11. Go Dog Sledding
If you’ve dismissed dogsledding as a tourist attraction, think again. For Jim Blair, owner of Eden Dogsledding, it’s a sport he’s much of dedicated his life to. Over the last 18 years, Blair has carved a trail system out on his 140-acre property in Eden. His more than 30 Alaskan Huskies, a group he calls the UnChained Gang, have helped him win numerous dogsled races and earned him the title of International Sprint Champion. Blair offers cabins on his property for rent, a chance to interact with the dogs (whom he treats ethically, as pets) and private trips. Sled trips start at $495 for up to six Vermonters (weight dependent) or $695 for others. Umiak Adventures is now also organizing trips in both the Stowe area (evening tours) and the Mad River Valley. Cost is $399 per sled (with a 350 lb. weight limit) for a two-hour tour.
12. Break Into Backcountry Skiing
There are several ways you can learn to backcountry ski. One is to buy the gear (try Outdoor Gear Exchange for consignment gear), order David Goodman’s newly-released second edition of Backcountry Skiing in the Northeast and figure it out yourself. The other is to head to the Bolton Valley Adventure Center. Bolton Valley has become Ground Zero for folks getting into backcountry, thanks to its Adventure Center which rents backcountry alpine touring and splitboarding gear from Dynafit and Burton. The ski area also offers private guided tours (including access tickets and two lift rides) starting at $175 for one person, and $60 for each additional person (up to four). With acres of backcountry terrain as well two cabins you can access and overnight in (reservations must be made through the Green Mountain Club for Bryant Camp and Bolton Lodge), it’s a perfect taste of backcountry, just 30 minutes from Burlington. Need advice on gear? Tune into @outdoorgearexchange on January 26 for an Instagram Live chat on all things backcountry skiing.
13. Ski the Catamount Trail
What the Long Trail is to hiking, the Catamount Trail is to skiing. The 300-mile trail intersects with some of the best backcountry skiing zones in the state . But perhaps the most fun part of the Catamount Trail is tackling various sections that can be done as point-to-point. The most famous, Bolton Valley to the Trapp Family Lodge is an arduous, all-day tour but has great skiing and views. The Catamount Trail Association which manages the trail organizes single and multi-day tours. For dates and details see catamounttrail.org.
14. Explore a New Backcountry Zone
Beyond the sidecountry accessible from most ski mountains, a number of backcountry zones are being developed and mapped by groups around the state. These range from the Dutch Hill Alliance of Skiers and Riders work in southern Vermont to the Brandon Gap and Braintree Mountain terrain that the Rochester/Randolph Sport Trails Alliance has made famous to new areas that the Northeast Kingdom Backcountry Coalition is working on in the Willoughby State Forest and other areas. For a list of these chapters, an overview of the zones and live links, see vtsports.com. And if want to find a zone of your own, a number of guides can show you around. Among them: Sunrise Mountain Guides out of Stowe and Killington Mountain Guides.
15. Take an Avalanche Course
While you may not be traveling in avalanche country this season, now is a great time to prepare for when you do. The American Institute of Avalanche Research has Level 1 and Level II classes that will teach you not only snow science behind how avalanches form and how to assess the likelihood of a slide, but also the leadership skills needed in any backcountry adventure and what you need to know about rescues. Shops such as Onion River Outdoors, Petra Cliffs and others are offering classes this winter. Expect to pay $400 or more. It’s worth it and classes often sell out fast.