Into the Belly of the Best
|Dog Day Afternoon: A skier finds a little sun-lit solace atop Mount Mansfield (Gretchen Greenhalgh)|
Jeff was right. By midday, the temps had skyrocketed to the low 30s, softening the hard pack and leaving me shedding layers to adjust to the pseudo-tropical conditions. The inviting weather had also brought out the crowdsStowe can get packed on a Saturdaybut compared to the scene at sister resorts like Killington, which averages an estimated 1 million annual visitors, the modest deluge of skiers and 'boarders were easy to dodge by simply heading to the seldom-used triple lift or lining up at the fast-moving gondola.
The climatic serendipity was echoed when I befriended a group of Connecticut residents who make the four-hour drive nearly every weekend to ply the resort. With their veteran knowledge of the mountain taking lead, we spent the weekend tearing over groomers, rocketing down the Lift Line headwall, and ducking into glade runs whenever the crowds got too thick or the slopes got too worn on the more trammeled piste.
Stowe rewards the adventurous. Even discounting such marked tree-skiing runs as Tres Amigos, the stretch off Nosedive, and Lookout Glades, there are countless stashes tucked in the sparse forests lining almost every run on the mountain. But the adventurous also need to be confident. My old-school ski length (185 cm) and a paucity of tight-turning skills had me straddling a few tree trunks as I cut down Tres Amigos. Happily, each crash was more of an easy sigh into the snow, and everyone you encounter while skiing in the woods wears that same expression of private, ski-giddy glee. It's a camaraderie born out of a shared affection for all things snow and gravity, and Stowe nurtures you every step of the way, until, that is, you reach your limit. If you're lucky, that'll synch up with the final run of your last day.
Alas, my last run was more flailing limbs than Olympic skill, and I knew that my body needed something more than a pint in the base lodge. Happily, if Stowe Resort lacks certain luxe amenities, the town of Stowe more than makes up for it, and what better way to end three days of hard skiing than by succumbing to the talented hands of a masseuse at Stoweflake Mountain Resort and Spa. What started out as a family-owned 16-room inn has since blossomed into a full-service resort with 22,000-square-foot conference facilities, two restaurants with impeccable cuisine and over 50 wines by the glass, and a full-service spa with sauna and steam rooms. This enticing mecca of relaxation offers 120 spa treatments, plus an aqua solarium with a Hungarian-bath-salt soaking pool and rock-formation hot tub complete with a cascading waterfall that's modeled after the Green Mountain's own Bingham Falls.
For the last three days I'd been a spartan on the slopesresisting the pull for a mid-afternoon break and squeezing in as many runs as my stamina would allow, but once I donned one of Stoweflake's plush robes, I became a glutton. A 50-minute massage made me loose as overcooked spaghetti, the sauna and steam room left me numb, and, as I sat soaking in the 120-degree waters of the mineral soaking pool, looking out at the rolling expanse of the Green Mountains, the only thing that cut through the haze of pleasant satisfaction was that I had to leave the next day.
As my three-day fling with Stowe had demonstrated, Mother Nature can be fickle. A sub-zero night can give way to a 30-degree day. A two-foot dump can follow a serious drought within the blink of an eye. At present, Stowe has received roughly 130 inches of snow this season, including an 18-inch dump that fell two weeks after I was back at my desk. But if Mother Nature does live up to her reputation, Stowe should receive another 200 inches of the dreamy, downy white stuff before the season ends.
Start planning now. And if you miss out this year, there's always next season. Make sure you're there.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication