you are doing moderate to high intensity aerobic activity like cross-country skiing or snowshoeing, your first layer should be a 100% micro denier polyester pants and shirt underlining which helps wick moisture away from your skin. The next layer should be a microfleece; the outside layer should be a windproof shell with zippable air vents that you can open to cool off. When you are out in the snow, you should always wear at least 15 SPF sunscreen and UV sunglasses even when the sun isn’t out. UV radiation is carried on the wind and is reflected off the snow.

A great sports store with a very amicable, knowledgeable staff is Umiak Outdoor Outfitters, located on Route 100 in Stowe (802-253-6221; www.umiak.com). Here you can buy reasonably priced snowshoes and boots, winter clothes made in Norway and Iceland and other outdoor gear. The national headquarters for Tubbs Snowshoe company is located virtually across the street from Umiak on River Road. The store offers snowshoeing specialty tours that include a $15 tour to the headquarters of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream factory down the road in Waterbury and a $49 fondue dinner tour where guides lead you to a hidden cabin in the woods complete with burning fireplace, hot mulled cider and a Vermont cheese & chocolate fondue. But Umiak is best known for its snowmobile tours.

For $110, you can take a 2 hour snowmobile ride through the trails of Little River State Park, which is part of Mt. Mansfield State Forest, located down the road from Umiak in the small village of Moscow. Beforehand, at the store, you are shown a 20 minute video on safely operating your snowmobile. The main thing to remember is not to turn up the accelerator handle which is a normal reaction if you panic. “A moose crossed my path on this trail yesterday, it was great, but you have to stay alert when you snowmobile, cause moose can be dangerous. They aren’t afraid of anything and if they feel threatened, they will charge at you,” says Chris, our instructor who repeats everything we just saw in the video once we are about to mount up. The tour is operated by professionals whose main concern is for the safety of the snowmobilers and other sports enthusiasts along the trail.

There’s nothing like traveling down a secluded trail in the woods at 50 miles an hour when its snowing, but you have to remain alert at all times. Umiak’s snowmobile tours are on brand-new Polaris Indys with heated hand grips which keeps your hands warm. This seems like a small amenity until you’re snowmobiling in zero F with a windchill factor of -20 below blasting your fingers away.
“Some people are intimidated at first by the machine,” says Duncan one of my guides who used to live on Long Island. “Why don’t you go first?” Chris says. I’m game, but just as I’m ready to start, my accelerator sticks. “Squeeze it a little more!” someone shouts through his helmet. I turn some more and suddenly, my Polaris bolts like a thoroughbred out of the starting gate. “Once you get going, you’ll find it steers much easier. It doesn’t need much,” says Patrick, my other guide. After riding through the woods for a while, I discover the steering is more fluid. I lean into the turns and I let go of my expectations as to how my machine should be responding. ‘I am the captain of my own snowship,’ I muse, mesmerized by the serenity of the white woods. I hit a couple of moguls at 30 mph and am jolted back to reality. We stop for the second time at a big turn around. Duncan offers to carry my camera up the snowy hill since I had fallen into a sink hole three feet deep the last time I dismounted to take a picture. We pause at a vantage point and find the Little River and Waterbury Reservoir which is frozen over just behind a stand of trees. The sky bursts into turquoise blue and the late afternoon sun turns everything in the town below us golden. Duncan relates a story of how a Waitsfield man snowmobiled from his town all the way to Alaska along an interconnected trail system, but before he is done with his story, the sun slips behind slate clouds and it starts snowing again. With a wide open field before me, I go as fast as I can only to realize the tour is over and we are back where we started, another group already waiting for us. Back at the store, I enjoy some hot mulled cider from Cold Hollow Cider Mill down the road. Umiak’s Stowe Snowmobile Tours are a special experience and not to be missed!

I finally have a chance to chat with an English couple who were part of my group along with a woman from Hilton Head, SC where one of my cousin lives. The South Carolinian, a whose name was Merry Ann, rode with Duncan. “I loved it, but I wish they went faster,” she confides. Don’t find it surprising if you run into a lot of Brits in Stowe since the Stowe Area Association, which does marketing for the town, heavily advertises in the UK. “About 30% of my business is from England,” says John Lynds, general manager of Umiak and Stowe Snowmobile Tours.
“We don’t get snow like this from where we are just outside of London,” says Ian Mortimer, who works at a marketing trade magazine in England. When I ask Ann, his wife how she liked snowmobiling, “Brilliant!!” she beams in typical British fashion. Since Stowe is only about 80 miles from Montreal, it’s also a magnet for French Canadians who say they just don’t have good mountains to hike and ski near them.

