Tag Archives: Breadloaf

I should have brought my skis

Last Saturday, I was looking to go for a run out on the trails, but knew that an awful lot ice of my favorite terrain, and with a road marathon coming up in a few weeks, I didn’t want to risk injury. Compounding the challenge of where to run, I knew there had been some fresh snow at altitude the night before, as I discovered on particularly “white knuckle” drive over Rochester Gap and Middlebury Gap the night before.  Thinking about things, the logical choice was to find one of the many VAST snowmobile trails.  Past experience told me that these trails are almost always well-packed by recent snowmobile activities – and in some cases actually groomed, making for excellent “trail” running wearing my microspikes over my running shoes.  With this in mind, I headed into deepest darkest Ripton, up the Natural Turnpike to where the plowed section of the road ended, and there was a small parking lot used mostly by skiers during the winter.   This early in the spring, when there was still a veneer of snow on the upper reaches of the increasingly primitive dirt road, things were frozen enough for my low ground clearance VW Beetle to get up the road, but I suspect that very shortly, when we are in the depths of mud season, the road may require a higher clearance vehicle, or a 4WD.

There was an informational kiosk at the trail head, and the snowmobile trail itself was perhaps 20 yards away,  right under my nose, and I was surprised to see that no snowmobilers had been out, at least since the previous evening’s snow, which looked to only have accumulated about an inch.  Beginning my run to the right, in about a minute, it joined up with the much wider Steam Mill Road, also known as Forest Road 59, the road whose other terminus is near the Rikert Ski Touring Center, and in fact bisects the area.  This road, which is only open to traffic during the non-winter months showed plenty of signs of usage – by everyone but snowmobilers.  The thin snow cover, however made it easily runable – but who knows what the conditions are like now, a week later.  I also found it interesting how the different types of trail enthusiasts seemed to have chosen their respective lanes – foot travelers on the left, classic skiers in the middle, and a ski skater on the right!

Tracking Outdoor Enthusiasts

Continuing up the road, I came into the Steam Mill Clearing itself. The fact that this high in the mountains, there is still open meadow here I would suspect is the result of a once a year mowing, although I don’t know this for sure. There is also a big sign, indicating “Wildlife Viewing”, but I looked around and I seemed to be the only wild thing here – in fact, I was stunned by the near silence – a windless day, mid afternoon, and probably the only person for a mile or two. I also noted a sign indicating where the Catamount Trail joined in from the south. This section of the Catamount trail, connecting Rikert with the northern section was the result of a blog posting a few years ago.

Steam Mill Clearing

At this point, I also noted that the thin cover of snow was getting deeper, making the running a little bit more challenging, and the ski tracks I saw were looking more and more enticing. At this point I realized that I may have forsaken my last chance to ski this season in order to do this run. Oh well- it was a good season! As the trail slowly climbed, I finally reached the height of land, which while only a few hundred feet higher than the trailhead, had about 6 inches of fresh snow! Tough running, but it would have been great skiing. As challenging as the running was for this short section of deeper snow, I didn’t feel sorry for myself, thinking of some friends who were competing in the Runamuck 50K on snowy and muddy trails, near Woodstock VT that same day.

A short descent, brought me to the end of the snowy part of the road, reaching the point where Steam Mill Road is plowed, near the upper reaches of the Gilmore Trail at Rikert.   I could tell I was near to “civilization” at this point, as evidenced by the most ubiquitous bit of litter – the inevitable Bud Light can, in this case half buried in the fresh snow at the side of the trail. Bud Light – the beer of champion litterbugs!

 

I’ll have a Bud Light

 

 

Heading back, I climbed back up to the high point, and in the course of the long, gradual descent back to my waiting car, I came across a skiing couple, with a few enthusiastic dogs. Stopping for a moment, one of the couple said “I thought that might be you”. I was puzzled, as I didn’t think I knew these people, but not wearing my glasses, I sometimes am a little weak on recognizing people. Embrarrassed, I asked her for her name, which she offered, and as I still had a look of confusion, she followed it up with the fact that she read my blog. That made my day – thanks!

All said, this is a nice stretch for running, especially midwinter when it is well packed, and ended up being a 7 mile run with a few hundred feet of climbing and descent. I think I am ready for the spring thaw, and some truly muddy trails!

Google Earth of the Run

Since this run was on a road, at least in the summer, I thought it would be useful to show where it is on Google Maps as well.

The Rikert Trail Name Game

Way back when, in the 80’s, when I began my career at the College and started skiing regularly at the College-owned Rikert Ski Touring center at Breadloaf, some “newer signs” were being mounted on the trees, indicating new trail names.  Apparently, until a few years previously, the trails had descriptive names, such as “Turkey Trot”, “Snow Snake” and “Figure 8”, and these, rather than their newfangled names were still commonly used, but the college trustees chose to rename these trails to honor famous Middlebury figures – some of which were truly connected to the Breadloaf campus, and some whose direct connection to the environs still seems a bit mysterious.  Nonetheless, most of the old names are now only vague memories of the old-timers, and the 30+ year old new names are used on the modern trail maps, as well as the signage out on the trails.  I thought it would be fun to ski all of the trails named after historical figures, and find out a little bit about each of them.

