Ski Town: Burlington, Vt.

Life on Lake Champlain is rife with craft beer, delicious ice cream, groovin' tunes, and some of the best skiing the Green Mountain State has to offer.
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Burlington illustrated map

Burlington in all its glory.

Us Burlingtonians have got it pretty good, living here in a vibrant little city on the edge of Lake Champlain. And while you might not know it, there’s more to us than craft beer, Ben & Jerry’s, and Phish cover bands (not that there’s anything wrong with those...).

Let’s talk skiing. Within an hour’s drive are the slopes of Stowe, Mad River Glen, and Sugarbush. Another half hour gets you to the fabled glades of Jay Peak. Closer in, families love Cochran’s and Bolton Valley. It’s no surprise that every third Subaru has a well-used Thule box atop it.

Read more: Ski Town - Crested Butte, Colo.

Beers at Zero Gravity

Pints of beer at Zero Gravity.

And chances are that Subaru (the Vermont State Car) is driven by a University of Vermont student, past or present. Many UVMers, understandably, are attracted by the skiing, and the school’s reputation vacillates between party school and public ivy. Lately it has trended back toward solid academics and research, though the kids still bring plenty of spirit to the downtown scene.

With the campus at the top, the city rises from the shore of the lake, which is as beautiful in winter as it is in summer. Across the cold water, some 10 miles wide, the sun sets behind some of the most pristine expanses of the Adirondacks, including Whiteface, Mt. Marcy, and the Gothics. And the waterfront, once industrial, has become a first-rate public amenity, with a community boat house, the Lake Champlain Science Center, bike paths, bars, and restaurants.

hen of the wood oysters

The oysters at Hen of the Wood are worth a night in Burlington.

The real action, though, is up the hill on Church Street—a four-block, tree-lined pedestrian promenade lined with shops and restaurants. Warm holiday lights set the historic red-brick facades aglow as locals and visitors mingle and laugh. On snowy nights, it’s a particularly beautiful downtown scene.

For such a small city, Burlington’s contributions to the cultural and political landscape are outsized: Ben & Jerry’s, Phish, Bernie, and the late, great Jim Jeffords. And now, really good craft beer, which draws droves of visitors, mostly of a type the locals don’t mind having around. Some of whom, after a delicious pint or two of Vermont IPA, might be wondering why they don’t live here, too.

Burlington by the Numbers

  • Population: 42,000
  • Average Income: $46,754 (USD)
  • Median Home Price (at print deadline): $264,300 (USD)
  • Median Age: 27

Read more: Ski Town - Banff, Alb.

Next time you're in the Burlington, Vt. area, stop by some of our favorite places.

Hen of the Wood

Hen of the Wood Burlington

Inside Hen of the Wood in Burlington.

Hen of the Wood, famous for its adventurous farm-to-table, nose-to-tail menu, remains Burlington’s toughest-to-get reservation, so call early. Dollar oysters at 4 p.m. weekdays. Other reliable bets: Leunig’s (classy Continental), Trattoria Delia (high Italian), and Verità (wood-fired pizza on St. Paul Street).

Nectar's

It’s been a while since you could catch Phish live at a half-filled Nectar’s (still there) or The Outback (now a ski shop). But the scene still pulses energetically with both local and regional acts—this is a college town, after all. What's more, the Flynn Theater and Higher Ground also host top-notch national acts throughout the year.

Hotel Vermont

hotel vermont room in burlington

A room at the Hotel Vermont in Burlington.

If you miss hotels with real lobbies, you’ll like Hotel Vermont, completed in 2013. It’s a block from the lake, and its public area is sleek and spacious. Grab a beer at the bar and enjoy the fireplace… if you can find a spot on one of the couches, which are quite popular with the young people on weekend nights.

Onion River Co-Op

Point of local pride: downtown Burlington can’t support a McDonald’s. (The old one is now a farm-to-table restaurant, the Farm House.) Local is sacred here, and if the ski condo pantry needs stocking, Burlington’s downtown grocer, Onion River Co-Op, is a gratifying destination for foodies.

Winooski

Like Brooklyn to Manhattan, Burlington has its hipster borough across the river. Affordable historic stock housing and a downtown renewal plan that actually worked are luring new residents to Winooski, once a gritty mill town. Its short but lively row of bars and restaurants includes James Beard–nominated Misery Loves Company.

Zero Gravity

Pouring beers at Zero Gravity

Pouring beers at Zero Gravity.

Heavens, you tourists are thirsty. “Beerlington” locals keep expecting the suds bubble to burst, but craft breweries just keep popping up all around the city. If you can find a place to park amid the tour buses, try Zero Gravity and Queen City Brewery (across from each other on burgeoning Pine Street). You'll see why they're so popular.

Burlington Local Tip

Joe Cutts

The beloved UVM Dairy Bar is back. It’s where Ben & Jerry learned to make ice cream from the university’s own dairy herd. While on campus, catch a game. The Catamount men are legit D1 basketball contenders, and hockey games at Gutterson Field House are always exciting. - Joe Cutts, former SKI Magazine Gear Test Director and Longtime Burlington Resident.

Originally published in the December 2018 issue of SKI Magazine.

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