It took a little extra effort slipping my double-sock-layered feet into my ski boots the morning of Sunday, January 31. I was getting ready for a day at Stowe Mountain Resort. The 1-degree weather didn’t deter me, or anyone else, from taking advantage of the cloudless, bluebird ski day that awaited.
By 10 a.m., parking lots were full and lift lines were long. I felt lucky to have gotten a pass for the day. Unlike Sugarbush, which allows passholders to show up whenever they want, Stowe requires reservations. Often times, passholders log in to make a reservation, only to find that the resort is already fully booked.
I started my Stowe journey at the FourRunner quad, in a line that snaked all the way back to the base of the Lower Liftline trail.
“Masks up!” yelled a red snowsuit-sporting Stowe employee, catching skiers and riders who’d come barreling off the trail with their masks down around their chins.
The reality of the global pandemic was present in the many signs scattered around the base area asking people to stand 6 feet apart and wear masks. Ghost lines kept skiers laterally distanced by 6 feet. However, vertical distancing seemed to be limited to the length of one’s skis, as I noticed many ski tips nearly grazing each other front to back.
Like at Sugarbush, Stowe employees worked the lift lines, pointing at groups one by one to grant them access to the lift rather than letting the lines bottleneck into a comingled, COVID-spreading mess.
The closest I got to a stranger was when a Stowe employee approached me and waved her ticket gun over my body, waiting for the signature “beep” to let me on the lift. This was new, as I’m used to Sugarbush’s automatic card-scanning gate system.
The ride up was cold and quick. I warmed up by carving my way down Upper Lord towards Lord, where I eventually stumbled across Christie Glades, an open wooded area chock full of fluffy snow.
In addition to enjoying the snow beneath my feet, I admired the snow that clung to the trees overhead and sparkled in the morning sun. The glades were a skier’s paradise.
The conditions only failed me once, when I crossed an icy patch on Upper Nose Dive that took me down and sent me sliding on my side down the narrow trail. After dusting myself off and making a mental note to get my skis sharpened, I went to lunch.
For lunch, I could’ve taken the Over Easy Gondola to the Spruce Camp Base Lodge, located in a quintessential fairytale ski village, complete with chalet-like ski condos, a skating rink and all.
However, I decided to pop in for a quick lunch at the Octagon Cafe at the top of the FourRunner quad, which had a 30-minute seating limit. Ordering food was simple: look at the menu displayed on the wall, go to the plexiglass protected counter and order.
While $11 seemed pricey for a breakfast sandwich, it did include caramelized onions and a killer view, so I decided it was worth it.
After lunch, I tested out the little side jumps on the terrain park and stopped to gawk at one snowboarder soaring over the big jumps in the middle. Then, I finished the day with a few runs on the Gondola.
The COVID-creepies hit me in the Gondola line as I entered the indoor waiting area. While the ceiling was high and fresh air was flowing in, people were standing closer than before, as they were holding their skis rather than standing on them. The fact that I could see puffs of icy breath blowing through people’s neck gaiter masks wasn’t comforting either.
Off the gondola, I found some great trails. I met my match on Chin Clip, where a long line of hefty moguls threatened to send me head over heels. Still, I kept my balance and went for a few more leg burning runs, looping the lifts until the mountain closed for the day.