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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!

The Widow Wears White

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Sitting in my living room on a snowy Saturday night, I have a hard time believing how warm and sunny it was just a few hours earlier, as I set off to ski The Widow’s Clearing Trail.  Since the  posting on the history of the Widow’s Clearing from one of  last summer’s runs elicited a lot of interest, I thought it would be fun to return to this site on skis once winter hit.  Well winter has definitely hit!  The snow cover is outstanding for cross country skiers, with almost all hazards other than the larger streams completely buried.

This ski began, as did many of last summer’s runs, at the Brooks Road (aka Chatfield) parking lot off of Rt 125 just past Breadloaf.  Usually, this lot if pretty empty, but on this gorgeous morning, there were numerous cars from which other outdoor enthusiasts had already departed.  The goal for the day was to cross over the to Widow’s Clearing parking lot on the Ripton-Goshen Road.  After about a half mile of easy climbing, I reached the clearing, which was not unexpectedly enveloped in a sheet of white, with only a few brushy trees poking through the uniformly smooth cover of the freshly fallen snow.

The Wintery White Widow's Clearing

The skier-packed trail continued through the forest, passing several minor trail crossings, but staying on the Widows Clearing Trail, which also coincided with the Vermont’s end-to-end ski trail, the Catamount Trail, with its characteristic blue blazes, for much of its path.  Deeper into the woods, I came across a pleasant surprise – the groomer from the Blueberry Hill nordic ski area had set tracks beyond the normal confines of their more heavily used trail system offering the unexpected pleasures of smooth kick-and-glide skiing.  Eventually the Widows Clearing Trail and the Catamount Trail parted ways, and I bore right down the short descent to the end of the trail at the Widow’s Clearing parking lot on the Goshen-Ripton Road.

I had originally planned on doubling back on the same route, but when I rejoined the Catamount Trail, the day was too nice to end prematurely, so I headed right, taking further advantage of the groomed terrain.  A second short descent to the Goshen-Ripton Road provided a brief roller-coaster descent staying in the deep set tracks.

Serpentine Descent

The return trip passed too quickly, but was made even better by a chance meetings with a few friends and acquaintances along the trail, and several energetic but well-behaved golden retrievers. This route covered a little less than seven miles….I mean 11 km…..with almost all the climb in the first half mile. If this snow keeps up, I hope to blog skiing, rather than running into April this year!

Google Earth Projection of he route

Altitude Profile

The Wagon Wheel

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Last Sunday finally gave me what I was looking for – blue skies, blue wax conditions (for those of you on waxable cross-country skis) and great snow cover – perfect for the first ski posting of the season.   I decided to begin the day’s ski from my home area- the Rikert Ski Touring Center operated by Middlebury College, and make the route a mixture of well-groomed touring center trails and lightly traveled remote paths.  The day’s route began by reversing the route described in one of my posts from last winter, entitled “The Robert Frost Cabin”.  Heading up Craig’s Hill, the beauty of the fresh snow and groomed trail provided all I needed to justify stopping for a picture.

Fresh Snow on Craig's Hill

At the top of the first hill, I took a left on the “Figure 8″ trail, and then followed the signs leading to the Frost Cabin. The lack of any truly bitter cold subzero days this winter have made it so that many of the surface streams are still running, rather than iced over, and in a few spots, I had to chose my path carefully to avoid waterskiing. Around the periphery of the Frost Fields, the 2-3 inches of snow from the previous nights snow on packed trail made for pretty easy skiing, but the snow was up to my knees in the unpacked powder! Joining the trail heading into the woods behind the Frost cabin at the top of the meadow, which by this point in the season was pretty well packed by previous skiers, brought me to the site of the title of this entry – the Wagon Wheel Road.

