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Faith in Vermont: Into the Woods

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Posted on February 24, 2015 | Blog Category:
By Faith Gong



If there’s such thing as a “real Vermont winter” this is the first that our family has experienced, four years after moving here.

Massachusetts and Maine may have had it worse, but since I haven’t left Vermont since November, I really can’t say for sure. I’d suggest that once you’ve reached over a foot of snow on the ground and double-digits under 0 degrees Fahrenheit on the outdoor thermometer, any comparison seems like senseless posturing.

We’ve had both of those conditions — the snow and the temperature — here in Vermont, with no relief for a very long time. It snows, and it snows again, the fresh snow piling atop the old because the temperature hasn’t exceeded freezing in over a month.

I love it.

The reason I love this winter weather can be summed up in three words: cross-country skiing.

Something you learn soon after having children is that you can’t do it all. You make choices, prioritize, and let some things slip through the cracks. In my case, what I’ve let slip through the cracks may outnumber whatever’s left aboveground, and can be summarized as: personal grooming, shopping, housework, cooking and exercise.

I feel worst about neglecting to exercise: I’d like to live long enough for my children to take care of me. The problem is that exercise requires me to arrange childcare for four children, otherwise it isn’t exercise at all, it’s called “chasing and/or carrying children.”

I could exercise at home: I have a handful of yoga videos, and there’s even a treadmill upstairs. Why don’t you just exercise at home? you ask. Silly! For the same reason nobody uses their exercise videos or treadmill: because they’re always there. The only time I feel an urgent need to do housework or to cook is when I’m faced with the option of exercising.

I do best with exercise when I can leave the house, but we don’t belong to a gym. I love yoga, but classes can be expensive and challenging to schedule. Hiking is great, but hiking with my children is still not enjoyable exercise (see “chasing and/or carrying children”), and as a former city girl, I’m always vaguely concerned about getting lost or mugged if I hike alone.

Cross-country skiing is perfect. I have my own skis and a season pass at Rikert Nordic Center, which also allows me to ski at dozens of reciprocal Nordic centers across Vermont. Checking in at a Nordic center and skiing groomed trails alleviates my fear of getting lost, and I can’t imagine many muggers choose to lurk in the snow banks. Best of all, three-quarters of my daughters are now occupied with cross-country ski lessons for an hour or more every Saturday morning at Rikert, which solves most of the childcare. (Our 20-month-old gets toted along in a baby carrier or pulk, or my husband and I take turns watching her in the lodge.)

There is simply nothing better than bundling up, strapping on your skis, and gliding off through the silent, snow-covered woods for an hour or more. The exercise is a side-benefit, but, counter-intuitively, I now get more exercise during the dark, cold winter months than at any other time of year.

This winter, thanks to plentiful snow, a supportive husband and generous grandparents, I’ve skied at five separate Nordic centers.

Despite its proximity to a major alpine ski resort, the Okemo Valley Nordic Center was the most ho-hum of the bunch. This is because it’s laid out over what is, in warmer months, a golf course. Aside from a couple of trails around the perimeter that pass through some trees, the rest of Okemo Valley’s 22 km of groomed trails meander through what looks like … a golf course. There are a few challenging hills, but the surroundings seem a little too neatly manmade.

At the other end of the spectrum was the Craftsbury Outdoor Center, which boasts a whopping 95 km of trails through stunning Northeast Kingdom scenery. I skied only a tiny portion of Craftsbury’s trails, behind the Highland Lodge in Greensboro, but the variety and beauty of the trails was overwhelming. So overwhelming, in fact, that I took a wrong turn, and a one-hour jaunt became a two-hour slog; with 95 km of trails, a wrong turn holds the possibility of some lengthy backtracking.

Ole’s Cross-Country Ski Center, in Warren, offers 45 km of trails over relatively flat terrain (Ole’s lodge doubles as the Sugarbush Airport). The trails meander through rolling fields (affording nice opportunities to ogle beautiful vacation homes), and in and out of the forest. Aside from one trail that dead-ended at a driveway and picked up inexplicably several yards down (something we might not have figured out without help from the driveway’s occupant), we had a nice, easy morning at Ole’s.

My favorite morning this February — a morning when the forecast warned of wind-chills in the negative double-digits — was spent at Blueberry Lake Cross Country Center, just down the road from Ole’s in Warren. Blueberry Lake’s 30 km of trails are narrow, rolled without the parallel tracks that can make a classic skier feel like — in the words of a friend — “a greyhound.” This provided a nice challenge while climbing and descending some of the roughest, steepest terrain I’ve ever skied; it was exhilarating. (As added excitement, they allow dogs on the trails.)

But I’m always grateful to come home to Rikert Nordic Center. How fortunate are we, in Addison County, to have Rikert? Over 50 km of wide, gorgeously groomed trails that descend from mountain forests to old farm fields, even looping past Robert Frost’s old summer cabin! A spacious lodge offering plentiful food options and numerous children’s programs! This year, Rikert has added the Crooked Brook and Brandy Brook trails, which have become some of my favorites.

In my opinion, next winter can’t come soon enough!

 

Faith Gong has worked as an elementary school teacher, a freelance photographer and a nonprofit manager. Since moving to Addison County in 2011, her work has involved caring for a house in the woods, four young daughters, one anxiety-prone labradoodle — and writing for her blog, The Pickle Patch. 

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