Black-Diamond Shopping

Travel East
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Black-Diamond Shopping E 1100

Remember when shopping on a ski vacation required elaborate excuse-making to spouse and friends? All those acute cases of pretend knee-sprain, exaggerated equipment failure and non-existent frostbite, just so you could browse among the meager offerings of kitschy gift shops? Well, you may still have some explaining to do to your hardcore ski-mates, but today the rewards are much greater: Ski-resort shopping has become much more eclectic and enticing.

Gone are the days when shopping in a ski town meant choosing between the V-neck T-shirt emblazoned with a resort logo and the crew-necked one. Ski towns now offer a wide range of tempting fare—from carabiners to claw foot tubs, from crunchy tie-dye to exquisite Italian linens and hand-tooled European leathers. As a result, more and more skiers are realizing that credit cards perform in all weather conditions and never need waxing or sharpening. And you don't have to feel guilty about indulging. Four New England resorts stand out from the rest. North Conway, N.H., Lake Placid, N.Y., and Manchester and Stowe, Vt., serve up expert-level shopping opportunities in addition to great skiing. Just in time for Christmas, here's a look at what each has to offer.

North Conway (Near Mt. Cranmore, Wildcat, Bretton Woods)
Visitors to this White Mountain resort town quickly figure out that shopping falls into two general categories, each with its own strengths. On the south side of town, there are the hundreds of brand-name outlets on which North Conway has built a reputation. Banana Republic, Levi's, J. Crew, Rugged Bear, April Cornell and countless other brand names attract foreign tourists and dedicated bargain hunters by the busload. Hit the Levi's store at the right time, and it can seem as if the entire teen population of Germany is there, pawing the piles of coveted American denim.

But in addition to its famed outlet strip, no-name goods in one-of-a-kind stores are abundant in the old buildings at the center of the village on Main Street, across from Schouler Park and the Victorian-era Conway Scenic Railroad station. And remember, wherever you shop in North Conway, you're in "Live Free Or Die" New Hampshire: There's never any sales tax to erode your savings.

By all means, hop in the car and browse the outlet stores. They're clustered along—and just off—Route 16, the main artery that runs through town. Don't miss the $19 rack at Banana Republic, or the deals on kids' outerwear at Rugged Bear. And check out the Chuck Roast outlet for all things fleece. There's a fun story behind the brand: The company's owner, local-boy Chuck Henderson, got his start making gaiters for himself and friends in high school, when he couldn't find anything to keep him sufficiently comfortable during outings in the backcountry.

The outlets are nice—so much to choose from in such a condensed area, and the prices can be good. But at the same time, these are mostly the same stores and brands you'll find at a shopping mall back home.

For more charismatic fare, be sure to head into North Conway's village. Zeb's General Store, a ramshackle yellow clapboard building, is a must-stop, specializing in New England regional products. Kids crowd around the old glass candy cases at the front of the store to buy candied orange slices, licorice bites and crystallized ginger. Grown-ups inspect the handcrafted baskets, gourmet specialty foods and hand-fashioned novelties, which reflect the region's mountainous backdrop. Alongside the campy, varnished-pine "Gone-fishin''' signs over the doorway, the store sells others proclaiming that "Riders Rule''—a reminder that Bretton Woods, Wildcat and Mt. Cranmore are close by. Assemble your own gift basket, or buy one filled with specialty pastas or innovative Bloody Mary makings.

Just a few doors up, the Americana theme continues at the North Conway 5&10. Cruise its creaky hardwood floors and peruse its eclectic wares: oil cloth by the yard, post cards, kitcn-towel calendars, fudge and aprons.

Serious rock-jocks hang out at International Mountain Equipment. Owner Rick Wilcox has summited Everest, among other giants, and though his staff is similarly well-credentialed, the environment is welcoming to novices and gawkers, too.

Leave enough time for a visit to the doll shop in the old bank building across the street where you can peruse the upscale gifts at The Penguin and admire the soft, richly textured women's fashions at the Wild Carrot.

Finally, take in the miniature trains for sale at the 1874 train station, whose striking architecture is worth a look itself. In addition to the model train paraphernalia, the gift shop offers all sorts of railroad memorabilia. Real steam engines still depart from the ochre-and-red structure, and December excursions include a weekend Santa Express, during which the big fella doles out a little something for every child on board.

Lake Placid (Near Whiteface)
This resort oasis in the vast Adirondack State Park has been discovered even by President Clinton, whose motorcade passed through in August en route to a little family vacation-cum-electioneering. You'd do well to ditch your own Secret Service escort and tackle Lake Placid's charming, compact downtown on foot. There are more than 100 shops to browse with a few blocks on Main Street.

Retailers cater to all types, from adolescents spending their lawn-mowing money on crystals and tie-dyed T's to serious nesters looking for upscale furnishings and house-wares for second homes. The predominant theme here in the High Peaks Region is hunting-lodge chic. That's evident in the Mission-style chairs and tables, Old Hickory chairs and headboards, mica lamp shades and endless variations on that summer classic, the Adirondack chair. (Almost all of them are uncomfortable, of course, but that doesn't make these upstate icons any less handsome.) For art and other goods that evoke the region, visit the Adirondack Trading Company on Main Street and the Adirondack Craft Center on Saranac Avenue.

