Stowe Mountain Resort sits on two mountains. Mount Mansfield, which is Vermont’s highest peak, and Spruce Peak. The two mountains are split by Vermont Route 108, and they’re connected by a transfer gondola called the Over Easy. Each side of the resort offers a distinctly different experience. In general, the Mansfield side of the resort is significantly more challenging, while Spruce side is home to most of the beginner terrain and the more mellow terrain. When it comes to amenities, Spruce side boasts the far more luxurious and extensive off-snow amenities, while Mansfield side’s are far more basic and rustic. Some points on general logistics, then I’ll start with how to navigate the base areas, and move up the mountains from there.
Tickets- Stowe uses an RFID ticketing system. When you purchase a ticket, you'll pay an extra $5 for an "Evolution Stowe Card" (ESC). The card itself is reusable, so don't throw it away at the end of the day! Once you have an ESC, purchase your day tickets online, and it's automatically loaded onto the card. Another good feature of the ESC is the Bypass program. If you sign up for the Bypass program, you link your credit card to the ESC. Then you don't have to wait in line, go online to buy tickets, or anything like that. The first time you pass through an RFID gate that day, it automatically charges your credit card the lowest available ticket rate for that day. I've heard it's pretty convenient, and does end up saving you money.
The really convenient thing about an RFID card is that you don't ever have to take it out of your pocket or show it to anyone. The reader gate will detect the card through your jacket. Two things to keep in mind though. The card needs to go in a pocket by itself. It can't be with your cell phone, your wallet, a pack of gum with foil wrapping... any of that can interfere and cause the card not to read. Then you're stuck at the gate with people behind you getting annoyed. The other thing, the card needs to be located at the right height. If you put it in a thigh cargo pocket, it probably won't read, especially if you're short. If you have a little one, definitely put the card in the highest pocket they have. I've seen some really little ones (3 and 4 year olds) with their ESC in a sleeve pocket, and the put their hand over their head to let the gate read it.
Lessons- If you want lessons, it's best to call ahead to book a reservation. Especially if you want to take a lesson during a peak time (Xmas week, MLK weekend, President's week), or if you want a private lesson. The reservation lines open on September 1st, and people are calling right from the moment the reservation line turns on to book. Pretty much all lessons run out of Spruce, with the exception of one of the seasonal programs, and the odd private. Kids group lessons, as well as daycare, are all located at the Adventure Center at Spruce (more below). Adult group lessons and private lessons meet on snow at Spruce, there are flags out every day to direct you where to go. If you want to book a lesson once you're at the mountain, you can do that at Spruce Camp, Mansfield Base Lodge, or Midway, all at the desks inside the lodges. Ticket windows at Mansfield Base Lodge and the Gondola Barn don't do lesson booking.
Rentals- There are rental shops at Spruce Camp and Mansfield Base Lodge. There are no rentals at Midway.
Maps of Base area, from Google Earth and Stowe Trail Map (2015/16)
All of the parking at Stowe is on the Mansfield side of the road. The only exception to that is if you are actually staying at the Stowe Mountain Lodge, in which case you have access to the Lodge’s underground garage. If not, you’ll park at Mansfield. There are a couple different options for parking, and where you park will probably depend on what your plan is for the day.
The main Mansfield lot is huge, and probably your best bet to park in if you are starting your day early, want to base yourself out of Mansfield Base Lodge for the day, or are planning on going to Spruce side. If you’re starting your day later, and plan to end your day at Mansfield, it might be a better idea to take a right after you enter and go up to park in the Midway/Gondola lots.
Mansfield Base Area
One thing worth mentioning is that the Mansfield base area is rather spread out, so it may take a little planning about what lifts and trails you take to get where you want to go. You can skate/walk from any one point to any other point on Mansfield base, but it’s more convenient to plan ahead. I’ll touch more on that during the rundown on trails.
Mansfield Base Lodge, outside and inside
Mansfield Base Lodge- The base lodge at Mansfield is an historical landmark, it was built during the Great Depression by the Civilian Conservation Corps. If you want a taste of history, and the very beginnings of skiing in America, you can check out MBL. On the flip side of that, MBL is pretty old. It provides the basics of ski base lodge amenities, but not very much else. It is also relatively small for the size of the mountain it serves.
Despite its small size, MBL is hardly ever super crowded, both because there are other places on the mountain that have better amenities, and because MBL sits at the bottom of a 50ish foot hill you need to hike up to get to the lifts. There is a staircase there, but most people hike up because it’s more direct to the Quad.
MBL is best to base out of for serious skiers who want to avoid crowds, and don’t intend to be back in the lodge much anyways. MBL also has The Den, which is a bar that’s good for an apres pint or two.
