Southern Comfort

Travel
Author:
Publish date:

Conveniently close, Vermont's lower latitudes rate high praise. Draw a triangle connecting the trio of peaks just east of Manchester, and plunge into a ski safari.There's a semi-suspension of reality as you head away from the city and toward the cluster of mountains that make up Southern Vermont. Whether you're coming from New York or Boston, Connecticut or New Jersey, it's never a long ride, but it still gives you the feeling of truly heading to somewhere else.

I sense this early one winter morning on the way to Manchester, Vt., my mind warp-speed processing thoughts of work and life as I wind my way north on Route 2 from Boston. The vistas grow more and more rural, and it's been miles since the last fast food franchise slid past when I pull into a dusty country store to stretch and grab a snack. A sign out front promises: "Everything you need! Mud boots! Live bait! Paint ball supplies! I've only driven a couple of hours, but I'm a long way from Boston.

I press on through rolling mountainside farmland until, ahead of me, I see it lingering there: Manchester. Like a land-locked island, it's a town close enough to get to, but far enough from everything to make it a true destination.

And what a destination for skiers. It packs a triple punch: posh Stratton Mountain, family-friendly Bromley and rugged, soulful Magic Mountain—all within a half-hour drive. And Manchester, a quaint, walkable village—crowded but not ruined by its famous outlet stores—never feels dull.

Early settlers were adventurous young city men drawn by the bounty of forests, open land and game they could no longer find back home. Manchester, at a crossroads in the valley between the Taconic and the Green mountains, was a natural stopping place for travelers—a "town of taverns.

Tourists came with the railroad in the late 1880s. They were summer visitors at first. The ski industry arrived in the late 1930s, when beer magnate Fred Pabst founded Bromley Mountain. And while you might argue that outlet stores do not a quaint ski town make, remember that Manchester was originally known as Factory Point for its many riverside mills, and locals are still inclined to refer to it by its former name. So it's only fitting, some say, that factory stores are now Manchester Center's principle industry.

But I didn't come to shop, so I steer my car up Route 30, eastward into the Greens, to start my trip with a day at Stratton, one of New England's most sophisticated resorts. Stratton started life as the playground of wealthy New Yorkers, and to this day it hews to its original mission—providing a first-class ski experience—though now under ownership of the Intrawest conglomerate. That means the grooming is always impeccable and the lifts are always running smoothly. The ski school, where instructors earn enough that they tend to stick around for years, bustles with one of the highest customer retention rates in the industry. The village—blossoming under Intrawest's ownership to include scores of high-end real estate offerings—contains a city block's worth of shops, cafes and restaurants lining a brick street.

On the lift, I ride with Dave Menden, a New York City attorney who likes to hit Stratton for the U.S. Open snowboarding championships each year. "Look, he says, squinting into the midday sun, "I can't ski every weekend, so I want to go to a place I know is going to do it right. For me, this is it. I can count on a great day. Waving goodbye, he sails off down Kidderbrook, the corduroy snow smoothing his way, and I'm confident he'll get what he wants.[pagebreak]By afternoon, Stratton's fast, efficient lifts have delivered me to enough vertical that, despite not having faced any really frightening terrain, I feel as if I've skied as hard as I care to. I head back to Manchester Center, where, at the famed Equinox Hotel, I soothe myself with a "Spirit of Vermont massage. Halfway into this 80-minute treat, my talented therapist quietly asks me to turn over. "I can't, I say with a sigh. "I've melted into the table. The spa—and the grand old hotel itself instill—a sense of utopia. I may be separated from the bustle of thcity, but I'm hardly marooned in the backwoods. Later, at dinner, I tuck into Nana's fried chicken (don't let the name fool you; it's sublime) at the Black Swan and feel the same way. One could get used to this.





The next morning, deliciously hung-over from all the pampering, I pull in at the base of Magic Mountain, a tiny throwback of a place that steals my heart before I've even opened the car door. The centerpiece lift is a fixed-grip double painted bright red, and the base lodge echoes the '70s. I park right in front, where, as I put my ski boots on, fellow skiers introduce themselves to me from cars on either side.

I've long been a lover of the little mountains with big hearts, and today I have the feeling I'm in for a treat. It's my first visit, and much of what I know about the place is from an obituary I've recently read. When the founder of Magic Mountain, Swiss ski instructor and film producer Hans Thorner, died in 2003, the accompanying photo showed him skiing off the roof of a lodge. My kind of guy.

