The Mount Mansfield area has always enjoyed a bit of quaintness thanks ironically in part to the benign ownership of its biggest sort — the Stowe Mountain Resort — the insurance giant American International Group (AIG). However development is changing that ambiance.
Mansfield which many argue is the most challenging ski run in the East is changing.
AIG has begun a $300 million, 10-year expansion that is adding high-speed lifts, snowmaking ponds and equipment, new and remodeled lodges and a transfer lift high above Route 108 to eliminate the shuttle bus between Mount Mansfield and its other mountain, Spruce Peak.
Most unsettling to those who are attached to the Stowe of tradition is that 32 acres of what is now mostly open space (part of it a large parking lot) will become a cluster of development, including five-story condominiums, a hotel, a skating rink and a community of town houses and single-family homes. There will be new restaurants, a performance center, shops, a parking garage and a spa. A golf course will be built into the side of Spruce Peak itself.
The New York Times reports that Stowe long known for its rural character is now taking on city area. One-third to one-half acre in size, have been sold for an average of $1.1 million each in 2004. Skiers can now look down from almost any trail on Spruce Peak at the skeletons of a handful of wooden town houses peeking out of the snow. Eleven town houses have been sold, at an average price of $1.8 million. Nearby, 36 acres of pine, spruce, maple and poplar were cut last summer to make way for the first six holes of the 18-hole golf course.
In May, construction will start on the new Spruce Peak base lodge, with condominium units priced at $3 million to $5 million on the top two floors. The Stowe Mountain Lodge, a condo hotel, is scheduled to open in 2007, with 99 units priced from $350,000 to $1.6 million and two floors of time-share units. The resort maintains the development is necessary to pay for a 1991 State of Vermont requirement to cut intake of water for snowmaking from a nearby river because fish were dying downstream. Stowe became a summer resort in the 19th century, when a toll road brought carriages to a grand hotel at the 4,393-foot summit of Mount Mansfield. In the 1930’s, the Civilian Conservation Corps cut ski trails on Mount Mansfield by hand, creating its top-to-bottom, thrill-a-minute runs. Later, Stowe produced Olympic skiers (Billy Kidd was a medalist in 1964) and drew guests to the lodge run by the Trapp family, whose story inspired “The Sound of Music.”
A.I.G.’s connection to Stowe started when C. V. Starr, the company’s founder, invested in the resort in 1946. (A.I.G.’s current chairman and chief executive, Maurice R. Greenberg, 79, has a home in Stowe and still skis.) Stowe is A.I.G.’s sole ski business, an anomaly in an industry dominated by three large players – Vail Resorts, Intrawest and American Skiing – that have gobbled up small, independent operations. But Stowe, backed by the deep pockets of A.I.G. (the company had revenue of $98.6 billion last year), is hardly a typical independently owned resort. High above the valley, Johannes von Trapp, the youngest of the singing Trapp family and owner of the 96-room Trapp Family Lodge, is critical of those who resist change. “The state is full of flatlanders with guilt complexes,” he said. “Skiers don’t want to rough it anymore,” he said. “Forty years ago, people went skiing and didn’t mind sleeping in a dormitory with 20 other people and eating family style. Stowe was lovely then. But everybody was broke.”