Midway Lodge- Midway was the base barn for the old 4 person gondola that was replaced in the early 90’s by the current 8 person gondi. The new gondi extends a little further down the hill, so if you base out of Midway, you are able to boot up and then slide down to the gondola. Midway has a cafeteria style food service area, as well as a sit down bar and grill. The cafeteria food here is roughly equivalent to Mansfield Base Lodge, but the sit-down area is definitely a step above that.
The general ambience of Midway is different than Mansfield Base Lodge, too. MBL is a small log built structure, which is rather dark in a kind of intimate, classic kind of way. Midway is much brighter, so it gives the opportunity for a different environment.
One small request/caveat if you do choose to visit Midway. You may notice that downstairs by the bathrooms, there is a small room with tables and chairs in it, along with hooks and shelves along the walls. If you’re there on a weekend, I’d humbly request you refrain from using that area. Although it isn’t always well marked, that area is the Busters area, which is the seasonal kids program that yours truly instructs in. I can tell you that during lunch time that area is jam packed with kids and instructors, and we really do need all the table and chair space that’s in there. Thanks!
Buster Coaches at Midway. Freeski919 on left, in pink.
Spruce Base Area
If your party includes novice skiers, or non skiers who will be looking for a nice, comfy place to wait for the rest of the crew, Spruce Base may be your best bet. After you park, hop on the Over Easy gondola with your stuff, and head over to Spruce side. As mentioned before, Spruce Base area is quite a bit more upscale than Mansfield Base Area. Spruce side is where Stowe Mountain Lodge is located, the 5 star luxury hotel. The rest of the base area pretty much follows that lead. There is an upscale base lodge, some high end shops, and a new Adventure Center and plaza with a skating rink and all those types of things.
Spruce Camp- Spruce Camp is the main lodge for Spruce base area. The first floor has ticket counters, lockers, and the rental and retail shops. Go upstairs to get to the Great Room, where there’s lots of seating, and a number of different options for food. When you go to the food service area, there are a few different lines that serve different types of food. One line for the grill, another for soups and sandwiches, etc. What you’ll notice is that the food in this lodge is definitely not your average base lodge cafeteria fare. It’s good stuff, served on real plates with real silverware. You still have a tray, and you still carry it to your table, but then it gets bused by employees when you’re done. It’s the top end of cafeteria style, bordering on white napkin, sit-down type eating. You do pay for it though, as Spruce Camp food is a notch more expensive than the rest of the lodges on the mountain.
Spruce Plaza- The latest development at Spruce base is the new Plaza. There are a few shops, including a deli/general store, a coffee shop, as well as a couple high-end retail shops. There is also the Skinny Pancake, whose main restaurant is in downtown Burlington. They are a really great creperie that serves both sweet and savory crepes. Very good stuff and definitely worth a visit. In the center of the Plaza is the green, which during the winter is configured as a skating rink. It is a small rink, far smaller than hockey size, but fun for skating around with the kids. There is almost always hot chocolate and s’mores set up by the rink, and you can rent skates in the Spruce Camp rental shop.
Adventure Center, on the slope side. To the left of the photo is the Adventure Triple, and beyond is the ski school magic carpet.
To the right, where the red jackets are, is a staircase that leads up from Spruce plaza.
Freeski919's son, foreground.
Adventure Center- On the far side of the plaza is the Adventure Center. During the day, its primary function is for all children’s lessons. So if you have kids signed up for lessons, this is where you will go. Check in on the first floor, then boot up in the booting room/mini theater. Head upstairs and drop your kids off. There are a few rock climbing walls in the main atrium of the AC that you'll notice when you walk in. At noon, Stowe Rocks opens in that space for indoor rock climbing. It's open until 8 or 9PM, depending upon the day.
Mount Mansfield is where the majority of the skiing happens at Stowe. To give a better idea of what Mansfield consists of, it is easier to break it up into different areas. In general, you can look at trails off the Fourrunner Quad, and trails off the Gondola. You will hear things referred to as the Nose, the Chin, etc. That is because Mt Mansfield somewhat resembles a face in profile, so the peaks along the ridgeline are named for facial features. The top of the quad is just below the Nose, the top of the Gondola is near the base of the Chin. The main summit of the mountain is the Chin.
Mansfield's "facial features"
Quad Trails- Although there are four quad lifts at Stowe, if you hear someone referring to "The Quad," they are talking about the Fourrunner. Figuring out how to navigate the trail system off of the main quad is fairly simple. As you get off the quad, you can go straight, or to the left. If you go straight, you can hit Nosedive, one of the original trails on the mountain, which is a black. If you go left, you can access every other trail on the main body of the mountain. If you don’t go to Nosedive, a general rule of thumb is that the further right you go, the easier the trail is. The further to the left, the more difficult.
Two blue trails run along the spine of the ridge that comes down from the Nose peak of Mansfield. Ridgeview and Lord. Lord in particular can be considered the “main highway” for the majority of the trail system.
