Stowe’s Ranch Camp

Ranch Camp Serves Up Bikes, Beers and Burritos in Stowe

By Sally Pollak
Story originally published in Seven Days on 04|27|2021.

The driveway that leads to Ranch Camp in Stowe is steep, gravelly and curved. In other words, just right for a mountain bike.

Mountain bikers are, in fact, the target audience for this hybrid business on the Mountain Road. In the brown building at the top of the driveway are three ventures rolled into one: bicycle store, repair shop and restaurant.

The store offers sales and rentals of mountain bikes, along with accompanying gear and goods such as jerseys, helmets, power bars and tire sealant. At the shop, bike mechanics do annual tune-ups and repairs, including brake adjustments, shock service and flat fixes.

The restaurant, a fuel station for hungry outdoors lovers, serves burritos, power bowls, and specials including flatbreads and Buffalo cauliflower. Its outside dining patio is equipped with picnic tables and repurposed chair-lift seats.

Named for a Civilian Conservation Corps base camp where, 90 years ago, corps members lived and cut trails on Mount Mansfield, Ranch Camp operates as a kind of base camp for bikers. A trio of mountain biking friends started it three years ago.

“Not to sound trite or cliché, but we are as passionate a group of mountain bikers as you’ll ever meet,” co-owner Evan Chismark said. “It’s woven into the fabric of our lives. We’re [each] as big a bike dork as anybody else who walks through the doors.”

Interest in mountain biking has increased during the pandemic, according to Chismark. Second-home owners who relocated to Stowe wanted to purchase a bike. Kids who are into mountain biking came to the shop with their parents and said, “My dad and my mom need a mountain bike,” Chismark said.

Even wannabe bikers will enjoy Ranch Camp and its environs. The business is located by a trailhead into Cady Hill Forest, some 320 acres of town-owned land crisscrossed by 11 miles of trails for nonmotorized recreation. In the warmer months, that means walking and biking. But Chismark noted that the mountain biking season is getting longer every year: “If the weather stays good, we could be riding for nine months.”

On a recent afternoon, the occasional mountain biker flew through the woods on a path called Charlie’s Trail, propelled by leg power up and over roots, rocks and long inclines. One young rider steered his bike slowly down a narrow wooden track.

Hats (but not helmets!) off to those who tackle such feats. It was easy to see why bikers would need to recharge with a meal at Ranch Camp.

“After a ride, it’s great to hang out and have a burrito and a cold beer on the back porch,” said Chris Brown, 52, of Stowe.

A ski instructor and real estate adviser, Brown has been mountain biking for more than 30 years. His two teenage sons have taken up the sport and ride with their friends on Stowe trails. The family takes their three mountain bikes to Ranch Camp for tune-ups, including an annual winter tune and seasonal repairs as needed.

“In the summertime, I ride a fair amount,” Brown said. “Enough that I probably have two or three visits every summer just to replace parts. Things break.”

Cady Hill Forest is the flagship trail network of the Stowe Trails Partnership, where Chismark — whose background is in environmental law and policy — was formerly executive director. His business partners at Ranch Camp are Ryan Thibault, a graphic designer and marketing/branding specialist, and Nate Freund, a restaurateur who co-owns Sushi Yoshi.

Together, the men also run Mountain Bike Vermont (better known as MTBVT), which Thibault founded in 2010. The enterprise is centered on the state’s mountain biking culture and promotes the sport by selling gear and apparel; sponsoring events, including a “bike culture variety show” called Green Mountain Showdown; and reviewing trails and products. (The events are currently virtual but could change to live-action this summer, according to Chismark.)

Six months ago, the business partners purchased a second Stowe restaurant, the Backyard (formerly the Backyard Tavern), located behind Ranch Camp. Its pub fare — nachos, wings, burgers, tater tots and chili — complements the menu at Ranch Camp. Mountain bikers often grab a to-go meal from Ranch Camp; the Backyard typically serves in-house diners.

Executive chef Joe Rock, who formerly worked at Jay Peak Resort and St. Albans’ One Federal Restaurant & Lounge, oversees the kitchens at both restaurants. He works with sous chef Cody Benz at Ranch Camp and chef Jordan Sullivan at the Backyard.


About the Seven Days Staytripper Series

Created by Seven Days, the Staytripper: The Road Map for Rediscovering Vermont” series presents curated excursions statewide. The series was originally published from 2020-2022 and highlights Vermont restaurants, retailers, attractions, and outdoor adventures to spotlight all corners of the state.