You'd also expect to find sporting-goods stores in Lake Placid, and you'd expect them to be staffed by outdoorsy types who telemark at Whiteface, kayak the Ausable and ice-climb Gothics Peak. "This is where we rest,'' jokes Kelly Rose of High Peaks Cyclery, which offers guide services for backcountry skiers and a wide range of winter sporting gear (including speed skates that people can lace up across the street at Lake Placid's beautiful outdoor oval).

From the physical to the whimsical: A few doors away you'll find Where'd You Get That Hat? Whether it's a classic brown bowler you've always coveted or a jester's cap that jingles, this is the place to look.

For unique fleece, European sweaters and fine leather goods, visit Ruthie's Run, also on Main Street. It's one of several local stores that stays in touch with visitors (and rings up additional sales) via a website that showcases outerwear and sportswear for men and women (www.ruthiesrun.com).

For local color, stop by the Mirror Lake Liquor Store and chat up proprietor Jim Shea—one of several former Olympians who now owns a shop. Shea's grandfather built two of the merchant buildings on Main Street in the 1800s. Since then the family has produced three generations of elite athletes. Jim's father, Jack, won two golds in speedskating at the 1932 Lake Placid games; Jim was on the nordic team for the 1984 games; and son Jimmy is a world-champion sledder in the skeleton discipline. "There are a lot of Olympians here,'' Shea says. "We don't walk around with it on our shoulders, but there's pride.''

Manchester (Near Stratton, Bromley, Magic)
Want to buy a Cuisinart and a pair of Italian leather slingbacks, then stroll marble sidewalks past old Victorians and fine restaurants? Manchester is the place.

The beautiful Southern Vermont resort community at the foot of Mt. Equinox is expert at being (almost) all things for all people. It has dozens of outlet shops—most of which are well-designed, respecting the scale and historic architecture of the town. Manchester has many fine restaurants and inns (from informal B&B's to full-spa pampering) and several ski resorts nearby (Stratton, Bromley, Magic). It's easy to pick out the serious shoppers here: They cruise the racks officiously, finding the last size-eight loafers at Cole Hahn, children's tights to suit the whimsy of a Pippi Longstocking at Garnet Hill and marked-down slip dresses for elegant soirees at Nicole Miller.

But along with the many familiar brand-name shops, Manchester has a thriving roster of stores that are strictly local. Heinel's Clothiers, on Main Street, has been selling rustic New England clothing in Manchester since 1879. Northshire Books, at the center of town, is well known and loved as a surviving independent in the age of chains (and for offering an impressive list of titles while fostering the careers of young authors). The Mountain Goat, a converted Victorian house on Historic Route 7A, offers everything you need for outdoor adventure.

N. Keen and Company, also on Historic 7A, attracts do-it-yourself home decorators with an eye for unique home-wares: Italian- and English-made soup tureens, scrumptious beds, bath salts for the weary-footed skier or retail marathoner and sturdy footstools. The shop is housed in an 1832 building next to the stately Equinox Inn, and was once owned by the Orvis family of flyfishing fame. That company, a Manchester institution, has long since outgrown these digs and now sells everything the angler could want at a flagship store nearby.

When hunger strikes, find Al Ducci's on Elm Street, just off Route 30. There's a small café and gifts-to-go. Transplanted New Yorkers Al Scheps and Nancy Diaferio (OK, he's from New Jersey) make fresh mozzarella every afternoon. Slap a slab of it on a chunk of their award-winning semolina bread and you're ready for a quick trip north on 30 to H.N. Williams in Dorset, a charismatic emporium of farm supplies, no-nonsense work clothes, feeds for all types of critters and bafflingly random sundries. No brushed-steel-and-warm-lights merchandising here; a cardboard box on a shelf is more like it. If you'd forgotten you were in Vermont, welcome to the real deal.

Stowe (Near Stowe Mountain Resort)
Main Street, with its pillared Town Hall and clapboard homes, is a pleasant place to walk, eat and shop. Most of the stores are locally owned, and many emphasize Vermont-made goods that aren't available elsewhere.

Prints & Patches, on Main Street, offers a selection of 150 quilts made by home sewers. Designs run the gamut from familiar homespun patterns, like the double wedding ring, to quilts that look more like modern art. Custom-orders are common, and many customers commission quilts for anniversaries, weddings or births—sometimes incorporating photographs. Proprietor Mary Elizabeth Johnson is one of many shopkeepers who first came to Stowe to ride the lifts. "I came up to ski bum for a season and never left,'' she says.

Don't miss the local institutions. Shaw's General Store seems to have two of just about anything, including gifts and outdoor clothing. Lackey's Variety, next to the dignified church, offers periodicals, sundries and, most important, all the local gossip. Staffords Country Store is run by the fourth generation of a longtime Stowe retailing family. It's a nice place to browse for cowphernalia, pancake mix, maple syrup, moose statuettes and all manner of gifts and practical items.

