When I was 16 my parents built a house in Stowe, Vermont. My sister and I would spend winter holidays racing down the slopes at breakneck speed with a fearlessness only teenagers possess. After a morning of skiing, we’d head back to the house and build snow forts. Or toboggan down the hill in the backyard. Then, we’d sit by the fire and fall into a deep slumber awaiting the next day’s adventures.
Fast forward a few decades. My visits to Stowe center around summer. Nature walks, bike rides, and summits on pine-filled mountain tops. A waterfall walk may end with an al fresco lunch in Stowe Village followed by a dip in our chilly pond. Perhaps later I’d sit outside with a book, then fall into a deep slumber awaiting the next day’s adventures. Some things never change.
Friends would ask, ‘Which season is better, summer or winter?’ A difficult question that requires heavy thought. Let’s have a friendly competition—winter vs. summer in Stowe. Perhaps you can help decide?
Stowe, in brief
The town of Stowe is in northern Vermont and as of 2020 had a population of just over 5,000. Its strong agricultural history is steeped in sheep farming and lumber. Eventually, the dairy farms outnumbered the sheep farms, but a few are still operational today. By the mid-1800s, Stowe became an established summer destination due to its majestic green mountain location. It didn’t take long for this bucolic town to gain a wide audience from around the world. Those seeking adventure, romance, nature—or all the above—in one beautiful place.
Epic winters in Stowe
You need not be an extreme adventurer to have an epic winter holiday in Stowe. In fact, the beauty of Stowe is that its mountains (Mount Mansfield and Spruce Peak) accommodate every level of skier and snowboarder from novice to adrenaline-junkie.
A few of Mount Mansfield’s famous runs have names like Nosedive, Hayride, and Chin Clip, which quickly allude to the level of expertise needed to ski them. Sunrise, Toll Road, and Ridge sound more leisurely, and do, in fact, live up to their names. Between them, this duo of mountains has 116 trails to traverse and averages over 300 inches of snow a year.
Cross country skiing is just as invigorating as downhill and some of the area’s best trails can be found at Trapps Family Lodge. Yes, that Trapp Family, from “The Sound of Music” fame. The lodge is still family-run and in addition to being a popular hotel, has miles of cross-country trails on-site.
Don’t ski or snowboard? Fear not, there are many other activities to enjoy in Stowe. Dog sledding, fat biking, and snowshoeing through forests will afford visitors breathtaking mountain views, too. Ice skating, sleigh riding, and snowmobiling round out an overabundance of winter endeavors.
Après-ski like a local
Let’s not forget one of the best parts of any winter holiday—après-ski. An activity everyone can delight in whether they ski or not. One popular post-adventure hub is Piecasso Pizzeria and Lounge. Their traditional New York Style pizzas are a fantastic accompaniment to a Vermont microbrew after an exhilarating winter day. Some nights Piecasso offers live music or Pub Trivia. All nights are family-friendly and convivial.
Doc Ponds, another village favorite, is located just off the town center and has one of the most extensive beer selections around. Their 24 rotating taps will impress any brew lover. Add in two turntables and over 1,000 vinyl records and prepare to be there until the wee hours.
The Lodge at Spruce Peak is Stowe’s only ski-in/ski-out luxury resort. Their 250 well-curated rooms have soft leather accents and natural textiles that evoke ‘modern rustic cabin chic’.
Perhaps your group is large and in need of more space? The Lodge at Spruce Peak can accommodate. It has multi-bedroom suites, slope-side mountain cabins, and village townhomes. Some have stone fireplaces, gourmet kitchens, bunk beds, and oversized bathtubs—a true luxury after a day of hard exercise.
Dining options are unique enough to please palettes of all kinds. The Tipsy Trout boasts Vermont’s best raw bar as well as seafood with a Vermont farm-fresh spin. Alpine Hall embodies mountain culture by inviting the area’s best farmers, growers, and artisans to the table.
Grab a hearty breakfast on the go before taking to the slopes at The Pantry & Beanery. Or give the kids more reason to smile post-ski with a creamy hot chocolate.
