More often than not, the transition from autumn running to winter cross-country skiing is a long, frustrating period of time, derided as “stick season”. This year, however, a warmer than usual November, followed by more generous than usual early season snow, seems to have shortened the season in which it is “too cold and rainy to run, too warm or snowless to ski” to a few short weeks. That said, the seemingly inevitable Christmas rains have dramatically reduced the snow cover in Vermont, and when I checked the conditions at Rikert, and they were reporting 3 km of trail open for skiing, this did not bode well for holiday skiing in Addison County. So, I decided to look elsewhere, and followed the usual rules of thumb, which are 1: Go north and 2: Go high. So, I decided to make the slightly longer drive to the Trapp’s cross country ski touring center, high on a hillside above Stowe Vermont.
As most Vermonters know, the Trapp Family Lodge was established by the one and only Maria von Trapp of “Sound of Music” fame shortly after she and the rest of the family emigrated to the United States. They first established a modest ski lodge up on a hillside with views which reminded them of the views in their native Tyrol, and then pretty much introduced nordic skiing to the northeast with the opening of their touring center in 1968. Meanwhile, the original lodge burned down in 1980, sending poor old Maria out into the cold in her nightgown. The much tonier modern lodge, which I have driven by many times but never actually entered, was built a few years later. The Von Trapp family also has apparently flourished, as witnessed by the fact that there seem to be as many Von Trapps as there are Smiths in the northern Vermont phone books.
I skied at the Trapp’s Nordic Center a few times a year in the late 80’s and early 90’s, but as my commitment to nordic ski racing faded, corresponding to increased family priorities, I had not skied here in many years, perhaps as many as 20 years, so I was looking forward to this excuse to return. The Rikert ski touring area, while more convenient, has one major drawback – it is lacking in long climbs and descents. It isn’t flat mind you – the Tormondson Race Trail packs in about 400 ft of climbing and descent in each 5 km lap, but due to the limits of the topology, breaks these climbs and descents into bite size pieces. Trapp’s on the other hand, is literally on the side of a mountain, and has trails which take advantage of this – it is full of long, grinding climbs, followed by generous, multi-kilometer descents which which make you want to whoop with joy as you gather speed and maneuver through corners.
I was not disappointed in the amount of terrain under conditions which have virtually wiped out most of the cross country skiing in the state – they had 25 km of trails open, and with my Rikert season’s pass, I was able to get one day of free skiing there this year. Experienced skiers have known of the challenges of skiing Trapp’s, but due to the fame of the Von Trapp family, as well as the rather plush orientation of the tourism industry in Stowe, most of the skiers there are tourists who might ski once every ten years. I was also somewhat astounded by the many languages I heard on the lodge – Spanish, French, British English, Russian, German, and other languages which I didn’t recognize were within my earshot. They must be doing some rather brilliant marketing to get people who live much closer to real mountains like the Alps, to come to Vermont to ski!
The only consistently flat trail at Trapp’s is the main access trail which traverses the side of the mountain for a little over a mile. Given the less experienced nature of most of their clientele, this trail is almost comically crowded with beginners, wearing their downhill skiing attire with ski technique that could be described with the terms “wobble”. “careen”, and “sprawl”. This section of trail also had numerous benches for skiers to sit on, and plenty of trail signs to ensure the clientele that they were not yet lost in the wilderness. Curiously, they also had a sign with a Robert Frost poem (saying nothing about roads less travelled) inscribed, perhaps taking inspiration from our own local Robert Frost Trail? More experienced skiers inevitably strive to survive the long climb to “The Cabin”, perched at higher altitudes and achieved after a pretty steady 4 km of climbing. When I last visited this cabin, it had a small snack bar, providing free water, and selling hot chocolate, and hot soup to the proud skiers who managed to get up there. This time around, while the cabin was still backwoods rustic, it had a more complete menu than I remembered, also offering grilled sandwiches and baked goods. I wasn’t there to eat however, I was there to ski, and this cabin, at the highest altitude for skiers also provided the beginning of what I came there for – the screaming descents!
After a short water break, I continued past the cabin on the Haul Road, a long fast descent down the back side of the touring area. My past memories of this descent also included memories of great views of Mt Mansfield, but given how many years it has been since I last skied there, the previous open views along the trail were now mostly obscured by young birch forest. That was OK, as my downhill technique is not what it once was, so paying attention to my skiing rather than the views was probably a good idea. Of course, what goes down must come back up again, so after this great descent, I climbed up a different trail, known as “Bobcat”, circling back up to the cabin for another descent. For my second descent, I explored a trail which was new to my experience, apparently put in 5 years ago, known as “Chris’s Run”. This trail is probably the most spectacular descent in a groomed cross country ski trail in Vermont – it had pretty consistent pitch, with just enough steep sections to keep you literally on your toes, and zigzagged its way down the mountainside for what was probably 3 km, with excellent views through the hardwood forest. After this descent, I worked my way back to the beginner bumperpeople trail, with a side trip behind the Lodge, to complete my longest ski of the season and one of my best ski workouts in a few years.
All in all, this made for a 15 km ski with about 1400 vertical feet of climbing, and more importantly, descent. Yah!