"It’s very sweet,” the no-nonsense waitress at Jeffersonville's Mix Café warns a mother and two preteens about their menu choice. They've taken a break from Facebooking on their iPad to debate ordering the crème brulée French toast with "drunken" blueberries. The trio nod and order it anyway—why not? The Mix's particular twist on French toast is said to be the best in Vermont, and almost everyone who gathers here, from Carhartt-clad farmers to snow bunnies in Bogner, has probably earned the calories.
Sweet but also surprising: sort of like many Green Mountain ski towns themselves. Jeffersonville is the home of Smugglers' Notch; Stowe, of the resort of the same name; and Waitsfield and Warren, in the Mad River Valley, of Mad River Glen and Sugarbush. Beneath a frosting of white snow are villages whose rich histories are now peppered with funky artists' studios, taquerias, distilleries and eclectic movie theaters. Picture-perfect slices of Americana, they're also fun spots for celebrating winter's wonders.
As you sit with your skis dangling over the slopes on your way up Stowe’s Spruce Peak, you may find yourself contemplating which you’d have a better chance at: winning the annual Sugar Slalom happening over to your left, or securing one of the new, posh homes beneath your feet, whose hot tubs are big enough for scuba gear.
It’s OK. This is Stowe, a fertile place for fantasies ever since the Civilian Conservation Corps cut the first trails on Mount Mansfield. And thanks to a recent, $400 million overhaul, most of those fantasies can be indulged at the upscale Spruce Peak base area—including piles of chocolate, graham crackers and marshmallows for making s’mores around a fire after skiing. While Stowe Mountain Lodge anchors this side of the resort, you don’t have to be a guest there to catch a show at the new Spruce Peak Performing Arts Center or to have a drink at the lodge’s bar.
Granted, not everything around Stowe is cushy: The fabled Front Four trails still send plenty of bruised knees and egos away from this area, which has a 4,395-foot summit elevation and 116 trails. But it’s the combination of hard-core terrain, layers of tradition and mountain-inspired creativity that makes it such a winning ski town. An exploration actually begins about seven miles from the resort, in the heart of the historic village. Housed in the Old Town Hall, the Vermont Ski and Snowboard Museum showcases some 10,000 cold-weather curiosities, from gondolas to 10th Mountain Division uniforms. Stowe Mercantile, just up the road, may have nearly as much stuff, but it’s all for sale: penny candy, sleigh bells, stoneware mugs. Chocoholics will want to head to Laughing Moon Chocolates for handmade treats.
Fuel up on either wood-fired pizzas at Piecasso or tacos at Frida’s Taqueria before venturing up the five-mile Stowe Recreation Path. The multi-use trail begins at the white-steepled Community Church, winds past the Topnotch and Stoweflake resorts and is ideal for hikers and cross-country skiers. Every February, it’s also part of the Stowe Derby, a race that takes daring skiers from the top of Mount Mansfield to Stowe Village.
Mix Café: 55 Church Street, Upper Pleasant Valley Rd; 802.644.6371; themixcafevt.com
Smugglers' Notch: smuggs.com
Spruce Peak Performing Arts Center: 122 Hourglass Dr.; 802.760.4634; sprucepeakarts.org
Vermont Ski and Snowboard Museum: 1 S. Main St.; 802.253.9911; vtssm.com
Stowe Mercantile: 37 Main St.; 802.253.4554; stowemercantile.com
Laughing Moon Chocolates: 78 S. Main St.; 802.253.9591; laughingmoonchocolates.com