Tag Archives: Rikert

A Bluebird Day at Breadloaf

With the recent dumping of snow, it was time to get up the mountain to the Rikert Ski Touring area at the Breadloaf Campus to enjoy the thick carpet of white on my cross country skis. The Breadloaf Campus is named for the backdrop of Breadloaf Mountain which looks kind of like…well..a loaf of bread. And it looked all the more stunning with the fresh snow. The Breadloaf campus buildings (other than the ski touring center) are usually only used during the summer as the campus for the Breadloaf School of English, and the writer’s conference. These were parodied on the Simpsons when Marge got to go to “Wordloaf”, so I guess that gives them some credibility, right? With the over-enrollment of students this year, a bunch of “lucky” students were given the privilege of living up on the mountain with the main campus dorms filled to capacity. As one might guess, this was not a popular choice, but I wonder how they will feel seeing the winter wonderland around their dorm when they return from break. I hope the opportunity to head out for a ski in the morning before class makes their remote accommodations more appealing!

Breadloaf Mountain

For my ski today, I chose to ski around the periphery of what I think of as the “tame” part of the Rikert trails. Like most trail systems in Vermont, you can pretty much go forever in any direction, so I chose the definition of skiing around the periphery as defined by the trails that are typically groomed. That proved to be an excellent choice today, both for the pleasure of gliding in deep set tracks, as well as the observation that as the warm sun beat down on the snow, it started to get a little bit heavy, making the groomed trails even more appealing. I started my ski tour in the fields across the street, enjoying the beauty of the white meadows, only interrupted by a few groomed skiers’ paths.

Field of White

For most of my history at Breadloaf, there were only two big loops in the meadows across from the Breadloaf Inn, but a few years ago, a more substantial loop was added in the form of the Brandy Brook Trail, which was added in part so that there was a place to ski when the trails closer to the touring center were in use for races. I stayed on this trail, looping through the meadows before returning to the road, to cross over by Earthworm Manor, the former home of writer W. H. Upson. Following the trail up the hill, I connected with the trail known as (surprise surprise) the Upton Trail, although old timers still call it the “Figure 8”, eventually arriving at the spot that I have always called “5 Corners”, an intersection where five trails come together, and has been marked by a massive dead tree for as long as I can remember.

Behind Earthworm Manor
Dead Tree at Five Corners

At this point I realized that my route was a little bit at odds with the way most people ski Rikert. Almost all of the races run at Rikert from the Breadloaf Citizens Race (which I have competed in countless times) to the NCAA carnival races go counter-clockwise, and I was going clockwise. Way to be a rebel, huh? I noticed this as I started to ascend the Rock Garden Trail, a nice easy switchback up the hill, and saw this badly faded sign letting me know that I was going the wrong way! Shame on me, but I chose to continue, since I didn’t sense any hordes of skiers descending at that moment. Maybe faded signs don’t count?

Wrong Way!

From here, I ascended to the high point on the trail, the Burgin Cabin, or as I prefer to call it, “The Ripton Hilton”. It is a lovely cabin for camping students, but since it is locked up, I have never actually been inside it. It was erected in part as a replacement for the old Worth Mountain Cabin at the top of the Snow Bowl, which was taken down due to “structural problems”, which I suspect is code for “college officials are not enthused about students camping overnight on college property to get first tracks”. That said, I suspect the Burgin Lodge, which looks beautiful, is much more comfortable!

Ripton Hilton

From here it was a pleasant descent down the Frost and Holland Trails until I got to the Crooked Brook trail, another great “recent addition” (as in less than 10 years old) trail, which I took through a series of short connecting trails to reach the Battell Trail (aka the “Turkey Trot”). After a short climb (once again, going the wrong direction on a one-way trail) I was ready for the long easy descent back to the touring area. At this point, the shady sections of trail were quite fast and fun, but I quickly caught on to the fact that in places where the trail had been in the sun, the snow had gotten quite wet and sticky, effectively putting on the breaks. So, my solution was to simply avoid the sunny sections, building up speed until I rounded a corner to see nothing but brilliant white snow in the sun, with the inevitable “SPLAT” as my skis suddenly stopped! Dusting off the wet snow, and regaining my dignity, I finished my ski, covering slightly less than 6 miles. While there were no major climbs, there were very few flat sections. It was good to be out today!

