February 3, 2017
There are not too many skiers or snowboarders who have Stowe in general and Mount Mansfield in particular as part of their orbit who have not heard in some form the rumors about the possible acquisition of Stowe Mountain Resort by Vail. Over the last several years the omnivorous ski conglomerate from west of the Mississippi has been gobbling up ski resorts at a remarkable rate. From Breckenridge to Park City and the Canyons and oh yes Whistler-Blackcomb. What seems to be driving this is Vail’s desire to keep building the market for their very successful Epic Pass which gives the buyer access to all 13 of Vail’s resorts. So now it seems that there is great interest in adding Stowe Mountain Resort onto that list.
Here in Stowe the jury is very much out still on whether or not having Vail as the new landlord would be a blessing or a curse, but no matter where folks stand on that issue everyone seems to like the idea of scoring that Epic Pass! But there is another rumor that has also been gaining traction and that is Vail’s acknowledged interest in the Smuggler’s Notch ski area. Boy locals are thinking, wouldn’t it be sweet to have access to both of these places.
This writer has said on more than a few occasions, “you know what Stowe has that no one else in the East has, they have Smuggler’s on the back side, and Smugg’s has killer terrain!” Most Stowe skiers and riders have spent relatively little time on what is often referred to as The Dark Side, but if you are any kind of a woods skier or rider, you know that the Birthday Bowls or if you prefer, the Back Bowls as some describe them offer some awesome dead-north-facing powder and boy they don’t see much sun during most of the winter. Talk about your cold snow, you can find it in the bowls!
But Smugg’s offers a whole lot more than those popular routes. The lifts over there are slow and creaky but if you find yourself on the Madonna Chair, you will be riding up and over the trail simply known as the Liftline. It has everything you could want in a double-black diamond – good and bad. Ledges, trees, cables, ice falls and 2500 vertical feet of unending challenge, there are not many places that offer you 2500 vert off a single chair ride. When queried years ago by Ski Magazine as to what trail he found the most challenging in the East, yours truly’s response was “It is hard to top the Madonna Liftline.”
But that is just one of the routes that will test you with 30-35 degree pitches. There is the FIS trail, there is Dempsey’s and then the legendary woods runs like Central Artery and the Black Hole. Yup that resort has terrain that can match anyone’s. The lifts could use work, snowmaking is a work in progress and there just aren’t quite enough grooming machines to cover the place with corduroy but just imagine for a moment that first Vail found a way to tie Stowe and Smuggler’s together and then dumped a bunch of cash into upgrading the Dark Side. You would be looking at a big sprawling resort that would dominate the ski world in the eastern half of the U.S.
It may not happen, and those of us who know our way around find ourselves in Smuggler’s Notch occasionally. It doesn’t take much effort to head down the old Snuffy’s route to drop onto the slopes of Sterling Mountain and once you are there no shortage exists of very fun stuff to ski or ride. Now getting back over without a lift ticket can be challenging but where there is a will there is a way.
Now if the marriage never gets made between two of the East’s greatest mountains, locals can live with that. But if someday one ticket gets you free access to both resorts and those old fixed grip double chairs get redone and the snowmaking gets amped up, then the stage will be set for the greatest skiing paradise to be found east of the Wasatch.
The best terrain east of the Wasatch
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