Battell

Leaving the open field, and entering the woods, the first trail most first-timers ski onto is the Battell Trail. It is only fitting that this well-loved trail is named after Joseph Battell, a scion of Middlebury who built the Breadloaf Campus as a mountain resort, and donated it to Middlebury College to create the Breadloaf Campus.  Full disclosure here – my endowed chair at the college is named after a few of his descendants, so I guess I too have benefited financially from his generosity!  I could write a whole post on Battell, but there are a lot more names coming.

Cook

After a short climb on the Battell Trail, I took the right turn onto the Cook Trail, a delightful little dipsy-doodle descent, complete with a mini-jump that has been part of the trail for as long as I have skied it. The Cook Trail is named after Reginald Cook, an English Professor at the college, and also director of the Breadloaf School of English, the summer Masters Degree program, in the mid-20th century.

Thomas

The next named trail, “Thomas” was one I had no idea on. Rebekah, a college archivist, did a little sleuthing for me, and suggested that the trail is named after John Thomas, the Middlebury College President from 1908-1921. He is also known for having founded the Breadloaf School in 1920, so it makes sense that he would be honored with a posthumous trail name!

After a short stretch rejoining the Battell trail, I finally got to a trail named after an actual skier! The Bower Trail, named after Middlebury Alum John Bower ’63, arguably the most famous Middlebury College Athlete. In addition to winning the NCAA Championship in cross-country skiing in 1961, he also was on the US Olympic Teams in 1964 (Innsbruck) and 1968 (Grenoble), and returned to coach the Middlebury Ski Team before leaving to direct the nordic program at the US ski team.

Freeman

My wandering path next brought me to the Freeman trail, named after Professor Stephen A Freeman, who passed away in 1999 at the age of 478 (OK maybe I stretched that a little, but he was over 100!).  Freeman is known for bringing the Middlebury language programs to international prominence, and establishing the schools abroad.  I don’t know of any special connection he may have had to the Breadloaf Campus, or the Rikert Ski area.  Does anyone else know?

Gilmore

I next did a short loop on the Gilmore trail, named for the adjacent Breadloaf Dormitory by the same name. I wasn’t able to connect this trail name to any Middlebury College name of prominence, but my college archivist connection Rebekah guesses that it was the name of a local landowner at some point. Looking on geneology confirmed that there were indeed Gilmores living in Ripton in the 19th century, but I couldn’t find much more, although I suspect that time spent looking over Ripton land records could confirm or deny this. I will also take a look around some of the local cemeteries this summer with my eyes open for the Gilmore name.   I did, however, find a blog post describing past alcohol-fueled literary debaucheries by some of the summer residents of Gilmore House!

Sheehan

 

The next named trail on my jaunt through the woods, is another one named after an actual skier, the Sheehan Trail, named after “Bobo” Sheehan, Middlebury Class of ’44, whose name is also attached to one of the chair lifts at the Snow Bowl. Sheehan, a born and bred Vermonter (from Newport), also the was the coach of the college ski team from 1947-1967, and was also the father to professional golfer Patty Sheehan. Although I suspect that he was more known for his prowess as an alpine skier, I think he deserves a nordic trail as well.

Frost

 

The next named trail, Frost, needs no introduction. He lived here, wrote here, and walked here. And yes, probably slept here as well.

Holland

Although I didn’t ski at all on the Holland Trail, I did pass by the sign for it. This was a tough one to figure out, but a friend who is a former Rikert Employee and Google Whiz (Thanks Nate!) came up with a likely candidate, Laurence Holland, a longtime Breadloaf professor and Chairman of the English Department at Johns Hopkins, who apparently met his demise while swimming unsuccessfully (That is a euphemism for “drowned”) in the Ripton Gorge in 1980.

Mandy

The next trail name as a little bit of a mystery as to its name, “Mandy”. I have heard two explanations as to its origin. The more reputable of the sources seems to think that the trail name is associated with a former Breadloaf employee whose last name was “Mann”, while another current employee thought she had heard it was named after someone’s dog. I am going to have to ask some old-timers about this one!

Craig’s Hill

After rejoining the Frost Trail, I took a sharp left turn, and came down from the upper reaches of the old racing trail, and descended the section known as “Craig’s Hill”. Chatting with a former Rikert employee, he seems to think that the Craig name was associated with a landowner in the area, past or present. Most people who ski at Rikert probably don’t give too much thought to land ownership, presuming that all the land is either Middlebury College property, or part of the national forest. Actually, the land is a patchwork of private, college and public property, and I know that expansion of the cross country skiing is limited by the needs of local property owners.

