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Slopes in Stowe

Getting some serious family playtime in wintry Vermont

By Bob Curley

My wife, Heather, would live in a hut in the Swiss Alps if she could. She grew up in a town where weekends were for hitting the slopes—some weekdays, too. Not long after we started dating, she forced me to enroll in lessons; something that I’m grateful for, as it was one of our favorite dates.

We moved somewhere a little more flat than frozen, had a daughter and put the ski trips on hold for a while. The ski trips were never far away in our mind. When we told Shelby, now an 8-year-old, that we’d be heading to Stowe, Vermont for a winter ski vacation, she was hesitant, but on board. We were excited to share the fun we knew she’d have.

Heather and I had been charmed by Stowe during a short stop on a Route 100 fall foliage trip a few years ago, and we always said we would come back sometime to explore the “ski capital of the east.” Stowe is home to Mt. Mansfield, Vermont’s highest peak. The time had come.

With the ambiance of a Christmas-card, Stowe in late February, is resplendent with rolling, snow-covered fields, church steeples and covered bridges, and chunky ice floes turning the West Branch River crystalline in the afternoon sun. The best way to explore the scene, especially when it’s cold out, is on a wintry walk along the Stowe Recreation Path. We meandered just a bit into the 5.3-mile ribbon of fun that winds though Stowe Village. The path is open year-round, but in wintertime the bikers and strollers give way to cross-country skiers—maybe we would give it a try.

Alpine adventure

But first: skiing down the mountain at Stowe Mountain Resort. An intimidating thing when you’re Heather’s husband.

Alpine skiing was important to Heather, so I was eager to work on my skills. We enrolled Shelby in the Stowe ski school’s all-day Mountaineers Adventure Program, where she got lessons, lunch and games. Meanwhile, Heather and I hit the slopes together.

“Try to keep up,” she teased as she took off down Upper Perry Merrill.

They say that skiing is like riding a bicycle; once you know how, you never forget. It didn’t hurt that the day’s conditions were blissful: just enough support to pick up speed if we wanted, and fluffy enough for the smoothest glide. The day seemed to fly by even faster than we flew down the slopes. My knees and stomach welcomed our lunch break, but I was too excited to sit for long—I was feeling more and more confident on the slopes. We got back out as soon as possible with a quick peek on Shelby in between. We only got her attention long enough for a brief wave and a huge grin before she went zipping down the hill.

Heather and I made the most out of the afternoon continuing to play on the slopes. We picked up Shelby at the end of her lesson and took a few more runs as a family. I was astonished at how comfortable she looked! I knew it wouldn’t be long before I’d be fighting to keep up with her.

After skiing, we returned to the lodge for rest and dinner. Embracing the Stowe flavor, we included local beverages in our meal. There were two local craft breweries we wanted to try out. Heather ordered a crisp Bohemia Pilsner from Idletyme Brewing Company, and I went for the dark malt Dunkel from the von Trapp Brewery (yes, the family featured in The Sound of Music opened the lodge and brewery in Stowe). Both beers impressed the palates! My Dunkel was especially rich and dynamic, while Heather’s Pilsner was smooth and refreshing. Shelby enjoyed her local, non-alcoholic apple cider. As far as we were concerned, these were perfect belly warmers to round off our day.

Peaceful perspectives

The next morning, Heather, Shelby and I remembered those cross-country skiers we had watched on the Stowe Rec Path earlier. If we could conquer challenging downhill ski runs, we could absolutely rock Nordic skiing. We rented gear from the first cross-country ski center in the country, the Trapp Family Lodge, and got great tips from the friendly staff on technique and which route to take.

This was a different way of skiing for all of us; but it was nice to know that Heather, Shelby and I were on nearly the same level of expertise. We glided our way along the trails, and enjoyed the captivating views of snow-covered hills and trees, setting our own pace, pausing for photos and breaks as needed.

We took it easy that afternoon, lingering over our relaxing meal at Idletyme Brewing Company. With house-brewed beers and a children’s menu, and a laid back atmosphere, the restaurant was a perfect blend of adult and kid-friendly. This time Heather and I sampled flights, trying brews ranging from light to dark, and malty to fruity—all superb. The hearty pub fare hit the spot.

Later that evening, we channeled the Alps with a storybook horse-drawn sleigh ride. Burt and Rex were the friendly horses pulling us along. Their blond manes bounced in sync with the bells they wore. Though we were dressed warmly enough, we huddled together—Shelby between Heather and me—probably out of cozy instinct more than anything else. The beauty of the snow resting on tree boughs was magnified in the calm dusk. Riding through the woods and meadows, the moonlight brought a cool glow to the white blanket covering the ground. Bouncing off the snow, the reflections from the moon surreally lit our surroundings. Whether it was due to the horses, the charming driver, or the beautiful scenery, Stowe captured our hearts on that ride. It wasn’t long before snow started floating down again.

“Mom, Dad,” Shelby said, all previous snow-activity hesitation replaced by excitement. “Think we can hit the slopes, or cross-country ski tomorrow?”

Shelby finally discovered the joys of skiing that Heather had passed on to me—we couldn’t say no to that.

Go Stowe and build your own family memories!