Google Earth of the Route – the Inn is right by the 125
Altitude Profile

Waxless Wonders in Frost Country

Throughout my 20s, 30s and into my 40s, I fancied myself a passable nordic ski racer. I, and a group of friends calling ourselves “Team Ross” (named in honor of long-time Middlebury College ski team coach and former olympian, Patty Ross) made the rounds to many local races, including the Breadloaf Citizens Race, the Stowe Derby (my favorite for many years!), and the now defunct American Ski Marathon at Blueberry Hill, which was part of a National Ski Marathon Championship Series formerly known as “The Great American Ski Chase“. In addition to the usual technique and conditioning skills, this sport required a certain level of mastery in the art of ski waxing. The difference between a great race and a miserable frustrating day was often the choice of ski wax, and the care with which it was applied, especially in races where the “classic” technique was required. For many years, I found great pleasure in this art. On days when I chose to ski in the classic style, I would head up to the Rikert Ski Touring Center, bringing along my full kit of waxes, and once I checked out the temperature and snow conditions (wet, or dry? Fresh, old, or rock hard?) I would go into the waxing room at Rikert, spending anywhere from 5 min to a half hour waxing up before heading out. And, of course, I secretly scorned the beginners and their noisy, slow, waxless fishscale skis! As the years went by, and the time that I had to dedicate to careful waxing diminished (cough cough..kids) I found that my waxing time diminished to the point where I would “nail” the wax about 25% of the time, get it “good enough to have fun but not quite right” about 50% of the time, and totally “miss the wax” about 25% of the time, leading to either spinning my wheels, or slogging along with glue under my skis. Fast forward to the current covid era – while my passion for waxing has been fading for years, this year the social distancing requirements prohibit spending time indoors in the old Rikert waxing rooms, so I was forced to guess the wax from my home down in the valley. And, I kept guessing poorly. Add to this the fact that my decades old gear, once state of the art, was now badly worn out and ancient technology. So, I swallowed my pride, and drove up to Burlington to buy a pair of (shudder) cheap waxless fishscale skis! I had heard that all outdoor gear, including cross country ski gear was in short supply this year, due to a surge in outdoor activity and upset supply lines, and was fortunate to be able to purchase the last pair of skis and boots in my size in the store. I have to admit, skiing on them has been a pleasure! They are a little slow at times, but realistically, the aging version of me is as well. And, I will never ever ever have to wax my skis again! My new “waxless wonders” reside in my car for the winter, ever ready for a spur-of-the-moment opportunity to use them. My blog posting today describes one route I took on them.

Another covid era complication, has been the need to quarantine after travel out of state. My life required a trip to Boston earlier in the week, and although I eschewed all unnecessary human contact, I returned to Vermont willing to continue human isolation until I am cleared by time or a negative test. That said, I was not going to let all this great snow go to waste! The main entrance at Rikert was clearly off limits, as it is busy with people at the entrance, and in the vicinity of the lodge and inner trails. An alternative place to begin my skiing was up the short road from Rt 125 at the parking lot for the Robert Frost Cabin. While this parking lot, and the immediate vicinity is part of the Rikert trail network, a few hundred yards bring one onto national forest, and these outer trails are infrequently skied. For the duration of this ski, I only saw three other skiers who were easily avoided.

Heading straight up the hill past the old farmhouse and the Frost Cabin, I found myself immediately in a forest of Red Pines, their lower branches still heavy with snow.

Red Pine Forest

While the snow was still pretty fresh, it had been skied out just enough, and my waxless wonders were performing marvelously. At about 3/4 of a mile, the trail forked, and I took the right turn continuing uphill towards the Blue Bed House. I have written on this house in the past – when I first started skiing back here in the 80’s it was still a discernable, partially standing home, but the eponymous blue bed was nowhere to be seen. When I was last here, chronicled 11 years ago in the summer, the house was reduced to a pile of rubble, but still recognizable as a former structure. It’s current status? Frankly, if I hadn’t known it was once there, I probably couldn’t have discerned it’s location, especially with all the fresh snow. Nature is quickly reclaiming this spot!

Jumble Formerly Known as the Blue Bed House

Continuing on this trail, at the next trail junction, I took a sharp left on the trail whose sign indicated that it was heading towards the Blue Bed House meadow – probably the remnants of the old hill farm associated with the house. This open area is one of my favorite places in this part of the woods, and its former use as a farm site can also be identified by one of the surest signs of its former habitation – the old apple trees planted many generations ago.