Upson

Still following the path of the old racing trail, I came to the Upson Trail, still commonly known by it’s old name “The Figure 8”. A few years ago, on this blog, I wrote a little bit about Mr. Upson, but self-plagiarizing:

W. H. Upson had been a prolific writer for the Saturday Evening Post, as well as other periodicals during the mid 20th century. Although he lived in quite a few parts of the country, including a stint at the Caterpillar Tractor Company in Illinois,when he eventually settled in the Middlebury area, he frequently attended the Breadloaf Writer’s Conference, and taught creative writing on occasional at Middlebury College.

The house on RT 125 called “Earthworm Manor” is also his former home, and is still used as a Breadloaf School of English residence.

Tormondsen

The last descent down to the Breadloaf Barn, home of the Rikert Center, is down a trail now labelled as the Tormondsen Trail.  This trail, the current racing trail, is named after John Tormondsen ’82, a former All-American skier and generous donor to the college – and even younger than me!   I have presumed that he donated a lot of money to the college to support the Rikert area’s recent upgrades, as well as making the donations such that the common room of the building where I work, Bicentennial Hall, is also named after him.  Thanks!

On a more somber note, the trail maps for this final descent also still also bear the Cubeta name.  The now-deceased professor for whom this trail was named long ago, was a powerful English Literature professor, Provost of the College, and head of the Breadloaf School.  In the Middlebury College version of #metoo, about 30 years ago, enough men started talking to each other, and realized that they weren’t the only ones being sexually harassed by this professor.

Now, you might guess from the length of this posting, that this was an epic long ski tour.  Nothing could be further from the truth – I covered a lot of Middlebury College history in about 4 miles!

Google Earth of the ski tour

 

It’s like Riding a Bicycle

Long before I was an avid runner, my favorite endurance sport for many years was cross-country skiing. I picked up the sport as a grad student at Dartmouth in the early 1980’s and my first race was as the anchor leg (having only skied maybe 10 times in my life) on the DFL relay team at the old Hanover Relay race, that was won by a team anchored by ski legend Bill Koch.  Even though my cross-country ski racing abilities have waned over the last decade, I have always loved the sport, and looked forward to the opportunity to ski every winter, especially at the nearby Rikert Ski Touring area.  Nonetheless, the winter two years ago was so miserable, that I kept waiting for “the big storm” to hit, and it never did, so suddenly I realized that I had missed an entire season.  So, of course, I was even more ready and eager to ski last winter, and as my friends know, I injured my shoulder last December, which kept me away from the sport I loved for another year.  So, on Saturday, I pulled out my skate skis from the basement for the first time in close to 3 years, and headed up to the Rikert area to finally go for a ski.  I had never gone so long without skiing, and I wondered how easy it would be – in other words, I was going to test out if skiing, like bike riding, is something you never lose once you learn it.

After skiing the “Old Rikert” for many years, I still can’t get over the “New Rikert”, even though it has been upgraded for at least a half dozen years.  Of course, with better skiing, comes a higher price, but it is still a recreational bargain in my mind.  I was amused, however, to see that they now charge to get your “Pooch” a seasons pass!  Setting out for my first loops, through the open fields and into the old beginner area originally called “Turkey Trot”, but known to most as the Battell loops, I felt a little shaky at first, but soon got into an easy, albeit not entirely fluid rhythm.  I also wondered now my incompletely recovered shoulder would fare.  Fortunately, while it ached some, it didn’t seem to get worse or feel debilitating, especially since my ski racing aspirations are currently on hold.  This loop has one short, not particularly steep hill – a hill that I knew I used to be able to tuck down pretty easily, but the uneven early season conditions (although still pretty good!) combined with my concern over falling on my untested shoulder forced me to descend more conservatively, and with a little more wobble than I would have liked.

After some messing around in the beginner terrain, I headed up onto the hillier train in the rest of the area, I saw that one of my favorite outer loops, the Frost trail was open, so I headed up the hill, heading in that direction.  My curiosity was piqued by a series of small rectangular yellow squares on trees, with the words “Burgin Lodge” written on them.  I had no idea what they were referring to.

Mysterious Trail Markers

As I neared the higher elevations of this trail, I had the feeling that there might have been some re-routing of the trail, as the climb seemed a little longer, and with a few more twists and turns than I remembered.  I also noticed a large stone cairn, that hadn’t been there a few years ago, almost as if it was there to mark something.