And my kind of mountain. I'm not easily awed, but I can tell you this without reservation: Magic is a mountain that anyone who loves skiing should experience. It lacks the polish of Stratton—and then some—but it's got something you can't fake: the soul of a true ski mountain. That's evident on my first run. A storm brews over the western horizon, but for now it's sunny, and I still need sunglasses as I carve down Whiteout/Up Your Sleeve/ Vertigo, then coast home on Magic Carpet, having taken in Magic's entire 1,700 vertical feet as a warm-up. I'm back on the chair in an instant, and the lift op, who already knows me, sends me back up for what really makes Magic: the un-homogenized steeps and bumps of the upper mountain. On Master Magician and Heart of Magician, I begin to see what people mean when they refer to Magic as the Mad River of the South (southern Vermont, that is). Next run, on Slide of Hans, I know exactly what it's all about. Magic's trails are narrow and wooded, yet south-facing—a delightful combination of challenging yet soothing. And I can't get enough.

True, the area hasn't evolved the way others have. But that's a good thing. And I don't know whether to be contented or concerned by the fact that I'm one of only a handful of skiers on the mountain all day. It wouldn't serve Magic well to be too crowded, but it would be a shame for it to fail. Skiers owe themselves, and the true spirit of skiing, a visit to Magic. As the storm begins to spit and the lifts close, I walk the few steps to my car, not regretting a moment of the older lifts, the simple base lodge or the quieter slopes.

That night I settle into a quiet meal at Bistro Henry, where I have my choice of Pinot Noirs and eat a gourmet meal without feeling the least bit guilty about putting my Magic-weary legs up on a chair. I fall asleep dreaming of Rossi Stratos and steep, ungroomed trails—playthings of my youth.[pagebreak]The next day is family day, which means just about any day at Bromley Mountain. Bromley does the family-friendly thing right—not by pandering exclusively to beginners, but by pleasing everyone. The base area is one simple, central building, and even early on this weekday, it's more than alive, bustling with both vacationers and locals. I ride the speedy Sun Mountain Express quad and take on the front face first. Upper Thruway, a long intermediate cruiser, helps me loosen up and offers long vistas across the valley to Stratton. Then I'm ready to head over to the tougher terrain. I've been told there's fun to be had on Stargazer and Havoc, and it's no lie. Snow is falling hard now, and there's plenty of base below the new stuff, so cutting through bumps and steeps is a joy. By the time I make it all the way over to Pushover, I've had more than my share of on-edge moments. I'm ready for a break on its moderate pitch, and it's not even noon.





Lying somewhere between Magic and Stratton on the soulful-to-sophisticated spectrum, Bromley offers a little of both: a down-home ambience hearkening to the Fred Pabst era, and a tidy, up-to-date base area. It attracts a crowd, but its uphill capacity and downhill choices are abundant and varied enough to keep the mountain feeling fresh and, often enough, all yours. There's a reason locals flock here. The region's first mountain is clearly prime real estate.

At the end of the day, I have to head back to the city—back to life, work and worries. The setting sun's at my back, and I know the ride won't be long, so I veer off and take the long way home. I want the feeling to linger, and it does. Manchester may be conveniently close, but it's a world away from day-to-day life. And that—mud boots and live bait notwithstanding—is what makes it everything you need.

