Backcountry Skiing the Mild Side
Posted December 5th, 2010
I will travel far in search of a great steep backcountry powder run. But I also love a day of going fast and light in the backcountry. Using lighter gear and moving effortlessly over rolling terrain makes me feel like I’m flying through the mountains. And there’s no better place for ski touring on the mild side than the central and southern Green Mountains.
Here are a few of my favorite moderate ski tours in the Greens. These are perfect for skiers who are just getting started backcountry skiing, or for skiers who just enjoy skiing (mostly) ungroomed snow in the mountains without big climbs and descents.
For more details on these and other tours, see my new book, Best Backcountry Skiing in the Northeast: 50 Classic Ski Tours in New England and New York, published by AMC Books (www.backcountryskiing.info).
ROOT BEER RIDGE
Root Beer Ridge lies in the heart of the Green Mountain National Forest, just outside the picturesque village of Weston. It travels through a beautiful forest that teems with life. I’ve come across snowshoe hare bounding across the trail in front of me, the deep tracks of a moose that continually criss-crossed our ski tracks, and I’ve seen bear scratchings on numerous trees high on the ridge. I was just one more creature probing the forest, exploring and enjoying this intimate landscape.
The Root Beer Ridge Trail was the inspiration of Stanton Allaben, who founded the Viking Nordic Center in nearby Londonderry in 1970. American cross-country skiing was in its infancy, and Allaben, together with his twin brother, Lee, decided to open some ski trails around Londonderry. The brothers gave the trails colors instead of names, and put out a coffee can for donations. As the Viking Nordic Center website recounts, “Given that it was the early ’70s, they didn’t get much money but did get a few marijuana joints.”
Allaben also loved to venture into the backcountry. He was an ardent conservationist and headed the local chapter of the Sierra Club in the 1970s. He told me that he didn’t see any contradiction between his different skiing pursuits. “I was often asked why I, as a ski touring center owner, would want to create trails on public land that could be viewed as competition,” he said. “I had several reasons for doing it: I enjoyed being outdoors and finding a good route for a backcountry trail.” He added, “From a political standpoint, I wanted to hold the U.S. Forest Service to their claim that they manage the forests for multiple use, not just logging. At times it was a battle.”
Allaben, together with U.S. Forest Service ranger Nort Phillips, cut the Root Beer Ridge Trail around 1982. When I contacted him to inquire about the trail’s history (he is now an artist living in North Carolina), he was pleasantly surprised to hear that it still existed. He said he came up with the name after a hot day of trail clearing, when he exclaimed to Phillips, “I sure could go for a nice cold root beer float about now!” He chuckles about the name, “We knew skiers would be perplexed about it.”
From Moses Pond Road near Weston, the trail climbs steadily but comfortably to the top of Root Beer Ridge. The Peru Peak Wilderness of the Green Mountain National Forest lies beneath you. This is a fine vantage point to survey the mountain landscape of southern Vermont. You pass through birch and spruce hollows and get the distinct sensation that the forest is alive here. The ridge finally tapers off, and a gradual descent begins. There are some fun swoops; most of the downhill is long and gentle.
The Moosalamoo National Recreation Area comprises 16,000 acres within the Green Mountain National Forest. The area received federal designation in 2006, driven partly by the tireless efforts of Tony Clark, owner of the Blueberry Hill Inn. Both the Long Trail and the Catamount Trail traverse this area, which is bounded on the north by VT Route 125 and on the south by VT Route 73. With its broad lakes, open meadows, and scenic mountain ridges, Moosalamoo has a variety of ski tours to suit any winter traveler’s tastes.
The Norske Trail is a backcountry ski trail that starts opposite the Middlebury College Snow Bowl and ends near the Rikert Ski Touring Center. It is a fun, gentle, four-mile downhill ski tour through a beautiful mixed forest.
One of the gems of the Catamount Trail is the four-mile section between the Rikert Ski Touring Center and the Blueberry Hill Cross-Country Ski Center. It features skiing on both backcountry and groomed trails, with a scenic midpoint at the beautiful open white expanse of the Sugar Hill Reservoir.
Finally, there is the seven-mile tour along the flanks of Romance Mountain. This tour encompasses the Halfdan Kuhnle Trail at the Blueberry Hill Cross-Country Ski Center, the highest groomed ski trail in Vermont. From Romance Clearing high on the mountain, you have beautiful views of the Green Mountains and a long, twisting descent. This is a picturesque ski tour on a high-elevation trail where you can enjoy feeling “out there” without being too far out.