Mysterious Snowy Cairn

At least some of my questions were answered shortly thereafter, as I came to a beautiful cabin in the woods, decorated with prayer flags, and identified as the Burgin Lodge! I noticed it, as I was skiing past, and trying to stop, I took my only fall of the day, and landed on my elbow, jarring my bad shoulder. I breathed a sigh of relief, when I realized that I hadn’t re-injured it – and this was comforting, in that it gave me the confidence to ski a little bit more aggressively. I did discover the one aspect of cross country skiing that I had seemed to have forgotten – how to get back on my feet! Glad that nobody was watching, I took a while to get upright again, with my humiliation only internal. Getting up, and dusting myself off, I tried to look inside, and found the windows covered and the doors locked, but I later learned that the lodge had been there for a little over a year, and was built in memory of a Middlebury alum who met an untimely death, and was a lover of the outdoors. So, his family had the lodge built in his memory, and is available for use by members of the college community.

Burgin Lodge

Just as I was getting ready to leave the Lodge, and begin the descent back to the touring center, I saw a relatively new sight on the trails – a fat tire cyclist! Although Rikert has been renting out fat tire bikes for a few years, I had never seen a rider this deep into the trail system. Although I noticed he had left some ruts which might catch a skier, I am more than happy to share the trails with enthusiasts using other means of propulsion. See? It is kind of like riding a bike.

Fat Tire (not Fat Tired) Cyclist

Continuing my ski, I did the immediate descent on the Frost Trail – the steepest sustained descent at Rikert, and a great chance to revisit my snowplowing, I returned to the touring center, for a 10Km “first ski” of the season. It may take a little while to get my rhythm back, but it sure felt good, especially as a light snow storm started, covering me with snow. Walking back to the car, I admired the icicles on the side of the building, and was reminded by the beauty of the place, although I would not stand underneath them! It’s good to be back.

Breadloaf Barn Icicles

Google Earth of the run

Altitude Profile

The Long Way to the Silent Cliffs

One of the more popular “mini-hikes” in the area is the short jaunt from the top of Middlebury Gap (Rt. 125) to the viewpoint known as Silent Cliffs, which provides a great view of the College Snow Bowl, and on clear days, broader vistas to the south and east.  Since I know from past experience that a lot of the hits on this blog are by people looking for hiking trails, if you want to see the short “normal way” to get to this nice little vista, I will describe it in a short paragraph at the end of this posting.  Needless to say, I didn’t go that way on this run.

It was a gloomy looking Saturday morning and I was looking for my first truly “mountainy” run of the season. I had recently heard from a friend that the Burnt Hill Trail, which I had not hiked in over 20 years, made for a good means of ascending to the Long Trail, with a pitch and footing generally amenable to trail running. While the usual trailhead for this is a small turnout off of FS 59, the road which passes through the Breadloaf campus, I decided to park at the campus itself to add a little more mileage to my run.  This also ensured that if I made a “loop run” out of this route, I would not have the climb back up to my car at the finish line.

Despite a few passing showers earlier in the morning, I drove up to Breadloaf and parked in the nearly-empty parking lot to being my run.  I was surprised by how deserted the place was, as I knew the mountain campus had been used in the past for housing alums returning for reunions, but I guess they are now all crammed into dorm, just like in the good old days!  I was amused, however, by the remnants of a fire ring set up in the parking lot.  I can only guess that the lawyers must have warned the college about the dangers of mixing intoxicated 50-somethings and fire, as the fire pit was ringed by barriers to keep these happy kids from getting hurt!

Fire Ring

The Killer Fire Ring

I started my actual run on some of the trails in the “Battell Loop” section of the Rikert Ski Touring Area, the section of woods just east across the field, and wound my way up the Freeman Trail until I reached FS 59 by Gilmore House, where I crossed over and followed the Gilmore Trail until I got to FS 59 again, this time higher up and by the area where most people park for the Burnt Hill Trail. There is a detailed map of the Rikert Trails on one of the links to the right of this blog ( ——> thataway for the directionaly challenged) for those who don’t know the trails. Reaching the road, and short few yards to the right brought me to the beginnings of the combined Burnt Hill Trail and Norske Trail, which run together in their current incarnation (they were once totally separate trails) for the next .7 miles. Once the trails diverge, the Burnt Hill Trail brings hikers all the way to the top of the Green Mt Ridge, while the Norske Trail, which is designed for skiing (and was featured in this blog a few years ago) brings one up to the tight corner on Rt 125 just past the Snow Bowl. The climbing here is pretty gentle, and the trail is well-traveled making for a pretty easy ascent at this point.  A little deeper into the forest, I came to a sign post announcing the boundary line between mere national forest, and the Breadloaf Wilderness.  I stood on one side of the line, then the other, and didn’t notice a difference!  I guess it is kind of comforting that I live in an area where, even with a well-trained eye, I couldn’t tell the difference between mere forest, and official wilderness.  I also saw the trail log in, and dutifully inscribed my name and destination, using my blogging pseudonym of course.  This was your standard trail use kiosk, lacking the “you’ve got mail” vibe of the sign-in I saw a few weeks ago on another run.