Blue Bed House Meadow

Going straight at the bottom of this meadow (the left turn here is where I went on my return), and after a short steep descent, I came down to the terminus of the Wagon Wheel Road, one of the back roads in Ripton, where the road had been plowed, but not sanded, and was fine for skiing. This location was probably the site of what was probably a pretty rowdy dance hall from the early 1950s called – you guessed it – “The Wagon Wheel”. I did a little looking into the history of this former den of sin for the residents of Ripton in a previous post. Curiously, uphill, not far from here, I once found the rim of an old wagon wheel laying down on the ground, and I made the point of leaning it against a tree, but have never found it again since then.

At this point, I turned right up the plowed, but skiable dirt road beyond the locked gate. There is clearly someone who lives up this road during the winter months, but fortunately they leave this section open to foot, ski, and snowshoe travelers during the winter. After a short ascent on this section, the trail system takes a well- labeled right turn onto a true trail, with the continued road ascent at this point well-labeled with No Trespassing signs. I knew from past experiences that there were options to loop back to the Blue Bed House from this point, and that was my original plan. Passing by a beaver pond meadow, I came to the next trail junction. Most of the tracks continued straight, heading towards Forest Service 59, but I had had enough climbing for the day, so I chose to take the right turn onto the old trail called “Kiwi”.

Kiwi had long been one of the most primitive trails in the Rikert trail network, and is still marked on contemporary Rikert maps. Decades ago, while not maintained, it was easily followed, and skiing in the winter I could guess that it was braided with tiny streams which were easily covered by snow and ice in the winter. More recent runs back here were a little bit disorienting, and I soon realized that beaver activity, and erosion had created a real stream here, requiring wet feet. Since this trail was still shown on some Rikert maps, I was hoping that it could be crossed more readily in the winter, or that perhaps the Rikert staff had added a primitive bridge. However, as I followed the tracks to the edge of the stream, I looked across and saw nobody had passed this crossing since the last storm, for obvious reasons! So, I turned around, and retraced my tracks to the site of the old Wagon Wheel site.

U Can’t Cross This

On my return, I chose a shorter route, following the signs pointing towards the Frost Cabin, and soon found myself in the red pine forest, enjoying a gentle descent back to my car. The sun, low in the sky, made for a lovely view by the cabin!

Late Afternoon at the Robert Frost Cabin

The total length of this semi-loop ski was about 5 miles, with a modest 530 ft of climbing and descent. And the best part? I won’t have to scrape and clean the nasty old wax from my ski bases!

Google Earth of the Ski
Altitude Profile

Postscript: Heading out of another ski, on the next day, I noticed that road access to the Robert Frost Cabin has been closed by Middlebury College. This is understandable, as the possibility of accessing “in bounds” Rikert Trails by those not holding a seasons pass (I did purchase the pass) was possible here. Also, probably more importantly, current Covid rules require that the touring center maintain records of all daily visits, should contact tracing be required.

Trailhead Closure

Trailrunners After Dark

Let’s face it – the days ARE getting shorter, so sometimes, it is tough to find the time to go for a run during the daytime.  The easy solution to this, of course, is the purchase of a headlamp and reflective clothing, and warm clothes.  I have also blogged from time to time about the pleasures of running on packed snowmobile trails while wearing my “microspikes”, the easy slip-on shoe device which gives just the right amount of grip for packed trails.  With both of these winter running tricks in mind, I had the inspiration to combine them both, on my beloved cross country ski trails at the Rikert Ski Touring area in Ripton.  I have been reticent about after dark running on roads, since my nasty fall on a patch of ice two years ago, but I realized that packed ski trails, especially with the tail end of the early season snows still on the trails, would make for a safe, fun run, and a new experience.  The one thing that would not be safe, however, is running in the woods alone at night, so I posted my hairbrained idea for some of my running friends on the Middlebury Running Group facebook page, and not surprisingly, some of them actually agreed with my suggestion!

So, we met up in the parking lot at Rikert at 5:30 on a mid-week evening, and other than a few lights on in and around the Touring Center lobby and a few spotlights from the barn, the parking lot was dark, as a group of us gathered to begin the run.  It was a little on the chilly side, in the low 20’s, but we knew that once we got running, we would warm up nicely.  So, we slipped on our microspikes, turned on our headlamps, and headed across the field to the Battell trail entrance.  I am including a trail map, so that those who are not as familiar with the area can see where we went!  The footing, as expected, was just fine, given our preparations, although I would recommend a slower than normal running pace, as even with the headlamps, we had to be careful about where we stepped – if for no other reason than that the wonderful early season snows hit before the small streams and wet spots crossing the trail had not yet frozen up.   The woods were beautiful under the faint glow of our headlamps, and were far more silent than they are during the day, when the scurry of small animals and birds makes for a little background ambience.  A picture almost caught the mood.

