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?
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.
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.
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?