When the Valentine's Day blizzard of 2007 unloaded 26 inches on Burlington, Vt., it shut down everything in a city that normally takes winter in stride. Even the interstate to the ski areas was closed. But local skiers were unfazed. While they waited for the plows, they reveled, throwing open their front doors to ski down the middle of Burlington's hilly streets, whooping with joy in the darkness.
For the most part, Burlington is a city that loves its snow - a half-dozen ski areas (including Stowe and Sugarbush) lie within an hour's drive. The sun rises and sets over the mountains - Greens to the east, Adirondacks to the west.
It's a small but lively New England college town, offering an appealing blend of culture, scenery and a youthful enthusiasm for the outdoors. Plus, it makes a fine ski weekend. Here's how to do it.
Though downtown Burlington is only three miles from its small airport - and easy to explore on foot - you'll want to rent a car for the ride to the ski areas. If you drive in for the weekend (four hours from Boston), take Exit 14W off I-89 onto Main Street. Drive past the idyllic campus of the University of Vermont - whose ski team holds five NCAA titles - and enjoy the tangerine glow of the winter sun descending into the mountains.
Traveling downhill, turn left on Willard Street and drive two blocks to the Willard Street Inn. The 19th-century Queen Anne—style mansion's handsome double doors open into a high-ceilinged cherry entryway and glass conservatory with marble steps that lead down to a snow-covered garden (doubles from $130; marriott.com; 800-321-2211).
Unpack and walk to Church Street, Burlington's pedestrian shopping, dining and people-watching hub. Browse its shops - Stella for hipster shoes, Ecco for designer jeans. At the top block, admire the historic 1816 Unitarian church.
For dinner, try Leunig's at the corner of Church and College. It's a warmly lit bistro where Edith Piaf croons over small tables of people drinking red wine and enjoying steak frites or soup au pistou (leunigsbistro.com; 802-863-3759). Then walk back to the inn as Burlington's church bells peal the hours - though never in exact agreement as to what time it is.
Rise to scones, omelets and coffee at the Willard Street Inn conservatory, then head to Stowe; it's an easy 45-mile drive. Stowe has long enjoyed a reputation as northern Vermont's toniest resort, and its ongoing Spruce Peak base village development only cements that image.
Start on the Forerunner Quad on the Mt. Mansfield side of the resort. At the top, speed down one of Stowe's legendary Front Four (Starr, National, Liftline or Goat), or stay to skier's right to find the blue trails, such as Lord, with rugged ledges and panoramic views of surrounding peaks. For a winding warm-up, cruise down the famous Toll Road, built as a carriage road in 1870 so tourists could reach Mansfield's 4,395-foot summit.
After a few runs on the quad, work skier's left toward the gondola around lunchtime. It's a quick, cozy ride to the top, and you can stop at the Cliff House for a restaurant-style lunch with views. Or wind down any of the swooping intermediates off the gondola (Perry Merrill is one of the best cruisers in the East) and stop at the Midway Café for simpler fare. After lunch, catch the new Connector lift to Spruce Peak. Spruce is Stowe's family playground. Watch junior racers floor it over the knoll on the Slalom Hill, then ride the Sensation quad and shoot down black-diamond Whirlaway, which skis like a snow-filled stream bed.
Call it a day and consider an après stop at The Alchemist in downtown Waterbury on the way back to Burlington. Fresh microbrews, hand-cut sweet potato fries and the occasional Austrian oompah band pack the place with skiers every weekend (802-244-4120).. In Burlington, have a soak in the hot tub, then hit Trattoria Delia, a 15-minute walk on St. Paul Street. Sit at the bar and order a Cabernet along with the antipasti misti platter (trattoriadelia.com); 800-253-3000. Sugarbush: sugarbush.com; 800-537-8427