View from the trail



And of course, there is not much to see in this photo – it was dark! Continuing around the Battell loop ( a little over a mile long) we looped back to the field, and then took the right turn up the Tormondsen Racing Trail, covered by snowmaking, made for even better footing. The Rikert area does not have much in the way of altitude between the base and the hills, but they do an excellent job of snaking the compact trail system up and down the side of these hills, keeping the skiing appropriately challenging. So, looking to get a little more climbing in, I led the group up past the Myhre Cabin, which I recently learned is still privately owned, up towards the Frost Trail. Despite the fact that the Frost Trail is higher on the hillside, it needed more snow and/or more cold to cover the streams, so we had to be even more careful about our footing, until we arrived at the high point of the run, the Burgin Lodge, which was built to give members of the Middlebury College community a quiet place in the woods to spend the night – with access by reservation only.   There was nobody there, so the stone cairns, and then the cabin itself loomed spookily in the VERY dim light of our headlamps.

The Spooky Cairn

Yeah, I know, the picture is a little bit on the dark side – it was night, what did you expect? Stopping for a moment to enjoy the high point of our run, we began our descent, which had a few icy places, requiring careful footing, eventually joining the Figure 8, before our final descent on another section of a segment of trail, well-covered by the snowmaking system. In the past, I have bemoaned the name of this last section of trail – it had been named after the former English Professor and head of the Breadloaf School of English, who was the cause of Middlebury College’s big #MeToo situation in the late 1980s. I was glad to learn that our Trustees had renamed it the White Trail, naming after a local female literary character (of whom I know nothing – I will have to find out). Crossing Forest Service 59, we had one last short climb up towards the parking lot. It wasn’t bad for a leisurely run, but I know from experience that it can be an agonizing approach to the finish line during nordic races.

To the Finish Line in the dark

This ended up being about a 4.5 mile run, and due to the good graces of Google Earth, which had the foresight to do their aerial photography during the daytime, I do have a GPS trace of the run. I think we will be doing this again sometime this winter!

Google Earth NOT in the dark

Altitude Profile

I should have brought my skis

Last Saturday, I was looking to go for a run out on the trails, but knew that an awful lot ice of my favorite terrain, and with a road marathon coming up in a few weeks, I didn’t want to risk injury. Compounding the challenge of where to run, I knew there had been some fresh snow at altitude the night before, as I discovered on particularly “white knuckle” drive over Rochester Gap and Middlebury Gap the night before.  Thinking about things, the logical choice was to find one of the many VAST snowmobile trails.  Past experience told me that these trails are almost always well-packed by recent snowmobile activities – and in some cases actually groomed, making for excellent “trail” running wearing my microspikes over my running shoes.  With this in mind, I headed into deepest darkest Ripton, up the Natural Turnpike to where the plowed section of the road ended, and there was a small parking lot used mostly by skiers during the winter.   This early in the spring, when there was still a veneer of snow on the upper reaches of the increasingly primitive dirt road, things were frozen enough for my low ground clearance VW Beetle to get up the road, but I suspect that very shortly, when we are in the depths of mud season, the road may require a higher clearance vehicle, or a 4WD.

There was an informational kiosk at the trail head, and the snowmobile trail itself was perhaps 20 yards away,  right under my nose, and I was surprised to see that no snowmobilers had been out, at least since the previous evening’s snow, which looked to only have accumulated about an inch.  Beginning my run to the right, in about a minute, it joined up with the much wider Steam Mill Road, also known as Forest Road 59, the road whose other terminus is near the Rikert Ski Touring Center, and in fact bisects the area.  This road, which is only open to traffic during the non-winter months showed plenty of signs of usage – by everyone but snowmobilers.  The thin snow cover, however made it easily runable – but who knows what the conditions are like now, a week later.  I also found it interesting how the different types of trail enthusiasts seemed to have chosen their respective lanes – foot travelers on the left, classic skiers in the middle, and a ski skater on the right!

Tracking Outdoor Enthusiasts

Continuing up the road, I came into the Steam Mill Clearing itself. The fact that this high in the mountains, there is still open meadow here I would suspect is the result of a once a year mowing, although I don’t know this for sure. There is also a big sign, indicating “Wildlife Viewing”, but I looked around and I seemed to be the only wild thing here – in fact, I was stunned by the near silence – a windless day, mid afternoon, and probably the only person for a mile or two. I also noted a sign indicating where the Catamount Trail joined in from the south. This section of the Catamount trail, connecting Rikert with the northern section was the result of a blog posting a few years ago.

