Located between the Smuggler's Notch and Stowe ski areas, the Birthday Bowls are far from true backcountry. But they do offer some incredible terrain that requires just enough effort to keep the crowds at bay. As the name suggests, the Birthday Bowls occupy the bowled out area of Spruce Peak on the north side of the unplowed Route 108 in Smuggler's Notch proper.
The easiest access is via either Stowe's Sensation Quad on Spruce Peak or the Sterling Chair at Smuggler's Notch Resort. However, it's possible to skin up Route 108 and set a skin track up through the woods as well.
From the quad, three minutes of walking straight back from the chair and up the obvious bootpack puts you at the top of the Bullwheel. The Bullwheel is located on the Stowe side up the road leading to Spruce Peak Summit. If you are approaching from the Smuggs side, the Stowe Sensation Quad will come into view to the left. Continue following the bootpack uphill and to the right. Before the road and trail cuts to the left, the bootpack should lead straight into a narrow gap in the trees. Here, a tunnel-like traverse snakes through the woods leading to the various lines. Skiers and riders can descend along a clear traverse to the left picking from a number of chutes with names like Main Drag, Aerosmith, Sodomy, and Diaganols. Each has their own perks and pitfalls, but they all end up in mellower open woods that continue out to Route 108. The further left you traverse, the more likely you are to get cliffed out. If you'll be returning to Stowe, you'll need to skin or hike a short way up Route 108 to the left before skiing it back to the resort.
From the Smuggs side, turn right off the Sterling Chair and take the first possible left under the ski area boundary rope and cross a short section of Sterling Pond. Turn left and begin bootpacking up the hill following the Long Trail. A 15-minute walk will bring you to The Bullwheel, but you must pass several lines to reach it. The Geriatric Traverse is popular with those less willing to hike, as it drops early and traverses to the open woods at the bottom of the aforementioned lines. To return to Smuggs, skate and glide down Route 108 to the right, where you'll reach Parking Lot 1.
Overall, the birthday bowls are a short but sweet excursion with spectacular views into Smugglers Notch proper, classic tight and steep New England-style lines, and even a few manageable cliff drops sprinkled in for good measure. The resorts on either side and the road at the bottom add great safety nets for those cutting their teeth on backcountry travel.
As with any backcountry adventure, it's best to make the first few trips with someone who knows where they are going.
Winter backcountry adventures can be dangerous outdoor activities that pose significant risks as conditions affecting safety (i.e. weather, snowpack stability, avalanche hazard) are constantly changing. Prior to engaging in these activities each individual should get the proper training to make safe decisions and be equipped to use avalanche safety resources and tools. Please visit our Backcountry Skiing and Avalanche Safety post to learn more.