Vermonts Stowe Mountain Resort getting a face-lift

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New England slopes dont always get respect from skiers and snowboarders who prefer the Rocky Mountains, but if there is an East Coast ski area that gives Aspen a run for its money, it is Vermonts Stowe Mountain Resort.

Stowe is in the midst of a massive, $400 million redevelopment project. To understand the scope of the project, it helps to have a little background.

The concept of Stowe as a recreation destination started in the 1800s, with visitors coming in summer to enjoy the cool mountain air.

The Green Mountain Inn, which is still in operation, began welcoming tourists in the mid-1830s, followed by more resort properties as the destination grew in popularity after the Civil War.

Skiing began to evolve in Stowe the early 1900s, and by the mid-20th century, the area became known to winter-sports enthusiasts for its vertical drop -- Mount Mansfield is the tallest mountain in Vermont -- its Austrian-village ambience and its ski patrols.

In the 1990s, a new master plan began to be developed, in cooperation with the town of Stowe, the resort, local planners and environmentalists.

The plan, approved in 2003, evolved into the Spruce Peak at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont is undergoing a $400 million redevelopment.Stowe Project, said David Norden, vice president and project manager for Spruce Peak.

The redevelopment of Stowe Mountain Resort will include a wide range of amenities, residences and homes in the alpine neighborhood at the base of the mountain as well as new lifts, trails, new snowmaking systems and a redevelopment of the mountain infrastructure, Norden said.

The project is about one-third complete, with some mountain cabins, ski-in/ski-out duplex town homes and a golf course making up the first phase.

The completion of the project is slated for 2010, but for travel agents, the biggest news will be the opening in 2007 of Stowe Mountain Lodge, the first of the larger buildings set to go up in the village core.

The property, to be managed by Destination Hotels and Resorts, will feature a relaxed style and a 21,000-square-foot, three-floor spa.

Norden said travel agents will be able to book some of the individual new homes, which are high-end (rates will be $1,000 to $2,500 a night), but the majority of rentals will be at the lodge.

Norden, who came from Aspen to work on the project, doesnt expect the redo to drive traffic from the West Coast to Stowe. But he does anticipate a strong influx of skiers and snowboarders from New York and New England, with tourists arriving from even farther afield in summer and fall.

And he does see an advantage in the intimate scale of the project; hundreds of guest units are planned rather than the tens of thousands on offer at some of the bigger resorts in the Rockies.

To contain sprawl, planners wrapped thousands of acres of conservation easement around the new construction and worked with environmentalists to make sure the development was green.

Improvements in place for the 2005-06 season include a high-speed quad replacing the double chairlift on Spruce Mountain; automated snowmaking systems, top to bottom; and an extensive trail designed to allow access to new routes down the mountain. These projects alone represent $30 million in upgrades.

The improvements come on top of the two new lifts and beginner terrain that were added to Spruce in the 2004-05 season.

Longer term, the new village will feature -- in addition to the residences and the spa hotel -- a new base lodge, outdoor ice-skating, a performing arts center, restaurants and shops.

Meanwhile, Stowe Village, just down the road from the mountain, has added a few new restaurants, including Flavor, a restaurant with multi-ethnic cuisine; Hana Japanese Steak House, complete with sushi bar and tatami room; and Steve & Erikas, featuring preparation of local products.

To contact reporter Felicity Long, send e-mail to [email protected].

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