Epic summers in Stowe
Time to shed that down-filled parka and put on a pair of hiking boots. Welcome to summer in Stowe—the unsung season. The little sister to her older, more popular siblings, winter and fall.
Mountain bike, hike, swim in a local watering hole and drive through iconic covered bridges. Visit dairy farms, goat farms, and farmer’s markets. I dare say there are as many adventurous and nature-filled experiences in the summer as there are in the winter. Village life and mountain life magically intersect in Stowe.
The 5.3 miles of the Stowe Recreation Path loop gently around the town. Sixteen meticulously kept wooden bridges appear along the way and arch over clear, stone-filled streams. Bike or take your pup for a walk. Run or meander. Have a picnic and wade into the crisp water. With clear summer air and cloudless blue skies, the setting is nothing short of idyllic.
Stowe is known for its majestic green mountains. Countless trails will have visitors planning hikes for summers to come without fear of running out of options. Popular climbs that have particularly stellar views include Sterling Pond and The Toll Road.
Sterling Pond starts with a steep, natural rock staircase that will fire up those quads immediately. The two-mile hike encompasses dense foliage, streams, and slick rocks that eventually give way to mighty pines. Wild mushrooms, moss-covered stones, and pine needles carpet the mountain floor. The air feels as heavy as my legs. But the reward is great. A glorious, serene pond at the top of the mountain.
The Toll Road is accessed by a 4.5-mile switchback drive. Park at the top of the mountain and take the Long Trail to the ‘chin’ of Mount Mansfield. The hour-long walk with constant 360-degree views is magnificent. The open vistas present a panorama of overlapping mountains and green fields below. It’s my favorite kind of hike—both starting and ending at the top.
Porchin’ like a local
Summers in Stowe are all about long days, as the sun doesn’t set until almost 9 pm in mid-June. Visitors can take advantage of porch life at a variety of local pubs, and restaurants while on holiday in Stowe.
The Bistro at Ten Acres’ patio is one such place. Not only does the Bistro serve inventive dishes like spring pesto over homemade linguini, but it offers a lovely flower-filled patio on which to enjoy it. Often, the Bistro will have live music to add a soft-romantic air to the evening.
On Stowe’s always bustling Main Street, California-inspired and vegan-friendly Plate has a few outdoor tables. It’s a great place to watch village life go by while eating menu favorites like vegan crab cakes and Tofu Ramen.
Idletyme Brewing Co. is a wonderful place to cool off after a morning of rigorous activities. It has an idyllic location, backing up to the recreation path. Often cyclists will pull over for a cold pint of local IPA before moving on for the day. Its patio is overflowing with herbs and flowers which makes it busy from morning until night.
Whether visitors would like to stay slightly outside the hubbub of Stowe Village or right in the middle of the action, there are hotels and lodges to suit. Topnotch Resort, with its world-class spa and easy mountain accessibility, is one option for those who’d like to be ever-so-slightly remote.
Austrian-inspired Trapp Family Lodge is set high above Stowe a few miles outside of town. It has hotel rooms, suites, and enormous guest houses to accommodate any sized group. Its on-property brewery draws a lively crowd in the summers as well.
Conversely, the Green Mountain Inn is a historic gem set on Main Street in the center of town. Here, visitors can easily to boutiques, restaurants, and bars without breaking a sweat.
At the risk of neglecting Fall and Spring, I’ll briefly comment. Singing the praises of Fall in Stowe would take up a post of its own. It’s a true wonder of Mother Nature to witness the green mountains shift to rich reds, gold, and fiery oranges. Spring is known as mud season to the locals but need not deter visitors if they are prepared to get dirty. Those willing to take a risk with weather will find fewer crowds and empty, if muddy, trails.
Let’s revisit our friendly competition. Winter or summer? Each season has its fair share of unique activities, experiences, and adventures. Each has hotels, lodges, and restaurants in which to revel and dine.
Which season is better? Can you choose? Because I can’t. In the name of diplomacy, I vote an emphatic both/and. Here’s a thought. Plan a trip to Stowe and decide for yourself. You won’t be disappointed whichever season you pick.