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A thrilling ride through Stowe’s wild side

No trail markers, no crowds, just natural highs

The Kitchen Wall at Stowe Mountain Resort provides plenty of solitude, challenges, and beauty. The Kitchen Wall at Stowe Mountain Resort provides plenty of solitude, challenges, and beauty. (Michael Wood for The Boston Globe)
By Michael Wood
Globe Correspondent / November 6, 2011

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STOWE, Vt. - I steadied myself with outstretched arms against the rock face in front of me and eased out onto the unstable ridge. If I made it, this barren stretch of boulders would funnel me into one of Stowe Mountain Resort’s best unmarked glades. But one wrong twitch on this rocky cliff and I could tumble down a 30-foot embankment with nothing to look forward to but an ocean of ice and jagged granite. To navigate it successfully, I stood on the toe edge of my snowboard with bent knees, staring Mount Mansfield in the face.

“That sidecountry and backcountry is a little bit like Disney World,’’ Tracey Eykelhoff, professional ski patroller, said later. “Skiing is like flying. You can do 90 [miles per hour] and guide yourself down a hill, or float effortlessly on some fluffy pow. It’s liberating for a lot of people.’’

The first few turns were bliss. A Nor’easter the day before had left three feet of fresh “pow,’’ and as I began my descent, the heavy snow pulled the nose of my Burton Vapor toward the earth. Every turn was a struggle in powder this deep. It was knee-deep as I fought through the heavy snowpack. “For whatever reason, the snow seems to grow a little deeper out there [in the backcountry],’’ Eykelhoff said. “There are some wicked killer lines and glory shots if you look in the right places.’’

They call this place Kitchen Wall. Buried in the dense pines at the summit of the Gondola, Kitchen Wall can be accessed by veering right, just before the first sweeping corner of Upper Perry Merrill. Technically it doesn’t have a name; it’s not even on the trail map. Most likely it’s some local ski bum’s name for the deadly ridge I traversed. But the name fits the setting. It’s unique, like the waist- to shoulder-deep lines I rode over a 36-degree pitch. It feels unlike anything else on the mountain.

My iPod sent Rob Zombie’s “Dragula’’ screaming through the speakers in my helmet. The violent drums and crashing cymbals drowned the silence of the crisp mountain air as I slashed into the open clearing and halted atop a rocky outcropping. There wasn’t a tree for 10 feet in any direction, only a sea of white below me. Adrenaline coursed through my body as I turned the music up louder and blasted into the natural terrain park.

After slicing through gullies, chutes, and riverbeds and weaving in and out of stands of 30-foot pine behemoths for 45 minutes, I was into the home stretch. But I caught a glimpse of what was ahead of me, and I couldn’t relax yet. To reach the exit, I would be forced into a narrow slot lined with rocks and branches on both sides of my feet. I stood up straight, locked my arms to my sides, and took a deep breath, trusting the mountain to deliver my inert body across this final chasm.

As I was about to emerge from the tree line 25 feet ahead of me, one skier zipped down the Nosedive trail. Ignoring his surroundings, he clipped a young skier and sent her tumbling in a little cloud of ice and snow.

I couldn’t help thinking about what Kitchen Wall offers. I had just ridden for over an hour in the heart of Stowe’s backcountry and not only did I find epic terrain and conditions, but I didn’t see a single person. I was alone and having more fun than I ever could have on any marked trail.

The backcountry offered a natural sanctuary that cannot be found on any of Stowe’s famed Front Four. No tourists, no reckless torpedoes rocketing down the mountain at top speed, just me and the mountain. And I was just fine with that.

Michael Wood can be reached at mcwood113@gmail.com.

If You Go

Where to stay Stowe Mountain Lodge
7412 Mountain Road
802-253-3560
www.stowemountainlodge.com
Stowe’s best luxury hotel right at the base of the chairlifts. Rooms $200-$1,900 nightly.
Topnotch Resort and Spa
4000 Mountain Road
800-451-8686
www.topnotchresort.com
The resort has been in operation since 1959 and hosted tennis’s 2007 Fed Cup. Rooms $179-$800 nightly.
Where to eat
The Cliff House Restaurant
5781 Mountain Road
802-253-4754
www.stowe.com
Lunch only, amazing views at the highest skiable point in Vermont, $10-$20.
Piecasso Pizzeria & Lounge
1899 Mountain Road
802-253-4411
www.piecasso.com
A local favorite, so arrive early. New York style pizza and Italian dishes, $8-$20. Doubles as an après ski bar and lounge.
Après ski
The Matterhorn
4969 Mountain Road
802-253-8198
www.matterhornbar.com
A real party zone at the base of the mountain. Drinks, pizza, and sushi with live music and dance floor.
Rusty Nail Bar & Grille
1190 Mountain Road
802-253-6245
www.rustynailbar.com
Family-friendly restaurant and nightclub inside an old renovated barn. Live music with affordable dining.