Steam Mill Clearing

At this point, I also noted that the thin cover of snow was getting deeper, making the running a little bit more challenging, and the ski tracks I saw were looking more and more enticing. At this point I realized that I may have forsaken my last chance to ski this season in order to do this run. Oh well- it was a good season! As the trail slowly climbed, I finally reached the height of land, which while only a few hundred feet higher than the trailhead, had about 6 inches of fresh snow! Tough running, but it would have been great skiing. As challenging as the running was for this short section of deeper snow, I didn’t feel sorry for myself, thinking of some friends who were competing in the Runamuck 50K on snowy and muddy trails, near Woodstock VT that same day.

A short descent, brought me to the end of the snowy part of the road, reaching the point where Steam Mill Road is plowed, near the upper reaches of the Gilmore Trail at Rikert.   I could tell I was near to “civilization” at this point, as evidenced by the most ubiquitous bit of litter – the inevitable Bud Light can, in this case half buried in the fresh snow at the side of the trail. Bud Light – the beer of champion litterbugs!


I’ll have a Bud Light



Heading back, I climbed back up to the high point, and in the course of the long, gradual descent back to my waiting car, I came across a skiing couple, with a few enthusiastic dogs. Stopping for a moment, one of the couple said “I thought that might be you”. I was puzzled, as I didn’t think I knew these people, but not wearing my glasses, I sometimes am a little weak on recognizing people. Embrarrassed, I asked her for her name, which she offered, and as I still had a look of confusion, she followed it up with the fact that she read my blog. That made my day – thanks!

All said, this is a nice stretch for running, especially midwinter when it is well packed, and ended up being a 7 mile run with a few hundred feet of climbing and descent. I think I am ready for the spring thaw, and some truly muddy trails!

Google Earth of the Run

Since this run was on a road, at least in the summer, I thought it would be useful to show where it is on Google Maps as well.

The Rikert Trail Name Game

Way back when, in the 80’s, when I began my career at the College and started skiing regularly at the College-owned Rikert Ski Touring center at Breadloaf, some “newer signs” were being mounted on the trees, indicating new trail names.  Apparently, until a few years previously, the trails had descriptive names, such as “Turkey Trot”, “Snow Snake” and “Figure 8”, and these, rather than their newfangled names were still commonly used, but the college trustees chose to rename these trails to honor famous Middlebury figures – some of which were truly connected to the Breadloaf campus, and some whose direct connection to the environs still seems a bit mysterious.  Nonetheless, most of the old names are now only vague memories of the old-timers, and the 30+ year old new names are used on the modern trail maps, as well as the signage out on the trails.  I thought it would be fun to ski all of the trails named after historical figures, and find out a little bit about each of them.


Leaving the open field, and entering the woods, the first trail most first-timers ski onto is the Battell Trail. It is only fitting that this well-loved trail is named after Joseph Battell, a scion of Middlebury who built the Breadloaf Campus as a mountain resort, and donated it to Middlebury College to create the Breadloaf Campus.  Full disclosure here – my endowed chair at the college is named after a few of his descendants, so I guess I too have benefited financially from his generosity!  I could write a whole post on Battell, but there are a lot more names coming.


After a short climb on the Battell Trail, I took the right turn onto the Cook Trail, a delightful little dipsy-doodle descent, complete with a mini-jump that has been part of the trail for as long as I have skied it. The Cook Trail is named after Reginald Cook, an English Professor at the college, and also director of the Breadloaf School of English, the summer Masters Degree program, in the mid-20th century.


The next named trail, “Thomas” was one I had no idea on. Rebekah, a college archivist, did a little sleuthing for me, and suggested that the trail is named after John Thomas, the Middlebury College President from 1908-1921. He is also known for having founded the Breadloaf School in 1920, so it makes sense that he would be honored with a posthumous trail name!

After a short stretch rejoining the Battell trail, I finally got to a trail named after an actual skier! The Bower Trail, named after Middlebury Alum John Bower ’63, arguably the most famous Middlebury College Athlete. In addition to winning the NCAA Championship in cross-country skiing in 1961, he also was on the US Olympic Teams in 1964 (Innsbruck) and 1968 (Grenoble), and returned to coach the Middlebury Ski Team before leaving to direct the nordic program at the US ski team.