Top of Lord and Ridgeview, at the top of the Fourrunner Quad
As you ski along the top part of Lord, any turn you take to the left is going to lead you over the side of the ridge, and into steeper terrain. The further along Lord you go, the less steep the left turns get. The first left turn is immediately below the top of the lift, which leads to Goat, a double-black which is generally considered the most difficult trail on the mountain.
Headwall of Goat (flagpole on Octagon at top of picture)
Looking down Goat from same spot
Steep, narrow, with a gnarly double fall line at the top of it, it is technically challenging for most skiers. The next few trails over are also double blacks, which round out Stowe’s Front Four.
The Haychute, main entrance to most of the Front Four (Goat can also be accessed from the Haychute)
The Front Four (or Five) labelled, as seen from Spruce (KevinF in foreground)
Looking up Liftline, from the base of the Quad. Also a good view of (L-R) Lookout, Starr, National, and the top of Goat
The other three trails of the Front Four are Liftline, which is an arrow straight, steep run that is sometimes groomed and sometimes not.
The next is National, which is wide, steep, and always ungroomed. Just above the Haychute from National is National Drop-in, which was the original entrance to National, before the Haychute was built. Last is Starr. It is about as narrow as Goat, but a little less steep, without the double fall line at the top. Starr probably rates as the next most difficult of the trails at Stowe.
There is another double black as well. Lookout is directly underneath the Lookout Double chair, and is usually considered the fifth “Front Four” trail. Lookout is really as difficult as Starr, and more difficult than Liftline or National, so there should be the Front Five, but hey, I don’t work in marketing. At one point near the bottom, Starr and Lookout merge. Just below the merge point is a steeper patch that is pretty much always extremely icy, as there is a natural spring there. There is a traverse through the woods on skiers left, just where the trails merge. It shoots through to Liftline, and lets you avoid that icy bit if you want to. As far as the Front Four” go, in all reality, Liftline and National are too wide to be genuinely double black trails, especially when Liftline is groomed. They still carry the double black designation because of the “Front Four” marketing.
From there Lord drains into a system of blue trails, all of which are great cruisers. Gulch is rated blue, but is usually allowed to bump up. There is one more steep trail, which is Hackett’s Highway. Hackett’s is the lift line right of way for the Mansfield Triple. It's a very fun trail, rated a double black. It has extremely varied terrain, with a few optional drops you can take. If you're on Hackett's, watch your head. There are points where the chair is pretty low. I mean really low. I have stood on that trail and given other instructors high fives as they passed by on a chair.
If you’re not going to take any of the frontside steep trails, you can also opt to take Ridgeview, which leads into the Sunrise trail. Those run generally parallel to Lord, and they intersect Lord at a couple points, and empty out more or less into the same work of blue trails that Lord/North Slope empties into.
If you are interested in some moguls that are not too challenging, as an intro to ungroomed terrain, there are a few spots on the mountain definitely worth checking out. As mentioned, Gulch is a blue that is usually bumped up. Once National crosses below the Midway trail, it is also a mellow blue with some good bumps. Upper T-line is another, which is also a narrow trail that can act as a great step forward, getting you ready for the tighter lines of a Goat, Starr, or most of the trees on the mountain. If you have done well with that progression, you can step over to Spruce and do Upper Smugglers, which is an ungroomed narrow black, but is fairly low angle for a black at Stowe, so allows you another stepping stone before heading onto Chin Clip or Starr.
Fitting into the “left is steep, right is less” is Toll Road. TR is a very long, winding green that comes all the way from the top of the Quad and is the ski area’s right hand boundary for the majority of its length. It can be a fun, easy cruise if you’ve got time on your hands. Be aware though, if you follow Toll Road all the way to the bottom, you will end up at the Toll House area, which is well away from the main Mansfield base… and if you get down there late in the day, you can get stuck there. Instead, make sure you turn onto Lullaby Lane, where you can hit Crossover to get back to where you want to go.
Base of the Toll House Double. A very long way from anything.
Crossover is a good thing to know about, too. As the name suggests, it crosses over pretty much the entire face of Mansfield. The nice thing about that is if you are above Crossover, you can get pretty much anywhere you want to go on the mountain. Even if you are all the way over on Toll Road, you can take Crossover all the way to the Gondola base and Midway. The other important bit about Crossover is that if you get below Crossover on any trail to skiers’ right of North Slope, you will have a very tough time getting back to the Quad, if that’s what you want to do. You can do it, but it’s going to require some skating.
Mt Mansfield Chin, with Gondola trails
Okay, now that I’ve mentioned the Gondola, let’s move over to the Gondi trails, and explain them. The Gondi trails are pretty simple to explain, as there are only a few of them. The main trails are Gondolier and Perry Merrill. Both are blues, with Gondolier to the left off the Gondi, PM to the right.
Gondolier loops around the Waterfall, then follows Gondola straight back down the mountain to Midway and the gondi barn.
