Stowe Mountain Tour

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The beauty of Stowe is its efficiency: 2,360 vertical feet with no runouts, no boring traverses or two-chair commutes to the summit. The FourRunner Quad is one of the best lifts in all of ski country, a seven-minute ride to the top of it all, with a chance to check conditions on Liftline and National en route. If there's wind, the Lookout Chair accesses all but upper Goat and Nosedive, and the Gondola offers sheltered rides and groomed cruisers, as well as night skiing. If it's cold, mellow out on the sunny slopes of Spruce Peak (pictured at right), enjoying the views across Smugglers' Notch Road to Mt. Mansfield. The road over the Notch to Smugglers' is closed in winter, but Spruce skiers can access Smuggs, and vice versa, through a short summit hike.

Stowe's signature terrain is the fabled Front Four. To the left of the FourRunner Quad there's Starr: so steep you can't see down it till you've committed, with a sinister fence across the top to keep the tourists out. To the right there's Goat: a narrow, nasty gash whose double fall line does its best to pitch would-be conquerors into the hardwoods on skier's left. In between are Liftline and National: precipitous, criss-crossing boulevards mined with bumps and in full view of the quad (and some of skiing's toughest critics). For many at Stowe, the best terrain begins where the trails end: in the woods. For a sample, without getting lost, poke around on the skier's right side of Gondolier.

Advanced-intermediates can handle Liftline-National if it's recently groomed, but are better off on Nosedive or anywhere under the Gondola. Families will be most comfortable at Spruce, under the Gondola or over at the triple. Novices can take the Toll Road all the way from the top of the Quad, a long, lovely switchback-meander through the trees.