What is it that brings groups from organizations like Merck, the Harvard School of Public Health, GlaxoSmithKline, Transnasal Endoscopy, and Pfizer to a quaint little ski village named Stowe? Sure, there are Vermont's famous mountains, and the lure of Ben & Jerry's ice cream just down the road.…Not to mention the ubiquitous, cows, rustic barns, antiques, and lots of characters a la the last Bob Newhart show. But underneath all that bucolic beauty beats a business-friendly heart, and that's what really draws medical meetings to the Stoweflake Conference Center and Resort, the state's only International Association of Conference Centers-certified facility.

Now the state's largest conference center, Stoweflake began in 1948 as a small weekend ski cottage built by Stu and Bea Baraw. They kept adding on, first extra rooms for family and friends, then an unpretentious 20-room motel…now, many additions and upgrades later, the facility includes a wing housing a 15,000-square-foot, a fully equipped conference center, 40 luxury suites and deluxe rooms, and a full-service spa and sports club. The 17 flexible meeting and function rooms can hold groups of up to 400, and the two boardrooms and atrium reception area harmonize with the 4,500-square-foot Pinnacle Room and the 2,600-square-foot Stowe Room.

Local color is everywhere, from the paintings by area artists that grace the halls to a fountain sculpture in the atrium. Another nice touch: attached banquet kitchens, which means the food is always served hot and fresh. The main conference rooms include windows overlooking a bounty of perennial gardens, with Mount Mansfield rising up against the sky as a backdrop.

When your group is free to play, there's downhill and cross-country skiing; golf at the resort's golf practice facilities and adjacent 18-hole, par-72 Stowe Country Club course; sleigh and wagon rides; and a full-service salon. You also can choose to be pampered or pummeled at the Spa and Sports Club.

Contact Stoweflake at (802) 253-7355; www.stoweflake.com.