The new Stowe brings some West to the East
My Vermont friends nodded politely on social media during a recent trip to Stowe, but I knew what they were thinking — he’s traded the single chair at Mad River Glen for a cozy gondola ride, and messy moguls for exquisitely groomed runs. Instead of donning boots in the parking lot, no doubt using the equipment valet.
Guilty on all counts. And at least one more: Where apres ski in college days was Genesee cream ale in cans outside at the picnic tables of General Stark’s Pub, this time it was hearth-warmed raclette and rye inside the WhistlePig Pavilion.
Maybe it’s being fifty-something dosing prophylactic ibuprofen, or having teenage boys who will bail at the slightest indication of discomfort. Or just really liking WhistlePig. Any which way, skiing on the pampered side clearly has its merits.
It’s quite fitting that the resort three and a half hours from Boston would have some of the flavor of the storied hills of the Intermountain West, like Aspen or Deer Valley (those same Vermont friends use the nickname “Bambi Basin” for the latter). Colorado-based Vail bought Stowe Mountain Resort in 2017, and in tandem, Stowe Mountain Lodge, a separate entity, rebranded as the Lodge at Spruce Peak late last year. That complex, across the road from the base of Mount Mansfield, and first developed in 2008, features a dog-friendly 312-room hotel, club residences, restaurants, bars, shops, outdoor recreation outfitters, a spa, and outdoor heated pool and hot tubs. The property has been managed by Two Roads Hospitality, acquired late last year by Hyatt.
It’s all so darned cozy and convenient. Skiers lounge around in Adirondack chairs clustered in front of roaring outdoor fireplaces, armed with tall cans of Lawson’s Sip o’ Sunshine. The smell of pine is in the air; tasteful beaded lights are draped all around. When it’s time to strap on the slats, rentals and lift tickets are steps away from breakfast at the hotel. Then it’s a few more steps to the Over Easy gondola to the base of the mountain, and a short skate to the gondola to the summit. No more fumbling for those adhesive tags on metal clips; a credit card gets scanned with what looks like a radar gun, and you can leave it in your pocket.
The overall lack of hassle goes a long way. The gondola strategy takes those excruciating rides up the chairlift out of the equation, thus removing at least one excuse to stop skiing. When going up you can keep relatively warm, and the blood gets pumping carving turns coming down. It made a huge difference. One morning it was minus 12 degrees Fahrenheit.
Even closer to the lodging is Spruce Peak, a decent little hill in its own right on the east side of Route 108, with the village right at the base. That’s the location of the learning slope, ski school, and slalom run.
The village is the base camp for another ingredient to a successful family ski trip: other options besides skiing. A guided snowshoe tour was just the change of pace we needed one day. The Rockefeller Center-sized skating rink beckons. One brisk morning we turned the boys loose at the Adventure Center, featuring several rock climbing walls, one of which is modeled after an actual climbing route at Smuggler’s Notch, so named for the booze supply line from Canada during Prohibition. Thank goodness nobody ever built a border wall up there.
Which brings the Stowe visitor to the truly important matter of apres ski. The aforementioned WhistlePig Pavilion feels just rustic enough to tamp down feelings of indulgence. The spa features a heated outdoor pool and two hot tubs, with wisps of steam rising up amid the snow and ice, and treatments like “Toxic Meltdown,” where the secret ingredient is algae mud that stays lathered on your body for a lingering hour post-massage. In the relaxation area, rustic chaises-lounges with tree-limb armrests face floor-to-ceiling windows looking out at Mount Mansfield, Vermont’s highest peak.
Around dinnertime, the fireplace-punctuated lobby lounge of the Lodge at Spruce Peak is collegial. Couples, families, kids, dogs, all arrayed around couches and chairs, bounded by a sushi post and hot chocolate bar. For all menu offerings, the emphasis is on local, under the direction of executive chief Sean Blomgren and sommelier Tim Wallace. It was clear they meant it when we were treated to a sampling of cloudy Vermont-made sparkling wine. Chill local musicians provide a soundtrack.
Be sure to wrangle an invitation, from your server or anyone else on the staff who will listen, to the unmarked Line House cellar speakeasy. There’s no menu; chief mixologist Dan Hatheway simply asked us what spirits we liked, and then crafted a unique bespoke cocktail — say, an extra-ingredient old fashioned with Barr Hill Tom Cat gin, made in nearby Hardwick. As the chill electronic played, someone at the bar called out, “Are we in Stockholm?”
Yes, maybe slightly over the top. And not inexpensive, though also not ridiculous, with rooms ranging from $219 to $699 and well beyond for view-rich suites. Stowe was also the first New England resort to break the $100 mark on lift tickets. Yet something about the overall vibe suggests a commitment to being regal without too much attitude, as if to say, they appreciate the fact that you didn’t hop a flight to Salt Lake City or Denver.
And compared to Zermatt’s new gondola in Switzerland, where the cabins feature Italian leather, Swarovski crystals, and a see-through floor, Stowe’s eight-skier cable cars are spartan. That’s right, sure, you’ll really be roughing it.