Gondola, with Perry Merrill in background
Perry Merrill does the same thing around the Waterfall, and then takes a slightly more winding path back to the base, more or less parallel to Gondolier. The other blue trail off the gondi is Switchback, which does in fact wind and switch back on itself all the way down the mountain. It is a little narrower than the other two trails, and usually isn’t groomed much or at all.
The one main black trail off the gondola is Chin Clip. Take a left and go down Gondolier, then when Gondolier takes a hard right , you go straight through the rope gate and onto Chin Clip. Chin Clip is never groomed, and becomes a continuous mile of bumps all the way to its junction with Switchback.
Lastly, there is the Waterfall trail, which goes straight down from the top of the gondola, It’s a black trail, and is never groomed. The marked Waterfall trail ends when it joins Switchback; it doesn’t actually go over the physical waterfall. Past Switchback, it’s a closed trail and you can have your pass taken away if you take it. In more practical terms, hucking the waterfall looks super tempting, but the landing is really flat. I’ve seen a ton of black eyes and busted up lips from guys and gals who have taken a knee to the face after landing flat going over the drop.
The Waterfall itself. Pay no mind to the guy flipping off of it.
General Navigation tips for Stowe
Some general things to know about lifts and such at Stowe. The quad opens at 8AM on weekdays, and 7:30 on weekends holidays. You have to be up very early to get first chair at Stowe! Gondi opens at 8:30 every day, along with the Meadows Quad at Spruce. All the other lifts on Spruce and the secondary lifts at Mansfield open at 9:00.
Avoiding lift lines can be pretty easy, if you know what you’re doing. If the Quad is slammed, you can shoot over to the Lookout Double. It never has a line, and accesses all the terrain the Quad does, with the exception of Nosedive.
Some people tend to migrate from the Mansfield side to the Spruce side after lunch. Because of the way the mountains are situated, most of Mansfield becomes shadowed in early afternoon, especially during December and January. Spruce remains sunny throughout most of the afternoon.
As I’ve hinted above, navigating between the Quad and the Gondi can take some planning to do it in the easiest way.
If you’re on the Gondi, and want to get to the Quad, the best thing is to take Cliff Trail, which is off of Perry Merrill. This leads you to Nosedive. Only thing is, if you stay on Nosedive, you’ll end up back at the Gondi base. To get to the Quad, the best thing to do is hang a hard right onto Midway, and take that over to Liftline. Best advice, there’s a steep bit after you join Nosedive, that leads to a fairly flat stretch. You’re going to take that hard right after the flatter stretch, and it is a little uphill… so carry some speed into the turn to make it without skating or stepping.
I know, it’s a little tricky, but once you figure it out, it works fine.
Going from Quad to Gondi is much easier. As I said above, you can pretty much take any trail, and then hit Crossover, which will eventually lead you to the Gondi base. Crossover is the mother of all cat tracks, so be careful. It also flattens out just at the end, so it’s a good idea to carry a little speed across it if you can, within reason.
Also hinted at, Nosedive takes you from the top of the Quad, and will drop you right at the Gondi base. Off of Nosedive you can also take Rimrock, which will lead you to Perry Merrill, and from there to the Gondi.
Summit Lodges on Mansfield
Octagon- So, we’ve covered base lodges, and the trails… Now up at the top, there are two summit lodges to talk about. At the top of the Quad is the Octagon. The Octagon has cafeteria style food, and a deck for warm weather that gives you some awesome views of the Chin. It’s a popular spot to take a break due to being so convenient. Because of that, it’s a place to avoid between 10 and 11 AM on weekends, since MMSC (the local youth race team) and any ski school lesson that goes up the mountain uses that for their morning breaks. The downstairs of the Octagon during those times is packed with kids, and there’s always one or two tables of shell-shocked looking adults who had no idea what they were getting themselves into. But if you’re there and you see an instructor named Mike making sarcastic remarks at his kids, that’s me, feel free to say hi! The flip side of this, the Octagon can be a great place to grab lunch if you play your cards right. All the kids tend to empty out around the same time, which leaves open tables at around 11ish, perfect for an early lunch.
Gondola Top Barn/Cliff House- At the top of the gondola is the top barn. It is commonly called Cliff House, but that’s really just the restaurant inside the top barn. Cliff House is a sit down restaurant, which serves some really great food, so much so that some people ride the gondola up just to eat lunch there. They also do dinners on some Saturday nights, if that floats your boat. Also in the gondola barn is a gift shop, and a small warming area downstairs next to ski patrol. Most importantly, the gondola top barn is home to one of the two Waffle Cabins on the mountain (the other one is adjacent to the gondola base barn). If the WC is open, you’ll know it the instant the gondi doors open, because the smell fills the whole barn. If you have kids with you, you’ll also know it, as they will immediately ask “can we get waffles!?!?” The answer is yes, you can get waffles. As they are sweet, delicious, and can come covered in chocolate. And you’re on vacation. Treat yourself. If you want to deny your children sweet chocolatey goodness, plan ahead. The WC is strategically placed so as to be unavoidable for those exiting the gondola.
