For the East Coasters who woke up to the snow today, try to imagine that instead of trudging to work in the slush, you could be carving up fresh powder at Southern Vermont’s highest peak.
We found ourselves in such a situation during the Valentine’s week blizzard at Stratton Mountain. Far up in the Green Mountain range, miles from civilization, lied our very own oasis — a wintery haven from the stresses of everyday life and a comfortable lodge with a warm fireplace to call our own. In the words of ski film legend Warren Miller, “A pair of skis are the ultimate transportation to freedom.”
WHERE TO FIND THE BEST SKIING AT STRATTON
Our adventure began on a clear skied Monday in February with wide open terrain and freshly groomed trails. The advantage of visiting Stratton during the week includes great deals, non-existent lift lines and a mountain playground all to yourself. Not to mention every powder day this year has been during the week — just sayin’.
The Stratton snowmaking team had been hard at work ensuring plentiful coverage even after that short stretch of warmer weeks in the Northeast. Our favorite runs to warm up on included Lower Tamarack and Craig’s Run — both easily accessible from the Tamarack and South American lifts at the main base area. Once we had our ski legs back, we headed over to the gondola and straight up to the top. At 3,875 feet, the views of the valleys below are quite stunning. We took a deep breath, marveled at the sight of the far reaching mountain vistas and hit the trails. Fast forward about twenty runs later and we hung up our skies, headed to the Fire Tower Tavern for a little après, and packed it in early to rest up for the two powder days ahead.
The next day we woke up to 8 inches of fresh snow blanketing the mountain. We slapped our skis on our shoulders and headed over to the gondola for first tracks. Our first stop: Upper Kidderbrook — a secluded black diamond on the far west side of the mountain that our publisher had scoped out the day before. Turns out his hunch was right — we were rewarded with completely untapped powder the entire length of the mountain. From there, it was rinse and repeat all day long as fresh snow continued to pour down from the powder gods above. Some of the best powder stashes we found were in the glade West Pilot (easier) and Test Pilot (a double-black steep and deep tree run).
Our favorite green runs of the day were the East & West Meadows accessible by the new Snow Bowl lift. The high-speed quad debuted this year and was strategically positioned to minimize wind impact with lower towers hugging the tree line, and built with a parking rail for all 98 chairs to combat overnight icing (helpful during blizzards like the one we were in). With a 1,000-feet-per-minute speed, ride time is also reduced from 14 to five minutes ensuring more time for shredding the pow. The top ramp also provides smoother access to Mike’s Way, which is a nice long beginner run from the summit, allowing a whole new way to lap the diverse Snow Bowl terrain. We took full advantage of this opportunity to soak up as much powder as we possibly could.
As part of the new Snow Bowl lift, Stratton has returned part of Upper Wanderer and Lower Snow Bowl Alley back to nature, increasing Stratton’s overall conservation area. Trees will also be replanted in these areas to help promote a lasting and native Boreal environment. In return, a new Snow Bowl Alley will cut across the fall line and a new trail will go from the upper lift terminal over to the Mike’s Way. Another addition to the map will be a trail following the old the Poma line, a not-so-secret powder stash long favored by locals. It’s a narrow line for those looking for a challenge and a mandatory stop for an old-school, tree lined run.
STAY AT THE INVITING HEARTHSTONE LODGE
We packed the car with some Jersey Mike’s subs, all the ingredients for a hearty lentil soup and headed up the scenic drive to our very own mountainside condo. Hearthstone Lodge is modeled after the grand National Park lodges of the West and is filled with unique stone and timber detailing inside and out. Marked by its tower of stone balconies and its grand entry to a common hearth room, Hearthstone offers easy access to the Village Commons, shops, restaurants, and Stratton’s base lodge. We found the condo to be spacious and well designed to accommodate family and guests comfortably.
Hearthstone Lodge is equipped with all the luxuries you could want — including a heated indoor garage and dedicated parking space to easily unload your gear. We took full advantage of the large kitchen, washer/dryer and living room with gas fireplace which was perfect for warming our boots and drying our gear. Probably our favorite amenity though was the heated outdoor pool, hot-tub and sauna for ultimate relaxation after a hard day on the slopes. The wrap around balcony also offered sweeping views of the surrounding mountains and was great place to watch the snow pile up.
MEET JEFF CAVAGNINO, ENVIRONMENTAL MANAGER
We had unique the opportunity to meet Jeff Cavagnino, Environmental & Safety Manager at Stratton. Jeff is like many Stratton locals — he came here over 12 years ago, fell in love the wilderness and has been here ever since. He’s also become a driving force for their sustainability initiatives. We learned last year that Stratton treats their environment as their most valuable asset and Jeff shared that this philosophy continues to drive their Master Plan.
He’s currently working on the buildout of new mountain biking trails which included a series of environmental studies with State officials. After a meticulous process of cataloguing and counting every tree along the path, a reforestation plan was put in place to promote growth. The impact includes rerouting new trails around the local bear population and ensuring that each square foot that was modified or removed was re-planted elsewhere on the mountain.
One of the more ingenious sustainability programs is the means by which Stratton recycles water on the mountain. All streams flow into the lake at the golf course and are monitored for flow rate to ensure the water is making its way downstream. From there, the water is reused in snow making and the process repeats all over again. The result is a closed loop system in which barely any water is lost.
Jeff also walked us through new environmental initiatives underway at Stratton as a result of being purchased by Alterra. “One of the more exciting programs is an online dashboard that allows us to track real-time energy usage for each of our buildings. This has been really empowering for our building managers who can curb usage during off peak hours and see how they have a tangible impact,” said Jeff.
“Being part of the Alterra family has been a true game changer in fostering cross-mountain collaboration. We’ve been able to share resources and best practices to drive a lot of key sustainability programs forward,” he went on. “They really support each mountain maintaining their own identity while providing the resources we need to grow.”
Alterra invested $10M in Stratton last year and remains deeply committed to the environmental mission. In fact, Stratton has dedicated one third of their mountain acreage (1,100+ acres) to conservation and is protected from all future development.
VISIT DURING THE WEEK AND SAVE BIG
Stratton has truly become our favorite mountain escape. We’re especially fond of visiting during the week when you have the mountain all to yourself, the deals are plentiful and the powder gods have been more than favorable. Crisp air, mountain adventure and fresh snow. What more could you really want?