The Start of the Wilderness

The Start of the Wilderness

 

The trail at this point mostly wound its way through mixed forest, and the canopy kept me relatively dry despite the steady drizzle which had developed. Finally, after about a mile and a half on the Burnt Hill Trail (or 2.5 miles from the start of the run) the trail got a little too steep and rocky for consistent uphill running, so the next half mile or so was mostly just fast hiking. At about the 3 mile mark, I noticed that the sky was in front of me, instead of just overhead, signifying that I was near the top of the ridge, and sure enough, in a few moments I was at the Long Trail. A lot of the Long Trail is very rocky and rooty, as befitting a heavily used ridge line trail, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover that this section, going right (south) all the rest of the way to the top of 125 was actually very nice for running, at least by challenging Long Trail standards.

There were a few noteworthy sights along this heavily wooded stretch of ridgeline hovering at around the 3000 ft elevation line. One of these sights was an omission – it has been so long that I have been on this section that I was unaware of the removal of the Boyce Mt Shelter, but when I came to a small clearing and did a little googling, I realized this was the case.

I also discovered another, more puzzling mystery.  I came across another patch along the ridge where there was an opening in the generally dense leaf canopy, and I saw the surprise – there was a small grove of apple trees!  It was not surprising that apple trees could grow up there, as they are an exceptionally hardy tree in northern climates, but apple trees almost always serve as an excellent marker of past human habitation, as they don’t really exist in the wild, only where deliberately planted.  Now the mystery is, who planted them up there?  I can’t believe that someone actually lived and farmed at this altitude, and in fact have seen maps of olde Ripton, and can’t remember seeing any mention of a homestead on the ridge.  But somebody took the time to clear land, and plant a few of these trees, now ancient, but why?

Mystery Apple Trees

Mystery Apple Trees

Passing this by, I skipped and hopped along the trail for a few miles until I came to a T in the road, and realized I had finally come to the trail spur to the primary destination for this run. A right turn would take me to the top of Rt 125 in about a third of a mile, while a left turn would bring me to the Silent Cliffs, so I took the left, and after winding through the forest for about a third of a mile, came to the outcropping with its views. One of the first things I noticed was that the Silent Cliffs was by far the noisiest place I had been on the run. The traffic below on Rt 125, compounded by the loose rock from the construction made it very obvious that civilization was not far away. The view, dominated by Worth Mt. and the Snow Bowl was as nice as I remembered, however, although a little limited by the clouds and increasingly heavy rain.

View from Silent Cliffs

View from Silent Cliffs

I returned to the “T” in the trail, this time going straight, and in a few short minutes I reached the top of Middlebury Gap. At this point, I could have elected to simply take the road back to my car at Breadloaf, but electing to maximize my time on the trails, I crossed over the short stretch of the Long Trail, continuing south until I reached the top of the Sheehan Chair, and ran down the service road on the Voter trail to the Snow Bowl parking lot, and rejoined Rt 125 for about a mile. Finally, I hopped into the woods on the Rikert Trails when I came to the Catamount Trail marker on the right, and came out into the Rikert field, finishing off a 9 mile run at my car, as the rain continued to soak me as I ran in the open.

While the distance in this run wasn’t that long, the nature of the running was a lot more challenging than most of my runs. The total climb from Breadloaf to the top of the ridge was 1600 ft, and the trails are considerably rougher than the much tamer TAM around town. This run took me over 2 hours, so my per mile pace was much slower than it is on the trails nearer to town. It is very hard for even seasoned trail runners to average much faster than 15 min/mile on this sort of mountainous terrain, even with some easier road sections averaged in.

Google Earth of the run, looking west.

Google Earth of the run, looking west.

Altitude Profile

Altitude Profile

INSTRUCTIONS TO GET TO SILENT CLIFFS THE NORMAL WAY: Drive to the top of the Middlebury Gap. Park your car or bicycle, and head north on the Long Trail. This is the trail on the opposite side of the road from the parking lot. After about 1/3 of a mile of steady ascent (a few hundred feet altitude gain), you will get to the fork on the trail. Take the right (actually straight ahead) trail. This is very well marked by trail signs at this point. After about another 1/3 of a mile of gently descending and climbing trail taking you to the cliff overlook. Sit down, enjoy, and return as needed!

New Trails to Earthworm Manor

Finally, mid-week, we had a break in the polar-bearworthy weather with a warm day in the 20’s, so I chose to take a mid-week extended lunch break, and headed up to the Rikert Ski Touring area for the first time in longer than I care to admit.  I had noticed the existence of a new trail meandering through the open meadows to the south of Rt 125, and west of the ski touring center (that’s on your right, and before Rikert for the directionally challenged) and had made a mental note that this was something to be explored as soon as possible!  Arriving at Breadloaf, I strapped on my skating skis, did a quick warmup around the field, took my skis off, and crossed over the road to the fields directly across from the ski touring area.

