Winter has been a little slow in arriving this year, and that makes snow-related businesses nervous. But one local ski area has made a major investment in activities that aren’t so weather-dependent.
If you haven’t been to Stowe Mountain Resort's Spruce Peak area in a few years, you probably wouldn't recognize it today. Over the past decade the resort has invested in a new base lodge, hotel, shops, luxury homes, a performing arts center and an outdoor ice rink. New this season is an $80 million Adventure Center.
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The name Adventure Center has long been used to describe the home base for the resort's ski and snowboard school. Last year that home was under a giant tent, but the new building is open this season.
In addition to the ski and ride school, it also includes a 200-car parking garage, three floors of luxury townhouses and penthouses, a family restaurant, a video screening room and a daycare – and it's home to Stowe Rocks, an indoor climbing center with vertical terrain for all abilities.
"People come up here to find something adventurous to do," says Andy Millick, Stowe Rocks' supervisor. "And when the lifts close outside, they can come in here and continue their day and continue having fun here at Stowe."
Stowe Rocks features three climbing areas. For the youngest climbers, there’s the Kid Zone Wall. The hand and footholds look more like oversized refrigerator magnets than rocky crags.
"With the Lego holds and the letters and numbers and all the different fun shapes, whatever, to help them just get used to stability and climbing in a very fun and non-intimidating atmosphere," Millick explains.
For more experienced climbers, there's a thirty-foot program wall, equipped with harnesses and ropes, as well as auto-belay systems that will lower climbers gently back down to the ground.
And if that's not challenging enough, there's a 40-foot high replica of the Smugglers' Notch rock formation, Elephant’s Head.
Pete Davis is the resort’s specialized recreation manager. He explains the climbing tower's construction.
"You have cracks, you've got features, all the way up, that were actually sculpted into the material – it's called shotcrete – it's a cousin of concrete, and it was done by a multimedia artist from Poland who also happened to be a very experienced climber," says Davis. "So the routes that he worked on setting are set so that we can add the handholds and the footholds, but also you can use the natural features like the cracks."
And if you make it to the top, you’re rewarded with a view of Mt. Mansfield outside the glass atrium.
The new Adventure Center matches the other large-scale post-and-beam buildings that make up the new Spruce Peak base area. Davis says the style is reminiscent of buildings constructed in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. He says it’s a tip-of-the-hat to the pioneers who carved the first ski trails out of Mt. Mansfield.
"Back in the day, the Civilian Conservation Corps cut our original trails up here at Stowe – the first one being the Burke trail and the second one being Nosedive," says Davis.
But make no mistake: Davis says the new building is state-of-the-art construction.
"It's also one of the largest geo-thermally heated and cooled buildings in the state of Vermont," he notes.
If rock climbing isn't your thing, the center also offers guided snowshoe tours and, of course, ski and snowboard lessons. Just outside the new Adventure Center is an outdoor ice skating rink that's open for public use. That was one of last year's new additions to the Spruce Peak base area. And Davis says they'll be offering programs on the ice this winter.
"We're also going to be offering free introductory skate lessons starting in January," says Davis, "and also theme nights. On Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays there’ll be all kinds of activities on the ice rink. We'll have broomball on Thursday nights, Fridays will feature the free skate, and a theme night on Saturday nights, where it might be 50s night, so you might need to show up in your greaser gear and your poodle skirts."
And over where the old Adventure Center tent used to be, there's what Davis says they're calling the FAAT building, which stands for first aid, adaptive and timing. In addition to serving as a first aid and timing facility, that building will provide a dedicated space for the resort's growing adaptive ski program.