1. Where to Stay
Topnotch (from $325) has it all: lodging in recently redone rooms or decked-out homes, a huge (35,000 square feet) and sophisticated (120 treatments) new spa, plus its own cross-country-ski center that grants hotel guests free access to over fifteen miles of exquisite, spruce-lined trails.
Stoweflake (from $280) is Topnotch’s local nemesis: It too underwent a recent renovation and built an impressive new spa with over 100 services (though its spartan treatment rooms are not quite as eye-catching as its arch-rival’s). What Stoweflake lacks in luxury frills like tennis centers and a horse barn, it makes up for in adrenalin-inducing activities—like hot-air-balloon rides—and location. It sits squarely along the Stowe Recreation Path, a scenic, riverside cross-country-ski route.
For a romantic (read kid-free) escape, the Stone Hill Inn (from $345) is a classy, nine-room property with a strict no-tykes policy. Each room is decorated in an upscale country style reminiscent of Laura Ashley or Ralph Lauren, and each comes loaded with a fireplace and a couple-size Jacuzzi tub. Rates include breakfast and evening hors d’oeuvre.
Stowe’s classic family choice, and a great one for Nordic skiers, is the Trapp Family Lodge (from $295), founded by the von Trapps, who fled the Nazis and eventually ended up in Stowe, of all places, in 1942. The lodge, still run by the musical troupe’s descendents, achieves an Austrian-alpine aesthetic without succumbing to kitsch (although the remaining von Trapps still sing in costume and screen The Sound of Music every week in their on-site theater). The property boasts the area’s biggest ski center; a mix of rooms, suites, and chalet-style guesthouses; a large fitness facility; and a laundry list of special events, from music festivals to cooking demos.
2. Where to Eat
Settled by European immigrants and populated by Yankees, Stowe has the most eclectic cuisine in New England. Anglophiles should head right to Mr. Pickwick’s (433 Mountain Rd.; 802-253-8944), an upscale pub with Vermont’s best selection of single malts, more than 150 ales, and the most authentic bangers and mash this side of Newcastle.
New for this winter is Norma’s at Topnotch, a member of the Vermont Fresh Network, which emphasizes the use of local and organic products like free-range chickens, seasonal veggies, and many of the state’s wonderful artisanal cheeses.
Skiers need a hearty breakfast, and this is where they get it: The Dutch Pancake Café (in the Grey Fox Inn) serves a whopping 80 varieties of the Pennsylvania Dutch treat. The hole-in-the-wall McCarthy’s (454 Mountain Rd.; 802-253-8626), in a little strip mall next to the town’s movie theater, likewise plies locals with piles of pancakes and French toast smothered, of course, in gobs of real Vermont maple syrup.
Après-ski apps and drinks are served all over town, but in-the-know skiers flock to the Matterhorn, which rolls out live bands later in the evening. Wherever you go, carry your I.D.: Stowe is awash in college and high-school students, and barkeeps are notorious for proofing just about everyone.
3. What to Do
Nordic skiing (which includes cross-country and Telemark) is enjoying a revival, with alpine fans and fitness freaks flocking to the more aerobic skate-skiing style, and wider, metal-edged backcountry skis fueling an off-trail craze. Unlike with the downhill version, novices can pick up any of the three disciplines (classic, skate, backcountry) in a day.
Stowe is home to four different Nordic areas, each offering a combination of tracked, skating, and ungroomed trails, as well as equipment rentals and lessons. So how to choose? You really can’t go wrong, but Edson Hill, somewhat detached on the east side of the mountain, is perfect for those who want solitude and wilderness. The Trapp and Stowe Mountain Resort areas—placed higher on the mountain and with hillier, more challenging terrain—are more attractive to advanced skiers. For beginners, Topnotch is the best choice: It has the flattest trail system and is also the closest to town, shops, and dining.
The please-all pick is the Stowe Recreation Path, an urban planner’s dream that connects the village of Stowe with the multiple trail systems branching off the road to Mt. Mansfield. The 5.2-mile paved path has multiple parking areas and free access, and it passes the back doors of some of Stowe’s most popular restaurants, like the Shed (1859 Mountain Rd.; 802-253-4364), a microbrewery which serves its beer samplers on old skis.
For the hard-core, the Catamount Trail, a backcountry-ski route that runs the length of Vermont, passes right through Stowe and offers all the skiing (over 300 miles worth) you can handle.
4. Insider’s Tip
The daylong backcountry-ski tour from Stowe to Bolton Valley, another downhill resort in the next valley, is a rite of passage for Vermonters and one of the region’s quintessential winter journeys. But visitors and inexperienced skiers would be ill advised to try the wilderness route on their own. Fortunately, Bolton Valley’s Nordic Center offers guided trips, both private and group, and will even arrange to pick you up in Stowe. The Slayton Pasture Cabin, hidden in the midst of the Trapp Family Lodge network, is a must-stop when you’re skiing the town’s extensive trail network. Here you can defrost in front of a roaring fire with a bowl of the soup du jour, or better yet, some hot chocolate and homemade cookies.
5. An Oddball Day
Like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, winter days in Vermont come in two radically different varieties: snow or no snow. If it’s white out and you feel like resting your ski legs, try seeing the countryside from the back of a snowmobile or a dogsled. If the snow’s a no-show (or worse, it’s raining), head to the Cold Hollow Cider Mill, on Route 100 just outside the village, for a classic New England experience. Besides tasting fresh pressed cider, hot and cold, you can sample an array of local sundries and shop the general store. Plus, it is just a few doors down from the famed Ben & Jerry’s factory, where, yes, you get samples.
6. Related Links
Gostowe.com is a four-season visitors’ guide with a frequently updated list of special packages and deals.
The Green Mountain Club, based near Stowe, maintains the Long Trail, among other hiking and sports trails, and hosts public lectures, guided hikes, and snowshoe tours.
Sniff around the Vermont Cheese Council homepage for some of the best cave-aged cheeses in the nation.