Tag Archives: Stowe

25 Km to Cherry Garcia

The Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe has long been among my favorite places to cross country ski – with lots of challenging climbs and breathtaking descents. It is also in a stunningly beautiful location – one can understand why Maria and the captain chose it as their home when they escaped to the US. I had often thought that it would be a great place for trail running as well, so when I learned of the Catamount Ultra a race with a 50 Km and 25 Km option, I immediately registered for the challenging, but hopefully not injurious shorter distance event. So, on a sunny Saturday that promised to get blisteringly hot before the day was though, I arrived at the starting line for what promised to be a fun event.

Morning Mountain Meadow Views

Morning Mountain Meadow Views

The starting line was set up right by the touring center building, and after getting my bib and race swag, I had some time to look around, and I was amazed at how the Trapp Lodge complex had grown over the years to become a rather extensive resort on the side of the mountains. It even has its own Von Trapp microbrewery now, which I knew I would be looking forward to at the end of the race. I was also amused by the oversized inflatable mammoth (perhaps a shark would have been better, since the race did indeed occur during the Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week”), clearly related to one of the race sponsors, and briefly considered means of tying it to the roof of my VW Beetle to take it home, but then came to my senses and left it for others to enjoy.

The mammoth inflatable mammoth

The mammoth inflatable mammoth

The participants in the longer, 50 Km race had apparently started their two lap trek at 7:00, and start time for those of us who had chosen to only take one time around the daunting looking course lined up at around 8:30 for our start. Looking around at those lining up, I thought to myself that this bunch did not look at all like the “B-team” – they were as ectomorphic a bunch of distance runners as one would expect at a race like this, which promised 2500 vertical feet of climb and descent over the 25 Km distance. In the moments before the race started, the opening guitar riff of “Sweet Child of Mine” started blasting over the PA system, which seemed a good omen, as it has always been one of my favorite “get psyched” songs.

When the gun went off I stayed comfortably in the middle of the pack, as the group of runners, 150+ strong headed up the backside of the first hill “Telemark”. It was interesting comparing running styles with other competitors. I have always been gravity prone, climbing at a steady but slowish pace, but able to cut loose on downhills. I had fun chatting with another runner who joked that she was just the opposite – and as a result she passed me on every climb, as I roared off into the distance on the descents, only to be caught again on the next short climb. After coming down off of Telemark, there was a short flat section before the major climb of the race. The next few miles, with most of the climb coming on the Lower Parizo Trail and Chris’s Run (for those who know the ski area) followed by a short mild climb up to the high point of the race, the cabin. While the cabin has wintery snacks and hot chocolate during ski season, the water station, after the early challenging climb was just what the doctor ordered. Most, albeit, not all of the next six miles were descending, and this is where I made up most of my time – I found myself passing a fair number of competitors, some of whom caught me later and some didn’t.

By this point, the heat of the day was starting to kick in – while most of the run was in the thick forest, the second half, at lower altitude, had several large open meadows which had great views, but were starting to get pretty hot.  I also found myself walking more and more of the climbs, the closer I got to the finish line.  Many of these uphill sections were of the pitch that would not phase me had I been running at a normal workout pace, but in the later stages of an actual race, I had to get through them at a slower pace.  Alas, I saw several men with grey hair pass me by at this point, which ended up costing me a few places in my age group place at the finish  line.  Finally, I came to a flat section which I recognized as the home stretch, and I picked it up a little until I ran under the banner signifying the finish, meeting up with a few friends who had finished before me, and waited, cheering on those who finished after me.

I don’t make a habit of talking about how well I actually did in races – I mostly want readers to learn about the pleasures of running trails in new places.  But as I approached the finish line, knowing that while my race was less than perfect, it felt darn good to be out there and running well, I realized that I needed to think about the competitive component of these races with my own set of arbitrary age groups.  So, I have decided from this point on, I will compare myself against the “Jeff age group” which only consists of runners my age, or older.  Measured against this group, I did quite well, thank you!

Most races of this sort, have a post-race feed, and the Catamount Ultra was no exception.  Besides finish line snack, the sponsoring microbrewery had a freebie for everyone (YES!), but the main course was pizza, which I am sure was delicious, but I passed on, as it wasn’t what I wanted at the moment.  As I sat down in my car to drive home – I knew exactly what I wanted:  Since my trip home passed through Waterbury, I knew that I would pass by Ben and Jerry’s old headquarters, so I stopped by there and treated myself to a generous (and frankly, pricey) cone of my favorite flavor, Cherry Garcia, and that energized me for the ride home!

All in all, this was a seamlessly run, fun race.  The trails at Trapps are generally broad and fast, with good footing, and the scenery is spectacular.  I would run it again in a minute…..or at least a lot of minutes.

google earth of the run

The starting point at the “bed” icon, running clockwise

altitude profile

Skiing at the Trapp’s

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!

Trapp's Ski Cabin

Trapp’s Ski Cabin

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.

Mountain Views from Trapp's

Mountain Views from Trapp’s

All in all, this made for a 15 km ski with about 1400 vertical feet of climbing, and more importantly, descent. Yah!

Google Earth of Trapp's

Google Earth of Trapp’s

altitude profile trapps