My wandering path next brought me to the Freeman trail, named after Professor Stephen A Freeman, who passed away in 1999 at the age of 478 (OK maybe I stretched that a little, but he was over 100!).  Freeman is known for bringing the Middlebury language programs to international prominence, and establishing the schools abroad.  I don’t know of any special connection he may have had to the Breadloaf Campus, or the Rikert Ski area.  Does anyone else know?


I next did a short loop on the Gilmore trail, named for the adjacent Breadloaf Dormitory by the same name. I wasn’t able to connect this trail name to any Middlebury College name of prominence, but my college archivist connection Rebekah guesses that it was the name of a local landowner at some point. Looking on geneology confirmed that there were indeed Gilmores living in Ripton in the 19th century, but I couldn’t find much more, although I suspect that time spent looking over Ripton land records could confirm or deny this. I will also take a look around some of the local cemeteries this summer with my eyes open for the Gilmore name.   I did, however, find a blog post describing past alcohol-fueled literary debaucheries by some of the summer residents of Gilmore House!



The next named trail on my jaunt through the woods, is another one named after an actual skier, the Sheehan Trail, named after “Bobo” Sheehan, Middlebury Class of ’44, whose name is also attached to one of the chair lifts at the Snow Bowl. Sheehan, a born and bred Vermonter (from Newport), also the was the coach of the college ski team from 1947-1967, and was also the father to professional golfer Patty Sheehan. Although I suspect that he was more known for his prowess as an alpine skier, I think he deserves a nordic trail as well.



The next named trail, Frost, needs no introduction. He lived here, wrote here, and walked here. And yes, probably slept here as well.


Although I didn’t ski at all on the Holland Trail, I did pass by the sign for it. This was a tough one to figure out, but a friend who is a former Rikert Employee and Google Whiz (Thanks Nate!) came up with a likely candidate, Laurence Holland, a longtime Breadloaf professor and Chairman of the English Department at Johns Hopkins, who apparently met his demise while swimming unsuccessfully (That is a euphemism for “drowned”) in the Ripton Gorge in 1980.


The next trail name as a little bit of a mystery as to its name, “Mandy”. I have heard two explanations as to its origin. The more reputable of the sources seems to think that the trail name is associated with a former Breadloaf employee whose last name was “Mann”, while another current employee thought she had heard it was named after someone’s dog. I am going to have to ask some old-timers about this one!

Craig’s Hill

After rejoining the Frost Trail, I took a sharp left turn, and came down from the upper reaches of the old racing trail, and descended the section known as “Craig’s Hill”. Chatting with a former Rikert employee, he seems to think that the Craig name was associated with a landowner in the area, past or present. Most people who ski at Rikert probably don’t give too much thought to land ownership, presuming that all the land is either Middlebury College property, or part of the national forest. Actually, the land is a patchwork of private, college and public property, and I know that expansion of the cross country skiing is limited by the needs of local property owners.


Still following the path of the old racing trail, I came to the Upson Trail, still commonly known by it’s old name “The Figure 8”. A few years ago, on this blog, I wrote a little bit about Mr. Upson, but self-plagiarizing:

W. H. Upson 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.

The house on RT 125 called “Earthworm Manor” is also his former home, and is still used as a Breadloaf School of English residence.


The last descent down to the Breadloaf Barn, home of the Rikert Center, is down a trail now labelled as the Tormondsen Trail.  This trail, the current racing trail, is named after John Tormondsen ’82, a former All-American skier and generous donor to the college – and even younger than me!   I have presumed that he donated a lot of money to the college to support the Rikert area’s recent upgrades, as well as making the donations such that the common room of the building where I work, Bicentennial Hall, is also named after him.  Thanks!

On a more somber note, the trail maps for this final descent also still also bear the Cubeta name.  The now-deceased professor for whom this trail was named long ago, was a powerful English Literature professor, Provost of the College, and head of the Breadloaf School.  In the Middlebury College version of #metoo, about 30 years ago, enough men started talking to each other, and realized that they weren’t the only ones being sexually harassed by this professor.

Now, you might guess from the length of this posting, that this was an epic long ski tour.  Nothing could be further from the truth – I covered a lot of Middlebury College history in about 4 miles!