The Wagon Wheel Road was so named due to the presence of dance hall by that name which operated at the end of the road, where the Rikert Trails meet the road, until about 60 years ago. I wanted to try and find a source of information on this former Ripton hot spot, but found the best information from an unlikely source. A friend told me that a well-done booklet on the history of Ripton was put together by the 5th and 6th grade classes of the Ripton Elementary School back in 1996, and that it might have some information on The Wagon Wheel. Fortunately, I learned that a copy of this book was available on the bookshelves of the Rikert Touring Center. According to this source, the dance hall operated from 1950-1952 with dancing every Saturday night in the summer, and was owned an operated by one Leonard Zeeman. Although the language used to describe this site is appropriately guarded, given the age of the authors, one gets the impression that it was a pretty wild place! They also report that the owner, who was also a contractor, collected enough beer bottles that he used them to build the cellar walls of a home he constructed in Middlebury. The dance hall stood derelict until 1962, when it was torn down, leaving behind just another cellar hole. With all the snow, there was no chance of finding this, but a small clearing at the end of the road appears to be a good place to begin searching for it in the spring.

Possible site of "The Wagon Wheel"

My original plan was to follow the Wagon Wheel Rd as far as I could towards its source in the more civilized parts of Ripton, but was surprised by the fact that the upper reaches of the road were actually plowed. There was enough snow at first, but after about a km, the cover got too thin to ski, so I reversed my path, and headed back to the touring center. When I reached the Frost meadow, I took the upper trail back, which led to the well-groomed tracks on the outer Frost trail. From this high point on the terrain, I descended to the touring center to complete this 11.5 km route.

Once again, I am reverting to the common use of metric measurements when describing nordic ski routes, as is common. Curiously, the only time I have received any “troll comments” on my postings was last winter when one reader took offense at my use of this Unamerican system of measurement!

Google Earth of the route

Altitude Profile

Norske Trail to Brown Gate Trail

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

While the snow cover is much improved from my last posting, the gorgeous spring-like weather could bring the ski season to an early close, so I had to get out over the weekend and enjoy the deep, but increasingly slushy snow.  You will also notice something very different about this post.  As a rule of thumb, I am usually a purist in that I earn my descents by putting out the effort to gain altitude first.  But today, I felt that a lobster analogy was quite appropriate.  Most of the time, the effort of cracking open the lobster, and prying the meat out of its exoskeleton is just the cost of enjoying its sweet flavor.  But every now and then, as a treat, you just have to say “to heck with it” and order the Lobster Newburg.  Today was my Newburg day.  How so?  I cheated and took the bus uphill, making it a tour with far more descent than ascent.

My primary destination today was The Norske Trail, a short wilderness run which begins just above the entrance to the Middlebury College Snowbowl on Rt. 125, and concludes at the Rikert Ski touring area.  Instead of doing this route as an “up and back”, I made use of the ACTR bus which picks up passengers at Breadloaf and concludes at the Snowbowl.  The trailhead for the Norske Trail is a 5 minute walk uphill on Rt. 125 from the turnoff to the Snowbowl.

trailhead

Trailhead Marker

The Norske Trail is much more of a wilderness trail than those in the ski touring areas, or snowmobile trails of earlier posts.  It starts off with a series of modest climbs and descents, and despite the lack of grooming, is never particularly challenging.  While the trail never seems to get heavy use, you can pretty much count on the trail being broken within a day or two after every good dumping of snow.  Cruising along through the open hardwood forest, I eventually came to an overlook, with good views across the valley to Moosalamoo, and the meadows of the Breadloaf campus.  I could see from the well-beaten snow where previous ski and snowshoe parties had also enjoyed the vistas since the last storm.

Norske Vista

Norske Vista

Continuing the gradual descent, one eventually gets to a section where there are several intersecting trails, including the Burnt Hill trail, an easy summer hiking trail which reaches the top of the Green Mt. Ridge.  I chose to follow the ski trail marked with blue diamonds until it intersected with Forest Service 59.  At this point, I had been descending at a leisurely pace, covering a little over 4 km in about 45 min.  I knew that a right turn on FS 59, and a left turn onto the Gilman Trail would bring me to the Rikert Center in about 10 min, and I wasn’t ready to call it a day, so I instead stayed on FS 59 for another km or so until I got to the groomed descent on the Brown Gate Trail, extending my afternoon’s ski a little deeper into the touring center.  The remainder of this route is made up of the same trails described in the opposite direction at the beginning of my post entitled “Robert Frost Cabin“.  Immediately after crossing the bridge over the beaver pond outlet, I spied a notice affixed to a nearby tree.  Curious as to its message, I stopped for a moment to read it.  Needless to say, I am relieved to note that some of my fellow backwoods sojourners are concerned for my safe passage in the presence of fierce wildlife.

buffalo

Watch out for Angry Buffalo!

