Vail of the east: Everything you need to know about skiing at Stowe Mountain
It used to be you'd have to go out west for a top-notch upscale ski vacation, but fortunately, that is no longer true. With a major transformation over the past 10 years, Stowe Mountain and the Spruce Peak Village will truly give you everything you are looking for in a ski vacation. This adorable ski town three hours north of Boston — and less than an hour from Burlington, Vermont — can truly make you feel like you are skiing out west. With two separate mountains and a cute village at the base, Stowe has it all.
If you've never been to Stowe, you'll arrive in a quintessential northeast mountain town, with a small walking strip of shops, restaurants and lodging. As you head up the mountain road towards the resort — a few miles from the center of town — you are greeted with a panoramic view of the iconic front four, National, Goat, Starr and Liftline — expert trails for those that are prepared for a thrill. The resort is split between the Mount Mansfield side and Spruce Peak. Mount Mansfield is Vermont's highest peak and thanks to that, some very long east coast ski runs.
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Of course, skiing will look quite different this year, but enjoying the outdoors on the ski slopes of Stowe is still very much possible — especially with Vermont's COVID-19 numbers being some of the best in the country.
Being a ski family — and quite conservative when it comes to COVID-19 precautions — my family recently made the drive from our home in Boston and enjoyed a four-night stay at Stowe. We felt comfortable with the decision as skiing is a fully outdoor sport and Vermont has many restrictions in place. We skied for two of the days and enjoyed everything the village and town has to offer the other two days. After our time in Stowe, it was clear that the mountain and the village is taking all of the necessary precautions to ensure that skiing is still just as much fun — and most importantly, safe.
Note: If you do decide to head to Vermont, make sure you are fully aware of Vermont's travel policy (which currently requires quarantining and testing). You can check out The Points Guy's state by state guide to keep up to date with each state's travel policies.
Related: Best ski resorts for families in North America
Here is everything you need to know about skiing at Stowe, including the mountain, the village, where to stay and the safety precautions in place.
Stowe Mountain Resort
Stowe Mountain Resort is made up of two different mountains — Mount Mansfield and Spruce Peak. Mount Mansfield is the larger of the two with a 2,360' vertical drop. This is where you'll find a gondola to the top and most of your expert trails. Of course, there are many blues as well (and even some greens), but this side of the mountain is typically saved for your intermediate to expert skier.
Spruce Peak, on the other hand, is your perfect family-friendly portion of the mountain. Mostly made up of greens and blues (and a few blacks) and two different magic carpet areas, beginners and intermediates will love spending the day on Spruce.
The Spruce Peak side is also where you'll find the main lodge, the village, ski school and ski-in/ski-out accommodations. But getting from one mountain to the other is quite easy with the inter-mountain transfer gondola. My kids even enjoyed riding this gondola just for fun on a non-ski day.
Related: 6 things you must know before taking a first ski trip
Spruce Peak Village
At the base of Spruce Peak Mountain, you'll find Spruce Peak Village. The village is centered around an ice skating rink, with many restaurants, shops and lounging area surrounding it. While these villages are common in your west coast ski resorts, this is quite unique on the east coast, allowing you to get the full vacation experience.
The outside ice skating rink — which is free to the public — is open most days between 12 and 6 pm, but on Friday and Saturdays, they actually keep the rink open until 9 pm. Bring your own ice skates or rent from the shop to enjoy some time on the ice. This was by far a favorite activity amongst my two kids and truly made Stowe stand out from the many other ski resorts they've been to (on the east coast).
You then have Stowe Adventure Center which houses the Stowe Rocks indoor climbing facility. Although the facility is currently closed due to COVID-19, in normal years, you can purchase a day pass to explore 17 different climbing stations.
The Beanery will provide you with your on-the-go breakfast or a mid-day hot chocolate fix, the WhistlePig Pavilion is the perfect place for your après skiing, and if you are looking for a special occasion, the outdoor heated pergolas at WhistlePig is as COVID-19 friendly as you can get. There is also Solstice Restaurant for outdoor and indoor dining. And of course, you have your shops to buy ski gear, ski paraphernalia and the kids' favorite candy and toy store.
Related: 9 ways to enjoy a ski resort vacation without hitting the slopes
Where to stay
This year more than ever, staying on the mountain can make your ski vacation that much better. This is where The Lodge at Spruce Peak comes into play right in Spruce Peak Village, especially now that the property is part of the Hyatt family of hotels. With its true lodge feel, this residence property offers everything from your typical studio hotel room to four-bedroom penthouse suites. Not the mention the current expansion where they are building 27 additional residences, townhomes, and penthouses as part of One Spruce Peak.
Related: 13 of our favorite ski-friendly resort hotels you can book on points
At 30,000 World of Hyatt points a night, this is an ideal property to use your points — especially during peak ski season. And for those that have World of Hyatt status, you might be lucky enough to score an upgrade as there are plenty of suites throughout the property. However, this is a Destination Hotels property which means you can't use your suite night upgrades (for Globalist members) and there is no lounge access. Although you are not entitled to all benefits, Globalists are still eligible for complimentary breakfast.