The Mountain Road has its own offerings: artisanal glass and other hand-crafted Vermont items at Shimmering Glass; tasteful and unordinary women's fashions at Wendy's Closet; breads, cheeses, wines and specialty foods at either Mountain Cheese and Wine or Harvest Market (proprietor: Donna Carpenter—Jake Burton's wife).

If you're in the mood for something really special, and don't mind paying for it, the Vermontt has dozens of outlet shops—most of which are well-designed, respecting the scale and historic architecture of the town. Manchester has many fine restaurants and inns (from informal B&B's to full-spa pampering) and several ski resorts nearby (Stratton, Bromley, Magic). It's easy to pick out the serious shoppers here: They cruise the racks officiously, finding the last size-eight loafers at Cole Hahn, children's tights to suit the whimsy of a Pippi Longstocking at Garnet Hill and marked-down slip dresses for elegant soirees at Nicole Miller.

But along with the many familiar brand-name shops, Manchester has a thriving roster of stores that are strictly local. Heinel's Clothiers, on Main Street, has been selling rustic New England clothing in Manchester since 1879. Northshire Books, at the center of town, is well known and loved as a surviving independent in the age of chains (and for offering an impressive list of titles while fostering the careers of young authors). The Mountain Goat, a converted Victorian house on Historic Route 7A, offers everything you need for outdoor adventure.

N. Keen and Company, also on Historic 7A, attracts do-it-yourself home decorators with an eye for unique home-wares: Italian- and English-made soup tureens, scrumptious beds, bath salts for the weary-footed skier or retail marathoner and sturdy footstools. The shop is housed in an 1832 building next to the stately Equinox Inn, and was once owned by the Orvis family of flyfishing fame. That company, a Manchester institution, has long since outgrown these digs and now sells everything the angler could want at a flagship store nearby.

When hunger strikes, find Al Ducci's on Elm Street, just off Route 30. There's a small café and gifts-to-go. Transplanted New Yorkers Al Scheps and Nancy Diaferio (OK, he's from New Jersey) make fresh mozzarella every afternoon. Slap a slab of it on a chunk of their award-winning semolina bread and you're ready for a quick trip north on 30 to H.N. Williams in Dorset, a charismatic emporium of farm supplies, no-nonsense work clothes, feeds for all types of critters and bafflingly random sundries. No brushed-steel-and-warm-lights merchandising here; a cardboard box on a shelf is more like it. If you'd forgotten you were in Vermont, welcome to the real deal.

Stowe (Near Stowe Mountain Resort)
Main Street, with its pillared Town Hall and clapboard homes, is a pleasant place to walk, eat and shop. Most of the stores are locally owned, and many emphasize Vermont-made goods that aren't available elsewhere.

Prints & Patches, on Main Street, offers a selection of 150 quilts made by home sewers. Designs run the gamut from familiar homespun patterns, like the double wedding ring, to quilts that look more like modern art. Custom-orders are common, and many customers commission quilts for anniversaries, weddings or births—sometimes incorporating photographs. Proprietor Mary Elizabeth Johnson is one of many shopkeepers who first came to Stowe to ride the lifts. "I came up to ski bum for a season and never left,'' she says.

Don't miss the local institutions. Shaw's General Store seems to have two of just about anything, including gifts and outdoor clothing. Lackey's Variety, next to the dignified church, offers periodicals, sundries and, most important, all the local gossip. Staffords Country Store is run by the fourth generation of a longtime Stowe retailing family. It's a nice place to browse for cowphernalia, pancake mix, maple syrup, moose statuettes and all manner of gifts and practical items.

The Mountain Road has its own offerings: artisanal glass and other hand-crafted Vermont items at Shimmering Glass; tasteful and unordinary women's fashions at Wendy's Closet; breads, cheeses, wines and specialty foods at either Mountain Cheese and Wine or Harvest Market (proprietor: Donna Carpenter—Jake Burton's wife).

If you're in the mood for something really special, and don't mind paying for it, the Vermont Furniture Works is definitely worth a stop. Many of the local inns buy beds and other furnishings made at the company's small woodworking shop, so if you've fallen in love with your headboard back at the inn, look for it here. Or just draw what you want. Some of the store's most popular pieces are customer designs, and the store accepts orders for both small alterations to in-stock items as well as new creations. The best-seller is the Vermont Farm Table, a long, rustic table with a one-inch top that can be lengthened by fastening "company boards'' to either end. That way there's plenty of elbow room at Thanksgiving dinner—even when the plates are full of mashed potatoes and turkey and the guests are fidgety, watching the windows for signs of snow.mont Furniture Works is definitely worth a stop. Many of the local inns buy beds and other furnishings made at the company's small woodworking shop, so if you've fallen in love with your headboard back at the inn, look for it here. Or just draw what you want. Some of the store's most popular pieces are customer designs, and the store accepts orders for both small alterations to in-stock items as well as new creations. The best-seller is the Vermont Farm Table, a long, rustic table with a one-inch top that can be lengthened by fastening "company boards'' to either end. That way there's plenty of elbow room at Thanksgiving dinner—even when the plates are full of mashed potatoes and turkey and the guests are fidgety, watching the windows for signs of snow.

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