Google Earth of the ski tour


It’s like Riding a Bicycle

Long before I was an avid runner, my favorite endurance sport for many years was cross-country skiing. I picked up the sport as a grad student at Dartmouth in the early 1980’s and my first race was as the anchor leg (having only skied maybe 10 times in my life) on the DFL relay team at the old Hanover Relay race, that was won by a team anchored by ski legend Bill Koch.  Even though my cross-country ski racing abilities have waned over the last decade, I have always loved the sport, and looked forward to the opportunity to ski every winter, especially at the nearby Rikert Ski Touring area.  Nonetheless, the winter two years ago was so miserable, that I kept waiting for “the big storm” to hit, and it never did, so suddenly I realized that I had missed an entire season.  So, of course, I was even more ready and eager to ski last winter, and as my friends know, I injured my shoulder last December, which kept me away from the sport I loved for another year.  So, on Saturday, I pulled out my skate skis from the basement for the first time in close to 3 years, and headed up to the Rikert area to finally go for a ski.  I had never gone so long without skiing, and I wondered how easy it would be – in other words, I was going to test out if skiing, like bike riding, is something you never lose once you learn it.

After skiing the “Old Rikert” for many years, I still can’t get over the “New Rikert”, even though it has been upgraded for at least a half dozen years.  Of course, with better skiing, comes a higher price, but it is still a recreational bargain in my mind.  I was amused, however, to see that they now charge to get your “Pooch” a seasons pass!  Setting out for my first loops, through the open fields and into the old beginner area originally called “Turkey Trot”, but known to most as the Battell loops, I felt a little shaky at first, but soon got into an easy, albeit not entirely fluid rhythm.  I also wondered now my incompletely recovered shoulder would fare.  Fortunately, while it ached some, it didn’t seem to get worse or feel debilitating, especially since my ski racing aspirations are currently on hold.  This loop has one short, not particularly steep hill – a hill that I knew I used to be able to tuck down pretty easily, but the uneven early season conditions (although still pretty good!) combined with my concern over falling on my untested shoulder forced me to descend more conservatively, and with a little more wobble than I would have liked.

After some messing around in the beginner terrain, I headed up onto the hillier train in the rest of the area, I saw that one of my favorite outer loops, the Frost trail was open, so I headed up the hill, heading in that direction.  My curiosity was piqued by a series of small rectangular yellow squares on trees, with the words “Burgin Lodge” written on them.  I had no idea what they were referring to.

Mysterious Trail Markers

As I neared the higher elevations of this trail, I had the feeling that there might have been some re-routing of the trail, as the climb seemed a little longer, and with a few more twists and turns than I remembered.  I also noticed a large stone cairn, that hadn’t been there a few years ago, almost as if it was there to mark something.

Mysterious Snowy Cairn

At least some of my questions were answered shortly thereafter, as I came to a beautiful cabin in the woods, decorated with prayer flags, and identified as the Burgin Lodge! I noticed it, as I was skiing past, and trying to stop, I took my only fall of the day, and landed on my elbow, jarring my bad shoulder. I breathed a sigh of relief, when I realized that I hadn’t re-injured it – and this was comforting, in that it gave me the confidence to ski a little bit more aggressively. I did discover the one aspect of cross country skiing that I had seemed to have forgotten – how to get back on my feet! Glad that nobody was watching, I took a while to get upright again, with my humiliation only internal. Getting up, and dusting myself off, I tried to look inside, and found the windows covered and the doors locked, but I later learned that the lodge had been there for a little over a year, and was built in memory of a Middlebury alum who met an untimely death, and was a lover of the outdoors. So, his family had the lodge built in his memory, and is available for use by members of the college community.

Burgin Lodge

Just as I was getting ready to leave the Lodge, and begin the descent back to the touring center, I saw a relatively new sight on the trails – a fat tire cyclist! Although Rikert has been renting out fat tire bikes for a few years, I had never seen a rider this deep into the trail system. Although I noticed he had left some ruts which might catch a skier, I am more than happy to share the trails with enthusiasts using other means of propulsion. See? It is kind of like riding a bike.

Fat Tire (not Fat Tired) Cyclist

Continuing my ski, I did the immediate descent on the Frost Trail – the steepest sustained descent at Rikert, and a great chance to revisit my snowplowing, I returned to the touring center, for a 10Km “first ski” of the season. It may take a little while to get my rhythm back, but it sure felt good, especially as a light snow storm started, covering me with snow. Walking back to the car, I admired the icicles on the side of the building, and was reminded by the beauty of the place, although I would not stand underneath them! It’s good to be back.

