The first time I skied at Stowe Mountain Resort was back in 1993 when I was hired as a photographer to take portraits of skiers posed near Mount Mansfield’s legendary Front Four trails. Those were the days of one-piece ski suits, pre-parabolic skis, and film cameras.
My photography job involved long hours but had some perks, including a season pass, complimentary gear, and a chance encounter with Bill Murray at the top of the Four Runner Quad.
Even though the mountain’s amenities were quite modest back then, Stowe still felt like a perfectly natural place to see a celebrity or two. Twenty-five years ago, Stowe was considered a premier ski area but was still mainly a winter destination with most of the activity centered at around Mount Mansfield. Meanwhile, nearby Spruce Peak, the smaller (and sunnier) of Stowe’s two mountains, played second fiddle.
Things have certainly changed. In the last decade, Stowe’s Spruce Peak base area has undergone a remarkable transformation, becoming a classic ski village offering lodging, shopping, dining, rock climbing, ice skating, and lessons for skiing and snowboarding.
Spruce Peak’s newest addition is the Stowe Mountain Resort Adventure Center, a beautiful, 30,000 square-foot, post-and-beam building that opened in 2016. The Adventure Center is home to the children’s Ski and Ride School, Stowe Rocks indoor rock-climbing center, retail shops, and more.
Lessons at Stowe Ski School
Over February vacation, we took a day-trip to Stowe and enrolled our 6-year-old daughter, Phoebe, in the Stowe ski school’s Adventure Program. The program, like all children’s programming at Stowe, is designed to build self-esteem and a life-long passion for winter sports, while providing a safe and fun learning environment.
The Adventure Program is for children ages 3-14 of all ability levels, and includes a full-day group lesson, lift ticket, lunch, and snacks (parents can also opt for an earlier 1 p.m. pick-up instead of 3:30). With beginner lifts just a few steps from the Adventure Center, kids can access terrain that is gentle and broad, while children who are more advanced on the hill can explore other parts of the mountain. Kids are grouped by age, ability level, and are able to progress at their own pace.
Stowe prides itself on its high percentage of certified instructors. The ski area offers a comprehensive instructor training program and rewards instructors for advancing their PSIA-AASI instruction certification. Even better, the student-to-instructor ratios are generally lower than other resorts, according to Stowe Children’s Programs Manager Kelley Blaine.
Drop-Off, Pick-Up, Progress
The set-up for drop-off and pick-up at the Adventure Center is extremely efficient and highly secure. Parents are discouraged from tagging along during the lesson, and doors accessing the Ski and Ride School are locked after a certain time to control access.
Even though I wasn’t present during any part of Phoebe’s lesson, I appreciated Stowe’s approach. When I called a couple of days before the lesson to register Phoebe, the staff took the time to talk with me about Phoebe’s skill level and areas she could improve upon. During drop-off on the day of her lesson, they listened intently when I explained Phoebe’s experience and skill level.
After a few hours on the slopes during her lesson, it was clear to Phoebe’s instructor that my daughter knew her stuff. She was making parallel turns on Easy Street and Lower Meadows, and learning the concept of hockey-stops. She was also good listener and interacted well in a group environment.
How did I know all this? When I went to pick Phoebe up, her instructor handed me a yellow progress report that outlined all she accomplished on the slopes. The resort has been using the written progress report for more than 25. years, and each year it’s updated to comply with PSIA-AASI standards. Not only did it include what Phoebe had learned, but it also a handwritten note about a recommended lesson placement for next time. (Now we have to go back, right?)
Photo courtesy of Stowe Mountain Resort
In addition to the Stowe ski school, the Adventure Center also includes retail shops, a child care center, and Stowe Rocks, which features three impressive climbing walls open during the winter and summer.
The 40-foot Elephant Head Tower, named for a nearby outdoor climbing cliff at Smugglers’ Notch, serves as the main attraction of Stowe Rocks. There is also the 30-foot high Program Wall as well as a 12-foot KidsZone climbing area for children ages 12 and under.
American Mountain Guide Association certified climbing instructors are on staff whenever Stowe Rocks is open for business to coach and assist guest’s questions. Private lessons are also available.
If rock climbing isn’t your jam, try ice skating at the Spruce Peak rink located just outside of the Adventure Center. Bring your own skates and skate for free, or rent skates, helmets, and wrist guards from the resort.
And keep an eye out for Bill Murray.
For more information, visit www.stowe.com.
Erica Houskeeper is a writer and communications professional with nearly 20 years of experience. She grew up in Manchester, Vermont, and started skiing at age 4 at Bromley Mountain. She also spent her childhood skiing at Stratton, Magic, and the former Snow Valley ski area. After working as a journalist in Vermont, Erica later became director of communications for the Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing. She publishes www.happyvermont.com, a Vermont travel blog and podcast that explores the places and people of the Green Mountain State. She currently works as writer and photographer, and lives in Burlington with her husband and daughter.