SIGNPOST
MANCHESTER, VT., REGION
Vitals >Stratton Mountain 600 skiable acres
, 2003 vertical feet, 91 trails, 14 lifts (5 high-speed). >Magic Mountain 135 skiable acres, 1,700 vertical feet, 34 trails, 5 lifts. >Bromley Mountain 175 skiable acres, 1334 vertical feet, 44 trails, 10 lifts (1 high-speed.)
Lodging For high-end, you can't do better than the Equinox Resort—historic inn and modern spa, built in 1769 and most recently restored in 1992—located at the edge of Manchester village ($99-$399; 802-362-4700; rockresorts.com). For more affordable accommodations, try the Palmer House Resort, where you can choose from basic motel rooms to modern, well-appointed suites. ($80-$300 per night; 800-917-6245; palmerhouse.com).
Dining In Manchester, the Black Swan has charming ambience and an eclectic, ever-changing menu. Nana's Fried Chicken and Sesame Noodles with cashews on the same page? It works. (802-362-3807; blackswanrestaurant.com) For great Mexican and the best après drinks, try Candeleros Mexican Cantina. (802-362-0836)
Après Ski For a cozy après experience, head to the Bear Bottom Pub at the Inn at Stratton Mountain. With a long list of Vermont beers to choose from, deep couches to sink into, big TVs for watching the game and even a pool table, it's the spot to choose. 802-297-2500.
Don't miss Make like one of the old-time Vermonters by taking a horsedrawn sleigh ride. Departs from the Sun Bowl Ranch. Available weekends and holiday weeks. Reservations, call 802-297-9210.
Getting there From Boston and points southeast, take Route 2 west, then I-91 North to Brattleboro, Vt. (Exit 2), then Route 30 north, which becomes Routes 11/30, heading northwest to its terminus in Manchester Center. From New York City, take I-87 north to Albany (Exit 23), then I-787 east to N.Y. Route 7, which becomes Route 279 at the Vermont border; in Bennington, take Vermont Route 7 north to Manchester Center (Exit 4).
Information >Manchester tourism 800-362-4144, manchestervermont.net. >Stratton Mountain 800-787-2886, stratton.com. >Magic Mountain 802-824-5645; magicmtn.com. >Bromley Mountain 800-865-4786, bromley.com.

JANUARY 2006New York State of MindNew York State of MindKW: traveler, on the road, new york state of mind, new york, holiday valley, feb 06Intro: Holiday Valley may be small in stature, but it's got a big heart—and an even bigger fan club.Content: By the time westward travelers reach Holiday Valley, the craggy Adirondack Mountains have long since given way to the lesser-known rolling hills of New York's modest Allegany range. But while the vertical may wane, the number of skiers and their enthusiasm for sliding certainly don't.

Holiday Valley tops out at about 750 feet of vertical, yet more than 500,000 skiers cruise down its slopes each winter, making it the most popular ski resort in New York. It even racks up more visits than big-name Vermont resorts like Stratton and Stowe. With three base areas spread along a three-mile-long access road, the resort's terrain rambles across a single ridge, but distin the soulful-to-sophisticated spectrum, Bromley offers a little of both: a down-home ambience hearkening to the Fred Pabst era, and a tidy, up-to-date base area. It attracts a crowd, but its uphill capacity and downhill choices are abundant and varied enough to keep the mountain feeling fresh and, often enough, all yours. There's a reason locals flock here. The region's first mountain is clearly prime real estate.

At the end of the day, I have to head back to the city—back to life, work and worries. The setting sun's at my back, and I know the ride won't be long, so I veer off and take the long way home. I want the feeling to linger, and it does. Manchester may be conveniently close, but it's a world away from day-to-day life. And that—mud boots and live bait notwithstanding—is what makes it everything you need.

SIGNPOST
MANCHESTER, VT., REGION
Vitals >Stratton Mountain 600 skiable acres
, 2003 vertical feet, 91 trails, 14 lifts (5 high-speed). >Magic Mountain 135 skiable acres, 1,700 vertical feet, 34 trails, 5 lifts. >Bromley Mountain 175 skiable acres, 1334 vertical feet, 44 trails, 10 lifts (1 high-speed.)
Lodging For high-end, you can't do better than the Equinox Resort—historic inn and modern spa, built in 1769 and most recently restored in 1992—located at the edge of Manchester village ($99-$399; 802-362-4700; rockresorts.com). For more affordable accommodations, try the Palmer House Resort, where you can choose from basic motel rooms to modern, well-appointed suites. ($80-$300 per night; 800-917-6245; palmerhouse.com).
Dining In Manchester, the Black Swan has charming ambience and an eclectic, ever-changing menu. Nana's Fried Chicken and Sesame Noodles with cashews on the same page? It works. (802-362-3807; blackswanrestaurant.com) For great Mexican and the best après drinks, try Candeleros Mexican Cantina. (802-362-0836)
Après Ski For a cozy après experience, head to the Bear Bottom Pub at the Inn at Stratton Mountain. With a long list of Vermont beers to choose from, deep couches to sink into, big TVs for watching the game and even a pool table, it's the spot to choose. 802-297-2500.
Don't miss Make like one of the old-time Vermonters by taking a horsedrawn sleigh ride. Departs from the Sun Bowl Ranch. Available weekends and holiday weeks. Reservations, call 802-297-9210.
Getting there From Boston and points southeast, take Route 2 west, then I-91 North to Brattleboro, Vt. (Exit 2), then Route 30 north, which becomes Routes 11/30, heading northwest to its terminus in Manchester Center. From New York City, take I-87 north to Albany (Exit 23), then I-787 east to N.Y. Route 7, which becomes Route 279 at the Vermont border; in Bennington, take Vermont Route 7 north to Manchester Center (Exit 4).
Information >Manchester tourism 800-362-4144, manchestervermont.net. >Stratton Mountain 800-787-2886, stratton.com. >Magic Mountain 802-824-5645; magicmtn.com. >Bromley Mountain 800-865-4786, bromley.com.

