Tags » Breadloaf


New Trails to Earthworm Manor

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

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

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

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

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

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


Thinking of Ski Season

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

I was feeling lethargic, and was finally ready for my first real run about two weeks after the marathon alluded to in my previous post.  I had been concentrating on recovery, with a few yoga classes to loosen up and some easy time on the elliptical trainer as my only workouts, but it was definitely time to hit the trails again!  It was fun waking up on Sunday morning, seeing the thin cover of snow on my yard and  on the trees around my home, so I thought it would be fun to do a run on the ski trails of the Rikert Ski Touring area at Breadloaf.

Arriving at Breadloaf on this cool sunny Sunday afternoon, I was surprised to see that there was really not much more snow up here than we had received in the valley.  While the fields were pretty much bereft of snow cover, there was still plenty of the white stuff on the shadier trails, and the summit of Breadloaf Mt. in the background was truly snowcapped.

The Barn and Breadloaf Mt.

The Barn and Breadloaf Mt.

The first section of the run followed the track described on one of my previous ski postings, as I followed the collegiate racing trails. Entering the woods of the Battell Trail I noted the first signs of ongoing trail maintenance – a big pile of dirt blocking my path. I had suspected that there would be some damage to the trails as a result of Hurricane Irene. I stayed on this trail for most of the loop, but noticed more trail work at the bottom of the descent – a new bridge was being put in at the bottom of the descent. Other than this bridge and a few downed trees, however, which I suspect occur every summer, I saw no sign of any significant trail damage. After looping back into the field, I decided to head up the Myhre Hill dirt road, and saw something that surprised me – what looked like a new ski trail diverging off to the right! Even though it was roped off, I decided to see where it led, but it seemed to rejoin the racing trail after a short way. Heading further uphill, I passed by the Myhre Cabin, and decided to explore one of the more remote trails, Frost. I was struck by the beauty of the light snow cover, late afternoon sun, and last remnants of fall foliage.  Not surprisingly, there were a few sets of human and canine foot prints – I was not the only person out enjoying this late fall aftennoon.

Last of the Foliage

During my descent back to the Breadloaf campus, I quickened my pace when I heard the blasts of a “too close for comfort” hunter’s gun – I didn’t think it was deer season yet, but I wasn’t going to take chances, especially since I was dressed in green. Heading towards the lower reaches of what had been the racing trail, I came across another new section of trail, and noticed that some older trail segments had been broadened. Returning to my car in the Rikert parking lot, I noted that this run had been just shy of 5 miles – a good distance to get back on my feet again. While this loop didn’t have any true hill climbs, it did include 500-600 feet of climbing, with a few ups and downs along the way.

I look forward to finding out what is up with the new trail construction. Mike, the new director of the ski touring area, has commented in conversation his wishes to upgrade the trail system. I suspect that these new trail sections are being put in place to facilitate racing, especially for skating races where the narrowness of many of trails makes it difficult for skiers to pass each other. Now, all we need is some more snow……

Google Earth of the Breadloaf Run

Altitude Profile

Silver Lake by the Scenic Route

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

As my body continues to recover from injury down time in the spring, I thought it was about time to take on a longer run.  Since a few of my eager lab assistants were looking forward to some long trail runs, and the weather was perfect, it seemed like a good day to do a point-to-point run, with a car shuttle.  With this in mind, Jack, Nat, and I dropped my car off at the Falls of Lana parking lot (near Branbury State Park in Salisbury) and headed back to Rt 125, and drove up to the Robert Frost Trailhead, located about a mile west of the Breadloaf Campus of Middlebury College.  The Robert Frost Trail by itself does not make for much of a trail run – it is only about a mile long, and the poetry reading stations along the way don’t lend themselves to a rapid run through.  At the start of our run, I wondered if the bridge over the nearby brook would be repaired – a run through this area last year ended with a surprise wade through the river after the removal of a lovely rustic footbridge.  When my kids were young, we used to play “Pooh Sticks” on this bridge, so I lamented its loss, although wet feet and legs didn’t bother me after its demise.  There was both good news and bad news at this point:  The good news was that a new bridge had been built – the bad news was that this footbridge had a much more utilitarian feel to it.  I can take some comfort that the PVC “fake wood” used for its base probably came from recycled soda bottles.

After crossing the bridge, follow the outer loop of the Robert Frost Trail, and where the trail bends to the left to begin its return, take the right onto the Crosswalk Trail, then take the second left turn on “Afternoon Delight” which angles up the side of Water Tower Hill.  I have no idea how long ago this hill was shorn of its water tower – and I have lived in the area for 25 years.  Any old-timers out there with memories?  The descent of Water Tower Hill leads to a complex trail intersection where you basically go straight, leading to the Widows Clearing Trail.  After about a mile or so on this trail (skied last winter in the “Widow Wears White” posting), pass by the first right turn (leading to the Widows Clearing parking lot on the Goshen-Ripton Road), and continue on to the next right turn, which descends quickly to the road, albeit through some prickly underbrush which did not feel good on these runners’ legs!