Related: Hyatt makes it easier to earn elite status in 2021 and extends lucrative promotions
The property boasts an awesome outdoor pool area — which is heated in the winter — and two hot tubs. With COVID-19 restrictions in place, you must make a reservation for the hot tub, but we never had an issue with availability. Best of all, you can access the pool from the inside, which means you truly never have to be out of the water outside in the cold winter months.
When you are ready to ski for the day, you can put on your boots in the ski-valet (where they will hold your skis for you overnight) and head out to the mountain. The hotel sits right in the village which means you can't actually ski right out of the front door onto the mountain. But you are only a stone's throw away and in about 30 ft. you'll be at the base of Spruce Peak or the gondola that will take you to Mount Mansfield.
Related: How to plan your ski trip with points and miles
If you are traveling with a large group — or if you are lucky enough to be upgraded — the penthouse rooms are quite impressive. We were fortunate to be upgraded to a 3-bedroom penthouse, which was a memory my kids will never forget. In our 2,500 square foot 2-floor "hotel" room, we each had our own bedroom with en-suite master bathroom, a full kitchen, a dining room to seat 10 and a living area with a fireplace. Not to mention the 1,000 square foot balcony and mountain views — it is safe to say we were in heaven.
This was the perfect set up for us as we were able to cook breakfast every morning — we brought food from home — and order out dinner in the evenings. You can order in from the hotel restaurant or there are many restaurants about 10 minutes down the road in Stowe on Mountain Road. We specifically enjoyed our dinners at The Bench, Piecasso and Tres Amigos. And definitely do not miss the opportunity to pick up beer from The Alchemist Brewery.
We absolutely loved our stay at The Lodge at Spruce Peak and would recommend it to anyone. It truly made our ski experience during COVID-19 that much better as we were able to go inside our room for lunch and avoid the mountain lodges. When skiing with young ones who don't have it in them for a full non-stop day of skiing and eating lunch on the go, being able to take a mid-day break and relax for a little, was well received.
After our four-night stay at the lodge, we truly felt the comfort of home, but on vacation. We loved it so much, we already have another vacation booked towards the end of ski season!
Stowe Mountain COVID-19 precautions
We live outside of Boston, so social distancing and mask-wearing has now become the norm for my family. We have not yet been on an airplane throughout the pandemic, we do not eat inside restaurants and we are very cautious with going inside other people's houses (which has been limited solely to family).
Related: What’s new for this year’s ski season
The ski lifts were limited to just one family riding together. If you were in the singles line, on a lift that holds three or more passengers, they put two riders on opposite ends of the lift. When we were there, lift lines were incredibly short, but I have heard that peak dates are getting crowded due to not being able to fill the chairs. My best advice is to go during the week and avoid holiday weekends if you can. Fortunately though, with skis and boards being long in length, you are almost always 6' away from the person in front of you by default.
The lodge requires reservations and limits you to just 30 minutes maximum. Capacity was limited and tables were far away from one another. With the high ceilings and protocols in place, it felt "safe", but we were also there on an off-peak ski day.
If you want to avoid the lodge, there are many tables and seats set up outside the lodge and throughout the village to allow for outdoor lunch and hot chocolate breaks. You can even order food from the lodge or many of the restaurants through an app to avoid being inside. Many areas also have heat lamps set up to keep you nice and toasty during the cold weather days.
Related: 7 mistakes to avoid when planning a ski trip
Mask wearing while skiing
We also found mask-wearing to be about 99% followed. With Vermont having strict protocols in place and most visitors coming from the Northeast — where you'll also find strict measures — I found most people were extremely respectful and compliant. Masks were not only worn just in the lift lines, but also on the mountain and in the village.
Related: Ski season has begun — here’s what it’s like to hit the slopes in a pandemic
Based on the weather, we took a few different approaches to the masks we wore. On the colder day, we found that wearing our balaclava ski mask was the best. Our goggles held it in place which meant we were fully covered the entire day.
But on a slightly warmer day, our normal masks did the trick. My family wears masks on a daily basis, so wearing masks for us was not an issue at all. It is something we are very used to, especially my kids who wear a mask all day at school — both inside and outside. But if you or your kids are not yet used to wearing masks, I highly suggest practicing — a lot — before you go skiing. Especially for kids. My son loves his Bailey Blue masks, my daughter is a fan of Athleta masks and I personally rock either the Rafi Nova or Top Trenz masks. Rafi Nova also makes an awesome fleece neck warmer gaiter and sherpa winter warmer face mask which are both great for skiing and being outside.
If you haven't been to Stowe in many years, you'll be pleasantly surprised to see how they have really built up the resort, giving you that true vacation feel — and a similar feel as skiing out west. With some great terrain and a lively village, Stowe provides some fun activities both on and off the mountain.
And if safety is your concern for this year, Stowe has truly put in the time and effort to ensure a fun and safe season for all.
So strap on your skis and enjoy the snow.