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).
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.
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
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.
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.
As promised, I am posting occasional ski tours over the winter. I have been an avid cross-country skier even longer than a runner – in fact I started running in the first place to stay in shape for skiing, feeding my delusions that I was a nordic racer. Some of my ski tours are within the confines of ski touring areas, while some are along less manicured routes. Today’s post is the former. There are two fabulous ski touring areas in the mountains above Middlebury, and the Romance Mountain route is part of one of them, the Blueberry Hill Ski Touring Center in Goshen. A previous post on their summer race, the Goshen Gallop, described some of the same trails, albeit under very different conditions. Blueberry Hill does charge a trail fee for use of the ski touring area, but it is well worth it for well maintained trails, gorgeous winter scenery, and includes homemade soup for lunch in the touring center lodge.
Since I knew the trails would be well groomed, I chose my skate skis for a little extra speed, but the well-set tracks would have been great for classic style skiing as well. This tour starts heading behind the Inn and follows the road to the south. After about 3/4 of a mile, follow the trail with a sharp turn back to the left, where it climbs for a few minutes, before taking the next right. After a few minutes of continued gradual climbing, this short section tops out in an open meadow with the best views of the day – the view towards the main ridge of the Green Mts. from the side of Hogback Mt.
After a short descent, the trail joins a forest service road which continues to climb gradually along the south side of Romance Mt. One of the trails heading off to the left has had a sign reading “Ned Gillette’s Dip” for many years, so while slurping my soup at the end of the ski, I asked the owner, Tony Clark, about the significance of the sign. Ned Gillette was one of the world’s most accomplished adventurers, a close friend of Tony’s, and a frequent skier at Blueberry Hill. Ned was senselessly killed in a robbery while trekking in the Karakoram in 1998. Apparently, during one running of the American Ski Marathon, a 50 Km race formerly held at the area, Ned broke both skis simultaneously at the dip in the trail with the aforementioned sign. Probably the only time I ever finished ahead of him in a race…. Shortly after this point, the forest service road dead ends, and the ski trail begins its serious ascent, marked by an ominous rusty yellow gate.
Over the course of the next mile, the trail climbs close to 1000 vertical feet. Just keep telling yourself how much fun the descent will be. The trail winds upwards through young hardwood forest (probably lumbered in the not too distant past) with so many false summits that when you reach the top, you almost expect a sign saying “just kidding”. When I finally topped out, I could tell from a few patches of yellow snow that I was not the first person to be relieved at reaching the high point! The trail reaches about 2700 ft elevation, and this could be the highest groomed cross country ski trail in Vt.
As you might guess, the descent is fast, with several sharp turns, but in good enough condition that you can push it without fear of getting upended by rough spots, other than the occasional sitzmark. Snowplowing is a horrible waste of potential energy! After about 5 min of this more technical section, the trail settles in to a more gradual descent, making for fun fast skiing. The second trail merging from the left will take you back to the ski touring center. You can tell you have missed it, if you hit another forest service road, necessitating just a few minutes of backtracking. After a short, fast final descent to the touring center, I was enjoying the day too much to call it quits, so I added on a short section below the touring center. Cross the meadow below the touring center and follow the obvious trail heading into the woods. From here on, the trail is pretty flat and fun cruising. Take the left turn onto the “Beginner Loop”, and this brings you back after a few fast miles, albeit with a few road crossings. The full loop was about 11 miles, and took me about 2 hours with a few stops to catch my breath and take pictures.