As mentioned above, a big chunk of Spruce Peak is dedicated to green-rated terrain, which means it is where a large majority of the beginners are, and it is where nearly all lessons take place as well. Spruce Peak is generally divided into “Little Spruce” and “Big Spruce”, which were the names of the old doubles that used to serve those parts of the mountain. Little Spruce is the lower mountain, Big Spruce is the upper mountain. Little Spruce can also be further split up into the mostly green terrain off of the Meadows Quad, and the mostly blue terrain off of the Sunny Spruce Quad.
Meadows Quad/Learning terrain- Standing at the base of Spruce, right in front of you will be a very wide expanse of open slopes, and that encompasses the majority of the green terrain at Stowe. Near the base of the Meadows Quad, there is a magic carpet which is available for the use of everyone. There is a second magic carpet next to the base of the Adventure Triple, but that is only for use by children's lesson programs.
The next step up for terrain is Inspiration, a very gentle green slope that is serviced by the Adventure Triple, although many people call it the Inspiration lift, as Inspo is the only trail that particular lift serves.
After Inspiration, there is the wide expanse of terrain served by the Meadows Quad. From the Meadows Quad, you can get to Catwalk, Lower Meadows, and Easy Street, all of which are very accommodating green trails. Also off the Meadows Quad is Upper Meadows, which is a short but slightly steep blue trail, perfect for the first taste of steeper skiing for those who are working their way up. Competition Hill is also off the Meadows Quad, which is a blue trail used primarily for races and race training, but is free to use when there is no event going on.
This area described is ground zero for lessons and beginners. Fortunately it is wide open, and these slopes rarely feel overloaded by lessons. However, there is one thing to be very cautious about. If you look at a map, you realize that Lower Meadows and Easy Street are one giant wide open slope that is over 250 yards wide at its top, but gradually funnels down, until it abruptly comes to a pretty tight bottleneck at the bottom, less than 50 yards wide. So be cautious as you get down near the lifts, as you’ll have novices traversing into the bottleneck from Easy Street, coming straight down from Meadows, and oftentimes racers zipping across from Comp Hill to get back to the Meadows Quad. It can be a little wild in that zone.
Sunny Spruce- To the looker’s left of the learning terrain is the Sunny Spruce Quad. This lift takes you a bit further up the mountain, and accesses a network of blue trails. West Run and East run are both fun, narrow runs. Side Street tends to take a ton of traffic, and there is one short pitch that inevitably bumps up and causes some carnage for unsuspecting skiers without the skills to handle it. Lower Smugglers is a blue, but has one short pitch on it which is as steep as any of the blacks on the mountain. Some of the trails off Sunny Spruce empty down onto the Meadows terrain, the rest of it empties out onto West Slope/Slalom Hill, another fairly steep blue.
Big Spruce/Sensation- The last part of the trail network on Spruce is that part which is accessed by the Sensation Quad. The base of Sensation is kind of tucked away, and can’t really be seen. To get to it, you go past the MMSC building near the top of the Meadows Quad, and it’s sitting in a little hollow. Because of its location on Spruce, and because it is somewhat hidden away, the Sensation is never busy, even on the busiest of days and the busiest of times. I have never waited more than 2 minutes to load that particular lift.
From the top of Sensation, you can ski Main Street, which is a decent black. There is also the Main Street Race course, which is probably one of the best GS courses on the East Coast. Unfortunately, it is hardly ever open to the public. Sometimes you can snag a run if you are there late season or on some weekdays when MMWA isn’t training. Also off Sensation is Upper Smugglers, a narrow, fun little black trail, as well as Spruce Line, which is a double black that has a gladed exit. If you start down Spruce Line, you have to ski through trees to come back out. The top of Spruce Line is often tough, because of the rocky fill the used to build the Sensation top station. You can use a cut through from Whirlaway to avoid this. Whirlaway is another fun black trail. Sterling is the one blue trail that comes off the top of Sensation. However, Sterling only leads back to the base of the Sensation lift, and doesn’t allow access to the rest of the mountain. If you want to get back to any base area, you have to take a black.
So, that’s the rundown of the trails at Stowe.
Beyond the trails
Many of you have likely been skimming through the trail rundown and going “Yeah yeah… but what about the goods? Where do I go for good trees?” Well, let’s talk about that. There are tons of spots inbounds, and of course there is out of bounds to consider as well. I’ll start with inbounds stuff.
