Less than Stoweked – A Stowe Mountain Ski Area Review

Alternative title: In which I bite the hand that skis with me.

I spent the winter riding up, down, all over Stowe Mountain Resort. Bombing trails, bumping moguls, ducking in and out of trees, and sometimes avoiding cliffs and ice flows. (But only sometimes.)

Stowe is a great area.

A true Stowe powder day
Two words: powder day.

But I’m not going back next year. And I’m not bummed out about it.

I got my season pass at a steep discount. A lucky break for me, really, as I’m poor. My very impressive Helly Hansen jacket is a hand-me-down. My new skis were bought on sale. The rest of my equipment is either ancient, a hand-me-down, or a Christmas present.

I love skiing on Mt. Mansfield. It’s an awesome, gnarly mountain with the steep pitches and tight chutes that make my heart go rat-a-tat-tat. If Stowe was the only resort on this mountain, I would seriously consider sleeping in my car to afford to ride there. But it’s not. Smuggler’s Notch is just on the other side of the slope. You can even ski between them.

View of Stowe from Smuggler's Notch
Oh hey there, Stowe. You’re looking pretty today.

That about sums up why I like Stowe, but don’t love it.

There’s also this: I’m sure they put a lot of money into their facilities, ski programs, and whatever else. None of which I use. They have fast, efficient chairlifts that carry more than two people. That’s nice, but I don’t really care.

Then again, that 4.7 million dollars they spent on a new snow making system… that is awesome. Their man-made snow is just as fun to play in as the real thing and the investment meant my first day of skiing was November 10th. Nowhere else comes close in snow making ability and quality, and in the temperamental winters of New England, that counts for a lot.

And the locals. Stowe locals are amazing. While I’ve probably pissed them all off by writing this, I must say that they are the best damn riders in New England. I’m a much better skier having spent a winter chasing them down the mountain, and when I go back (because I will. This winter and in winters to come), it’s because of them.

But I won’t miss snide comments overheard in the lift line that were so stereotypically moneyed American that I wanted to reach across the ropes and smack them. I also won’t miss the poorly concealed “Oh, you’re one of those,” when I tell people where I ride.

I love Mt. Mansfield. But I don’t love Stowe. The positives (of which there are many, many) are still outweighed by an overarching sense of disquiet. I belong somewhere quite a bit weirder.

Get out to Stowe and form your own opinion. Let me know what you think. And Stowe-folk, please don’t hate me.

Friends on powder days

Skiing at Smuggler's Notch
Slacking on my home turf.

“Joy is the response of a lover receiving what he loves. This is the joy we feel when skiing powder… This overflowing gratitude is what produces the absolutely stupid, silly grins that we always flash at one another at the bottom of a powder run. We all agree that we never see these grins anywhere else in life”

Dolores LaChapelle

I said goodbye too soon – turns out, winter’s not done with us here in Vermont.

On Smuggler’s Notch yesterday, four inches of light, fluffy powder felt like six. Wind scoured some of the upper trails to frozen spring ice, but deposited it lovingly in the precious, sheltered woods. My first run, I hit a pillow and stepped out of my skis, face-first into a wind-pushed drift a foot deep.

New friends on powder days
The smile says it all.

After that, I met up with a friend-of-a-friend, but by the second run we were real friends. Nothing helps you get to know someone like a long, windy ride on a double chair. Except for maybe the winding way down, ducking in and out of the woods. Turns out, contrary to popular belief, you make the best friends on powder days.

The day was perfect from start to finish – powder turns  on the trails, powder turns in the glades, and powder turns in the slackcountry. I relaxed into the rhythm of bumps beneath my skis, flying through the woods empty but for the two of us… Exactly what my spirit needed.

Smuggler’s Notch was my mountain when I first moved to Vermont. Pulling into the parking lot at 7:45 in the morning, it felt like coming home.

Guilty as charged

I feel guilty.

This weekend was busy – I wrote, read, spent time with relatives, ran around my beautiful city with my handsome friends.

Sunday, I alternated between reading, watching LOST, doing laundry, and just snoozing in the sunbeam thrown across my couch.

This was all very pleasant. But… no matter what I do, I just can’t shake the feeling… that I should have been skiing.

To make matters worse, I woke up Monday morning to every ski area in a two hour radius celebrating their new-fallen snow. 7″ at Stowe. 6″ – 10″ at Smuggler’s Notch.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m glad the snow’s back. We need it. But I wish I was in it, up to my boot tops in fluffy white…

How will I make it to Thursday night race league? By taking deep breaths. By wobbling my way through yoga poses in my bedroom. By walking to the shores of Lake Champlain at lunchtime.

In short, I can’t way to be in the mountains again.

Stowe's Forerunner Quad
One blissful day in November.