Heading downhill near the summit of Mount Mansfield

NYT: 36 Hours in Stowe

Ski Guide 2010

By LIONEL BEEHNER
Published: December 13, 2009

WHEN people envision the idyllic Vermont ski town — soaring church steeple, covered bridges, no chain stores in sight — they envision Stowe. It is the grande dame of Green Mountain ski resorts, with a Main Street that is as folksy as a yellowed New England postcard, which makes it all the more shocking that the ski resort is owned by AIG, the insurance behemoth bailed out by the government. That could explain Stowe’s recent $400 million upgrade, with a shiny gondola and a new pedestrian village with a private club and outdoor fire pits galore. But beneath all the modern glitz, Stowe still feels like a quaint Vermont town where no one locks the door and folks still dress like Bob Newhart, without a hint of irony.

Friday

3 p.m.
1)  MAPLE FAVORS

Before arriving in town, stock up on homemade jams and jellies from the Cold Hollow Cider Mill (3600 Waterbury-Stowe Road; 802-244-8771; www.coldhollow.com), a farmhouse store that smells like the inside of an 11,000-gallon vat of cider, which just happens to sit in the back. Turn the spigot and help yourself. It goes nicely with the sinfully sweet doughnuts (two for $1) made fresh up front. More provisions wait down the road: the Cabot Annex store (2657 Waterbury-Stowe Road; 802-244-6334) has a smorgasbord of Cheddars — chipotle, horseradish, Tuscan — which you can sample free.

4:30 p.m.
2)  OLD-TIME MAIN STREET

Stroll up Main Street, a dainty strip bookended by a white steeple church and a covered walking bridge, with arts-and-crafts shops and century-old inns in between. Lackey’s (109 Main Street; 802-253-7624) is an old-fashioned variety store from the mid-1800s with the original wood floor. Or drop by Shaw’s General Store (54 Main Street; 802-253-4040; www.heshaw.com) to pick up a rabbit-fur hat ($45 to $75) or an Icelandic wool sweater ($165). The store dates from the 1890s but its dropped-ceiling décor feels like the 1970s.

8 p.m.
3)  VERMONT MICROBREWS

For good grub at decent prices, head to the Shed Restaurant (1859 Mountain Road; 802-253-4765), a casual spot where shaggy-bearded locals like to name-drop trails over pints of microbrew. The décor is a bit predictable — bumper stickers on the ceiling, deer heads adorned with boas and Mardi Gras beads — but the menu is surprisingly eclectic, with tasty cheeseburgers ($9.95), large Cobb salads ($14.95) and microbrew lagers ($4 to $6).

Saturday

7 a.m.
4)  IRISH SEND-OFF

Kick off your day at McCarthy’s Restaurant (108 Mountain Road; 802-253-8626), a Mel’s Diner-like spot where chatty waitresses wink at regulars and out-of-towners alike. Carb-loaded dishes like corned-beef hash ($8.75), maple-syrup bacon ($2.29) and honey oatmeal toast ($2) draw a packed house most mornings. Arrive before 8 a.m. to beat the rush.

8:30 a.m.
5)  EATS, CHUTES AND LEAVES

Start at Spruce Peak’s new base lodge, which has convenient combo lockers, ample parking and a roomy interior encased in woven timber, before hopping on the still-shiny Over Easy gondola to Mount Mansfield. Take another gondola to reach the top, which incidentally is the highest point in Vermont, and feast your eyes on 4,395 vertical feet of powdery terrain. Start off on Gondolier, one of the mountain’s signature cruisers with a million well-groomed twists. Once your legs get warmed up, follow the speed demons over to Nosedive, a steep chute that is among the oldest trails in Vermont. For tree skiing, head to Hayride, a gently sloped glade run with evenly spaced spruces.

Noon
6)  WAFFLE HOUSE

Don’t expect a shedlike cafeteria with chili bowls and frozen pizzas at the top of Mount Mansfield. This is scenic Vermont, so lunch means a casual sit-down at the Cliff House (802-253-3665), a timber lodge with old wooden tables that serves upscale American fare with farm-fresh Vermont flair. Favorites include Prince Edward Island mussels ($12), rich lamb stew ($24) and daily crepe specials. Soaring floor-to-cathedral-ceiling windows offer sunny views of Smuggler’s Notch and Mount Washington on the horizon. Grab a waffle ($4) coated in chocolate on your way out.