I have not skied these open fields much in recent years – I seem to have spent a lot of time here in the late 80’s, when I and my “Team Ross” friends seemed to have to spend a lot of time racking up (inflated) kilometer counts trying to outdo each other in our training over the course of a few winters where there just wasn’t much snow, and the trail at the far side of these fields tended to be the last place that the snow held during the all-too-frequent meltdowns which cursed those winters.  Nonetheless, I noticed from the map in the touring center, that this trail was  the means to get to the new trail, shown on the map as the “Brandy Brook Trail.”  The well-groomed start of the Brandy Brook Trail started in the southwest corner of the meadow, and immediately began an easy descent through a forested area for a short distance, before going over a bridge (over the Brandy Brook itself perhaps?) before entering one of the open meadows alongside Rt 125.  From this point on, the trail meandered through the fields for about a kilometer, before skirting the Galvin Cemetery, final resting place of “The Widow on the Hill“, and crossing the road at the white house bearing the curious name “Earthworm Manor“.

I was curious to find out the origins of this odd name, and obtaining this information proved easier than expected, courtesy of Google.  While his primary residence was at 24 Chipman Park in Middlebury, Earthworm Manor was the former second home of one W. H. Upson (where have I seen that name before?), who had been a prolific writer for the Saturday Evening Post, as well as other periodicals during the mid 20th century.  Although he lived in quite a few parts of the country, including a stint at the Caterpillar Tractor Company in Illinois,when he eventually settled in the Middlebury area, he frequently attended the Breadloaf Writer’s Conference, and taught creative writing on occasional at Middlebury College.   Presumably he was a colleague of our better known poet, Robert Frost?  So why was his Ripton summer home called “Earthworm Manor”?  One of Upson’s most well known fictional characters was an everyman known as Alexander Botts, whose employer was the Earthworm Tractor Company- probably building off the author’s early career at Caterpillar.

Back to skiing!  After crossing the road, my ski took me around behind the Earthworm Manor, and up what is probably an old logging road behind the house.  As I ascended, I noted a fair number of trails diverging from the groomed ski touring trails, and made a note to myself that there just might be some fun trails here for further exploration by ski or on foot.  After a short climb, the Brandy Brook Trail terminated at one of the older Rikert trails, and I then realized where I had heard the aforementioned author’s name before – this was the Upson trail, usually known by it’s nickname, “The Figure 8″.  From this point on, I tried to make the widest loop I could on trails groomed for skating, so I bore left, eventually coming to the Frost Trail, which for many years was the outer limit of the in bounds Rikert terrain, and descending via Holland Trail to the impeccably groomed Tormondsen Racing Trail.  The snowmaking on this trail can make for some rather unnatural snow buildup on the nearby trees, and noticing this tree, I couldn’t help but think it bore a striking resemblance to a rather long and bulbous nose.  Jimmy Durante anyone?

Durante Tree

Durante Tree

Completing my descent, I crossed over the FS 59 road, and came across something I had never noticed before; The small summer swimming pond, which now also served as the water source for the snowmaking, had a small fountain at its center. I suspect that it is not used, except to help keep the pond from freezing over during the coldest portions of the winter (like the last week or so!), and I rarely ski on those sorts of howling cold days.

On Thin Ice

On Thin Ice

 

 

I could have called it a day at this point, but I also knew of another new trail which I wanted to check out. So to get to that, I began my second, shorter loop at the Battell trail. I side excursion down to the less traveled Cook Trail, led me through some dense pine forest. While, the uniformly spaced and sized monoculture red pines were undoubtedly placed there by humans in the not too distant past, they made for a lovely effect with the fresh snow.

Pine Forest

Pine Forest

Ascending the modest hill on the Battell Trail, I came to the short straightaway at the top where the ski trail is separated from a little-used snowmobile trail by a hedge of 30 ft pines. After reminiscing that I have been skiing here so long that I can remember when those trees were planted as saplings, I crossed over onto the snowmobile trail, which brought me past the Kirby Burial Ground, and onto the upper reaches of FS 59.  From here, I scooted up the Forest Service Road, which is maintained for ski skating just as well as the touring center trails, courtesy of the snowmobile groomer, until I reached the Brown Gate, where I returned via the Upper Gilmore Trail (a great new trail which I first sampled last year!), until I reached the Gilmore House, where I explored the second new trail of the day, the Crooked Brook trail, which begins behind the Gilmore House.  This trail, while probably only 1K long, is a blast to ski, as it descends through a series of fun, tight turns before traversing across, eventually joining the other well established trails near the Myhre Cabin.  While writing up this posting, I discovered that a short Facebook posting showing the construction of this trail was published last summer.  Thanks to Mike and his staff for building this great little trail!

One final descent brought me back to the touring center to complete what ended up being about a 9.5 mile ski.  Once again, my aging Garmin GPS had a bad day, so I won’t be able to post the usual tech stuff from that.  I got the darn thing back in 2007, so maybe it is time for a new one?  Anyone want to throw some money in a Kickstarter account to help defray the costs of a new one?

