- Paula Routly ©️ Seven Days
I grew up in the Washington, D.C., area, where the mere forecast of snow reliably caused mass panic. Before moving to Vermont, my exposure to winter sports consisted of skating around and around a very crowded indoor ice rink. I might have been the only student at Middlebury College who never skied at the Snow Bowl.
But while I was there, I learned a Nordic thing or two. I taught myself to cross-country ski on the golf course — and eventually graduated to trails on the Bread Loaf Campus in Ripton. I took up snowshoeing, too, and spent the longest, coldest night of my life winter camping alone on the Long Trail near Brandon Gap.
It didn't take long to figure out: The best way to make it through a Vermont winter is to embrace it. Especially this year, while we're all waiting for a shot at the coronavirus vaccine, I recommend multiple doses of sledding, snowboarding and skating.
Some like to ski downhill fast, but I prefer to slide through the awesome beauty of a frozen forest, where the only sounds are the crunch of snow underfoot, the occasional rustle of wind and my beating heart. Working up a sweat in arctic temps makes everything else feel manageable.
As she did for most of 2020, Mother Nature is cooperating this year. Last week there was finally enough white stuff to ski in the Burlington Intervale. My partner and I took off from the Ethan Allen Homestead, flying atop farm fields and navigating the Wildway trail along the Winooski River, rejoicing in the fact that we live five minutes from this urban floodplain paradise.
Two days later, we ventured to Camel's Hump Nordic Ski Area in Huntington, which has a shocking amount of snow. By some miracle of wind protection, that day the trees were fully laden with it, down to the most delicate branches. "Winter wonderland" does not adequately describe the black-and-white spectacle, intricate as an etching.
Camel's Hump is run by a group of volunteers and operates on an honor system. I signed up for the daily e-newsletter, hoping it might motivate me to go there again. On Monday, president Dave Brautigam emailed, "Yesterday was the busiest day we've ever had, as it was sunny and the snow was divine. Today it will again start cold and moderate into the 20s with partly sunny skies for another great ski day. We will likely be grooming again by mid-week and then again for next weekend to keep conditions refreshed. Enjoy!!"
Good advice. The February Staytripper inserted in the center of this issue suggests exploring Craftsbury Outdoor Center in Vermont's Northeast Kingdom. Its vast network of trails leads skiers over hill, dale and frozen lake to other idyllic spots, such as Highland Lodge in Greensboro — and the Highland Center for the Arts, which currently offers an outdoor sculpture trail for cross-country skiers and snowshoers.
One year, skiing between the two towns, we met a group of people who spontaneously invited us to join them for brunch at a house in the woods. We glided right up to it.
That won't happen this year, of course, but it illustrates that in the so-called "dead" of winter, Vermont is anything but.