Stowe rhymes with snow, and for good reason. It's a classic ski town, with all the requisite restaurants, shops and hotels. That said, the general ambiance is more Zermatt than Park City. The downtown is charming and walkable - there's a covered bridge right in the middle of it. And happily, a bike path has humanized the sprawling Mountain Road that leads to Stowe Mountain Resort.
The Stowe area is a visual-art Mecca, and it has the fine art and craft galleries to show for it. Many, such as the Helen Day Art Center, are traditional indoor exhibition spaces. The West Branch Gallery and Sculpture Park incorporates outdoor elements. Check out the native cedar "goddess" totems in the woods.
It's easier to negotiate Stowe on a bicycle than in a car, and the popular year-round Stowe Bike Path is a welcome alternative to the congested Mountain Road. Be sure to visit the Vermont Ski Museum - any day but Tuesday - on South Main Street before you hit the asphalt. The 5.3-mile trail starts next to the Stowe Congregational Church and crosses the West Branch River 11 times as it meanders north past shops and restaurants.
The Stowe Bike Path stops short of Stowe Mountain Resort, which, like every other Vermont ski area, is preparing for global warming. An "All Day Summer Attraction Package" includes use of an alpine slide that drops 2300 feet; a bungee trampoline that requires a full-body harness; use of the climbing wall; and an inflatable obstacle course. It also gets you a ride on a gondola that brings you to a restaurant serving gourmet Vermont lunches at the top of the mountain. Prefer to get there on your own? A toll road leads to a different spot on the summit. You can't beat the view of Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks.
Stowe's hills are definitely alive, and no more so than at the Trapp Family Lodge. The "Sound of Music" association has worked well for the 2400-acre Austrian-style resort, which is a cross-country ski center in winter. In summer, it offers hiking, horse-drawn wagon rides, bird-watching tours and Sunday evening "Music in the Meadow" concerts. The "Real Maria" documentary film shows three times a day.
Stowe is all about altitude and catching air - both essential ingredients of a Glider Ride. Stowe Soaring and its FAA-certified pilots run flights out of the Stowe-Morrisville Airport when the weather's nice. The intro "Taste of the Sky" ride is $99 for 10 minutes; the "Mile High Mt. Mansfield Special," which is $199 for 40 minutes, promises to be "life-changing."
You can't get through the narrow pass that connects Stowe to Smugglers' North in winter; it's closed to traffic. But in summer, the Smugglers' Notch Scenic Byway - its official name - is a gorgeous drive through a rocky, alpine landscape, with 1000-foot cliffs on either side. You can have a picnic up there, or camp at the state park, knowing Vermont's earliest "entrepreneurs" - aka bootleggers - once did the same.
Smugglers' Notch Resort offers a variety of adventures for its summer guests, including Via Ferrata - Italian for "iron way" - which combines climbing, hiking and high-ropes adventures in both novice and advanced sessions. There's also geocaching, where beginning and advanced participants use GPS technology, maps and compasses to explore the local terrain for "treasures." Resort guests can also head out on a Segway; an all-terrain tour explores some of the Resort's trail network. Not staying over? Local visitors can access the Mountainside Pool and Waterpark with lap pool, lagoon, 300-foot Giant Rapid River Ride and Turtle Waterslide for children.
High-altitude horseback riding is another option. The folks at Lajoie Stables in Jeffersonville organize guided tours for all levels that on a clear day promise spectacular views of Mount Mansfield and Smuggs. They're open seven days a week, all year round. If you like it, come back when it's 20 below, for sleigh rides.
The boating business that operates behind the Cupboard Deli in Jeffersonville is strictly a summer-only operation. Green River Canoe and Kayak Guided Adventures do Floating tours on the Lamoille River. Guided paddles, at $75 per boat, include a "Wildlife Watch" and "Water and Wine" - the latter is a 4.5-mile float that ends up with a tasting tour of Boyden Family Winery in Cambridge. "Self-guided" is also an option. The price - $40 per kayak for a 2.5-hour float - includes shuttle service and heavy lifting. Tandem kayaks and canoes pay $60 per boat. Ask about the "Ice Cream Float."
Looking for a more remote boating experience? The 28 camp sites at Green River Reservoir in Morrisville can only be reached by water - some are as far as 2 miles from the launch. With 19 miles of pristine shoreline and lots of wildlife, the 653-acre body of water is "quiet," which means no gas-powered boats are allowed. Parking is limited, and the park is considered "full" when the lot is.