This winter, take a break from your normal routine and make some time for a foray into the backcountry. From short outings to weekend getaways, there are plenty of adventures to be had beyond the ski trails at area resorts.
The following tours, located on Vermont’s 300-mile long Catamount Trail, run two-to three days and involve spending nights at a number of inns and bed-and-breakfasts in close proximity to the trailhead.
Skiers should be forewarned that route-finding may be problematic in the backcountry, that weather is uncertain and treacherous in the winter, and skiing in the backcountry is not for the uninitiated. You may choose to bring AT gear and climbing skins, though the Catamount Trail Association recommends metal-edged, waxless skis as a baseline for groomed and ungroomed trails. It’s a good idea to carry snowshoes for terrain that is too rough to ski.
All routes described below are very general in nature, and not to be used for route-finding. For maps and more detailed route descriptions, as well as tips on preparing for a trip into the Vermont backcountry, go to www.catamountrail.org and research the trips outlined below for where to start, more detailed route descriptions, and average time required per section of trail. For general purposes, a competent backcountry skier should average at least 2 mph with a light day pack. Allow five to six hours, therefore, for a 12-mile trek.
Killington to Ripton
Days: 3 | Total distance: 30 miles, plus skiing at cross-country centers
Itinerary: Sherburne Pass parking lot on Route 4 to Mountain Top Cross-Country Ski Center (Catamount Trail Section 13); 10 miles.
Route description: Access the Catamount Trail from the Long Trail/Appalachian Trail/Catamount Trail parking lot, located off Route 4 at the top of Sherburne Pass. This section of the trail features 10 miles of intermediate skiing through varied terrain with views of the Chittenden Reservoir. Along the way, you’ll ski a variety of trail types, including ungroomed backcountry, snowmobile trails, and the groomed trails of Mountain Top Cross-Country Ski Center.
Once arriving at Mountain Top, explore their cross-country trails or relax at the inn and enjoy the views of the Green Mountains.
Transportation tip: Leave a car at one end of the destination and have someone drop you off at the other terminus. We suggest traveling south to north, but it works either way.
Lodging first night:
Mountain Top Resort, 195 Mountain Top Rd., Chittenden, Vt 05737
Itinerary: Mountain Top Cross-Country Ski Center to Brandon Gap (Catamount Trail Section 14) to Blueberry Hill Inn, Goshen; 14 miles.
Route description: From Mountain Top Inn and Resort, ski 10 miles of the Catamount Trail along groomed ski trails and VAST snowmobile trails to Brandon Gap. Cross Route 73 and head up steep terrain to Horrid Mountain. The first 4 miles traverse intermittent streams and gullies along the Catamount Trail, requiring good ski control (or snowshoes). Once across the streams and gullies, drop down onto the rolling terrain of the Blueberry Hill Nordic Center. These are ungroomed trails, but well marked and cut. At Blueberry Hill, you’ll have access to 50km of ungroomed skiing. At the end of this long day, stay the night at Blueberry Hill Inn. Be sure to get an early start.
Lodging night two:
Blueberry Hill Inn, 1245 Goshen Ripton Rd., Goshen, VT, Vt. 05733
Itinerary: Blueberry Hill Inn to Chipman Inn in Ripton, 7 miles.
Route description: After a long day-two, enjoy a leisurely breakfast at Blueberry Hill Inn and enjoy this special place in the midst of the Moosalamoo National Recreation Area on the edge of the Breadloaf Wilderness. Explore the 50 km of ungroomed trails, then work your way 7 miles to Rikert Touring Center in Ripton, just five minutes from the Chipman Inn in Ripton. (A community bus makes a routine stop at the touring center every 30 minutes 9 to 4, to provide transportation to the inn.) Spend the night here and arrange for transportation in the morning, after heading up the road to the Rikert Touring Center on Middlebury College’s Bread Loaf campus and enjoy spectacular skiing at this fully groomed touring center.