We had originally planned on following the trail beginning across the road, but the neck-high greenery made this a less appealing option.  Instead, we turned left on the Goshen-Ripton Road and continued on this easy dirt road until we came to the entrance to the Moosalamoo Campground.  The large sharp stones used on this road surface made for less comfortable running, so instead of following it all the way to the Voter Brook Overlook, we followed signs towards the Mt. Moosalamoo Trail.  Somehow, we missed this right turn, and ended up doing a victory lap around the nearly empty campground, before noticing the trailhead on the left on our return.  After about a quarter mile on this trail, we came to a well maintained double track trail, which we took a left on, and in eventually rejoined the same road to the Voter Brook Overlook.  In other words – we added some distance to the run by running aimlessly in circles through the woods!  A short run brought us to the Voter Brook Overlook, with its views to the west, peeking around the corner of Moosalamoo.

Enjoying the Overlook

After pausing a few moments to enjoy the view and diminish the local deerfly population, we headed down a short steep trail, which is not marked on the official Moosalamoo region map available from the forest service offices in Middlebury. This trail connected us to the North Branch trail, which led to some of the sweetest trail running of the trip. This narrow but well-maintained trail leads gradually downhill for over a mile, until it joins the popular trail leading from the Falls of Lana trailhead to Silver Lake. We had originally planned on finishing the run with the short descent from here to our car, but since we were all feeling pretty peppy still, we decided to do the uphill mile run to Silver Lake. While my younger colleagues still had plenty of leg to spare, I discovered that my ambitions were not entirely reflected by my ability to carry them out, and found I had to walk a short section or two.  Topping out at the earthen dam at the outlet of Silver Lake, we were treated to a great early evening view of the lake.

Evening Reflections on Silver Lake


The last mile and a half back to the previously cached car was downhill all the way. According to my GPS, this one came in at exactly 10 miles – the longest run of the season to date! Fortunately, the run WAS mostly downhill, other than the ascent of Water Tower Hill, and the last hard climb up to Silver lake.

Google Earth of the route


Altitude Profile


What Season is it?

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Only two weeks ago, one of the biggest snow storms ever to hit northern New England blasted us with about two feet of snow, but the relatively mild weather which followed made me wonder whether my weekend enjoying the mountains would be in the winter, the spring, or mud season?  Or all of the above perhaps?  After Friday’s wonderfully springy weather, I realized that if I was going to get in any last long ski outings,  I had better do them soon, as I suspected that the snow cover would be melting away quickly.  With that in mind, I set out along the Ripton-Goshen road on Saturday morning.  The road was fine at first, but is shortly became a series of frozen muddy ruts which made the drive rather adventurous for my low clearance front wheel drive vehicle.  By the time that I reached the Blueberry Hill ski touring area, I realized that I had been fortunate to arrive with my oil pan intact.  The ample snow cover was tempting, but I also realized that I needed to get onto paved roads before the frozen ruts melted into a quagmire with a high potential to suck my poor old Ford Escort into the Vermont equivalent of quicksand.  Thus, I decided to head back to civilization, through the better roads heading down towards the Goshen Village, and return to Middlebury via Forestdale – definitely the long way, but the right way back considering the road conditions.

Undaunted, I headed back up to the Rikert ski touring area, which was fully accessible by paved road.  While the snow cover was starting to get a little on the thin side in the field, there was a ton of VERY HARD snow in the woods.  On the limited trails where the Rikert staff had groomed, the skiing was actually pretty nice, especially for skating skis, but forays off the groomed trails led to very challenging and limited skiing.  As I was skiing along, however, I realized that the rather unyielding snow might be good underfoot for ….the first trail run of the year!  So after skiing around a variety of loops close in to the touring center, I vowed to return to the mountains on Sunday, in running shoes rather than skis.

Sunday, of course, ended up as a near perfect late winter/early spring/pre-mud season day, so I headed for the wide open and well packed terrain of Forest Service 59 ( also known as Steam Mill Road).  I have mentioned previous runs and skis on this road which is closed to car and truck traffic in the winter, but maintained for snowmobile use.  Rather than accessing it from the Rikert side, I thought I would try and reach it from the Ripton side, and looking at maps, realized it could be accessed from the Natural Turnpike.   For those who don’t know this road, it departs from Rt 125 to the left just after passing the Ripton town buildings, and weaves its way up into the decreasingly populated higher elevations.  While this road passes all the way to Lincoln in the summer, a forest service gate blocks vehicular passage at a convenient parking lot.  I have never seen this parking lot before, but it seemed like a good place to head into the forest.

While the footing might have otherwise proven a little slippery, given the thin veneer of corn snow on a rock hard base, my recent acquisition of the perfect running shoe for the situation made for sure-footed running.  Asics makes an amazing shoe called the “Arctic” which has small spikes in the sole for just these sorts of condition, which gave me confident footing throughout the run.  Joining the snowmobile trail labeled by the trailhead signage as “7A South” I quickly joined the far north end of the closed off portions of Steam Mill road.