JANUARY 2006New York State of MindNew York State of MindKW: traveler, on the road, new york state of mind, new york, holiday valley, feb 06Intro: Holiday Valley may be small in stature, but it's got a big heart—and an even bigger fan club.Content: By the time westward travelers reach Holiday Valley, the craggy Adirondack Mountains have long since given way to the lesser-known rolling hills of New York's modest Allegany range. But while the vertical may wane, the number of skiers and their enthusiasm for sliding certainly don't.

Holiday Valley tops out at about 750 feet of vertical, yet more than 500,000 skiers cruise down its slopes each winter, making it the most popular ski resort in New York. It even racks up more visits than big-name Vermont resorts like Stratton and Stowe. With three base areas spread along a three-mile-long access road, the resort's terrain rambles across a single ridge, but distinctive folds and drainages give it surprising variety. The Tannenbaum lift, for example, serves Happy Glade—big-trunk treeskiing through a forest of old-growth Norwegian spruce planted in the '30s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. More than 60 percent of the trails are lit for nightskiing, and all the lifts—including two high-speed—are thoughtfully planted and continue to be modernized, thanks to the significant capital reinvested in the resort. To date, the snowmaking and grooming fleet are state-of-the-art and the base lodges are less than a decade old, with stone-and-beam architecture recalling that of posh resorts like Beaver Creek, Colo.

But Holiday Valley does posh with a twist. Picnicking is welcome in all their lodges, and those who brown bag aren't made to feel like second-class citizens. At the Tannenbaum Lodge, the upper level is ringed with table-high outlets, so families who prefer a down-home lunch can set out their crockpots, a Holiday Valley tradition. And tradition is not something to be messed with at this locals' favorite.

The TownHoliday Valley's nearest town, Ellicottville, where most skiers stay, is dotted with good restaurants and bars, interesting shopping and even an art gallery or two. Evenings, visitors stroll the three-block downtown, a mix of pastel buildings and storefronts, for après-ski drinks and the perfect small-town dinner, i.e., one eaten in a historic building undoubtedly converted from a farmhouse or blacksmith shop into a charming restaurant or café.

Where to Stay
>The Ellicottville Inn Built in 1890, the Inn is at the center of the town's historic district. Restored and refurbished in 2001, it has the charm of a Euro-style boutique hotel with 23 guest rooms. From $109 per night; 716-699-2373; ellicottvilleinn.com
>Inn at Holiday Valley Having ushered in Holiday Valley's current building boom, the 10-year-old Inn has 95 rooms and seven suites, and is conveniently located at the bottom of the Sunrise Lift. Families will feel right at home in the hotel's indoor/outdoor pool and hot tub. From $127 per night; 800-323-0020; holidayvalley.com/reservations.cfm
>Black Dog Lodge This B&B set on 50 acres five minutes north of Ellicottville features suites with great views, luxe linens, fireplaces and whirlpool tubs. But it's the breakfasts—homemade juices, streusels, breads and cooked-to-order treats—that make it hard to leave. From $110; 716-699-6900; blackdoglodge.com

Where to Eat
>Dina's There aren't many restaurants equally adept at serving hearty breakfasts and elegant dinners, but Dina's pulls it off, relying on local, fresh ingredients. 716-699-5330
>Ellicottville Brewing Company Try après or dinner at this classic brewpub, with well-prepared American cuisine, craft beers and a European-style beer garden. 716-699-2537
>The Silver Fox This elegant restaurant is housed in a barn formerly used for stretching and drying fox pelts. Its eclectic menu serves fresh fish, pasta, lamb and steak. 716-699-4672

