Into the Belly of the Best
|Vermont's Snow-Capped Ceiling: Stowe's Mount Mansfield, the state's largest peak (Gretchen Greenhalgh)|
The resort itself sits on Mountain Road about 15 minutes north of the town of Stowe. This is no West Coast über-resort (at least not until the Spruce Peak expansion openssee Where to Stay). Consider this modesty a good thing, as there's little to get in the way of the slopes.
The resort is divided into two mountains: The majority of the resort's 48 runs criss-cross 4,393-foot Mount Mansfield, the state's tallest peak. Head to the timber-constructed Mount Mansfield Lodge for rentals and lift tickets, then trudge up a short hill to reach the base, where you can choose from three lifts. The Mountain Triple deposits you roughly midway up Mansfield's western ridge, with access to a slew of groomed blues and a couple meandering green slopes. Moving east from the Mountain Triple, the Lookout Double leapfrogs further up the ridgeline, putting a few of the mountain's more serious black runs within reach, along with a wider expanse of blue cruisers that the ambitious can yo-yo till their legs start quivering. North Slopethe first to open and the last to close, and one of the few with snowmakingis a delight, especially if the mountain has experienced a dearth of natural snowfall.
To reach the quartet of blacks known as the Front FourNational, Lift Line, Goat, and the mogul minefield of Starrboard the high-speed FourRunner Quad. These runs are largely responsible for Stowe's rep as an expert's mountain, and they deliver. The quad also puts you at the top of a meandering green run known as Toll Road the high entry points to the mountain's blues. The summit makes for a spectacular observation pointLake Champlain, the Adirondacks, and Mount Washington are visible on a clear day. The quad also accesses the marked glade runsTres Amigos off Hayride, the Lookout Glades, and the glades spreading from Rimrock. And if you can handle a 35-minute uphill trudge, the experienced can reach Mansfield's Chin and drop into glades that typically house the fluffy stuff long after the rest of the mountain has been skied off. From the FourRunner Quad, you can take Rimrock across the valley into the small stretch of slopes fed by the eight-person gondola, including the spectacular blue cruiser Perry Merrill, the bump-and-grind Chin Clip, and Gondolier, a smooth blue that seems to ferry most of the skiers and 'boarders who take the gondola.
Spruce Peak, just a short shuttle ride from Mansfield (either from the base lodge or the gondola base), is prime beginner and intermediate terrain. The mountain has only one blackWhirlaway, via the Big Spruce Doublebut there are loads of fun blues like Main Street and Smugglers, along with copious glade skiing between the marked slopes. This is an ideal spot for families, and also houses the resort's Children's Adventure Center.
Use the sun as your guide to skiing Stoweespecially if fate deposits you on the slopes on a sub-zero day. Stick to the western slopes of Mansfield in the morning and slowly migrate east. This approach will keep you in the sunlight and also prime your legs for a midday assault on the Front Four. Then, as the sun drops below the western ridge, migrate over to the gondola and hit the blues and blacks until the shadows encroachwhich signals the time for one last run before taking a quick shuttle over to Spruce Peak, whose south-facing slopes stay bathed in golden sunshine until the lifts stop running.
Stowe Resort has one of the best interactive trail maps around: To plot your assault, go to: http://stowe.com/mountain/trailmap.php
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication