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A New Day for Stowe: $400 Million Plan

A New Day for Stowe: $400 Million Plan
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There have always been two Stowes. One is the skier’s mountain: historic, hard-core, defined by its infamous “Front Four” double black diamonds — Goat, National, Liftline, and Starr, whose unforgiving, ungroomed surface drops 37 degrees directly down the fall line. Stowe’s reputation has been world-class, the first and the best: first ski patrol in the United States, first chairlift in the East, host of the national downhill championships as early as 1938. The second Stowe is glamorous: playground of the rich and famous, the fur coat to Taos and Alta’s wool. The Kennedys skied here, so too Mick Jagger. IBM execs located one of their plants outside Burlington because they liked the skiing at Stowe. All of them were attracted to the proportions and the scenery — the lodge and the skiing up on wild Mount Mansfield, the quaint shops and inns and the white-spired church down in the village six miles below — which came to define a classic New England setting and a New England chic.

But the cachet has faded since the glory days of the 1940s, ’50s, and ’60s. Once a rival of Aspen and Squaw and Sun Valley, Stowe has gradually lost its “in” crowd to the larger, glitzier resorts of the West. Always water-poor, the resort has watched a new generation of Eastern skiers and snowboarders flock to the superior snowmaking of Stratton and Snow and Sunday River. Its longtime owner, the insurance giant AIG, has absorbed a decades-long slip in market share.

And so Stowe is gambling. Faced with an antiquated lodge and lifts and groomers — and the challenge of drawing more water to make snow than the West Branch River can naturally provide — AIG is investing some $400 million over 10 years in a plan that will reinvent the very experience that Stowe was built on. This winter, a new transfer lift links Mount Mansfield with its sister mountain, Spruce Peak. New trails and snowmaking on Spruce Peak open up a gentler, friendlier option to Mansfield’s expert terrain. That side of the resort will soon become home to a new “alpine village,” complete with retail shops and restaurants, a thousand slope-side beds, a fitness center, and an 18-hole golf course. All of it, the owners say, will be done with an eye to small scale and nature. They’ve based their gamble on an unprecedented amount of collaboration with those who know what’s at stake: the loyal die-hard skiers who don’t want to see Stowe turn soft; the locals and environmentalists who fear the overdevelopment of a traditional New England landscape; the village business owners who fear the loss of a unique arrangement that has long distinguished Stowe from the mega resorts.

Rob Apple, Stowe’s director of planning and development, understands what’s in play. As with so many places in New England, history is a huge part of Stowe’s mystique — and its draw. AIG is not trying to create a new, third identity. As Apple said to a reporter when the plan was unveiled, “We want you to go, ‘Wow. The Civilian Conservation Corps … must have built this thing back in the ’30s.’”

For trail maps, lodging help, and special packages, go to stowe.com.

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