An easy cruise on Rikert Center trails brought me back to my car at the touring center.  This was a relatively short tour, covering a little over 9 km, with an overall descent of about 600 ft, but with enough ups and downs, and less manicured trail to keep it scenic and challenging.

As a postscript, when I arrived at Rikert to catch the bus up to the start of the day’s ski, I was a little surprised to see an older gentleman skiing in a tux and stovepipe hat, as well as a much younger woman cruising on by attired in a jogbra and blue jeans.  Unbeknownst to me, Sunday was the day for the rescheduled Breadloaf Citizen’s Race, a “Just for the Fun of It” race which I have participated in on many occasions in years past.  While I was sad to have missed the race, I was glad to see the race go on in the same spirit of semi-competetive fun which has been its hallmark for decades.

Google Earth of the Route

Google Earth of the Route

Altitude Profile

Altitude Profile

Brooks Road

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

The continued snow drought is keeping me in the higher elevations.  That said – the snow is still great up there!  This week’s ski is a winter variation on one of my running posts from last summer, the Sugar Hill Reservoir run.  Start this ski tour in the Brooks Road parking lot,which is found about a quarter mile from Rt. 125 just east of The Rikert Ski touring area.  This parking lot is a popular starting point for skiers, snowshoers, and snowmobilers.  I have also found that it is a great place to ski in low snow conditions, like this year, or early in the season before the first serious snow dumpings hit.  Once again, some of the best skiing is on snowmobile trails this season, and since the lower 2/3 of the Brooks Rd. climb is groomed for and by snowmobiles, this is where I started!

The first hundred yards or so were pretty rocky, so I made a mental note to make sure I was not going too fast at the end of the descent (a little literary foreshadowing there) so that I wouldn’t get hurt.   The snow coverage got a lot better as soon as the climbing started, however, except for a few short stretches where overhanging pine trees diminished the ground snow cover.  These few minor problems aside, it was a steady easy climb on skating skis due to the fast, granular snow which has seen a few freeze-thaw cycles and just enough traffic to keep it from icing up.  I knew the lowest 2/3 of the road would be fine, as this section is almost always well groomed for snowmobilers, and had planned on turning off the road towards the Sugar Hill Reservoir – following the route of my aforementioned summer run.  I was pleasantly surprised, however, to see that the upper reaches of Brooks Rd. had been groomed for skiing for the first time in my recent memory.  I presume our friends at Blueberry Hill have run their super-duper ski groomer Pisten Bully over this section at some point in the not too distant past, as this stretch is not open to winter motor sports. After about another mile of easy climbing, there was a slight descent to the end of the road.  Given that it had been a few years since I last ventured up here in winter or summer, I was a little bit surprised to see the road end prematurely, but I followed the less impeccably groomed trail beyond this point.  I quickly saw why the road had ended – apparently the old bridge up here had washed out at some point, and it was replaced by a nice little footbridge.  I am not sure when exactly this went in, but I suspect that it was another of the fixes necessitated by the massive thunderstorms which wreaked havoc on Hancock, Ripton and East Middlebury in August 2008.

