Fun in Vermont for nonskiers
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The thermometer continues to drop, the snow keeps falling - yes, it's wintertime in the Northeast. With sun-drenched hills, cozy chalet fireplaces and postcard-perfect villages, Vermont beckons ski aficionados for long weekend getaways.
But what if you don't ski? Don't fret. Two quintessential Vermont spots offer plenty to do off the slopes, assuring nonskiers as rollicking a time as the ski crowd.
At 4,395 feet, Stowe's Mt. Mansfield is the highest point in Vermont and has always been a favored ski destination, with 485 acres of challenging trails. Over the past two years, Stowe's Mountain Resort has added Spruce Peak Base Camp, a new lodge, new restaurants and off-slope activities to its repertoire, elevating this once-quaint village into an up-and-coming East Coast destination with a Rocky Mountain-resort feel. Skiers and boarders can be left to Mansfield's tricked-out terrain - Stowe's expansive countryside is awash in alternatives.
OFF THE SLOPES
If you can walk, you can snowshoe. Stowe's 3,000-plus acres of land feature a trail system that weaves across the icy West Branch River, past snow-covered trees. A number of outlets will rent you a pair of snowshoes for the day - Umiak Outfitters runs guided snowshoe tours that include a trek to an old sugarhouse followed by wine, fondue or a full-fledged dinner ($49-$99, 802-253-2317, umiak.com). If it's the workout you dread, Umiak also takes visitors on dogsled rides through the backcountry led by a team of mushers and Siberian huskies. Two-hour tours are priced from $320 - 20-minute teaser rides are $98.
Nearby Waterbury has two food-themed family excursions. Take a 30-minute romp of the Ben & Jerry's ice cream factory on a tour that reveals the process of making the cold stuff from high above the production floor. It concludes with a trip to the Flavo-room for free samples - ours was Mint Chocolate Chunk. Tours cost $3 (free younger than 12, 866-258-6877, benjerry.com). Up the road, the Cold Hollow Cider Mill presses its own juice year-round from Macintosh apples. Be careful of your waistline in the market; an array of cider-based goodies like doughnuts, pancakes and maple syrup beg both tasting and purchase (800-327-7537, coldhollow.com).
The Spa at the Stoweflake Inn has a water therapy solarium with a 12-foot rock formation and Hungarian mineral soak that will chase the chill away as you gaze upon nearby Mt. Mansfield. More than 120 treatments are available, but don't miss the Maple Sugar Scrub ($180), an aromatic escape that is trance-inducing (802-253-7355, stoweflake.com)
Après-ski (as in, the socializing that takes place when the crowds come off the mountain) is practically religion in Stowe. Whether you've hit the slopes or not, you shouldn't skip happy hour at The Matterhorn. A haven for sports fans and pool sharks, this always-buzzing dive is littered with haphazard heaps of snow gear as patrons fuel up on inventive sushi, pub staples and toasty pizzas (about $10 each). Later on, it often hosts local cover bands paying tribute to the Grateful Dead and the Allman Brothers ($5 cover for live music, 802-253-8198, matterhornbar.com). Meanwhile, the just-opened Spruce Peak Performing Arts Center is bringing acts such as Ben Vereen and James Taylor to Stowe, where artists play in an intimate 420-seat venue. Upcoming acts include The Wailers ($45-$65, sprucepeakarts.org).
WHERE TO EAT
Stowe's many restaurants highlight the region's organic fare. Known for home brews, particularly the Mountain Ale, The Shed is a kitschy pub throwback. Wooden skis, black- and-white photographs and Vermont-themed tchotchkes line the walls. Rich comfort food abounds, but I usually stick with a hearty bread bowl of (Vermont) Cheddar-laden chili ($11.95, 802-253-4765).
Craving a solid margarita and some New England tacos? Located in the village's historic Butler House, lively newcomer Frida's is a good call, and the spiced oven-baked spinach, macaroni and cheese is a heavy, decadent, side dish ($6.25, fridastaqueria.com).
In stark contrast to the resort feel of Stowe, mellow Manchester is an old-fashioned New England town set 3,816 feet below the tallest peak of the Taconic Mountains. A grid of outlet stores, heavenly breakfast nooks, snowdrifts and winding mountain roads, Manchester epitomizes Colonial charm and makes a great retreat for vacationing girlfriends and couples.
OFF THE SLOPES
Manchester's not a ski-town, per se, but it's about 11 miles from the Green Mountain range's Bromley (bromley .com), where a host of cross-country and downhill skiing can be found. Nonskiers can take a guided snowmobile tour across the Green Mountains, gliding past untouched hemlocks and cedar trees. The 90-minute tours, organized by Equinox Snow Tours, include gear; no experience required ($110, 802-824-6628, vermontsnowmobile.com). There's even a special half-mile mini-tour for kids.
For something different, head to 180-year-old Taylor Farms, Vermont's only Gouda producer, to be steeped in cheese-making tradition. Workshops take visitors through the process of blending Vermont's finest dairy products, and an on-site market sells cheese, preserves and decadent butters. Pair a visit with a scoot through the woods on a sleigh ride and fireside cider and marshmallow toasting session ($20; $10 ages 3-7, 802-824-5690, taylorfarmvermont.com). In the summer, fly-fishing along the Battenkill River is a preferred way to while away an afternoon. It follows that Manchester is home to The American Museum of Fly Fishing, a place where anglers can muse through the colder months. Visitors can wander through exhibits of rods, reels, tackle, art and books dating back to the 16th century ($5 adults, $3 ages 5-14; 802-362-3300, amff.com).
Manchester is one of Vermont's most-visited retail towns, boasting a maze of outlet stores of upscale brands, including Coach, Theory and Polo Ralph Lauren (manchester designeroutlets.com). Stop for hot cocoa or fresh-baked snacks at Zoey's Bakery (800-564-3354, zoeys.com) or Sherrie's Café (802-362-3468).
WHERE TO EAT
Like Stowe, there's a carousel of dining choices in Manchester. Tucked in a snug, second-floor nook off Route 7, Up For Breakfast is never empty. Reminiscent of a good friend's home circa 1975, the service is warm, and the food is fresh and plentiful - especially the bursting blueberry pancakes and flavored coffees (cash only, 802-362-4204). Little Rooster Café is a quirky spot with charming painted chairs and killer burgers. The only drawback? The crabby waitresses (cash only, 802-362-3496). Chantecleer is a remodeled dairy barn with menu highlights such as duck in Grand Marnier sauce and Dover sole that caters to more expensive palates, while a smoldering stone fireplace sets a romantic tone (802-362-1616, chantecleerrestaurant.com).