If winter is behaving the way it should, you won’t even see Manchester’s miles of white marble sidewalks, where 19th-century summer “rusticators” once proudly promenaded: They’ll be covered with snow. Still, there’s no mistaking the moneyed history of this resort town, which has been attracting skiers for two centuries. Townspeople may have balked at the influx of designer outlets a few decades back, but the 50-odd shops are in Manchester Center, leaving the original Manchester, a mile away, pristine. Moreover, with a half-dozen ski resorts within a 60-mile radius, shopping won’t be foremost on your mind.
If you get an early start—figure three hours from Boston—you could spend the afternoon either trolling the shops in town or warming up at Bromley, a classic ski area only six miles east on Route 11. It’s smallish and not terribly challenging, but it’s an ideal place to get your ski legs, especially late in the day, once the sun has softened its south-facing slopes. By then, crowds on popular blues like Thruway—accessible off the central Sun Mountain Express—will have thinned out. The Blue Ribbon Quad, to the east, lets you cycle a handful of (relative) blacks such as Avalanche and its sidekick, Avalanche Glade, ad infinitum, without having to weave through the masses at the base.
If you opt for retail therapy instead, don’t miss the cluster of charming shops near Elm Street, including Robin Lane Clothing (elegantly drapy natural fabrics) and the Italian deli, Al Ducci’s, where a snack involving homemade mozzarella will tide you over until dinner. When you’ve had your fill, check into your lodging, the thoroughly grand Equinox Hotel, which, in its 240-year history, has hosted four presidents—Taft, Grant, Harrison and Teddy Roosevelt ($200–$900;
Unwind from the drive with a visit to the hotel’s 13,000-square-foot spa. After a maple rub massage or a soak in the outdoor hot tub, you’ll be primed for a hearty dinner ensconced in a wing chair in the hotel’s historic core, the 1769 Marsh Tavern. Or if you’re in the mood for a stroll, consider chef Jeff Dain’s superb cuisine just down the street at the Reluctant Panther Inn (
Do not even glance at the lavish breakfast buffet in the hotel’s elegant, barrel-vaulted Colonnade Room, lest you be sucked in; those pleasures are best reserved for tomorrow, when you’re not trying to beat the weekend crowds descending on Stratton. Instead, stop en route for a retro breakfast at Bob’s Diner (802-362-4681), then head for the mountain, a half-hour west off Route 30. Get there early enough and you can claim a parking spot in the garage beneath the base village. Too late? Don’t fall for the satellite lots down the road. Forge on to the Sun Bowl lot, because this easterly extension is where the best morning skiing is, anyway.
Sun Bowl Lodge’s miniaturized version of Stratton’s sprawling main base has everything you’ll need: rentals, cafeteria and the Sunrise Express six-pack, which serves green and blue lower slopes and connects to the upper mountain’s equally speedy Shooting Star lift. Most of the slopes up top are black diamonds, with a few double-black glades and chutes. Those in the know immediately drop into the woods at the barely visible Test Pilot entry, skier’s right off Upper Kidderbrook. That’s where, in 2005, Olympian Bill Koch hand-carved a warren of gladed trails studded with natural jumps.
This stash is unknown to the majority of cruisers who populate these slopes; but most of them will vouch for the intermediate-friendly qualities of broad Kidderbrook. The trail’s only flaw, shared with neighboring Middlebrook, is a flattish runout toward the base: Snowboarders, beware. That said, this whole upper/eastern segment of the mountain is ideal for switching off between single- and double-blacks. Alternating between the Shooting Star and Ursa Express lifts, you can focus on some of the mountain’s most challenging terrain: precipitous Bear Down and the glades flanking Grizzly Bear and Polar Bear.
Eventually you’ll want to make your way over to the main mountain face, where the bulk of the skiing population tends to cluster. Most people cycle on the gondola, and you’ll want to, too—ideally around lunchtime, when everyone’s inside. Score your own slopeview lunch at Grizzly’s (juicy Vermont-raised beef burgers with sides of “Grizzly’s frizzlies”) on the early side—say, 11-ish. Then take advantage of the temporarily shortened gondola lines to swoop down some broad, mild blacks like North American and Upper Standard. Cross under the gondola to check out the fun pop-in glades to skier’s left of Upper Standard. And when the gondola lines stretch out, hop the American Express to midmountain and take Snow Bowl Alley to access Stratton’s west side. Blues and greens—pleasant meanderers like Wanderer and Drifter—line the periphery, and the Meadows offer beginners the thrill of an easy upper-mountain run. Leave enough time before the lifts close to get back to Sun Bowl (if you parked there) by working your way back across Stratton’s main face.
You’ll be dining early right on the mountain—on the Mediterranean cuisine of Verde in the main base area—so you’ve got an hour or two to fill: Take a yoga class at Stratton’s Sports Center, visit the slopeside spa or return to Grizzly’s for an après-ski brew. And if, after a feast of lobster sunchoke bisque and grilled hamachi you’re not ready to call it, there’s always dancing at the Red Fox Inn’s big old barn at the bottom of the access road (
Now’s the time to tuck into the Equinox’s generous breakfast spread while most people are busy getting in some last runs prior to packing up the car and heading home. From noon on, the on-mountain head count diminishes drastically. It’s prime time to revisit some of your favorite runs from yesterday or branch off onto any you may have missed: Stratton is big and varied enough to support a few days of exploration. The chance to dally in relative solitude more than offsets the prospect of driving home in the dark.
You’ll be packing plenty of pleasant memories to mull over en route—and if time has allowed, possibly even a few bags of discounted designer loot, too.
SIGNPOST: STRATTON & BROMLEY
253 skiable acres; 2,003 vertical feet; 180 annual inches; 90 trails; 16 lifts. Lift tickets (’07–’08 prices): $78, teens 13–17 $66, children 7–12 $55, seniors 65–69 $66, seniors 70 and over $55, children 6 and under $5.
, 800-787-2886. Snow phone: 802-297-4211
175 skiable acres; 1,334 vertical feet; 145 annual inches; 45 trails; 10 lifts. Lift tickets: $63, teens 13–17 $55, children 6–12 $37, seniors 65–69 $55, seniors 70 and over $39, 5 and under ski free.
, 802-824-5522. Snow phone: 866-856-2201.
From Boston, take Route 2 West to reach I-91 North to Exit 2 to Route 30. The resort is 38 miles north on Route 30 in Bondville.
- SKI Magazine, November 2008