Nordic skiing (cross-country) is an excellent aerobic workout unlike the nordic ski machine you find at the gym. The workout is more challenging because you are moving through snow which provides constant resistance, the gradient of the hills you ski up also provides resistance and you are using many more muscles that are involved in maintaining balance, all things you just don’t get through a stationary exercise machine. Plus, being out in the fresh air when it’s snowing alone on a trail in the woods, just can’t be beat. There are two kinds of cross country skiing: classic, which is what you see most people doing and skate skiing which is looks very much like speed skating on skis. This latter form was developed by local Stowe ski legend Bill Koch (pronounced “Coke”) and requires different equipment. In both forms of skiing, you do apply some techniques of alpine (downhill) skiing, but unlike downhill skiing, when you want to turn right, you do not lean on your right leg, but rather, put your weight on the outside of your left leg. If you try to do an alpine turn on cross-country skis, your skis will splay out and you will fall, like this author found out the hard way (see photo).

Stowe’s four interconnected cross-country ski centers which include Stowe Mountain Resort, Edison Hill, Top Notch and Trapp Family Lodge all honor each other’s ski passes which cost $15 per day. You can virtually ski all day from resort to resort on these trails. More than 150K of groomed and 100K of back-country trails criss-cross Stowe’s landscape.You can classic nordic ski, skate cross country ski and snowshoe across the terrain. Snowshoeing is one of the fastest-growing winter sports in America easy enough for children and senior citizens to do. Stowe Mountain Resort’s Cross Country Ski Center just south of the Inn offers many different trails for different levels and interests. Linda Wall and Scott Dorwart at the center are most helpful and can provide you will some quick tips. Lessons are provided at all the interconnected resorts for $26 per 1 1/2 hour lesson. There are 35K of groomed and 40K of back-country trails and a variety of trails for sports specific activities that meander through the center’s Mt. Mansfield State Park. The Logger’s Trail off the Burt Trail is great for snowshoeing and will give a good 5K workout from start to finish. The Burt Trail is named for Craig Burt, the founder of Stowe’s first ski trails, launching Stowe into the big ski town it is today. “From the 1920’s to 1930’s, Burt built Ranch Canyon which was in a few miles from Mountain Road. People had to track in with their skis and there were no lifts back then,” says Wall. “They slept in dormitories and had camp-style food and there was no difference in the ski equipment like we have today. Whether you were alpine or nordic skiing, you used the same equipment,” Wall says. The foundation of Ranch Canyon can still be seen in the summer. Stowe Mountain Resort Cross Country Ski Center revived some of the original trails that Burt developed.

Some words of warning: Since the weather is unpredictable, always be prepared wherever you go. Make sure your cell phone is working and that your service is extended to the area you are going. The cold weather tends to wear down phone batteries much faster. Always tell someone where you will be and never go alone. Veering off marked trails can get you deep into the wilderness and into trouble. When I had visited in January, the Waterbury Backcountry Rescue team had to rescue two cross-country skiers who got lost. They had taken the chairlift to the top of Bolton Mountain and planned to ski the Little River area but they encountered conditions they did not expect.

An excellent map that shows all the interconnecting snowshoe, cross-country and alpine ski trails of northern Vermont is available from mapadventures.com or can be bought in local shops for $8.95. Vermont’s Catamount Trail is to winter sports enthusiasts what the Long Trail is to hikers. It’s a 300-mile trail system that starts just below Route 9 at the Massachusetts border that consists of logging trails, cross-country ski centers, private farms and double-track that ends at the Canadian border. There are different levels of trails from forests for explorers, open meadows for beginners and steeps for the advanced skier. The Catamount Trail Association publishes a guide book that provides 26 different tours at differing levels.

The CTA also offers some free and reasonably priced events. On February 21 there is the 6th Annual Tour de Stowe 9:00 am - 4:00 pm which is a special fundraising event to benefit the Catamount Trail. The event is a self-guided tour along the Catamount Trail through the groomed nordic trails of Trapp Family Lodge, Stowe Mountain Resort and Topnotch Resort. Two courses will be available for skiers to enjoy: a short 10K course for a more casual pace and a long 17K course for skiers looking to test their endurance. The $30 nonmember registration fee gets you a goodies bag, trail pass to all three ski centers for the day, food and refreshments at end of tour. A silent auction with cool gear, clothing and certificates will be held during the après-ski party.

On February 22, the Stowe Derby which is the oldest downhill-cross country ski race in North America, annually attracting between 700-1000 competitors will be held. The race which starts at the top of Mt. Mansfield, began in 1945 as a personal challenge between Sepp Ruschp, the Austrian downhill skier who headed the Sepp Ruschp ski school at Stowe, and Erling Strom, the Norwegian cross-country skier. It continues today with competitors coming from all over the Northeast. US and Canadian Cross Country Ski Team members and NCAA college teams participate, as well as hundreds of local racers and recreational skiers. While the racing can be very competitive at all levels, it’s meant to be fun for all. Over the course, racers ski through 10 miles of challenging terrain before reaching the finish in the village of Stowe. The course has a total vertical drop of almost 4,000 feet, and is a good test of both cross-country and downhill skills. The winners will complete the course in under 40 minutes, while recreational skiers can take a couple of hours to go the same distance. Visit www.mmsc-stowevt.org or call 802-253-7704 to register or learn more about this event. For more info about the Catamount Trail Association, visit: www.catamounttrail.org or call 802-864-5794.