Breadloaf Barn Icicles

Google Earth of the run

Altitude Profile

Sugar Hill Reservoir in the Spring

In this blog, I have often sung the praises of the trail runs accessible from the Brooks Road trailhead, reached after a few hundred yards on the forest service road on the right between the Rikert ski touring area and the Snow Bowl.  The easiest run from here, terrain-wise is a roughly 9 mile run which I have described in the past, albeit six years ago.  A good chunk of this run actually takes place on Brooks Road itself, a forest service road which is open to cars during the summer months, although rarely driven, and is used by snowmobilers and cross-country skiers in the winter.  In late March?  Since it has no snow anymore, and probably never had much this winter, it is closed to snowmobiles, but has not yet been opened to other motor vehicles, making it even better for running.

The run starts off with the most challenging climbing of the route in the first mile and a half on the dirt surface, until it levels off for another mile, reaching the point where the snowmobile trail up from the Sugar Hill Reservoir joins from the right.  Those looking for a shorter run or hike can just take a right turn here, for a 6 mile out and back!  On this run, however, I will be returning by this side trail.

Sugar Hill Reservoir Connection

Sugar Hill Reservoir Connection

Another mile on the dirt road, and another climb, not as long and steep as the climb at the start of the road, brought me to the high point of the run, with the total vertical climb a modest 700 ft. One of the big hurdles for road runners transitioning to the trails, especially competitively in Vermont, is the challenge of getting used to long, sometimes relentless climbs. I have found that this section of dirt road makes for a good place to time trial to measure one’s progress in the hills. Since it is on a dirt road, the footing is consistent, eliminating the variable of trail condition, so I will run this quite a few times each season, making a mental note of my time on the ascent, watching how my times get faster as the season progresses.

After crossing the pedestrian bridge over the upper reaches of the Sucker Brook, I headed on the trail into the woods, taking a right turn onto a ski and mountain bike trail which is part of the Blueberry Hill network.  This particular trail used to be a regularly groomed part of the Inn’s system, but has not been groomed in the last few years due to the destruction of several small, but critical bridges along the trail by Hurricane Irene.  The Moosalamoo Association, a non-profit, is currently raising funds for their repair, but fortunately the bridge washouts do not affect the use of these trails for running once the snow is gone.

Staying on this trail for a little over a mile, and veering gradually to the right, this route took me to the dirt road access connecting the Goshen-Ripton road to the reservoir, and I took the right turn towards the reservoir.  This road provides easy access for boaters and fishermen who need the convenience of driving to haul their gear to the lakeside.  I have enjoyed noticing quirky rock cairns, built and left alongside trails and streams, and commented on them in past blog entries.  On this run, I noticed a few rounded rocks, far too large to have been placed there by humans,  neatly stacked alongside the road.  Perhaps the glaciers didn’t want us to get lost?

Glacial Cairn

Glacial Cairn


A few minutes on the dirt road finally took me to the shores of the Sugar Hill Reservoir.  This body of water was created exactly 100 years ago as the highest altitude component of the Silver Lake hydroelectric project, which culminates far below on the shores of Lake Dunmore.  While this scenic lake is open to recreational use, it’s primary function is to store water for the hydroelectric project downstream, as well as flood control, and as a result its depth fluctuates tremendously, season to season and year to year.  This spring, with our weak snowfall, the water level is particularly low, although it was interesting to see that it was still almost entirely frozen over still despite our warm late winter.

I also noticed a fair number of “improvements” since my last description of a run here.  There used to be a quirky looking gate across the section of trail heading over the reservoir dam, clearly built to as not to behead errant mountain bikers, but this has been replaced by a more decorative forest service gate, and to my surprise, a mailbox.  You’ve got mail?  Out of curiosity, I opened the mailbox and saw that it held a logbook to be filled out by those passing through, and I couldn’t resist the temptation to sign it with my blog moniker.  A little later down the trail, I realized that I should have added some sort of comment along the lines of “Happy Easter Egg Hunting”, since it was the day before Easter.

You've got Mail!

You’ve got Mail!


The next short section involved crossing the reservoir dam, and locating the trail on the far side, offering a snowmobile connection between the water and Brooks Road, and this involves a short climb of a little over a half mile, with one final view of the reservoir through the trees, which will soon be obscured as the season leafs out.

Reservoir Views

Reservoir Views

Returning to the Brooks Road in this way, I took the left turn for the easy descent back to my car, and the conclusion of this scenic, and despite the mileage, not terribly challenging run.

Google Earth of the run

Google Earth of the run

Altitude Profile

Altitude Profile