There are two spots in bounds where it is ill-advised to go. First are the woods between Nosedive and Goat. Those woods were destroyed in a microburst a couple summers ago, and there is really no safe way through them. They are marked as such, and this is one of those occasions where the warnings are serious. The other spot is between Nosedive and Perry Merrill, below Rimrock and Cliff trail. This leads into a ravine which is extremely difficult to get out of. People get stuck in there all the time, and getting out is not fun at all. Trust me, I’ve had to do it a couple times.
Official/semiofficial glades- There are a few glades that are marked on the Stowe trail map. These are usually well trafficked, but they are actually still some pretty nice spots. Starting with the easiest, there are Sunrise Glades and Chapel Glades. The entrance to Sunrise glades is on Sunrise, just below its intersection with Toll Road, on skiers right. Sunrise Glades exit leads directly to Chapel Glades entrance. These glades are low angle, fairly open, and great to introduce kids to tree skiing. Christie Glades is just below the 5th Ave rail park, and is still fairly mellow and open, a fairly quick dip into the trees.
Tres Amigos is a steeper, more serious set of trees, whose entrance is on the left of Hayride, about halfway down the trail, across from where Maiden Lane intersects with Hayride. It is still fairly open, but steeper and a little more technical.
Lookout Glades are located between Starr and Lookout, and can be accessed off the S-53. As you can imagine, a set of glades between two double blacks is going to be fairly steep and challenging.
Nosedive Glades are the last “official” glade of note on Mansfield, and random trivia is that Nosedive Glades were originally cut back in the 30’s, so they’re probably the oldest maintained glades you’ll ski. They are located to skiers left of Nosedive below the intersection with Rimrock. Most of the actual entrances to those glades are on Rimrock.
On Spruce, there are two official glades. Meadows East is just off the top of the Meadows Quad, if you go towards Upper Meadows, and head straight into the woods. Ridge Glades are off of Ridge Run, just off of the Sunny Spruce lift. Both are short, but fun.
Unofficial trees, inbounds- In addition to the marked glades on the trail map, Stowe allows a boundary to boundary policy, so if there isn’t a rope, you can ski it. There are decent spots to ski between most trails, I’ll hit on the better/ more popular ones here. Many of them have commonly used names, although those aren’t always completely consistent from group to group and from year to year. Some are not named, but just known by the trails they’re adjacent to.
The Riverbed- As the name suggests, it is a frozen over river, which more resembles a trail than a glade. The entrance is on skiers right off Chin Clip, below Last Exit. It is open, but has a number of slightly technical sections that make it not your normal graded trail. Since it is a water course, it is not advisable to ski this once the thaw starts. The Riverbed leads into the top of Whitewater
Whitewater- As mentioned, Whitewater can be entered from the Riverbed. It can also be accessed from Switchback. After Switchback splits from Gondolier for the last time, Switchback makes a sharp right turn. If you don’t take the turn and go straight, you enter Whitewater (slow down, it’s a tricky entrance sometimes).
Freeski919 on Big Tomba's
Tomba’s- Entrance to Tomba’s is on skier’s left right toward the top of Perry Merrill, still in sight of Cliff House. If you stay left in Tomba’s, you take Little Tomba, which is just a narrow tree trail. Stay right and you come to the top of Big Tomba, which is an icefall. It isn’t vertical, so you don’t have to catch air, but you do have to go over steep bare ice.
Strawberry Fields- Entrance is right across from the end of Tomba’s. There is a steep gnarly bit that levels out. you can take a 15’ish drop if you go left before you enter the steep bit.
Zig Zag- Entrance is on skiers left on Cliff trail, about 100 feet below the start of the trail. Moderate slope, fairly tight in places. Has the same exit as Strawberry Fields.
General’s Line- Entrance is directly across from the exit of SF/ ZZ. It is a single track that can be fairly narrow. Luge track is an apt description. It’s fast.
Taking a break at the Gondo Condo in Wishbone
Wishbone- Between Gondolier and Perry Merrill, right near the intersection of PM and Rimrock. The entrance is by the trail sign, not hard to miss. You enter a bit of a shallow ravine, then there are multiple paths that lead off the ravine to the right. Take one of those eventually, the lower ravine isn’t that much fun. There is a large stick hut in here, called the Gondo Condo. Be careful not to ski up onto the roof, as it has collapsed in the past and been rebuilt.
Kitchen Wall- The entrance to Kitchen Wall is to the skiers’ right off the top pitch of Perry Merrill. If you take those little side trails to the right, you’ll reach a couple points where you can either take a left fork and end up back on PM, or a right fork which leads out away from the trails. Stick right, and you’ll end up in short order on the KW Traverse. You’ll know it when you find it, it runs along the base of a very large cliff (the Kitchen Wall). Keep your ears open on the traverse, as snow, ice and rock can break off the cliff and come down. You’ll hear it long before it gets to you. I’d suggest going all the way out on the traverse, then dropping down into the woods. There are other spots you can drop off the traverse, but some of those lead to dense nastiness. The Kitchen Wall trails then kind of blend into the upper part of Mac n’ Cheese.
