Gearing up for the Backcountry
Vermont is a state of mind, but it’s also a state of forests and hills, and happily of trails. In the winter, the trail is the Catamount—some of which crosses well-groomed Nordic areas where you can skate laps and hit the warming hut when you want. But most of it’s deep in the backcountry, and you’ll be far happier with equipment designed for the sometimes gnarly, sometimes icy, sometimes (not lately) snowy trail.
Fischer Spiders ($249), which at 62mm are a bit wider than typical waxless skis (but not so wide that they can’t be used in groomed tracks), have end-to-end metal edges that offer excellent control in less than ideal conditions and good float in deep snow. (Remember to wax the tips and tails.)
Pair the skis with Swix’s Sonic adjustable poles to power up hills. The Sonic R2 ($149) is a sturdy workhorse, but for the weight conscious, the carbon Sonic R1 ($249) comes in at 200 grams (a little less than half a pound) lighter. (The design is essentially the same and both can be adjusted without removing your gloves.)
When you don’t know if you will be wading through piles of snow, you would be advised to head out wearing a pair of OR Endurance Gaiters ($85), made from a highly flexible soft-shell fabric wraps around your shins and act like gaskets for your legs.
Slip on a pair of Darn Tough Bjorn (men’s) or Elka (women’s) socks ($24), designed specifically for the rigors of Nordic skiing. Made from merino wool, they have padding where it counts, and keep your feet from overheating and your boots from becoming stinky.
When the New England Patriots recently needed long underwear for a particularly cold game, they called WSI. WSI has been making base layers for everyone from sports teams to the military using its WikMax HEATR fabric that expands and actually heats up with skin contact, yet wicks and stretches. The Arctic Diamond tops and long johns ($149, each, in men’s and women’s) uses the fabric in the arms and legs and the top features a zip collar, thumb holes and even pockets making it a great ski-to-apres ski choice.
We get hungry out in the woods, and we also get thirsty, and sometimes we want to carry an extra layer, or shed a layer, and so we carry the Camelbak Snoblast ($90) insulated hydration pack,. It offers easy access to unfrozen H2O and enough space for clothes, a first aid kit, flashlight and our go-to snacks: Field Trip jerky ($6.50) and UnTapped Maple Waffle ($2.25).
Both are free of preservatives, corn syrup or other additives, and both are a treat for the tongue. Between the jerky (beef or turkey, in flavors like sesame and cracked pepper) and the waffle (made with pure Vermont maple syrup, the elixir of both gods and athletes), you will have enough fuel to motor to the end of the trail.
Beer: Lawson’s Double Sunshine
If you’re skiing the Catamount Trail end to end, you’ll be about halfway done by the time you get to the Mad River Valley. And you’ll be ready for a hit of civilization—of which, in central Vermont, the Big Picture theater/bar/restaurant is the epitome. It not only shows serious movies, it pours serious beer. The real bonus is likely access on draft to at least a couple of the hyperlocal Lawson’s ales, which are delivered on Tuesdays from the brewery right down the road in Warren, Everything that Lawson’s brews is delicious (and it’s all in short supply, since they have a tiny brewhouse—though that means they often collaborate with other brewers—try their Double or Nothing barleywine made in conjunction with Middlebury’s Otter Creek). But the key word to remember is Sunshine, as in Sip of Sunshine, or Double Sunshine, both world-class big IPAs. You’re cold, you’re weary, you’ve made it down Lincoln Gap in one piece on your skis—Sunshine is what you need, and lots of it.
By Bill McKibben and Sue Halpern