The Coastal Traveller at Stowe Mountain Lodge
Ever set out with glorious ski vacation dreams, only to have the temperature hold at a clement 55 degrees, then start raining? At times like that, you need a miracle.
You also need a splendid place—with vast walls of windows framing cozy lounges, and wonderful food, and excellent snowmaking—to await your weather event. And lots of fireplaces. All of this exists, appealingly arrayed, at Stowe Mountain Lodge.
I first encountered the Destination Hotels & Resorts portfolio (of which Stowe Mountain Lodge is a part) in the early 2000s. They’ve grown considerably since, which greatly pleases hotel aficionados. DHR has an eye for setting, and an interpretation of luxury that is both grandiose and intimate. That’s harder than it sounds.
The astute hoteliers at Stowe Mountain Lodge have bridged this divide with enormous aplomb. Open for about seven years now as part of the sprawling public-private resort complex near the town of Stowe, Vermont, Stowe Mountain Lodge (SML) is an exemplar of DHR’s superior ability to mix elegance with comfort in dramatic ways.
Here one finds ski chalet construction on an impressive scale. The cavernous great room with towers of stone and wood-encased pillars is spectacular. Alpine A-frame-inspired architecture outside gives way inside to massive beams, soaring ceilings, and roaring fireplaces (carefully stoked by attentive staff). It’s everything a mountain lodge should be, set prettily at the foot of Mt. Mansfield, Vermont’s highest at over 4,000 feet.
At this altitude, it’s surprising to find some of the things they’ve hauled up. Like the Spruce Peak Performing Arts Center that hosts a stellar array of artists—from James Taylor to The Magic of India, a Bollywood dance review—or the 21,000-square-foot Spa and Wellness Center with KidSpa for the little ones, as well as some attractive retail stores. It’s a striking recreational campus with nearby Vermont jewels beckoning, like the capital city of Montpelier (and Burlington for the striving) should one tire of the slopes.
As I said, it was 55 degrees and raining upon arrival. It was also dark, and I couldn’t be sure there was snow on the trails. This was disconcerting. Happily, the room was not.
Accommodations at big ski hotels can tend toward the Spartan: you’re there to ski after all, not watch TV. This isn’t true of the wood-trimmed junior suites at Stowe Mountain Lodge. They pack in a lot of comforts and provide a marvelous sense of place.
The stone-trimmed gas fireplace is warm and welcoming, as is the roomy terrace, comfy king bed with cloud-like down pillows, plus a queen-sized sleeper sofa. A view of surrounding Spruce Peak is majestic and a little mysterious, as a view should be.
The bathroom is big and beautifully tiled, with a large glass uni-door shower and oversized relaxation tub, ideal for after-ski soaking. Our highly functional kitchenette featured an Andis coffee maker, Miele mini-stove, GE Profile microwave, the right mix of pots pans, utensils, and even a J.A. Henckels knife set. Everything you need to avoid room service and cook your own meals. If you feel that you must.
Of course, Stowe has a long and illustrious reputation for Nordic and downhill skiing. There are miles of well-groomed trails along with off-piste and cross-country options, making it perhaps the most desirable ski country in the northeast. Given the temperature and the rain (both still depressingly steady at midnight) I was counting on Stowe’s state-of-the-art snowmaker machinery to save the day.
The convivial Hourglass Lounge serves as the lodge’s casual dining option. On this night, it was full of fit-looking skier families and attractive people in sweaters, as one would expect a few thousand feet above sea level.
My salmon with corn and beans was moist and firm, with a spicy finishing heat that lit up the protein. A thoroughly satisfying dish. The burger was perfect, and an off-the-menu vegetarian dish of sautéed legumes was crisp and pretty fabulous.
Solstice, SML’s upscale dining option, has a comfortable elegance. In the exhibition kitchen we find executive chef Ronnie Sanchez, who has created an imaginative and fearless menu. If you find yourself with Stephanie as your server, you’ll meet an absolute professional with a penchant for yoga who will enhance your meal with insights and light conversation. That’s a delicate balance. The service staff at Stowe Mountain Lodge were all above average all around, and nowhere more so than while dining.
Starters like sautéed garlic prawns in a broth of shallots, olive oil, and red pepper flakes should be a main course. Buffalo cauliflower is smoky and addictive. Black pepper fettuccine and prawns with asparagus, Parmesan, and lemon zest is fun and flavorful. The 8-ounce filet mignon with whipped potatoes and mushroom demi-glace is a crowd-pleasing protein, and the savory haricot verts are perfect. Whether you finish with the brulé banana split with candied walnuts and strawberry ice cream or the walnut streusel with vanilla ice cream, the meal has a lovely cohesion that comes from balance.
SML’s Sunday breakfast buffet is sunny and hearty—just right for a hotel full of ski fanatics. A sausage omelet hit the spot, and assorted shots of fresh juices (cold mountain apple, pomegranate cranberry) helped me feel fortified.
The Spruce Camp Base Lodge has a nice cafeteria-style restaurant too. Ideal, actually. It’s possible to nitpick, but these kitchens show proficient technique with a fun side.
Last time I skied was at Vail. With nothing but adrenaline and a blasé disregard for my own safety, I did the whole 11,000 feet in a kind of stylish plummet on diamond trails. I found parts of Spruce Peak more approachable and forgiving, whether you’re a snowboarder, a little kid starting out, or an indestructible downhill racer.
Overnight, the temperature dropped and it stopped raining. By morning, a lovely coat of frost had engulfed the mountain, there was fresh manmade snow on the trails, and the sun came charging out. We got fantastic ski tips from Rosemarie at the ski school. She was absolutely charming and patient, spending two hours with us. It turned out to be the most fun I’ve ever had skiing, and Rosemarie turned my novice daughter into a natural.
Even with construction going on and lots of new staff coming on board, Stowe Mountain Lodge has definitely put together a core team that knows what they’re doing. That’s crucial in an operation of this size and complexity. I particularly liked concierge Billy O’Neill, a former pro skier and local hospitality legend. He’s an absolute expert and delightful conversationalist who is only too happy to help with the littlest request.
While I didn’t sample the well-regarded spa on this visit, I did enjoy SML’s heated outdoor Aqua pool. When the air temp (finally) hits 30° and you’re swimming in lovely warm water, it puts your head right. The fitness center is also quite good.
Sitting in the commodious great room late in the evening in front of a well-tended fire as the kids play Tri-Ominos, Wilco streaming from an iPhone speaker, the world seems like a good and happy place. Great hotels can produce this effect.
Stowe Mountain Lodge is Alpine recherché in the same sense as Aspen or Tahoe. Not even weird weather can undo its mountain magic.