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Backcountry Skiing in Stowe, Vermont: All You Need to Know

The illustrious history of Stowe, Vermont, has garnered it the title of “Snow Capital of the East”, a fair moniker for such a ski-savvy destination. For years it has been a beacon for premium ski trips and a training ground for professional athletes of winter sports. It now serves as one of the world-class resorts in the country, thanks to its snow fall, quality of terrain, remote and accommodating services, and a backcountry that is – hands down – a life-changing experience for skiers.

Tucked into the valley between the Mt. Mansfield State Forest and the Green Mountains to the west and the CC Putnam State Forest and Worcester Mountains to the east, the resort sits at the foot of Mt. Mansfield (1,340 m) itself in the north-central part of the state. Its location is exquisite, with access to both major and regional airports, a train station, and a network of developed highways all within 45-minutes of the slopes. The town of Stowe is located just down the road towards the center of the valley, offering up five-star luxury alongside more modest digs to cater to each type of skier.

The region has quite a snowfall, averaging over eight meters of snow in a forested and rugged landscape. The backcountry immerses you in the panoramic beauty of the Green Mountains, whether you are hitting the “Front Four” of Mansfield or skiing through to Smuggler’s Notch, a nearby ski resort with an equally inspiring backcountry. The terrain is rocky, rugged, steep, and wild, and even some of the groomed resort runs have a reputation for natural ski conditions that make powder hounds drool.

 

Frozen mist on the Underhill. Photo: Paul Moody.

From the time the first ski routes were carved across the mountain in the 1930s to now, Stowe has maintained its place at the forefront of Vermont and east coast skiing. The resort has over 100 runs and 13 lifts, but the backcountry access is what makes it the top destination for skiers worldwide. As the home to the Vermont Ski and Snowboard Museum, as well as the Trapp Family Lodge, you are bound to find a rewarding program in Stowe that is so much more than just phenomenal backcountry skiing.

Top 3 Reasons to Go to Stowe

 

Stowe has terrain, culture, snow pack, and accommodation, building all-encompassing ski trips from the ground up by ensuring every aspect of the experience is extraordinary. Here is a look at a few of the top reasons Stowe is a must-ski destination.

1| Access

Sitting at the center of the northeastern United States, Stowe can be found from anywhere. New York City is a breezy five to six hour drive away, and Boston a mere 200 miles and three hours away. Even Canadians can find it from across the border, with Montreal just over two hours from Stowe. And this is just driving! Vermont’s largest airport is forty minutes away and the train station thirty minutes.

Once you make it to Stowe, the transit is still supportive. A shuttle operates daily from November to April to provide service to and from the mountain so your skiing has as few interruptions as possible. Gondolas connect parking lots and Spruce Peak, making for a seamless transition from road and lodging to mountain trail.

2| Winter Wonderland

The roughly eight and a half meters of snow that Stowe receives annually can vary, but what remains is the ample territory off-piste. Around Mt. Mansfield, you can ski down into Stowe, head north through the narrow pass to Smuggler’s Notch, or swing around to the west side of the mountain and cruise down towards Underhill (through Underhill State Park).

Each of these spots feature epic scenery, loaded with great Green Mountain views and stunning valley vistas. Tree skiing is a given, opening up to glades that are can be both challenging (read: bumpy) and smooth. The blanket of white along the Worcester Range in the east has a calming effect, particularly in contrast to the meadows and farmland in the valley below. This is also true on the west side of the mountain as you look down towards Underhill.

 

Lo-Fi camera shot heading into the trees in the midst of the Bruce Trail. Photo: Paul Moody.

The enchanting snowscape doesn’t end on the mountain. The Stowe Community Church and its iconic steeple are one of the most popular landmarks in town. You can even visit the Trapp Family Lodge of the Von Trapp “Sound of Music” fame. Maria von Trapp and her husband relocated to Vermont in 1942, adding to the legend and mystique of Stowe.

3| Challenging Snow Culture

Many skiers, particularly powder hounds and veterans, enjoy immersing themselves in a location because of its atmosphere. Stowe checks this box again and again. The après-ski is particularly fun, and the locals who frequent Pie-Casso and Doc Ponds may even shell out some trade secrets while sharing a pint or two at these casual eateries.

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Lodging is all over the spectrum as well, from Stowe Mountain Lodge and The Lodge at Spruce Peak down to Green Mountain Inn and Edison Hill. There are restaurants and lodges lining the valley, each with its own identity that can play into your ski trip.

Once you hit the slopes, the remote region out of bounds allows you to blaze your own trail. You will be exploring immaculate lines and uncovering stashes of snow in difficult terrain, which is every proficient skier’s dream. Few locations blend skill with thrill like Stowe, and that extends into the valley and your eating and sleeping choices.

Where to Go

 

The extensive network of backcountry trails is well-guarded by Stowe natives thanks to the ample, isolated terrain and the almost-100 years of searching out the best pockets of snow. Here is a quick guide for some of Stowe’s most noteworthy backcountry runs.

 

Vermont sunrise through the trees. Photo: Ben Ipsen.