brooks Road 002

Brooks Road Washout Bridge

Immediately past the new bridge,  the remnants of the old road funnel into a true trail, marking the entry into the Blueberry Hill Ski Touring Area, so continuation beyond this point leaves you morally and fiscally obligated to drop by the touring center and pay for use of their well-kept trails.  I have no objection to paying their very fair fee, but since I really didn’t have time to make full use of their trails, I chose to turn around and return to my car.  The return was fast and easy, and with the steady, but not too steep descent I thought I would use my GPS to see how fast I could get going.  The very lowest sections are the steepest, so this provided to opportunity to check my pace.  While my speed was not at all alarming, I wanted to see if I could at least break 20 miles per hour, so was skiing with my eyes on my wrist rather than the trail.  Just a little faster……A moment after I saw my speed break 20, (21 mph to be exact), I looked up and saw a small bare patch in the snow which was too late to avoid!  Note to self – old granular snow makes for easy gliding, while old granular dirt does not.  While my skis put on the brakes, the momentum of my body kept the rest of me traveling along briskly, with the expected result.  Ouch!  Fortunately, the worst bruises were to my ego as I got up, dusted off, and returned to my waiting car a short distance away.

This ski trip is 12 km (about 7.5 miles) round trip with about a 750 ft climb and descent.

Google Earth of Brooks Road

Google Earth of Brooks Road

Altitude Profile

Altitude Profile

The Skater’s Waltz

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

With the dearth of fresh snow and thinning cover, I usually head for higher altitude terrain.  While pleasantly surprised by the conditions at the Rikert Ski Touring area last weekend, I had a hunch that the cover would be even better on Forest Service 59, which has the advantage of being just a little higher up the mountainside.  Skate skis are usually the best call in these conditions – it is hard to set the good deep tracks for optimal classic skiing when the cover is light.

Forest Service 59 is the dirt road which passes behind the Breadloaf Campus before climbing into the mountains and eventually looping into backroads Ripton.  While the road is fully accessible to 2WD vehicles in the summer, it is plowed for only the first mile or so, and never sanded during the winter.  Nonetheless, the lower segment makes for poor skiing due to the modest vehicular traffic it receives.  One can reach the well-covered upper reaches through the Rikert trail system, however.  On this day, I warmed up with an easy partial loop on the Batell Trail.  After the short descent on this well-travelled trail, take a hard right up the short climb onto Fletcher, and another right turn shortly thereafter onto Gilman.  After crossing FS 59 at this point, follow Gilman for a kilometer or so, until it rejoins FS 59 higher up.  Here, take a left turn onto 59, but if the cover is thin, don’t worry about it, as this only lasts for a hundred yards or so.  You will immediately reach a sign indicating the end of winter maintenance for motorized vehicles (other than snowmobiles), and this is where the skating gets great.

This road is maintained for snowmobile travel for many miles, and I have found that the groomer which they use for these machines makes for a near perfect ski skating surface.  Thanks once again to VAST and the snowmobilers who support it!  You can also ski here on classic skis, or course, but the wide road, lack of tracks, and frankly, lack of snowmobiles, makes a long easy skate most appealing.

At this point, you can pretty much go as far as you want.  The road climbs gradually, but relentlessly for about 10-15 min until you reach the height of land.  From this point on, the skiing is very easy, with a few short descents and climbs, and is a great place to really stretch out your stride and go for great gliding.  I found this trail very reminiscent of much of the course for the Gatineau 55, a ski marathon on the Worldloppet tour which I sort of competed in many years ago.   No time for a marathon today, so for my much shorter ski I arbitrarily chose  to turn around after a few miles at the Sawmill Clearing, which also serves as the trailhead for the easy climb up to Breadloaf Mountain.  Perhaps I will carry my snowshoes on my back another day to add this climb to the short ski tour.

While you know you are going uphill most of the way out, you don’t realize how much you have climbed until your return – I was amazed to see that my return took barely half the time of my trip out.  Cruising back to the touring center by pretty much the same route made this a 13 km (8 mile) trip – just right for a busy Saturday when I had other family needs to attend to.

profile of fs 59

profile_001

Altitude Proflie

Robert Frost Cabin

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

After my last post on the Blueberry Hill ski touring area, I had to follow up with a post describing a favorite loop at my home in the mountains, the Rikert Ski touring center on the Breadloaf Campus.  I have purchased a season’s pass here pretty much every winter since I moved to Vt, and I can’t say enough good things about the place and the people who run it, so I won’t!  The Rikert area has many kilometers of great trails, but has a compact trail layout, so I am going to describe a route which includes some of their lesser known trails, and some less maintained sections of forest service land outside the ski area boundaries.  This loop includes some perfectly manicured terrain, skier-packed side trails, and a short section on Forest Service 59, an unplowed dirt road which is maintained by VAST (Vermont Area Snow Travellers, aka Snowmobilers).

