Northeast Cross-Country Ski Roundup
Stowe Mountain Resort Cross Country Center
(formerly Mount Mansfield)
5781 Mountain Road
Stowe, Vermont 05672
Trail System: 35 km (35 km classical, 35 km skate, 40 km backcountry), plus groomed connections to two other extensive trail systems.
Our Estimate: The perfect complement to the nearby Trapp Family Lodge's Nordic trails, with plenty of beginner terrain and a good mix of narrow, woodsy valley trails.
Scenic Beauty: 4
Touring Center: Rentals, lessons, wood stove, hot drinks, and some retail.
Favorite Trail: Old Camp, one of the craziest wild bulls you'll ever try to ride! Triple black diamond.
Payment: All major credit cards
Lodging: Stowe Mountain Resort-Stowe (802-253-3000, $$$-$$$$), Vermont State Ski Dorm-Stowe (802-253-4010, $)
Local's Tip: For budding telemarkers, Stowe Mountain Resort is an ideal place to learn. The cross country ticket buys unlimited chairlift rides: 750 feet up a fairly easy hill.
Wedged into a steep river valley between two skiing titans the Trapp Family Lodge's Nordic trails and the Mount Mansfield Alpine trails Stowe Mountain Resort's trail system is easy to overlook. This is unfortunate. While tourists are lured by the hundreds to Trapp by a savvy combination of family lore and marketing, skiers are left alone to explore Stowe's fantastic terrain in peace. Long, forested loops with feisty, convulsive bumps and twists make this area a favorite destination for racers, locals, and other cross country connoisseurs.
The dramatic valley has been logged on and off for more than a century, but it shows few scars. The dark, steep forest regenerates itself, closing over recent wounds with dense new growth. However, forestry has left its mark in other ways. Skiing has been a weekend pastime for loggers since the early part of the century, and it was the loggers who cut Stowe's first trails. A few extra swaths through the forest was no big deal for men whose job it was to fell trees! Well-liked loggers have been immortalized in trail names at Stowe, and the site of their logging camp is an easy ski up the valley on the Burt Trail.
Trails at Stowe trace the valley like contour lines. Since steep hillsides send all unattached objects tumbling toward the river, the trail designers had very little creative leeway. Trails traverse uphill on one side of the valley for as long as possible, then drop across the river and head back down on the other side. The result is a giant series of nested Vs. Choose a V to match your ability level: the easier ones are small and stick close to the river, while the expert trails form big Vs that bully their way farther up the hillsides before reluctantly dropping to the other side of the river and racing back to the touring center.
Your trail pass also provides access to the extensive Topnotch and Trapp trail systems. While you couldn't possibly ski all three in a day, you should certainly take advantage of the warmth, socializing, and hearty food at the trailside Trapp Cabin.
Take your pick among the various V's of the valley. Just remember: inner is easier. The most popular beginner loop starts up Timber Lane and returns on the Bruce and Burt trails. Timber Lane coaxes you up the valley with a long, gentle climb through second-growth hardwoods. You'll see Sky Top Ridge and Round Top floating through the trees. By taking one of the"cross cuts," you can avoid the steeper hills toward the end, but you'll also miss a lot of the better scenery. Timber Lane finally spins down toward the river and lets Bruce carry you across the stream. Bruce starts with a straight downhill shot, but eventually settles into an easy glide that follows the snow-choked river down the valley. Burt finishes the job by chasing the river the rest of the way to the touring center.
Beginners may also want to try the Ranch Camp Trail, which winds slowly uphill toward the Trapp Cabin (six km one way).You can experience both trail systems and find hearty soup and a satisfying vista at the top. The descent may be a little fast, but the trails are wide and smooth.
Wild, rollicking, twisty expert terrain awaits on the outer V: Double Bit and Bear Run. Double Bit starts with a brave climb away from the ravine and toward Mount Mansfield. Although foreshadowing things to come, the trail itself is not unmanageably steep. Off of Double Bit, follow Bear Run along the remainder of the traverse. At first, the steep uncompromising hills of Bear Run threaten to scale Mansfield head-on; later, the trail relaxes into a bumpy traverse, following the contour of the hill. Further along the trail, "Carcass Corner" sounds like a place to take off your skis and walk, but don't let the name scare you. This is where trail crews discovered a bobcat gnawing on the remains of a deer. The valley eventually tightens, pinching Bear Run across the stream and down the opposite side. The downhill begins with more unsettling bumps and dips, but softens into a fabulous, long, floating brookside glide toward Ranch Camp Trail.
Peavey Trail, a "middle V," resembles Bear Run, but without some of the more grueling climbs. Peavey takes a lower line up the valley - more appropriate for intermediates, but still including a long stretch of bumpy terrain.
Cross country skiers with a penchant for Alpine may enjoy Houston and the Ranch Camp Trail. The bumps will try to toss you into the air, and the corners do their best to hurl you against strategically placed trees. These downhills are XXX! Steeple Trail, a two-kilometer backcountry cliff, won't let you out alive.
Finding Your Way: From Exit 10 off of I-89, follow Route 100 north. In the center of Stowe, 9 1/2 miles from the exit, turn left onto Route 108 north. The touring center is on the left, about five miles up the road.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication