It doesn’t get much more Vermont classic than Stowe. Not only is it home to Mount Mansfield, the highest mountain in the state, but this iconic mountain also has the distinction of being shaped like a man’s face. The summit is the chin – what kid wouldn’t want to ski that?
Full disclosure is necessary here: It was brutally cold – as in negative 30 degrees Fahrenheit with the wind chill – during the three days my family skied at Stowe in January. This meant that we explored the mountain less than we might have otherwise done (and that I also didn’t take a lot of outside photos). I can’t report on what the Mansfield Base Lodge is like, because we never made it over there; we also didn’t ski on the easier trails that line the southern side of Mansfield’s face, choosing instead to enjoy the long blue runs that surround the gondola and the Four Runner Quad.
It wasn’t that there weren’t lots of trails open. Stowe’s snowmaking capabilities are very impressive, covering 80 percent of the resort’s 116 trails. When we visited Stowe had seen little natural snow during the past month. But it had been cold for weeks and every trail where snow could be made was open, giving us lots of skiing options and much better conditions than I expected.
And in spite of the frigid temperatures, my 8- and 11-year-old boys are nothing if not gung ho skiers, so we got in more runs than you might expect. With that in mind, here are my top tips for skiing Stowe Mountain Resort with kids.
Make Spruce Peak your home base
Stowe actually has two main base areas, one on at the bottom of Mount Mansfield’s face and the other across the street at the base of the smaller Spruce Peak. If you’re staying at Stowe Mountain Lodge, you will naturally be based out of Spruce Peak as it’s where the hotel is located. But on our first night in Stowe we stayed down the road at Topnotch Resort and still found Spruce to be a great spot to begin.
One reason for this is that the parking lot is very close to the base of the mountain, always a bonus when you’re skiing with kids. And the Spruce Camp Base Lodge is lovely and well-equipped with lockers, ski tuning and equipment shops, and an efficient rental center where you can leave your skis overnight if you choose (onsite rental skis are free; there’s a small fee if you leave your own).
Spruce Peak also makes a great place to warm up for your day, offering shorter runs than you’ll find on Mansfield. In fact, if you’ve got younger kids, you may want to hang out here all day, as you’ll always be close to amenities and the lift rides aren’t as long. And if long challenging runs are what you have in mind, getting to the Mansfield side takes just minutes on a gondola that carries skiers across the road.
If your kids are taking lessons at at the Ski & Ride School, they will be headquartered out of the Adventure Center, which is located at Spruce Peak as well. On weekend and holiday evenings end your day at the Spruce Peak fire pit, where hot chocolate and s’mores are served.
Buy your lift tickets online
To ski at Stowe, you must have an Evolution Stowe Card. These can be purchased online or at the resort for five dollars. Once you’ve got cards for your family, you can buy whatever combination of passes or lift tickets you want online and have them added to the card without having to ever wait in line again. You can of course also add to the card at the resort’s ticket counter but the savings for ordering online are significant.
The great thing about these cards is that once you put them into the pocket of your jacket – away from your cell phone please – you don’t have to think about them. Gates at each lift automatically open when you have a loaded card on your person.
The cards are designed to last for years and offer an option to include a Resort Charge for gear and food purchases.
Stick close to the gondola when it’s cold
Stowe actually boasts that it has the most mile-long lifts of any Eastern resort. Combine that with some really great fall lines, and you’ve got lots of long, steep, swooping runs. But even high-speed quad chairs take time to get up a mountain face like this, and on a cold day that just isn’t pleasant.
Happily, the gondola offers shelter from the wind and is just that much warmer to make more skiing possible during cold weather. And there are lots of great long intermediate trails to ski off the gondola at Stowe. We especially enjoyed Cliff Trail, which has lots of those fun side trails in the woods that kids love. You’ll also find a small entry-level terrain park at the bottom near the entrance to the gondola that makes for a fun end to each run.
Another great thing about the gondola? There’s a Waffle Hut located at the top.
Buying lunch? You can’t beat the Great Room Grill
We ate lunch twice at the Octagon Gallery at the top of the Four Runner Chair on Mansfield and while the soup and chili were great, it and chips for four along with a couple of drinks ran almost 50 dollars. A better option is to cross the street to the Great Room Grill in the Spruce Peak where the prices are more reasonable and there’s a wide selection of made-to-order choices. A particular favorite with my family was the trio basket of fries, which included sweet potato, waffle, and regular French fries and easily fed all my husband Matt and the boys with one order. This large, gourmet cafeteria that may be one of the prettiest I’ve ever seen, with huge windows and a soaring beamed ceiling.
Got ambitious kids? Take a Nosedive
The face of Mansfield has some great expert skiing; many of these trails have names that reflect the part of the “face” that they are on. Nosedive certainly deserves its name, since it runs right down the base of the nose. It’s also steep and narrow, and as it turns out, famous because it was cut in 1934 before the ski lifts were built.
In that way my kids have of sniffing out the challenging and well-known trails, both boys were eager to tackle Nosedive, which we did on our last day, the coldest one, when the sky was a deep shade of blue and the air about as crystalline as I’ve ever seen it. The views were spectacular and my kids couldn’t have been happier to say that they “skied the nose” on the face of Mansfield.
Want to learn more about Stowe’s snowmaking and how they keep the mountain groomed and covered? This “Stowemaking” video has the full scoop, plus some fantastic shots of the mountain too.
Mara Gorman may live at sea level now, but she’s a native New Englander and mountain aficionado who grew up skiing in Vermont. She spends as many days each winter as she can chasing her two teen boys through glades and across mogul fields and regularly journeys far and wide to get on the slopes. Mara blogs about her family’s many travel adventures at The Mother of all Trips. She is also the author of The Family Traveler’s Handbook and an award-winning freelance writer whose work has appeared in various USA Today print publications as well as on websites such as BBC Travel. When there’s no snow, Mara and her family can be found hiking, biking and eating around the United States and Europe.