It is not always easy trying to satisfy my family’s desire for luxury and my personal needs for a wintry mountain experience during the holidays. I can’t seem to talk the family into visiting Talkeetna, El Chalten or even Keene Valley any time of year. They expect a warm bed, decent shopping, fine restaraunts and the option of room service.
However, even though I’d like an all-out alpine climb, I still look forward to fine dining these days now that I have been living an easy, professional life in Peaklessburg (probably for too long). Thankfully, there are places to get the feel of both — at least we can with a little compromise of our expectations.
There are two types of mountain towns as I see it: wilderness towns, usually centered around parkland, and mountain resort towns. Mountain resort towns usually offer skiing in winter and golfing, fly fishing and so forth during the rest of the year. While wilderness towns, like Talkeetna, are preferable, some resort towns are on the edge of some great wilderness. Whistler, British Colombia and Girdwood, Alaska are great mountain resort towns on the edge of major parkland. But for the eastern part of North America, Stowe, Vermont, a mountain resort town, can serve the bill probably better than the rest, even the famous Whiteface Mountain near Lake Placid. Lake Placid has been overrun by conventions and sporting events and makes the town often too crowded to enjoy in peace.
Stowe has a high degree of sophistication and resides in a valley of pine, maple and birch. Once a quiet farming town at the base of Vermont’s highest peak, Mount Mansfield (4,393 ft./1,339m.), it has grown into a mature ski resort with a pleasant New England town. You can ski, golf, fly fish and best of all, hike and get a taste of alpine in during the winter. It’s great day up on Mansfield or Mount Hunger and then enjoy the town’s coffeehouse, Black Cap (formerly the Stowe Coffee House), which now roasts its own beans or then visit the Lounge at Trapp Family Lodge for some hearty cuisine and a Trapp Lager.
There are other destinations as well, such as the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream factory, which also offers 20-minute introductions to snowshoeing and conservation efforts, taught by a guide from the Umiak snowshoe and kayak outfitter, on Ben & Jerry’s private land. It is especially good for people who have never been on snow before; come for the ice cream but learn to appreciate nature.
Last year the town has been enhanced with a true backcountry outfitter to compliment the numerous ski shops: CC Outdoor Store just South of town on famous Route 100. While the staff of the ski shops did not know what gaitors were, CC Outdoor’s staff know as well as what gear you need to tackle Camels Hump (4,083 ft./1,245 m.) and its bald summit on a blustery day in January.
Again, with a little compromise, a decent, winter mountain experience can be had here while your family enjoys the town.
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