Mac n’ Cheese- A mellow set of fairly low angle glades, the main entrance to which is on Cliff Trail skiers’ right, across the trail from the entrance to High Road. You’ll quickly come out onto an open track, which is the remains of an old maintenance road (the literal High Road). From there, you can drop off at any point to the left into the trees. This set of trees is popular with kids, particularly because it is easier for kids to navigate in a number of spots due to low hanging branches. The first part of Mac n’ Cheese empties out onto Rimrock. From there, you can drop back off Rimrock and continue into lower MnC. That empties out onto Cliff Trail. Just be VERY careful on exiting back onto Cliff Trail, as there are many, many near collisions on that trail from people dropping out of the woods without looking.
Bypass Woods- Remember when I talked about Nosedive Glades? Well, above Nosedive Glades is Bypass woods, the entrance to which is on, you guessed it, Bypass. Much steeper and more technical than the Nosedive Glades below it, if you take certain routes and higher entrances into them, there are mandatory drops. Best to navigate those with someone who knows them first time out.
Partridge- Between Liftline/National and Goat. Entrance is at the Haychute entrance to Goat. Steep, tight and technical to start, widens out a little before dumping you onto National. Good alternative to Goat woods since GW was killed.
Starr woods- Between Starr and Upper National. You can enter from the very top of Starr and immediately head into the woods on skiers right. Many people use that initial pitch to avoid the headwall of Starr, which is often very icy. It’s only a few fairly narrow chutes at that point, which open up considerably below the S-53. Fun woods that usually dump you out onto Liftline or onto the lower bit of Starr, depending on the line you take.
Out of bounds/ Backcountry
Not bad advice
Here is my spiel on out of bounds skiing around Stowe Mountain Resort. There is a TON of it. On both Mansfield and Spruce Peak, there is extensive opportunity to go beyond the trail network and find hundreds of acres of skiing. However, it’s also dangerous out there. From the resort, you can see into the Notch, and one of the most prominent features are massive cliffs. We’re talking 500-1000’ sheer faces. People can, and have, skied right off the edge of those before. Even a professional with Meathead Films fell off one a few years ago. So the best advice is to go with someone who knows where they’re going, especially if you’re heading up to the Chin (summit), and into the Notch. Because of that, I won’t be giving any detail on routes that originate from the summit ridge of Mansfield. You need more than an internet guide to head up there.
That being said, there are a couple areas that can be easily accessed and are very popular, to the point of being mentioned in an article in Powder Magazine.
Seriously, pretty good advice
The Bench- The Bench is the name for a long traverse that leads toward the Notch from Chin Clip. The entrance to the traverse is extremely obvious below Last Exit on skier’s left, as you will see a ton of tracks going into it, and a sign informing you that you are leaving the ski area and responsible for your own rescue. It’s named the Bench because at the end of the traverse, there is a fallen tree that is still attached to its stump, and it is usually at the right height to sit on like a bench.
The Bench, dispensing its wisdom
That is as far as it’s advisable to go if you aren’t familiar with the area. I’d still strongly advise skiing with a local, even in this area. At any point between the entrance to the traverse and the Bench itself, there are numerous places to drop off the traverse and ski. Just be aware that once you get past the first few drop ins, the lines you will take will no longer lead back to the resort, but rather will drop you into the Notch, onto Route 108 itself. Route 108 is closed in the winter, and can easily be skied on, but there are some flat stretches and uphill bits. So be prepared to skate or hike out if you continue out onto the traverse.
The Bruce- Beyond the opposite boundary from the Bench is the Bruce. The Bruce is the very first trail that was ever cut on Mt Mansfield by the Civilian Conservation Corps back in the ‘30’s. When Stowe drew the boundaries for the ski area a few years later, they left the Bruce outside the line, because it leads so much further down the mountain that it wasn’t practical to get people back to the main base area from there. To get onto the Bruce, you head straight off the Fourrunner Quad, toward Nosedive/Toll Road. Hang a left toward Toll Road, and you’ll immediately see a rope straight ahead.
Rope at the top of the Bruce
That’s the entrance, and the one time where it’s absolutely permitted to duck a rope at Stowe, as long as you are aware that you’re leaving the resort. The Bruce has a steep and somewhat winding top section, and is very narrow, as narrow as the top of Goat, 15-20’ for the most part. You will see a few branches off of the main trail. Stick to the main trail. Like we mentioned, you are beyond the boundary of the resort, and none of the branches lead back. Once you are out on the Bruce, you’re pretty much committed to it all the way down. As you get down the mountain, the trail flattens considerably, and some skating is necessary. You’ll then drop into Stowe’s XC trails, which obviously require more skating/poling. You can take a route back to the XC center, or you can continue downwards, and the Bruce finally ends up coming out onto Ranch Brook Rd. Take your skis off, and walk down Ranch Brook a few hundred feet, and you’re standing on the Mountain Rd, a couple hundred feet away from the Matterhorn. You can take a shuttle bus back up to the base from there, but you’re better advised stopping at the ‘Horn for a beverage or two before that.
