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Stratton Mountain, Vermont

Stratton Mountain Ski Resort, VermontStratton, with its car-free base village, courts both the snowboarding trendsetters and the money-wielding elite.

Stratton seems to be moving in two distinct directions. On the one hand, the self-proclaimed “Snowboarding Capital of the East” offers truly inexpensive midweek deals. On the other hand, the resort has invested significant money in high-end lodging, built an exclusive members-only club and imposes one of the most expensive single-day lift tickets in the nation. Go figure. The bottom line, however, is this: Radical dudes, easy-going intermediates, professionals on hiatus and families can all find their place at Stratton.

Stratton’s base area has always been a helter-skelter affair, with various lodgings and condo complexes scattered amidst private homes. The development in recent years of a car-free base village has, fortunately, improved the ambiance. The village creates a centralized locale for swanky shops, gourmet and not-so-gourmet restaurants, slopeside condos and even a Bavarian-style clock tower—all linked by a heated cobblestone walkway. At least the resort, like the Tin Man, has gotten a heart. Jitney service does connect the dots and, to some extent, getting around has improved. Still, due to poor signage and a snake-pit road layout, arriving—especially after dark—can be confusing.

Other base-area improvements include an expanded base-lodge cafeteria that can now handle the weekend lunchtime crowds; a self-contained, slopeside kids’ ski and snowboard school facility; and an under-21 club that’s open weekends and holiday weeks.

Stratton was the first Eastern resort to permit snowboarding, and few resorts equal Stratton’s dedication to the sport, specifically terrain parks. Parks serve every ability level and the resort pioneered a required certification program to ride its most advanced park. On the other end of the spectrum, Stratton is a Burton Method Center, offering Burton Learn to Ride, the Cadillac of introductory snowboarding programs. The resort now matches its snowboarding commitment with freeskiing zeal; it hosts the annual Vermont Freeskiing Open and the winter-long, Friday night Cold Wars Rail Jam Series.

Outside the parks, the full variety of downhill choices can be found on 90 trails and 583 skiable acres. A 12-passenger, high-speed gondola and four six-packs swiftly move everyone out of the base areas and out onto the mountain. For those who crave a less frenetic ambiance, the Sun Bowl base lodge is low-key and more “small ski area” in ambiance. A smattering of gladed runs completes the picture. It’s not all wine and roses on the hill, however. Traffic at some of the convoluted, multitrail intersections creates havoc on crowded days. New for 2005/06, Stratton added gladed terrain, including Test Pilot on the eastern edge of the boundary.

The resort is 20 miles outside Manchester. The accessing highways, Rtes. 11 and 30, are lined with shops, accommodations and some pretty good restaurants. Manchester and its twin, Manchester Center, project a Currier & Ives vision of the quintessential Vermont village, complete with white-spire churches and manorial hotels. The nearby Orvis fly-fishing store and school offer fly-fishing lessons on the Battenkill River in season. The lavish Sunday brunch at the Equinox Hotel or a visit to the Southern Vermont Arts Center can gild a ski weekend or vacation.

The non-ski and apres-ski crowd can visit numerous antiques and crafts shops as well as stores like Claire Murray Design. It also harbors factory outlets malls including Tommy Hilfiger, Ralph Lauren and Armani. The outlets do create more traffic but few New England ski towns can match the shopping and services.

While you’re here, you may also want to consider visiting Bromley, 6 miles east of Manchester. It’s more of a no-nonsense, function-over-fashion ski resort.