Winter Escape, Couples Retreat
A couple’s getaway reveals Stowe, Vermont’s warm side in wintertime
By Bob Audette
Google search a picture of Stowe, Vermont. I’ll wait. A steepled church surrounded by dots of cardinal-red buildings; rolling mountains in the background. In winter, snow blankets each building like a puffy duvet comforter draped across each roof.
The scene is one reason my wife and I come here for just-the-two-of-us getaways; skiing another. Each visit reveals more to love, and as we pulled up to the Green Mountain Inn, I was excited to continue discovering this charming town.
It was late in the afternoon when we checked in and my wife, Becky, had dinner on the brain. She asked our innkeeper, Patti Clark, what restaurant we should go to later in the evening. Patti recommended the Whip Bar & Grill, conveniently located at the Green Mountain Inn. Its menu is full of dishes made with Vermont-grown ingredients, along with homemade soups, breads and desserts. We were happy to not have to get back in the car, but Patti wanted to make sure we were set for the following night as well.
“I’ll get you a reservation for tomorrow night at The Bistro at Ten Acres. It’s a great, cozy, chic place for a romantic dinner. And trust me, you won’t be disappointed,” Patti said. We nodded in agreement and then she offered to show us around the inn.
The inn is the perfect mix of modern and historic—red brick and a front porch overlooking Stowe’s Main Street. Originally built in 1833, the renovations have kept classic charm intact (wainscoting, brick fireplaces, etc.) while adding resort-quality amenities, such as a recently renovated, year-round outdoor heated pool with in-ground Jacuzzi, a sauna in the health club, a game room and massages available at Stowe Village Massage. Since 1833, the Green Mountain Inn has grown to a complex of eight buildings, including guest rooms, apartments and townhouses. The original buildings (Main Inn, Old Depot buildings and Sanborn House) still stand to tell their tales and are on the National Register of Historic Places.
“We are a four-season resort,” said Patti. “And we have guests who return year after year for their own romantic getaways.” Becky and I stood as an example of that.
When we got to our room, we were greeted with a bottle of champagne and chocolate dipped strawberries. As if that wasn’t enough, when we saw the in-room Jacuzzi, plush terry robes and gas fireplace, we knew we would be spending this night in luxury. But first, dinner! I couldn’t wait for a bowl of the Whip’s signature New England Corn Chowder—perfect for snowy Stowe.
Just the right fit
The next morning, light shone through the windows of our room at the Green Mountain Inn, sparkling off the fresh snow that had fallen during the night. Perfect for the day of skiing we had planned, a day that would no doubt be improved after a visit with Benny Wax, the local boot-fitting legend at Inner Bootworks.
Our appointment with Benny was, for me, one of the most anticipated parts of our trip to Stowe (on top of spending time with my wife, of course). I absolutely love to ski, but getting the right boots to fit and feel good throughout the day has always been a trial. I often had to cut my days short because my feet just got too uncomfortable. If what everyone said about Benny was true, this was about to change.
When we opened the door, Inner Bootworks already had a bench full of people waiting for assistance with trying on the right ski boot. While Benny and the staff bustled around, strangers chatted with each other, told stories and laughed.
“If your boots don’t fit well, you’re not going to like skiing. And if you don’t like skiing, then why are you spending all this money to freeze?” Benny asked me when I sat down.
“Aren’t your feet supposed to hurt while skiing?” I asked, and he looked at me askance, but in a good-natured way.
Benny told me that boots come in different shapes and sizes, just like feet. Some are wider and some are narrower; some have a tighter heel pocket and while some have a more upright stance, others are more aggressive.
All the other customers and I sat rapt as he explained the magic of finding the right boot. While he was talking, he measured my feet, palpated my arches, flexed my ankles and, probably for asking an insolent question, playfully twisted one of my toes. Everyone at the bench laughed when I yelped. I must admit, it was pretty funny.
He also asked me about my skill level, which I characterized as advanced intermediate. He said an intermediate skier or a beginner in a high-end boot was a recipe for disaster because higher performance boots are more responsive to body language.