1:30 p.m.
7)  STOWE’S BETTER HALF

After lunch, follow the sun over to Spruce Peak, the smaller of Stowe’s two mountains. Once the neglected stepchild of Mount Mansfield and ignored by groomers, Spruce Peak has great cruiser trails, new snow making and a newish quad chair that replaced a creaky lift that took 20 minutes to reach the top. Main Street and Sterling are wide-open cruisers with lots of variety. If you find yourself back on Mount Mansfield, a nice and easy chaser to a long day of skiing is Toll Road, a never-ending trail that meanders past the base lodge with gorgeous views.

4 p.m.
8)  A SECRET TRAIL

Stowe has a lively après ski scene, which begins as early as 2 p.m. on weekends and seems more crowded since it did away with its night skiing a few years back. Insiders take the Bruce Trail, a cross-country path that winds its way to the Matterhorn Bar (4969 Mountain Road; 802-253-8198; www.matterhornbar.com). Stuffed with pool tables, a disco ball and waitresses in trucker hats serving Pabst Blue Ribbon, it is a raucous but civilized place to unwind after a day on the slopes. A wooden patio and sushi bar overlooks a brook, while a cover band plays classic rock up front.

8 p.m.
9)  SPRUCED UP

The centerpiece of Spruce Peak is the Stowe Mountain Lodge, a six-story compound of exposed timber and stonework. Lamps look like twisted logs, and you’re never more than 20 feet from a roaring, if gas-fueled, fireplace. Ascend the staircase and you’ll find the restaurant Solstice (802-760-4735; www.stowemountainlodge.com). It looks like the great room of an outdoorsy billionaire, with its soaring salmon-toned walls, white-stone fireplaces and shelves topped with old-looking wine bottles. Along one side is an open kitchen, which serves New American cuisine using, as one would expect, mostly regional ingredients. Dishes include a rack of lamb with ginger and chamomile sauce ($29) and Maine lobster risotto with mascarpone and Cheddar ($24).

10 p.m.
10)  MY WAY OR THE HIGHWAY

The Rusty Nail (1190 Mountain Road; 802-253-6245; www.rustynailbar.com) looks right out of the 1980s movie “Road House.” Gritty, crowded, with the stench of stale beer and a beefy tattooed bouncer out front, this popular spot serves up microbrews ($4.50) and martinis ($7.50), while a D.J. and live reggae music keep the crowds swinging on the sunken dance floor. Check out the outdoors ice bar most weekends.

Sunday

10 a.m.
11)  VROOM WITH A VIEW

To see Stowe’s backcountry up close, jump aboard a snowmobile and glide over 10 heart-racing miles of luge-like twists and turns. The gorgeous scenery will distract first-time sledders — not to mention the occasional scowls from cross-country skiers. Two-hour tours ($144 for each person) are available at Stowe Snowmobile Tours (849 South Main Street; 802-253-6221; www.snowmobilevermont.com).

Noon
12)  SUGAR-COATED RUBDOWN

The smell of wood crackling in the two-way fireplace and a plate of homemade cookies greet guests to Topnotch Resort and Lodge (4000 Mountain Road; 800-451-8686; www.topnotchresort.com; entry, $50), which has a recently renovated 35,000-square-foot spa and gym. Kick your feet up by the large indoor pool bedecked in blond wood, sip some mint tea and swim a few laps. Or soak in the outdoor hot tub overlooking Mount Mansfield. Even better, swaddle yourself in a terry cloth robe and sandals, slap on some June Jacobs facial cream and tuck into a cozy treatment room for a rubdown using — what else? — Vermont maple syrup.

THE BASICS

The nearest major airport is in Burlington, Vt., about an hour west of Stowe. JetBlue has nonstop flights from Kennedy Airport starting at about $150. Stowe is about a five-hour drive from New York City.

Stowe Mountain Lodge (7412 Mountain Road; 802-253-3560; www.stowemountainlodge.com) is the only ski-in, ski-out hotel at the mountain. The 139 units offer marble baths, balconies, fireplaces and goose-down feather beds, from $199.

A few miles from the mountain is the Topnotch Resort and Spa (4000 Mountain Road; 802-253-8585; www.topnotchresort.com). Be sure to get a room facing the slopes, not the parking lot. Rooms start at around $300.

For affordable digs on Main Street, check into Green Mountain Inn (18 Main Street; 802-253-7301; www.greenmountaininn.com), which was built in 1833. Book a room in the main lodge, not the annex, which feels more like a motel and gets spotty Wi-Fi. Rooms from $169.