2015 Top Ski Towns: Stowe, Vermont

For anyone who grew up in small-town Vermont, the quaint village feels familiar even today.
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For anyone who grew up in small-town Vermont, the quaint village feels familiar even today.
2015 Best Ski Towns: Stowe Vermont tout

It could be argued that Sugarbush serves up the best bucolic beauty in Vermont. If powder’s your game, Jay Peak claims the highest snowfall totals in the state. Many a diehard skier swears on his kids’ rock skis that Mad River has more challenging terrain and better tree skiing than Stowe. Killington offers far more skiable acreage, Whiteface has more vert, and Tremblant has a more vibrant slopeside scene.

But does any place in Vermont, or in the East,
 put together all the key ingredients—the village, the scenery, the terrain, the snow, the amenities—the way Stowe does?

Certainly no ski town in the East has a richer history. It was just another white-clapboard New England farm-and-forestry community when the skiers arrived in the 1930s. Because the sport was so new then, Wall Street investment banker Roland Palmedo and his Manhattan buddies had their pick of Vermont’s mountainsides to develop. Naturally they picked the biggest one, magnificent snowcapped Mount Mansfield.

As new resorts opened in ensuing decades—at one point Vermont had some 70 ski areas—other resorts eclipsed the original in size and skier visits. But Stowe somehow never lost its place as the “ski capital of the East.”

And nostalgia is a big part
 of the charm. For anyone who grew up in small-town Vermont, the quaint village feels familiar even today—the Colonial-style church, the creaky floorboards of Main Street’s stores, the listing, lichened marble monuments in the riverside cemetery, the smell of leaf meal and wood smoke. During the boom years, development got a little crazy. But just before things got too strippy, residents woke up and tightened their zoning laws, so the Mountain Road is still a pleasant drive on a cold snowy morning, its shops and restaurants smartly clustered, its open spaces wisely preserved.

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Perfect? No. Like any ski town, or any Vermont village, it can be a little dull in the shoulder months—Mud Season in the late spring, Stick Season in the late fall. The cost of living has long since driven out most of the town’s multi-generation families. And the super-rich keep building handsome mansions in pastures and maple groves, not bothering to actually live in them for more than a few weeks a year.

But lots of Stowe locals can’t imagine living anywhere else. They’re the cast of characters who animate Stowe and give the town its sense of place. Season after season, you see the same faces greeting each other on village sidewalks, whooping it up in liftlines, turning out to vote on Town Meeting Day. They make the place real, rather than resorty—as real as it was before Palmedo and his cohorts showed up in the ’30s. Sure, it’s a ski town. But it’s also just a town.

So for all the farm-to-table restaurants, rowdy bars, high-end shops, and fancy lodges, maybe that’s what makes it most appealing. Yes, skiing is the common denominator, and the place knows how to share its stoke with visiting skiers. But there’s more to Stowe than that. And that makes all the difference.

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