The Front Four

It begins here, as these are the four runs that have come to symbolize the landscape of Stowe. While they are technically on-piste, they are challenging enough that you will be nudged out of bounds your next trip up the lift. The Front Four consists of the Starr, National, Goat, and Liftline trails. They are notoriously bumpy and narrow, some of the first paths created back in the earlier 20th century for die hard skiers.

These are the runs that have been cultivating Olympians for years, so there is some magic in their jolting cutbacks and intimidating lines. Try connecting with a guide for a few hours honing your skills on these amazing runs before heading off into the backcountry.

Teardrop Trail

This Mt. Mansfield gem of the west takes you through Underhill State Park and runs almost two miles in length. It features the best of Stowe – glades, tree-lined cutbacks (of course), and almost 600 meters of climbing. Bring your skins and a smile, because this is a challenge cut out for a pro.

Steep drops and a double fall line are waiting for you on the descent, making this one of the most fulfilling backcountry trails in the area. Grab a guide here and spend a day taking in the sights on the Teardrop Trail.

Bruce Trail

This beauty was initially carved out of the Green Mountains in the 1930s, never being included in the Mansfield trail map. But it’s better this way, because this iconic run ends nearly a mile away. Starting at the top of Toll Road, it follows what has become known as one of the best descents of Mansfield and bottoms out at Burt Trail.

 

Staring down the trees from the top of the Bruce Trail. Photo: Rudi Riet.

You’ll find your bearings at the nearby Matterhorn after 15 to 20 minutes, another iconic après-ski location off the beaten path. Join one of the full-day programs to discover the Bruce Trail and others.

Steeple Trail

With an iconic steeple from Stowe Community Church staring up from the valley, this trail pays homage to the symbolic meaning of a sharp point shooting skyward. It requires some serious skinning to climb to the top, though you can do so through other routes that are less (or more) strenuous. The glade run plays out with a few twists and turns, with intermediate dips and a steep drop or two.

This Steeple Trail is the perfect way to break into the untouched powder of the backcountry. Like the Bruce Trail, this creation is from 1937. It had been lost in the trees until the 1990s, when it was revamped and made into the beacon of backcountry fun we know today. Check out one of the programs here and have a certified guide take you down the exciting Steeple Trail!

Sky Top Trail

This tree-filled run is stunning. With a bit of vertical to open the run, it evens out into some gorgeous wooded areas and back out, giving a nice blend of glades and trees. You will run into some other runs, possibly the Underhill and the Steeple, but it will finish up with some more vertical drops before sending you skinning back to the mountain.

Look into a half-day of guided backcountry skiing on Sky Top and the other great trails of Stowe.

Best Time to Go

 

The best time to visit Stowe is during the winter. The season can begin early, as early as late November, depending on the first snowfall. From December through early April, conditions should be increasingly conducive to a perfect ski trip. Snow is common at both ends of peak season, which means you can have some of the best snow when everyone has already packed up for the spring. This can also help you avoid any possible lines while heading to the fresh backcountry powder.

 

Cabins can be found along some of the Stowe backcountry trails. Photo: Reweww Wewew.

Temperatures can get uncomfortably – even dangerously – cold. In recent seasons, it dropped to nearly 30 degrees (F) below zero, cause for alarm and inhibiting what would have been otherwise encouraging ski conditions. The Stowe backcountry can exacerbate the issues with the elements, so it is important to pay attention to weather conditions and follow safety guidelines.

How Much Does It Cost?

 

The accommodating nature of Stowe makes it affordable to everyone, whether you are looking for luxury or a bargain. Hiring a certified guide is the best way to tear into the backcountry and make the most of your experience in the gorgeous mountains, and many programs are tailored to your needs and abilities. The price can vary depending on its duration, the size of the group or party, and what aspects of the trip are included.

Generally speaking, a certified guide for a day trip into the backcountry starts at $80 (USD) and a half-day at $60. More engaging courses can run $200 or more for the whole day. If you wanted to increase your skiing proficiency and improve as a backcountry skier, there are even instructional courses available starting at $75 for two hours.

Most guides are local experts and are willing to design trips specifically for you and your group. Get in touch with a guide and let them know what you are looking for. Most of the time, they will be happy to carve out a trip that you will absolutely love.

How to Get There

 

As was mentioned earlier, Stowe sits in a perfect location in northern Vermont. Driving there is easily done from the south via Interstates 89, 91, 93, and 95, which connect Boston, New York, and Hartford through Montpelier. Buses use these routes as well, though a bus from New York City to Stowe can last up to 11 hours.

 

A quiet morning on the Sky Top Trail. Photo: Ken Cox.

The Vermonter train can get you to Stowe in under ten hours and provides a scenic alternative to flying. Flying into the Stowe-Morrisville State Airport may be an option for those with unlimited funds, but using the Burlington International Airport is your best bet for international flights from outside of the northeast. There will most likely be connections on international flights, but it gets you to the mountains with the least amount of trouble and a fair price.

 

Stowe perfectly combines easily-accessible backcountry excitement with modern resort frills and an incomparable natural setting. Find your guide and make your backcountry dreams come true in the skiing paradise of Stowe, Vermont!

 

 

 

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