Skiers, like golfers, tend to be passionate about their sport. Both will pay exhorbitant sums of money on equipment. Both will go to great lengths to find new places to test their skills. Both will talk for hours on end about their sport’s intricacies. If you let them.
You can find ski resorts all over the world, regardless of your level of incompetence. But what if—like us—you don’t ski? What if—like our wives and girlfriends—you don’t like to vacation where it’s cold? What if—like many of you, our faithful readers—you simply want to do something different?
Leave it to us to find an offbeat alternative: visit a ski resort during the off-season.
Imagine the difference. You can leave your parkas behind. You can ride the ski lifts to the top of a mountain for a hike or a photography trip. You can stay in lodges that are nearly empty. Plus, you might pay about half the rate you would in January.
Stowe, Vermont, is our favorite off-season skiing destination. A sleepy little town that caters to skiers in the winter, Stowe empties during the summer, and that’s the best reason to visit it then. Once the skiers have fled, the town’s inns and bed-and-breakfasts often offer money-saving deals to attract travelers, tourists, or anyone with a pulse and a wallet.
Sensing a good bargain, we decided to check it out. We were not disappointed. For once. Stowe doesn’t roll up its sidewalks and go into hibernation just because there’s no snow on the ground. There are other attractions.
The town is home to a famous ice creamery—Ben & Jerry’s, if you really have to know, not that we would stoop to crass advertising, especially for a large company that produces such creamy delights as Ben & Jerry’s. [Editor’s note: We did not receive any Ben & Jerry’s compensation for plugging Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, but we will accept Ben & Jerry’s coupons.] The summer weather persuaded us to stop at the factory each and every time we drove by, sometimes four or five times a day. We went for a tour once, but usually we just wanted to load up on sugar. It’s the Great American Addiction (well, besides oil).
We didn’t lack for real activities in town either. Stowe opens up during the summertime. When we went, in early July, we got to witness the Stoweflake Hot Air Balloon spectacle. Hot air balloon rides can be exhilarating and dramatic because, depending on the prevailing winds, you never know where (or even if) you will land. Oz suddenly seems like a possibility. Bring your toothbrush.
Another thing we tried—and fell in love with—was the cement luge. Flying down a cement track on a little go-cart/luge is an experience you’ll never forget, assuming you survive. Let your hand ease off the brake, lean back, and let it go! We were thrilled so much that we never wore those underwear again.
Even though Stowe is situated in the middle of an otherwise remote state, it is the perfect spot to act as a base camp for day trip excursions throughout the mountains. Vermont is a rural paradise just waiting to be discovered. Head into the Green Mountains for a day hike or an overnighter. Check out the “big city” of Burlington, where you can peruse the local crafts, sail on Lake Champlain, or enjoy one of several summer music festivals. Drive south to see Queechee Gorge and the state capital at Montpelier. Even Montreal, Quebec, is only a short drive across the border.
One year long ago, we stayed at a place called the Pub at Stowe (sadly no longer there), owned and operated by Ed, a British expatriate. After a full day of sightseeing and fun, we returned for steak and kidney pie and English ale on tap. By the end of the night—we always closed the bar—Ed would turn down the lights, crank up the music, and serve a free last round. All we had to do was crawl up the stairs to our rooms, but it was still a task we just barely managed on some nights.
Your experience may vary, of course, but small Vermont towns are happy places during the short summers. After huddling inside all winter, the natives joyfully hit the outdoors. They’re almost always willing to help people find their way. Unlike Maine (“You can’t get there from here”) or New Hampshire (“Go back to Taxachusetts”), Vermont is a friendly state populated by a mix of old hippies, young Republicans, and many, many sheep.
Little Known Fact: While it’s true that there are more sheep than people in Vermont, that doesn’t mean they’re easy. Dinner and a movie is still the going price, and it helps if the movie features other animals (but please, not Dances with Wolves).
Lessons Learned: Stowe is an out-of-way spot in an out-of-the-way state that will charm you enough to want to return. If the people don’t win your heart, the Green Mountain terrain certainly will. If the sightseeing bores you, the summertime activities won’t. Stowe in the summer: it’s the opposite of skiing.
How We Saw It
Communication Breakdown: 1
Customer Dis-service: 1
Discomfort Level: 1
Grunge Factor: 2
Inactivity Guide: 1
Spontaneous Consumption: 2
Fun Fraction: 4/5
If You Won’t Listen to Us
Nearest Airport: Burlington International Airport
Native Population: 4,800
Normal Attractions: Skiing, the Trapp Family Lodge, Vermont Mozart Festival, foliage viewing.
Final Point of Interest: Stowe is becoming more and more popular during the “off-season,” so book your trip before it becomes completely overrun by New Yorkers.