Stowe has some great restaurants to dine at. A delicious little restaurant is Red Basil Thai Cuisine which also features a sushi and martini bar (294 Mountain Rd, Stowe, 802-253-4478). All the food is impeccably fresh and delicious. Try the Thai appetizer for two which includes shrimp and vegetable rolls, fried tofu, and Thai raviolis with a sweet and sour dipping sauce; Tom Ka Gai soup, a coconut based soup with lime-flavored kaffir leaves, cilantro and lemongrass; Spicy Basil entree with your choice of beef, chicken, pork or shrimp made with Thai basil, a mild licorice-flavored basil, roasted garlic, peppers, string beans and zucchini. Cheaper, but by no means lesser fare, can be found at Pie in the Sky (492 Mountain Rd; www.pieinthesky.vt.com), a family restaurant offering wood-fired pizza specially made to your unique tastes---create your own pizza by choosing from 36 gourmet toppings and crust---(traditional or whole wheat, thick or thin) or chose from 15 different “out of the world” pizzas. There is an all-you-can-eat-and-drink soda pizza buffet Mon-Fri 11:30-1:00 pm for only $5.95. Try the absolutely amazing white bean and fennel soup for only $2.50 a big bowl. Harrington’s (166 Route 100, Stowe; 802-253-4121; harringtonham.com) is a retail store that sells their smoked meats, sausages and cheeses, Vermont specialties like maple syrup, a variety of jams and gourmet mustards. Harrington’s also offers a pretty good lunch special; try their homemade smoked kielbasa and Vermont cheddar cheese on wholesome bread for $5.95.

There are many grocery and gourmet stores on Mountain Road in Stowe for you to self-cater your own meals. Harvest Market features gourmet cheeses, an Artisian bread bakery and delicious fresh roasted meats; Mac’s Stowe Market, a small supermarket on Route 100 sells conventional, organic and health food including water buffalo yogurt mildly flavored with Vermont maple syrup (www.woodstockwaterbuffalo.com). At only 206 calories per cup, this yogurt is like eating a cup of pure delicious cream without the guilt.

Vermont is the place to buy maple syrup and maple products. The different grades of syrup are created by the different times of harvesting. Lighter grades are collected in February; darker grades are collected in the warmer months. Every other tree in the Vermont woods is a maple tree. “We’re very spoiled. Vermont offers a lot of gourmet food places featuring specialty items that you can only find in this area as well as hormone-free organic food,” says the owner of the Stowe Maple Products on Route 100 in Waterbury.

Other interesting things to do in and around Stowe especially if you love animals include Icelandic horseback riding at Vermont Icelandic Horsefarm in Waitsfield (802-496-7141), dog sledding with Green Mountain Dog Sled Adventures (www.dogsledvt.com; 802-888-8911), going for a sleigh ride with Belgian draft horses ($5 at the Trapp Family Lodge; www.trappfamily.com; 802-253-5813).

After you’ve burned a million calories doing winter sports in the great outdoors, it’s OK to treat yourself to a tour of the Cabot Cheese Company (Annex store, Route 100, Waterbury, 802-244-6334; www.cabotcheese.com), the Cold Hollow Cider Mill (Route 100, Waterbury, 1-800-3-APPLES; www.coldhollow.com) and/or Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream Factory (on Route 100 in Waterbury; 1-866-BJ-TOURS; www.benjerry.com).

For more info about things to do and places to stay in Stowe, visit the Stowe Area Association’s website at: www.gostowe.com or call 1-877-317-8693. For maps and other info visit: www.vtattractions.org, vermontvacation.com or vermont.org.

Story and photos by Christine Lynn Harvey, publisher/editor of New Living Magazine. Other photos courtesy of Tubbs Snowshoe Company, Stowe Area Association and Stowe Mountain Resort.

Email:charvey@newliving.com

A typical site in wintertime Vermont: the ubiquitious snow-covered bridge.
Snowmobiling with Stowe Snowmobile Tours at Little River State Park. Stop off at Umiak Outdoor Sports in Stowe to book your reservation.
Pit stop while snowmobiling through Little River State Park: a view of Little River and Waterbury Resevoir.
Cross-country skiing gives you an excellent aerobic workout unlike the machines you find at the gym.
The author attempts not to fall on her yahooty. Believe it or not, nordic skiing is challenging!
Veering off marked trails without telling anyone where you are going can lead to trouble especially in extreme temperatures.
Snowshoeing is something the whole family can do regardless of age or size.
Loggers' Trail off of Burt Trail (marked by blue surveyor tape) at Stowe Resort's Cross-Country Ski Center, is great for snowshoeing. It gives you a full 5K workout from start-to-finish.