Silver (klister) Reconnection

For many years, I fancied myself a passable cross-country ski racer.  Despite an inauspicious start, finishing dead last as the anchor leg of the 1981 Hanover Relays, a race in which the anchor leg of the winning team went by the name of “Bill Koch” (yup – THAT Bill Koch, and I was attired in a fuzzy blue sweater, blue jeans, and bamboo poles), I gradually improved over the years until the demands of parenthood and other interests diminished my ski training time to the point where racing was pretty futile.  At my peak in the late 80′s, I, and a handful of my friends made it our goal to ski 1000 km in a season, and with the mileage from three ski marathons in a month on top of a shorter race almost every weekend, several of us managed to reach our goal.  One of the symptoms of this particular version of OCD was an obsession with ski waxes.  I would wax at least one pair of skis every night (and yes, I had several pairs, almost always the latest and best) based on the next day’s weather prediction.  The bane of the ski-waxer’s existence was the particularly goopy wax for warm or icy weather known as “klister“.  While the stuff really does work, putting it on one’s skis is a real pain, and part of the reason why for many years now I have almost always broken out my skating skis, which do not require kick wax, on warm springlike days.

So, on an unseasonably warm and sunny Sunday morning, I found myself with my classic skis at the Rikert Ski Touring Center, and of course, my plastic bags full of every wax under the sun.  Realizing, to my dismay, that it would indeed be a “klister day” I dug into my bag and pulled out a tube of silver klister wax which was probably older than most of the skiers out on that particular day.  The best way to apply this sticky gooey mess is to squeeze a thick line from the toothpaste tube it comes in onto the kick zone of my skis, and then spread the wax by running my thumbs across the base.  Then the fun really starts – as all this wax on one’s thumbs can’t be washed off ( I had forgotten how insoluble it is in water!), so I ended up shmearing streaks of silver goop on the sinks of the Rikert men’s room.  Of course, it would not do to leave this for their staff to clean up, so I eventually settled on wiping it up with a generous stack of paper towels.  The scene was actually reminiscent of the challenges of cleaning up the “pink goo” from the Dr Seuss book “The Cat in the Hat Comes Back“.

Skis all prepared, I set off up the hill, not really dead set on where exactly I was going.  Taking the freshly groomed tracks on Holland to Frost, I came to the end of the Brown Gate trail, and realized that the section connecting this point and the trail to Blue Bed House was one I had never been on before.  This two or three year old section of trail seems to be replacing the old connector from Holland, which seemed to be badly flooded in recent years due to beaver activity.  This narrow trail, which wove through the hardwood forest was made more challenging by the darn klister – the conditions were an odd mix of powder, ice, and frozen granular snow, so I found myself intermittently flying, and lurching to a near halt when my skis chose to grab.  Nonetheless, I plowed on, connecting to the Blue Bed house trail, and bearing downhill, to Wagon Wheel Rd.

The last time I had passed this way, the Wagon Wheel Rd. had been plowed, making for less satisfying skiing, but to my pleasant surprise, no plows had been this way since the last generous snow storm.  So, I took a right turn at the blue gate, planning on following the old Middle Branch trail, which I knew would eventually loop back to the touring center.  A few hundred yards later, I came to a surprise which forced me to re-evaluate this plan.  While the Middle Branch trail, to the right, looked neatly tracked, I noticed a new, less manicured section, labelled as a segment of the Catamount Trail, bearing left.  To the right – the comfortable trail I knew well.  To the left, a trail whose known destination was…..Canada.  Once again, I chose the road less travelled, and that made all the difference.

road less taken

The Road Less Taken

 

This segment of trail was totally new to me, and from the geography, I knew it would eventually lead me to Steam Mill Road (aka FS 59) but I had no idea how long or far away this would be. So, I just glided through the woods, gradually climbing,the klister working well in the rapidly softening snow, and enjoying being the only person for a few miles. And at this point, it hit me – I was reconnecting with a sport that has been shortchanged for quite a few years.  After all those years of skiing an enormous amount in my younger adulthood, finding time to keep up with the sport has proven elusive more recently.  I found myself suddenly reminiscing and reconnecting with a sport which at one point in my life was my favorite sports activity.  This introspection aside, this is a very pretty section of trail, mostly through hardwood forest.  The trail is at its most scenic in one segment where it hugs the rim of a rather dramatic broad gorge, with the Middle Branch flowing a few hundred feet below.

wintry woods

Winter Woods

 

After a while, however, I began to wonder what I had gotten myself into, as I was somewhat directionally disoriented (albeit not “lost” – the trail was well marked) until I came upon a group of skiers coming down the trail from the opposite direction. One of this party was a friend I had not crossed paths with in a few years, Andy, and as we stopped and conversed, I learned that he was responsible for the layout of the trail we were on! Pressing him for information on his other trailblazing activities, he offered to share some of his favorites in exchange for some help with trail maintenance. Sounds like a good deal to me! I also learned that I was a short distance from Steam Mill Road, which is closed to vehicular traffic in the winter, and maintained for snowmobile use. I joined this road at the broad clearing which in the summer is near to the popular trailhead to Breadloaf Mountain. I found it curious that there was a large sign, standing in the middle of this field proclaiming “WILDLIFE CLEARING”. Since the only tracks I saw in the snow were of human origin, I guess the sign was right – the wildife was cleared!