"An intermediate skier needs a more forgiving boot, so that their technical skiing mistakes won’t transmit to the skis as precisely, and cause problems,” he said.
When I slipped on the boots he had chosen for me, I couldn’t believe how good they felt, and he wasn’t even done yet. Once he had found the right boot for me, he picked out the perfect inserts and made adjustments to hug my feet just right. Then, he had me walk around in them for a while to make sure they felt good. By the time I was ready to take those babies to the slopes, an hour had passed and it only felt like I had been working with Benny for a fraction of that. My new ski boot nirvana must have been evident on my face, because Becky walked up to me, touched my hand and gave me a sweet peck on the cheek.
“There is a voodoo art to fitting ski boots,” said Benny, winking at Becky. “And if everyone skied, the world would be a better place.”
We spent nearly eight hours skiing that day, and even on the chairlift, where I usually experienced my pain while waiting for another run, I forgot I was wearing ski boots.
Linda Hunter, who, with her husband, Mark Fucile, owns and operates The Bistro at Ten Acres, wasn’t surprised to hear that Patti had sent us. “This is a community of 4,000 people, where everyone knows each other,” Linda said. Becky and I had just polished off our plates when she stopped by to check in on us.
We learned that Linda and Mark decided, almost on a whim, to purchase the old farmhouse and renovate it. “We were completely bored and unchallenged with our careers. The thought of doing something entirely different was suddenly less frightening than doing the same thing for the next ten years,” said Linda. A smart impulse, in my opinion, after sampling their eclectic bistro menu, which is all about making dishes from scratch.
I chose the pan-seared lobster with a delicious creamy polenta. Who knew lobster in Vermont could be so memorable? Becky enjoyed the half roasted duck with apples and red cabbage, and would talk about it repeatedly in the days that followed. We also imbibed in a bottle of wine Mark had recommended when we were having a cocktail at the bar before our reservation.
We poured the last glasses of wine and ate Chef Gary’s caramel flan on a couch in front of the fireplace. Looking around, we saw a restaurant full of locals and people from far away places—all chatting, eating and laughing. It was like we were in a friend’s living room, but better.
On our final day, we had booked a full couple’s package at the Spa at Stoweflake. Now, I'm not normally the kind of guy that likes to be pampered. But Becky insisted and cajoled, reassuring me that I would feel 100-percent better after being taken care of by professionals.
“We have more than 150 spa treatments—facials, full body treatments, manicures and pedicures for men and women, apres ski packages and heat therapy, just to name a few,” said Brooke, who helped us schedule our pampering.
The Stoweflake has been owned and operated by the same family for more than 50 years, and it shows in the faces and attitudes of everyone who works there, especially at the Spa. Brooke was more than happy to go over their spa menu with us and introduce the spa facilities themselves. The spa has separate sanctuaries for men and women that include saunas, a steam room, Jacuzzis and a lounge area. They even have an indoor Hungarian soaking mineral pool with a gorgeous view of Mt. Mansfield. I was particularly intrigued by the Bingham Falls Hydro Therapy Waterfall, and was looking forward to loosening my perpetually tight shoulders under the spa’s re-creation of Stowe’s real waterfall.
After we spent an hour spa-ing in the co-ed facilities, we went our separate ways to get ourselves looking sharp for our last night out in Stowe. Becky convinced me to get the Gentleman’s Custom Facial, after which I actually felt like a gentleman—suave and debonair. It was like living another life.
Becky opted for the Full Body Tuning session, which includes sound waves from tuning forks. Her therapist worked one-on-one with her to identify areas of her body that were “out of tune,” feeling painful or full of tension and anxiety. When we met in the lobby her body seemed to be humming and she had a glow on her face that was radiant.
Becky and I drove in content silence back to the Green Mountain Inn, where we’d get ready for another evening out in Stowe. With Becky behind the wheel, I gazed out the window at a scene that never gets old—historic buildings, tall pine trees with an icing of snow, plumes of smoke from rooftop chimneys.
Prettier than a picture.