Trailhead Signs


A steady climb on this wide snowy boulevard brought me to the Steam Mill clearing itself, the trailhead of the trail to Skylight Pond, and a wide open area with great views of Breadloaf Mountain to the left.

Steam Mill Clearing

As I was running along, I realized that I was not the only person who saw the potential to enjoy this route on such a gorgeous sunny day. I saw numerous skiers, hikers, snowshoers, and snowmobilers out as well – the only thing missing was a few dogsledders! After a little over 3 miles, I reached the Forest Service gate at the Rikert end of the road, so simply retraced my path for a 6.6 mile round trip. I also noted a variety of other trails branching off from this newly discovered trailhead, and I am looking forward to exploring them this summer on foot!

I am not including my usual altitude profile for this run, as the run had only a few small climbs and descents, and my GPS actually gave some odd results, indicating a nonexistant 500 foot drop and climb in the first mile – no need to scare off other explorers with spurious data!  The next question is – will there be more skiing?  Is it really running season?  Or will it be so much mud that attempts to take either off road will require a cleanup with the garden hose to rinse off before entering the house?  We will see….

Google Earth projection of the run

The Rikert 10 km race trail

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Driving up into the mountains on Sunday, I was initially undecided whether to head into lesser used trails, or confine my late afternoon ski to more groomed terrain.  Noting the piles of fresh snow everywhere, but untracked paths at all my favorite trailheads, I decided that the old racing skis I had brought would lead to a far more pleasurable ski on the well groomed trails of the Rikert Ski Touring Center at the Middlebury College Breadloaf Campus.  As I approached the touring center, I was initially surprised by the huge number of cars parked there, until I remembered that there was a Bill Koch League (the youth nordic ski racing program) festival happening there.  There has been a resurgence in nordic ski racing over the last few years, in part fueled by Rikert’s active Bill Koch League program and the leadership of the Frost Mountain Nordic Club, as well as the very popular Middlebury Union High School Nordic Ski Team.  Inspired by these eager young athletes, it seemed a good day to travel the entire 10 km racing trail used by the college racers for their workouts, and yearly Winter Carnival races.

Family events precluded my witnessing this year’s winter carnival races, but on most years, the Saturday race is a great spectacle.  The men ski the 10 km loop twice, and the women ski a slightly shorter 7.5 km loop twice.  The high point of both of these events is the mass start involving all the racers in a mass start, looping around the field a few times in their amazing splash of color before heading into the woods.  While the waxing tents set up by Sunday’s much younger racers and their coaches and parents were not as plentiful as those set up by the collegiate racers, they created much the same festive competetive atmosphere.

Waxing Tents

Leaving the fields festivities behind me, I headed into the first of the three loops which make up the race course. While this loop is officially named “the Battell Trail”, it has long been known by its nickname (and long ago official name) “the Turkey Trot”. This is a favorite first loop for many local children and neophyte adult cross country skiers due to its modest length, climb and descents. It also makes a for a good stretch of trail for the early stages of a mass start race, due its wide boulevard feel, making for relatively easy passing as the racers stretch out their legs. It also made for very pretty skiing for this long retired racer, with the previous day’s fresh snows clinging to the conifers.

Wintery Boulevard

After about 2 km in the woods of the Battell trail, this spectator friendly course loops back into the field before taking a right turn towards Myhre Cabin and the first substantial climb of the course. A short, but steep climb followed by a short descent and yet another climb up the hill behind the Myhre Cabin leads to the most technically challenging part of the course, the “S-turns” which can be easily seen in the Google Earth GPS projection of the route at the end of this posting. While this section is not particularly steep, racers can build up some decent speed while taking on some tricky hairpin turns. Shortly before one of the last descents in the S-turns I noticed a curious sign. Existential skiing anyone?

Existential Skiing

Looping back below the cabin brings one back to the field again before taking on the last major challenge of the loop, the long arduous ascent of Craig’s Hill. One of the best places to watch racers is on the short flat stretch about 2/3 of the way up this climb – as the skiers make their second loop, you can often see their exhaustion and guess which racers are going to have the energy needed for the upcoming sprint finish.  A little more climbing after this point, followed by a short descent takes you to the section known as “The Figure Eight”  although only half of the 8 can be skied without forcing racers to cross each others paths.  The fast final descent down the section of trail still bearing the name of an exiled former professor brings you to the finish line behind the touring center.  I realized at this point that I had not yet covered a full 10 km, so two loops of the ballfield brought my distance up before calling it a day.

While I have not entered any citizens races for quite a few years, I felt like I was skiing this loop at a fairly brisk pace, which took me about an hour to complete, with just a little time off along the way for photography.  The top college racers can do this loop in less than a half hour – and then do a second loop to complete a 20 km race in about an hour.  Many exercise physiologists consider nordic racing the most demanding sport in that it works every muscle in your body while pushing it to aerobic extremes.  The top racers achieve levels of fitness most of us can only dream of.  Most impressive!