Bolton Valley to Stowe
Days: 1 or 2 | Total distance: 12-19 miles
Day 1 12 miles
Itinerary: Bolton Valley to Trapp Family Lodge Cross Country Ski Center (Catamount Trail Section 22)
Route description: Your first day follows 12 miles of advanced backcountry skiing. The trail is challenging and ungroomed, with views of the Worcester range. It begins at the Nordic Center at Bolton Valley Ski Area and heads north over the Long Trail and Catamount Trail to the Nebraska Valley in Stowe. Once at the top of the ridge line, descend several miles to Nebraska Valley Road, then head uphill a hundred yards to Old County Road (following the ski trail just below the road) as it parallels Old County Road to the Trapp Touring Center. Once you hit the Trapp Trails, descend to the Trapp Family Lodge, home to the nation’s first cross-country center, for a well-deserved night with excellent dining. (Snowshoes not required on this section.)
Trapp Family Lodge, 700 Trapp Hill Rd., P.O. Box 1428, Stowe, VT 05672
Day 2 Easy 5-7 miles
Itinerary: Trapp Family Lodge to Topnotch Nordic Center (Catamount Trail Section 23)
Route description: From Trapp Family Lodge, ski 7 miles of intermediate backcountry trail on the Trapp Trails. From there, ski over the backside toward Stowe to the Topnotch Trail system and finish out the day exploring the trails at the Topnotch Nordic Barn Adventure Center, or stop first at the Stowe Mountain Resort Ski Center to ski their trails. Topnotch has access to 30km of groomed and backcountry skiing, while Stowe’s Nordic center boasts 45km of groomed trails and 30km of backcountry trails. (Nordic skis will suffice on this day of travel.)
Topnotch Resort & Spa, 4000 Mountain Rd., Stowe 05672
Day 3, optional:
Itinerary: Topnotch Nordic Center into Stowe Village
Route description: Spend the morning exploring the variety of Nordic terrain offered by Topnotch and/or Stowe Resort. Afterwards, finish out your tour with an easy 5-mile ski down the Stowe Recreation Path into the village of Stowe. (Nordic skis only.)
Green Mountain Inn, Main Street, Stowe, Vt. 05672
Stowe to Morrisville
Days: 2 | Total distance: 18 miles, plus skiing at cross-country ski centers
Shuttle distance: 13 miles/20 minutes
driving between trailheads
Itinerary: Stowe Cross-Country Ski Center to Edson Hill Manor (Catamount Trail Section 23)
Route description: Access the Catamount Trail via the Stowe Recreational Path. From there, follow 6 miles of intermediate backcountry and groomed trails. While this section of the Catamount Trail involves steep climbs and steep descents, much of it runs through trails maintained by cross-country ski centers. Spend the rest of the afternoon enjoying the Edson Hill Manor trail system, containing 25km of groomed trails. (Snowshoes not needed.)
Edson Hill Manor, 1500 Edson Hill Rd., Stowe, Vt. 05672
Itinerary: Edson Hill Touring Center to the Ryder Brook Golf Club in Morrisville, Vermont (Catamount Trail Section 24)
Route description: This section contains 12 miles of intermediate/advanced backcountry and groomed skiing. It features a wide variety of terrain, including ungroomed backcountry skiing, groomed ski center trails, snowmobile trails, open farm fields, and a golf course. Get ready for exciting and scenic mountain views. You’ll need to arrange transportation from Ryder Brook Golf Club to your lodging of choice in Stowe
Thistledown Inn, 201 Park St.,
Stowe, VT 05672
Eden/Craftsbury Line to Lowell Village
Days: 2 | Total distance: 20.6 miles
Itinerary: Eden/Craftsbury Town Line to Craftsbury Outdoor Center (Catamount Trail Section 27)
Route description: From the town line parking lot on Eden Mountain Road, travel about 100 yards and intersect with the Catamount Trail. This 7.6-mile section offers a combination of rolling, ungroomed terrain through the woods, and the groomed trails of the Craftsbury Outdoor Center.
Craftsbury Outdoor Center, 535 Lost Nation Rd., Craftsbury Common, Vt. 05827
Itinerary: Craftsbury Outdoor Center to Lowell Village
Route description: Your second day travels 13 miles from the Craftsbury Outdoor Center to Lowell Village. This section crosses the Lowell Mountains and travels through open fields on the historic Bayley-Hazen Road along the way. The route is groomed cross-country trail, part snowmobile trail and part ungroomed backcountry trail and ends at the Lowell town offices on Route 100. From here, you will need to arrange transportation to your lodging.
The Rendezvous Bed & Breakfast, 2507 Vermont 100, Lowell, Vt. 05847 802 744 2085, www.rendezvousbandb.com
Featured photo by Greg Maino