Where to Play
>Griffis Sculpture Park A 425-acre preserve and outdoor sculpture collection, the park is a good spot for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, with meadows and ponds wending around 200 giant sculptures. griffispark.org

SIGNPOST
Holiday Valley
270 skiable acres; 750 vertical feet; 180 annual inches; 53 runs (37 lit for nightskiing and riding); 12 lifts, including rwo high-speed quads.
Tickets: adult $46; junior $34
Getting there Holiday Valley is one hour from Buffalo, NY, three hours from Cleveland, Ohio, and three hours from Toronto, Que., by car. Detailed directions are on the resort's website.
Information 716.699.2345; holidayvalley.com

FEBRUARY 2006stinctive folds and drainages give it surprising variety. The Tannenbaum lift, for example, serves Happy Glade—big-trunk treeskiing through a forest of old-growth Norwegian spruce planted in the '30s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. More than 60 percent of the trails are lit for nightskiing, and all the lifts—including two high-speed—are thoughtfully planted and continue to be modernized, thanks to the significant capital reinvested in the resort. To date, the snowmaking and grooming fleet are state-of-the-art and the base lodges are less than a decade old, with stone-and-beam architecture recalling that of posh resorts like Beaver Creek, Colo.

But Holiday Valley does posh with a twist. Picnicking is welcome in all their lodges, and those who brown bag aren't made to feel like second-class citizens. At the Tannenbaum Lodge, the upper level is ringed with table-high outlets, so families who prefer a down-home lunch can set out their crockpots, a Holiday Valley tradition. And tradition is not something to be messed with at this locals' favorite.

The TownHoliday Valley's nearest town, Ellicottville, where most skiers stay, is dotted with good restaurants and bars, interesting shopping and even an art gallery or two. Evenings, visitors stroll the three-block downtown, a mix of pastel buildings and storefronts, for après-ski drinks and the perfect small-town dinner, i.e., one eaten in a historic building undoubtedly converted from a farmhouse or blacksmith shop into a charming restaurant or café.

Where to Stay
>The Ellicottville Inn Built in 1890, the Inn is at the center of the town's historic district. Restored and refurbished in 2001, it has the charm of a Euro-style boutique hotel with 23 guest rooms. From $109 per night; 716-699-2373; ellicottvilleinn.com
>Inn at Holiday Valley Having ushered in Holiday Valley's current building boom, the 10-year-old Inn has 95 rooms and seven suites, and is conveniently located at the bottom of the Sunrise Lift. Families will feel right at home in the hotel's indoor/outdoor pool and hot tub. From $127 per night; 800-323-0020; holidayvalley.com/reservations.cfm
>Black Dog Lodge This B&B set on 50 acres five minutes north of Ellicottville features suites with great views, luxe linens, fireplaces and whirlpool tubs. But it's the breakfasts—homemade juices, streusels, breads and cooked-to-order treats—that make it hard to leave. From $110; 716-699-6900; blackdoglodge.com

Where to Eat
>Dina's There aren't many restaurants equally adept at serving hearty breakfasts and elegant dinners, but Dina's pulls it off, relying on local, fresh ingredients. 716-699-5330
>Ellicottville Brewing Company Try après or dinner at this classic brewpub, with well-prepared American cuisine, craft beers and a European-style beer garden. 716-699-2537
>The Silver Fox This elegant restaurant is housed in a barn formerly used for stretching and drying fox pelts. Its eclectic menu serves fresh fish, pasta, lamb and steak. 716-699-4672

Where to Play
>Griffis Sculpture Park A 425-acre preserve and outdoor sculpture collection, the park is a good spot for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, with meadows and ponds wending around 200 giant sculptures. griffispark.org

SIGNPOST
Holiday Valley
270 skiable acres; 750 vertical feet; 180 annual inches; 53 runs (37 lit for nightskiing and riding); 12 lifts, including rwo high-speed quads.
Tickets: adult $46; junior $34
Getting there Holiday Valley is one hour from Buffalo, NY, three hours from Cleveland, Ohio, and three hours from Toronto, Que., by car. Detailed directions are on the resort's website.
Information 716.699.2345; holidayvalley.com

FEBRUARY 2006

Related