Off Mountain activities
Our little trip down the Bruce to the Matterhorn offers the perfect segue from what to do while skiing on the mountain, to what to do after you’re done skiing.
Inside the lair. Note the mugs.
The most popular spot to stop for apres is, in fact, the Matterhorn, or “The Horn”. The Horn is the first place you run into after leaving SMR property, at the bottom of Harlow Hill. Its your typical apres bar, with lots of beers, beat up floors scuffed from decades of ski boots, and typically eyeball deep with locals and mountain employees. There are pool tables, an arcade room in the back, and on the back deck there is a sushi bar, which serves up surprisingly good sushi. In fact, all of the food is surprisingly good for an old ski bar that looks like a bit of a dive. But this is Stowe, there aren’t any real dives. If you see someone holding a big beer mug covered in stickers, it would do you well to chat them up, maybe buy them a beer or two to loosen their tongues about the best spots to ski on the mountain. Mugs only go to regulars who work on the mountain. And I mean very regular. Yours truly, who has been at Stowe since 2010, does not have a mug, because I have a wife and kids at home, so don’t head to the Horn often enough to score myself a coveted mug. Mug bearers are a wealth of knowledge if you treat them nicely. Which means buying them beers.
Heading down the Mountain Road, the next places of interest will be clustered around the intersection with Luce Hill Road. There you’ll find Piecasso, great place to get pizza and such. Next door is Idletyme brewing, formerly Crop Bistro, formerly The Shed. They make some really great beers, and have good food too. Across the street from that is the Alchemist visitor center. You know, Heady Topper. Best beer in the world? Yeah, that Alchemist. Just a touch down the road is Stowebowl, which is a new popular spot for family bowling.
Around the next bend coming down the hill, you’ll find the Rusty Nail, which is a large bar/nightclub that often has good music acts. The Nail was closed for a few years, but is back and has regained its spot as one of the more popular places on the Mountain Road. Right next door is Sushi Yoshi, which serves… sushi. Obviously.
The last two places before you get down into Stowe Village proper that we’ll mention are The Bench and Doc Ponds. The Bench is Freeski’s favorite place to go in Stowe. Their food is excellent, and their beer list is enough to satisfy this beer enthusiast any day of the week. Finally, Doc Ponds is a bar that specializes in top notch craft beer, and has the best beer list in town. It has a hipster chic vibe, with a huge collection of vinyl they constantly play.
Stowe Village- Once you drive the 7 ½ miles down the Mountain Road from the base of the mountain, you end up in Stowe Village itself. The village encompasses a few blocks, easily walkable. The village centers more or less on the Stowe Mercantile and Shaw’s General Store. Both are good stores to browse. Harrison’s restaurant is a great place to eat in the Village, and the Vermont Ski Museum has a lot of interesting stuff.
Waterbury and beyond- Chances are if you’ve come to Stowe, you drove up I-89 and got off at exit 10. Exit 10 is located in Waterbury, a town that exists for two purposes. Ice cream and beer. The Ben and Jerry’s Factory is immediately evident on Route 100 North soon after you get off the exit to come up to Stowe. Unless you have kids, skip the tour and just get some ice cream at the scoop shop up front. That’s it for ice cream.
On to brass tacks… beer. Waterbury is often nicknamed “Beerbury”, and for good reason. It is the original home of the Alchemist, and the main brewery/cannery is still there, just no longer open to the public. Also in town is the Reservoir, aka The Rez, which has an extensive beer list. Even better than that is the Blackback Pub, which has a killer tap list, with Heady often on tap, and numerous Hill Farmstead offerings. Just a roll down the hill from that is Prohibition Pig, which was the location of the original Alchemist brewpub prior to the flood caused by Tropical Storm Irene in 2011. ProPig has its own brewery behind the restaurant itself, which brews up some tasty stuff. And right across the street from the ProPig brewery is the Craft Beer Cellar, where you can load up your trunk with a variety of Vermont beers to bring home. It really is fantastic, because all of these places are within a hundred yards of each other.
Church Street Marketplace, Burlington
If you are looking for other things to do, you can also head up to Burlington. The biggest city in Vermont with a whopping 42,000 people, Burlington has a lot of great restaurants, shops, bars, and yes, more breweries. It’s a little less than an hour from Stowe, half hour from Waterbury. If you have non-skiing members of the party, if the weather doesn’t cooperate, or you want something else to do in the evening after you ski, Burlington is an excellent option. More details on Burlington would be a whole other unofficial guide, so I’ll just say there’s lots to do.
*Photo credits to freeski919, KevinF, M. Kelsey, K. Lindemer, and S. Braaten