Where To Skate on Wild Ice

For many people, ideal skating means circling a perfectly-Zambonied rink with velvety ice. Perhaps there’s some music playing and, if it’s outdoors, some twinkly lights. There are lots of those rinks around Vermont. 

For others going round and round in a rink is a bit like running on a hamster wheel. They are the skaters who explore the frozen lakes, ponds and marshes of Vermont, often using Nordic skates with longer blades. 

But those surfaces are often rough, unpredictable and sometimes dangerous, especially for the newcomer not in the habit of practicing safety protocols. And while the Nordic skates help smooth out the bumps and can glide over air pockets or patches of packed snow, it still takes some skill to navigate. 

Fortunately, there are a few places in Vermont that combine the best of both worlds: the safe environment and cleared ice of a rink with the opportunity to skate in the wild, often over distances. While Canada has many such skating routes, with travel across the border in question, we’ve rounded up a few great places to wild skate at home this winter.  

Skate Lake Morey 

Perhaps the biggest and best known of places to wild skate is Lake Morey (shown in featured photo). At 545 acres, it’s a sizable lake  and fairyl shallow, so freezes early. Starting Jan. 15, the Lake Morey Resort helps groom a 4.3-mile trail that loops around the lake, the longest such skating track in the U.S. As novelist Joyce Maynard described it in a New York Times article, the Lake Morey ice trail is “about as far removed from skating at a rink as attending a spin class is from biking the tour de France.”

You can rent skates and lace up at the resort (or spend a weekend there, lake-view winter room rates start at $239) and skate out the front door. While there are also parts of the lake near the hotel cleared by Zambonis where pond hockey games spring up, skate a mile or two out and you are usually on your own – no one zipping past you or falling in front of you. The summer cottages are quiet and the hills of Fairlee rise up on the horizon. After, if you are staying at the hotel,  warm up in the sauna or indoor pool. 

Some weekends are busier than others. The pond hockey classic, the Frostbite Face-off for the Yeti Cup,happens Jan. 28-30. And on Feb. 4-6 the Vermont Pond Hockey Championships take place here, with a ““league” division and a “pond” division for teams of 6 recreational amateurs who have never played in school or in a league. The winning team earns the Golden Sap Bucket. February vacation week (Feb. 18-24) features hotel discounts as well as candlelit snowshoe walks, marshmallow roasting and family trivia nights and bingo games. 

Join in the North Hero  Great Ice Festival 

While you can find good skating any time the ice is solid and clear in the shallow bays around North Hero, the time to head there is Feb. 18-20. That’s when the Great Ice Festival weekend takes place. 

Locals clear the ice for skating areas and pond hockey, make room for cars to park at sites onshore and put on quite the party. 

The weekend kicks off with dogsled rides at Shore Acres. A vendor village sets up on the ice with local breweries and distilleries such as Snow Farm and Wild Hart hosting tasting stations. There’s a bonfire of discarded Christmas trees, fireworks and, of course, skating on City Bay under lights. For kids (or adults), there’s a chance to drive a Zamboni and the North Hero Fire Department demonstrates ice rescue techniques. 

Pond hockey in the Champlain Islands.

On Sunday, join in the Over ‘N Back Trek to Knight Island. Hike, snowshoe, or skate on an ungroomed path 1.7 miles out to Knight Island where the state park ranger station serves up hot chocolate, then head back. 

Explore Intervale Sea Caves

Just on the outskirts of Burlington in the relative wilds of the Intervale lies a small pond in Arthur Park. While the pond itself may not rival a skating rink, it’s what lies at one end that makes it worth lacing up and heading out. Winter, when the ice is frozen solid is the best time to explore the Donohue Sea Caves. Left over from when the Champlain Sea retreated, and polished smooth by the repeated washings of fresh water seeping over the dolostone, the caves are keyholes in the pond’s edges. You can skate into them and see how Abenaki used them to huddle during winter storms and as a place to cache grains.

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