Wildlife Clearing

At this point, I was still a few miles from the Rikert Center, but the return was easy, following the road in the tracks of numerous previous snowmobilers, and getting onto Upper Gilmore near the Brown Gate, and following the obvious downhills back to the touring center.

Google earth

Google Earth of ski

On the technical side, this ended up being a slightly more than 9 mile route, with about 700 feet of altitude difference between the low and high points.  I am also looking forward to checking this out on foot this summer as well.  The soul of this day however, was how invigorating it felt to just get lost in something that I really enjoyed.  So, take the time to reconnect with something ( or someone I guess!) you love.

Altitude Profile Silver

Altitude Profile

 

Tormondsen Race Trail at Rikert

The Rikert Ski Touring Area at Breadloaf remained pretty much unchanged over the course of my first quarter century in Addison County.  Sure, there were a few minor trail reroutes, and a few less-used trails disappeared as several more remote trails appeared on the trail map over the years, but it was very much a timeless place.  Even the interior warming hut and ski rental shop had not undergone any renovations in anyone’s memory.  Two summers ago, those who hold the purse strings realized that this wonderful resource, really a local institution, was in severe need of some modernization if it was to stand a chance of ever breaking even financially.  So, in the words of one of the employees there, the college went “all in”, fixing up the interior, and more importantly, adding snowmaking and rerouting the racing trail.  The new racing trail was named after the Tormondsen family, who presumably donated some of the funds needed for these renovations (knowing how things work at colleges!).  This family has clearly been quite generous, since the Great Hall in Bicentennial Hall was also named after this family – so “Thanks Folks!”

The old racing trail, which was 7.5 km long (10 km if the section on the Battell Loop was added) was very narrow, and had several very tight turns which forced racers to check their speed, or at least know the course well in order to ski it their fastest.  The nature of the trail made it such that it was very difficult for skiers to pass each other when skate skiing, and since this technique has been a part of ski racing for about 30 years, it made sense to find a way to widen the trails.  Finally, while we all love seasons with great snow, there have been many years where Ripton has been pretty much snow-repellent – like last season!  I seem to remember hearing that there was one group of nordic racers in the late 80′s who never had a chance to race on their home course over their four years at Middlebury.  The addition of snowmaking to a significant section of trail not only keeps the area open for carnival races, but may turn our little local area into a ski touring area with greater regional appeal.

After the recent January thaw, and a week of howling cold weather, this weekend brought a few inches of fresh snow, and Sunday turned beautifully warm (if 20 degree weather is “warm”!) and sunny.  Snowcapped Breadloaf Mountain in the background gave the scene “pinch me is this real?” beauty.

Breadloaf Mountain from Rikert Ski Touring Area

Breadloaf Mountain from Rikert Ski Touring Area

The new race trail, listed as 5 km, is a little shorter than the old trail, but this makes sense given the economics of setting up the permanent plumbing required to supply its outer reaches with snowmaking.  Some of the new trail uses segments of previously existing trail, much of it is set on new trails created during the summer of 2011.  The course has a similar layout, with one shorter loop in the Myrhe’s Cabin side, and a longer loop on the Craig’s Hill side of ski touring area.  While the Tormondsen Family Trail does not have as much altitude gain as the old trail due to its shorter length, it doesn’t have any flat sections either, so it will definitely challenge competitors.  The trail is well marked from the beginning and, in addition to greater breadth, can also be distinguished by the snowmaking pipes which follow the course.

DSC_0063 Also, the unmistakeable pattern of trees covered with ice and snow on their side facing the trail, which can only be accomplished by snow guns, was apparent in many places.

tormondsen tree While older racers may bemoan the loss of the technical challenge of the old “S-turns” or the long hard climb up “Craig’s Hill”, the current and future generations of racers will have a blast on the wide, banked, fast turns which characterize the new course.    When I thought I had finished the trail, I looked at my GPS, and realized that I had not yet covered the full 5 km, and realized that the races usually start with a big loop of two in the open fields for the benefit of spectators, so I threw in one loop around the field at the end, and brought the distance up to about where it should be.  Conservatively, there is about 400 feet of climbing on this course, which doesn’t sound too bad until you realize that the longer races will loop around it as many as 4 times!

We  have the opportunity to see the first Winter Carnival race held on this new trail next weekend (Feb 15, 16), and the NCAA championship races in early March.  Come on up and check it out!

tormondsen trail google earth

altitude Tormondsen