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Nordic ski area to boost tourism draw with new trail

RIPTON — Middlebury College’s Nordic ski center in Ripton has completed a new five-kilometer ski trail and enhanced its ski shop in a major step forward in the effort to make Addison County a better draw for those interested in winter sports and recreation.
The new trail has been certified for national and international competition, and was one of the key elements that helped Middlebury solidify its bid to host the NCAA Skiing Championships in 2013, according to Mike Hussey, director of the Carroll and Jane Rikert Nordic Center.
“The concept is to get people to look at Addison County as a destination for skiing and other winter recreation,” Hussey said. “With the Snow Bowl, Rikert and Blueberry Hill we have a whole package together that is very exciting and a very viable model.”
The goal is to draw skiers of all skill levels from a region that encompasses Eastern Pennsylvania, Boston and Montreal.
“If we can reach that market with that message I think we’ve got a pretty big thing here,” Hussey said. “The message is we’ve got the whole package right here in Middlebury.”
The new 5K trail, which hasn’t been named (“We call it the racing trail,” Hussey said), was certified for competition by skiing’s governing body, the Fédération Internationale de Ski (FIS). This makes Rikert one of just a handful of ski areas in the country that feature such trails. The new course was designed by legendary trail developer and 1968 Middlebury College graduate John Morton.
Morton’s design links 2.5 kilometers of existing trail — First Loop and Craig’s Hill Trail — to 2.5 kilometers of new trail. As what’s called a “homologated” course, it meets FIS standards regarding width, climb levels and total elevation.
According to Hussey, the design process started a year ago. Rikert received its Act 250 permit on Sept. 27, and construction by several local businesses began the next day.
Jeffersonville-based G.W. Tatro Construction excavated and graded the course. McAllister Timber Harvesting of Hardwick harvested the trees. Nop’s Metalworks of Middlebury widened an existing bridge and built several new ones that are part of the trail. Goodro Lumber of East Middlebury and r.k. Miles of Middlebury provided the timber for the bridges.
“The new course is good news for tourism in the area,” said Hussey. “It also sets the Middlebury College Nordic ski team apart since Middlebury is one of only a few colleges in the country to operate its own Nordic center and now the only one with a course certified at the highest level by FIS.”
Renovations to the ski shop at the Rikert Center were designed to make it more open and filled with natural light. It retains the cozy wood stove in the seating area, and soup and snacks will be available for sale or skiers can bring their own lunch. The restrooms are now compliant with Americans with Disabilities Act standards.
“People will be pretty amazed when they walk in the door,” Hussey said.
Rikert has also acquired all-new rental equipment — both classic and skate skis — and a brand new groomer to ensure that the trails are in excellent condition. It still offers snowshoe rentals.
Hussey said the expanded trail system — Rikert now boasts 50 km of trails — along with the enhanced lodge and marketing push “will definitely increase business.”
As an example of the kind of impact the ski business can have on the county, he pointed to the Bill Koch Festival last February, which drew cross-country skiers from around New England.
“That filled every hotel and inn bed in the county,” Hussey said. “That brought 1,000 people into Addison County. Extrapolate that forward to the NCAAs next year.”
In addition to hosting the annual Middlebury College Carnival this coming winter, Rikert will host:
•  A women’s day on Feb. 5, which Hussey expects to draw 50-150 participants to a day of clinics.
•  The Romance Half-marathon, a 25K race on Feb. 11 that could draw 200 high-end and recreational racers to an event organized in conjunction with Moosalamoo and Catamount Trails associations.
•  Bread Loaf Citizens later in February.
In addition, Hussey and his staff are planning to develop adaptive ski programs, along with weekly recreational ski and snowshoe programs for adults and children.
The Rikert Center is also rolling out a new logo to go with its new marketing push.
Hussey estimated that the ski center could pay off the cost of its most recent improvements in three to five years by hosting more events. That’s not to mention the payback to Middlebury College in the form of having a more attractive offering to prospective students.
Rikert will also have moderate price increases this year. The cost of a family pass, for instance, went up $10 to $160 for the season.
Rikert will not see any increase in the number of employees. In fact, Hussey said, a familiar face will be absent this season after Tim Reilly passed away last summer. “He’ll be hard to replace,” Hussey said.
All things considered, Hussey is ready for the snow to fly.
“Rikert has always been a gem and during the last year, we’ve really ramped up our operation,” he said. “With the new course, we can host any level of race now and offer master skiers a challenging experience. It also allows the Middlebury ski team to train on a world-class race course.”

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