Mountains Reign, Art Lovers Gain
Picture a perfect day for shredding the slopes: fresh white powder, bluebird sky, après drinks near a roaring fire. When these images flood our screens, it’s enough to make anyone long for a ski bum lifestyle. And Vermonters know these dreamy days aren’t just for shredding. After the sun has gone down or your legs have grown tired, the arts will be waiting. What better place to start than in Stowe? Stowe Mountain Resort has been a Vermont skiing staple for decades and garnered recent attention when it was purchased by Colorado-based Vail Resorts. This mountain village is noteworthy for its arts scene as well.
Back to Your Roots
One exhibit creating some buzz is a collaboration between Helen Day Art Center and Stowe Mountain Resort. “Dreamcatcher” is a product of a site-specific artist-in-residence project on the grounds of the Spruce Peak Village Center. The art is an interactive light display in a cave-like structure. The shape is no coincidence. Artist James Peterson says of the work, “The act of meeting and connecting around something as intimate as a fire in a cave was what I was seeking to harness.” Just down Mountain Road, the Helen Day Art Center features visual art exhibitions and classes for both children and adults.
Two exhibits currently in Stowe connect winter sports to arts in an even more tangible way. The Vermont Ski and Snowboard Museum, housed in the Old Town Hall building, has sundries, memorabilia, and skiing-related fine arts. The show “Curious & Cool” highlights unusual and seldom seen objects especially interesting to ski and snow fanatics. Another sports-focused exhibit displays a retrospective of Burton snowboarding gear and images in the lobby of the Spruce Peak Performing Arts Center. On most Saturday nights, you can catch a theater, dance, or musical performance in Spruce Peak’s barn-like venue, which strikes a balance between elegant and rustic and boasts incredible acoustics.
Just north of Stowe is Smugglers’ Notch Resort. Participatory arts opportunities abound right at the resort, in the form of art workshops and classes with local artists Nancy Schade and Cheryl Pecor. There’s also acoustic music and a weekly open jam night so visitors can join the band. At the foot of the resort, the town of Jeffersonville is home to the Bryan Memorial Gallery and Visions of Vermont Gallery. Both offer exceptional opportunities to appreciate and purchase the works of local artists. New to town, Maple Ridge Center for the Arts is a place for artists of all ages to learn and play.
East of the Beast
One of Vermont’s best known ski and snowboard destinations – situated on its second-highest peak – is Killington Resort. Dubbed “Beast of the East,” by the snowsports community, Killington has a reputation for the longest season in New England, extending from October to late May or even June. But summer breezes are a wistful memory come midwinter. Once you’ve carved all seven of the Beast’s peaks, head just east to the city of Rutland, where the arts have taken hold with colorful murals scattered throughout the downtown. World-class acts come to the Paramount Theatre and stunning visual art can be found at both the Chaffee Art Center and the brand-new 77 Gallery. Castleton University has art galleries in Rutland and nearby Castleton.
‘Snow Place Like Home
The Mad River Valley is a mecca for winter sport enthusiasts and artists alike. Two ski resorts occupy area mountains, both well known in their own right. Mad River Glen, in Waitsfield, is the only mountain in Vermont that is strictly for skiers (no snowboarding allowed). Sugarbush Resort, in Warren, welcomes both skiers and snowboarders to its 111 trails. Beyond ski or board, visitors to either mountain have the arts of the Mad River Valley at their feet. Offerings include roadside studios, artisan stores and even a quirky museum of industrial design.
A warning: Tourists may find themselves so enchanted by the region that they don’t want to leave – ever. But even ski bums need to work sometimes, and the arts may be able to help. If you have basic building knowledge, Yestermorrow Design/Build School offers workshops, courses, and certificate programs in architecture, woodworking, and sustainable design to advance your skills and start your business. For those who conduct most of their work online, Valley.Works coworking space provides high-speed internet, printing, and a collaborative working environment that can help independent workers be more productive.
Jay Peak is Vermont’s northernmost resort. A new addition to the usual offerings, Jay Peak hosts a weekly après music series all winter in the impressive Foeger Ballroom. If you venture outside the resort, a wealth of arts lie within an hour’s drive along scenic roads. Memphremagog Arts Collaborative, or MAC Center for the Arts, holds workshops and houses a gallery and artisan shop. For a unique – and decidedly non-skiing – adventure, visit the architecturally elegant Haskell Free Library and Opera House, which sits directly on the United States’ border with Canada. It turns out you really can be in two places at once! While you’re there, why not settle in with a regional tale by a local for a truly relaxing day? Try Howard Frank Mosher’s “Disappearances,” a fictitious (and fantastical) run-for-your-life prohibition-era smuggler story. For lighter reading, flip to snow-centric essays “I Ski Alone” and “When We Were Young and Skiers,” in Peter Miller’s book “Nothing Hardly Ever Happens in Colbyville, Vermont.”
Not to Mention …
Some of Vermont’s best kept skiing secrets are unassuming local favorites. Richmond’s Bolton Valley plays up its reliance on mostly authentic snow with its simple motto “Vermont. Naturally.” Locals may come for its lower prices and less-crowded slopes, but they’re sure to stay for the live music and arts events. In-house artist Natasha Bogar’s local landscapes canvas the resort. She offers BYOB Paint Nights throughout the season and her paintings often feature beloved regional vistas. Burlington, just 25 miles away, offers dozens of venues to view and purchase Vermont art, like Burlington City Arts, Frog Hollow State Craft Center, and SEABA Center Gallery, to name a few. Music lovers will find just about any genre at the Flynn, ArtsRiot, or Higher Ground, as well as in bars and restaurants.
South for the Winter
Stratton Mountain Resort, in Southern Vermont, is another popular skiing destination. Once you’ve fully explored the 670 acres of terrain, head into Manchester to visit some of the town’s many art galleries. The outdoor grounds of the Southern Vermont Arts Center remain open year-round for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing among sculptures. Vermont Arts Exchange, which hosts a Basement Music Series through the winter, is roughly an hour’s drive from five different skiing venues in southern Vermont: Stratton, Okemo, Mount Snow, Bromley, and Magic. Count em’, five! All offer excellent shredding and close proximity to the arts.
The arts can’t get any closer to Okemo Mountain Resort, in Ludlow. The property features exclusively New England artists’ works, including a commissioned series of paintings by Vermont artist Donald Saaf located at Solitude Village. Co-owner (and long-time artist) Diane Mueller says, “It’s important that the experience people have here is related to who we are,” said Mueller. “Featuring local artists is really important.”
Whether in the lodge or along a winding road, when the lifts stop, Vermont arts will be waiting around every corner. Cozy up at intimate concerts or stroll through gallery after gallery, and you may even find you enjoy those frosty nights! But before you know it, spring will be here. And that’s a good thing, says Peter Miller. “The same conditions that produce fancy maple syrup – cold nights, warming days, a deep mantle of snow – make the sweetest skiing of all.”
— Rachel Stearns, with a hat tip to Jen Butson’s Arts and Alpine
— top left photo of Joe LaCourse by Tim Rapczynski
— Paramount Theatre photo by Eric Mallette