Breadloaf Inn - Rikert Ski Touring Center

Breadloaf Inn - Rikert Ski Touring Center

Starting at the touring center, take the trail descending directly into the woods towards Breadloaf Mountain.  This trail is labelled as the “first loop”  as it is the start of the 7.5 Km loop used by the Middlebury College Ski Team for the winter carnival races.  Follow this trail as it makes a quick climb, short descent and veers right for another short climb.  Go straight on Holland, which continues the gradual climb.  A short distance after topping out on Holland, you will see an ungroomed but usually well skied trail descending to the right.  This trail is usually referred to as “Brown Gate”.  There are a few springs in this section of trail, so watch out for a few bare spots.  An opening in the forest to the right marks the beginning of a series of beaver ponds.  The trail eventually makes a sharp right to a bridge which crosses over the outlet of the beaver ponds, but if the little buggers have been recently active, the bridge is sometimes under the ice.  From here it is about . 75 Km of climbing until you reach the brown gate which gives the trail its name, where the ski trail system meets FS 59.  If you are reading this, and wonder how on earth you will ever follow these instructions, just remember (as the blogger furrows his brow and does his best Yoda imitation) No wrong way, there is, only new ways.  Hmmmmmm.

Take a left here on the VAST-maintained trail.  I rarely see snowmobilers here, and when I do, I step aside, wave pleasantly, and thank them, as it is their dues which keeps the trail maintained.  I am looking forward, however, to the extinction of the smoky and loud 2-stroke machines and their eventual replacement with quieter and less noxious 4-stroke engined snowmobiles.  Another Km or so of easy climbing brings you to the height of land, where the trail takes a soft left turn, and starts to descend.  Keep your eyes open for a tighter trail descending to the left.  You will recognize it when you see a no snowmobiling sign on a trail frequently well packed by snowmobiles.  The next few Km are a long fun descent which eventually bring you back into the outer fringes of the Rikert trail system.  There is a gorgeous section paralleling the Middle Branch River.  Shortly after you cross the river on a major bridge, there is a hard left up a short steep hill.  Head up this, and then take the right fork when the trail splits again.  You may notice a wooden sign pointing to Breadloaf, but this is easy to miss as it is in need of a paint job.  Stay on this trail, which eventually passes through a pine forest before emerging in a clearing adjacent to the Robert Frost Cabin.

Robert Frost Cabin

Robert Frost Cabin

Frost spent the summer and fall here every year from 1939 until his death in 1963.  I have noted that many locations around New England lay claim to Robert Frost, although “Robert Frost lived here” historical markers are not quite as common as “George Washington slept here” seems to be in the Mid-Atlantic states!  The large white farmhouse below is the Homer Noble Farm, which made the news two years ago, when it was vandalized by a large group of high school-aged kids drinking beer.  The New York Times article discussing this sad incident can be found at

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/28/us/28land.html?_r=2&oref=slogin

This sobering thought aside, the bluebird skies and blue kick wax conditions made for yet another ahhhhhhh… moment on a perfect day.  From this point on, just follow the obvious trails back to the central sections of the ski touring area, and kick it in back to the touring center.

First tracks on corduroy

First tracks on corduroy

The total distance on this loop was 13 Km, with a 700 ft altitude difference between the highest and lowest points. You will notice, I am giving all distances in Km now.  This is so that I can maintain credibility in the nordic skiing world, where apparently English system measurement is verboten.

Google Earth Projection

Google Earth Projection

Altitude

Altitude