Stowe, Vermont | The Mountain, Skiing, Shopping, Spas, Food, and Memories
I skied Stowe Mountain Resort, in Stowe, Vermont, for the first time when I was in fifth grade. It was memorable for a few reasons, but probably the most exciting part wasn’t skiing, but riding a chairlift. I started skiing almost before I could walk, but from that time until my trip to Stowe, I only rode surface lifts: T-bars, rope tows, and Poma lifts. My inaugural chairlift ride was magical and to this moment completely memorable—one of the little snapshots saved in my mind’s photo album for eternity.
Following every direction precisely, I sat on the chairlift with my father and we were whisked away, flying through the air, toward the peak of Mount Mansfield. I said to my dad that I couldn’t believe I was actually riding a chairlift. He asked me if I wanted him to pinch me. I thought that was an odd question—not knowing about the “someone pinch me, I cannot believe this” expression—but I said sure. He reached over with his gloved hand and gently pinched my cheek while his other hand held tightly to my ski poles and his and I sat gripping the chairlift bar with all my strength. It was quite a ride.
For me, Stowe holds an important place of family lore, and not just because it was where I first rode a chairlift. It was also the first place my mother and father rode a chairlift together. And actually, as our family history goes, where my parents met. I’ve asked about the particulars so many times that it seems like I was right there, watching my dad step on the tails of my mom’s skis to “subtly” get her attention in the lift line; watching her turn her head and shoot off a dirty look. “Did you ride up together? What did you talk about?” Questions I asked so many times. Between the two of them, so many of their memories of Stowe have become mine, without me even being there.
Since my father passed away, my mom decided that an annual trip to Stowe was a must for her. Luckily, for the second year in a row, I’ve met her for a day or two of mother-daughter bonding.
On this trip, I stayed at the Stoweflake Mountain Resort & Spa. Located about halfway up on the Mountain Road, it’s been an institution in the region. In fact this year marks its 50th anniversary as a third generation-run family business. Thankfully, I got the grand tour from Sheri Baraw Smith, vice president and general manager, and also granddaughter of Stuart and Beatrice Baraw who opened “Stoweflake” in 1963, an inn with 20 guestrooms and a dining room. Sheri told me that in the beginning her grandmother Bea rented out the rooms and ran the operation. Today, Sheri’s father Chuck Baraw is the president, his wife is in charge of wedding sales, and Scot Baraw, Sheri’s cousin, is vice president of sales. There’s a tremendous amount of family lore for the Baraw family in Stowe and it was delightful to hear about it from Sheri.
A lot has changed since 1963. What started out as a 20-room inn has become an event and conference center, with over 22,000 square feet of meeting space (the largest resort conference center in Vermont), a range of room options, and anchored with a fitness center and spa.
Sheri and I started out in the cozy lobby near the fireplace and meandered our way toward the fitness center, which is not just a fancy word for some cardio equipment and a few stationary bikes. Stoweflake’s fitness center includes a racket ball/squash court, and an indoor and an outdoor pool, a women’s-only workout center, Cybex fitness machines, and classes (a Spinning studio class with views of the Green Mountains!). We did not venture outdoors, but were able to see the cross-country and snowshoe trails and the snow-covered serenity garden. Then we found our way to the world-class spa complete with an Aqua Solarium, the Bingham Hydroptherapy Waterfalls, and Hungarian Mineral Soaking Pool. The beauty of Vermont’s great outdoors inspires the spa’s philosophy which focuses on natural and organic treatments. Looking for some relaxation and rejuvenation? Look no further.
After the spa we wandered toward Charlie B’s Pub (named after her Sheri’s great grandfather who was a Vermont farmer) where we had a glass of wine by the crackling open hearth fireplace surrounded by old-time ski memorabilia from her family’s original ski house. Suspended above us was a replica of a Stoweflake hot air balloon. Since 1986, the Stoweflake Annual Balloon Festival has launched hot air balloons as the highlight of festivities which includes children’s activities, live music, and sunrise/sunset launches with two dozen expert pilots. This year’s festival is scheduled for July 11 – 13, 2014.
Sheri’s husband Eric joined us at the fireplace and we started talking about their favorite vacation-type things to do in this area. I wasn’t sure if locals would be interested in the same things that I had on my agenda. But they both agreed, the next day I needed to make time for skiing, plus stops at Ben & Jerry’s, Cold Hollow Cider Mill, and the Cabot Annex Store.
I also asked about the happy pups I saw behind the Stoweflake. Unfortunately, my agenda was maxed with no room for more, but after hearing about Eric’s exhilarating recap of his dog-sled ride with Umiak Outdoor Outfitters I made a mental note to add that to my future to-do list. Their mushers and teams of Siberian Huskies offer twenty-minute rides from Stoweflake. (Click here more details on pricing and availability.)
After sitting by the fire with Sheri and Eric and smelling the aroma of the food, I knew I’d be staying for dinner. So after refueling, I got to bed early to prepare for tomorrow’s day on the slopes.
The day started out overcast, but magically the clouds disappeared and my mother and I were immersed in the beauty of the mountains. From perfect snow under ski to mesmerizing vistas, this is what Stowe skiing is all about.
This is the birch tree that my parents and their friends used as a meeting stop while skiing some of Stowe’s legendary Front Four trails.
After a day on the slopes with my mom, we headed to Stowe Village for some après ski. At first, we just popped into some favorite stops like Bear Pond Books and The Vermont Ski Museum.
I knew what was ahead of me so I saved my appetite for some special stops as I headed south on Route 100 toward Waterbury. I followed Sheri and Eric’s recommendations and stopped at Cabot, Cold Hollow Cider Mill, and Ben and Jerry’s.
I’m not going to delve into the details of the cheddar cheese, premium ice cream, cider donuts, and hot cider that I sampled; however, if you follow my path home, you will be happily sated.
After a wonderful day spent with those he loved doing what he loved, my dad would say, “That was the best day ever.” With memories tucked into our hearts of my dad, my mother and I had one of the best weekends ever at Stowe.
For more information about Stowe, visit: www.gostowe.com.