Umpire Mountain: Loggers Are Your Friends

Vermont continues to be a case study in how different folks get along for their mutual benefit. Just as mountain bikers and stonemasons are fast friends in Barre, backcountry skiers have a friend in the local logger.

Traveling, outdoor “recreationists” (I’ll refrain from calling them flatlanders here) generally disfavor changing the wild settings of their adventures. However, the pressure to keep things untouched can interfere with the locals’ interests in making a living off the land. While sometimes these tensions lead to conflict, there is common ground when it comes to backcountry skiers and local loggers. It’s not an exaggeration to say that loggers can be a backcountry skier’s best friend.

Thankfully, the days of cutting everything that stands and burning the rest down to the bedrock are a thing of the past. Today, forest service managers responsibly cull forests, and in so doing, create vast backcountry skiing playgrounds.

Umpire Mountain, located in Victory, Vermont, is visible from the top of the East Bowl trail on Burke Mountain. My friend Justin, who lives in the area, hunted on the land in the past and confirmed that the steep lines cut by logging roads would be an excellent setting for a backcountry tour. Umpire is an excellent example of how loggers have created a place for the backcountry skier to play. Given that Umpire is on private land, Justin secured the proper permission, and we set out for an early morning tour so that we would still have time for an afternoon at Burke.

Just past Concord, we parked the truck next to the gated entrance of a logging road. As we readied our equipment, a black Labrador retriever appeared and immediately made himself comfortable at our feet. It was obvious from his good health and spirits that he had ventured from one of the nearby houses. We didn’t have any way to keep him from following us, so we headed out onto the trail with the newest member of our party: Tele the Mystery Dog. Aside from occasionally stepping on the backs of our skis, he made a decent companion, following closely, and heeling quickly when we called.

Umpire Mountain is a semicircle of ridges that form a small cirque. In the middle of this cirque are the many logging trails: some of which wind their way up the mountain and others that shoot straight to the top. To get to the opening of the cirque, we had to follow a logging road for about a half mile from the main road. As we entered the large field at the bottom of the cirque, we could see a large trail cutting up the closest (eastern) ridge. We decided instead tocontinue to the far side and follow the logging trail up the western ridge.

After an easy stream crossing, we started climbing upward. The logging road rose steeply from the streambed until it reached a plateau about a hundred feet below the very top of the mountain. Above us sat the infamous evergreen guard of thick spruce bushes that protect all of Vermont’s most prominent peaks from skier intrusion. With little prospect of finding good skiing above, it was time for some fun.

After locking down our heels, we buzzed down the logging trail toward the stream. The powder that fell the night before made for a nice layer of soft snow to push around. We blasted down the trail, spraying powder into the woods, with Tele nipping at our heels.

Unfortunately, the glades on the western ridge of Umpire are not the friendly sort. The young forest is still a latticework of saplings fighting for supremacy, and so we cut quick turns on the logging trail all the way to the stream. After the stream crossing, the long and relatively flat exit made for a slow return to the truck. We followed Tele’s tracks back up the road to his house where we parted ways with our new friend.

Later that afternoon, as we stood at the top of the Burke’s East Bowl, we admired the logging trails running straight down the fall line on Umpire’s other ridge. We resolved to return and ski the rest of the mountain.

Umpire is only one of dozens of areas that have been harvested not long ago. Nearly every corner of the state has areas that have been recently cut. Some, like the Champion Lands in the Northeast Kingdom, have recreational easements, while others will require a little investigation to secure the proper permission.

So next time you see a logger, buy him a beer and ask him where he’s been working. You might just find a new backcountry stash.

Andy Howard

Andy Howard grew up in the woods of the Northeast Kingdom and learned at an early age that skiing and biking in the trees is fun. After living in North Carolina and Georgia, he eventually found his way back to New England and now lives in the Boston area where he balances a legal career with his love for exploration and adventure.