Matt Dickerson: Enjoying the feast of Nordic snow, preparing for the famine

The moon, only a day or so past its fullness, was glowing in reflected light somewhere above the heavy quilt of clouds. Down on the ground, however, we could not see the waning orb, and received only the dimmest benefits of its light. We were aware instead of the falling precipitation: a “wintry mix,” as weather forecasters like to call it. It did not dampen our enthusiasm for the evening’s activity, though it did leave my hat and sweater wet. It was 11 p.m., and we were stepping into our cross-country skis on the dark lawn of the Blueberry Hill Inn in Goshen awaiting the annual New Year’s Eve ski and snowshoe trek and bonfire.
Half an hour later my wife, Deborah, and I — with the help of a headlamp to make up for the lack of moonlight — had skied our way out to the farthest point on the Hogback loop. We knew the trail well not only from many past winter cross-country ski trips, but also from summer expeditions to pick wild blueberries. In the daylight, the views to the south are wonderful. Tonight we had to imagine the views. We stood sipping hot mulled wine (a recipe known as glögg) while others arrived on snowshoe and by foot. Along with a few locals, there were guests from Washington, D.C., and from Rhode Island. When inn proprietor Tony Clark arrived, the bonfire was lit providing warmth against the misty sleet. Then we counted down the seconds and joined the other participants toasting in the new year with champagne, Wolaver’s IPA, and in our case glögg.
A few minutes later I flipped my headlamp on again, and we started back through the dark for the somewhat faster (and scarier) downhill portion of the midnight ski. Back at the inn, we scraped the fresh ice off our car and drove slowly back home. We were not crawling into bed until after 1:30 a.m. And that is worth noting. Deborah and I are not stay-up-late sort of people. Not even on New Year’s Eve. We couldn’t remember the last time we had bothered to count in the new year. Deborah often complains about our modern slavery to electric lights, and how they keep us from rest. Her favorite thing about camping is crawling into the tent and going to sleep when it gets dark. What motivated her (and me) to participate in the outing this year was a combination of how great the ski conditions were, and how terrible they were all of last winter. We did not want to take for granted the gift of snow.
Which brings me to the point of this week’s column. If you haven’t been out skiing yet, it’s time to go. (If you have, it’s time to go again.) Local Nordic ski conditions are as good right now as they have been at any time in the past 12 months and many of the local areas have been making worthwhile improvements.
Although some of the trails at Blueberry Hill (www.blueberryhillinn.com/skicenter.html) were still closed due to debris from the windstorm just before Christmas, the trails that are open have a great base of fresh snow. By the time this column appears in print, they expect to have completed cleanup from the windstorm. And cold weather and more flurries over the next few days should only make things better.
Just down the hill in Ripton, the Carroll and Jane Rikert Nordic Center (www.middlebury.edu/about/facilities/rikert) at Middlebury College’s Bread Loaf campus has seen many improvements. They are just completing installation of snow-making along the 5 km race course section of their 50 km trail system. This will give the center the largest piped-water-and-air Nordic snowmaking system in North America. They have the pump capacity to cover a thousand feet of trail with two feet of snow in eight hours. Two hundred hours will give two feet of fresh snow along the entire 5 km loop, according to  Rikert Ski Center Director Mike Hussey. He expects the system to be operating by the middle of the month, which is very good news since he, the Rikert center, and Middlebury College will be hosting the NCAA national ski championships this coming March. All that remains is to run power. And as soon as it is functional, he plans to begin using it to supplement the natural snow. Despite the recent abundance of snow, he is taking no chances in making sure he has plenty of base built up for March.
In addition to this impressive snowmaking system they have also recently renovated their ski center. Improvements include a new floor layout and furniture, augmented food service, and ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) accessibility making it a fully ADA-compliant Nordic center. (Actually, the renovations were completed last year, but since there was no snow most people never saw them.) The daily Addison County Transit Resources bus link from Middlebury to Rikert also makes it a very convenient center to ski at.
Sleepy Hollow (www.skisleepyhollow.com/skiing/rates-a-general-information) in Huntington, operated by David, Sandra, Molly and Eli Enman, will start its 13th season of operation with its own new snow-making capabilities. Molly, who skied for Middlebury College from ’93 to ’97, was particularly excited that their new equipment is solar powered by a 24-kw solar array installed this year. They will have a 600-meter loop of Nordic skiing supported by renewable energy snowmaking, with the hope of expanding over the next few years to 1.5 km. (As Molly pointed out, a feast year or two with plenty of snow and good business will go a long way toward enabling Sleepy Holly to afford the expansion they will need for the next year of famine.)
They also have 2 km of lit trails that are open until 9 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays for those who want to stop after work for an evening ski. Overall they offer 35 km of well-groomed trails, great views of Camel’s Hump, and a hilltop cabin in which Deborah and I have often enjoyed lunch by a woodstove with panoramic views.
Further to the south, the Mountaintop Inn and Resort in Chittenden (www.mountaintopinn.com/~mountain/xc_ski_report.php) has expanded its snowmaking capabilities. First installed mid-1980s, they became one of first Nordic centers in the entire country with snowmaking on a 1 km loop. They have now expanded that system with new conduit and a new fan gun to be able to supply snow for 2.5 kilometers of skiing. They have also updated and re-graded their popular deer run. They offer 40 km of trails groomed for both classical and skate skiing plus another 20 km of trails either for backcountry skiing, or trails groomed by snowmobiles.
Day passes typically run only about $15 with equipment rentals another $20. Mountaintop is a little higher, at $20 a day for a pass — but still a bargain compared to alpine skiing. If you plan on skiing more than five or six times, it’s worth getting a season’s pass with the added bonus that most Nordic ski centers in Vermont have reciprocal arrangements allow you to buy a pass for one center and ski for one free day at any other center.
That’s is a bonus Deborah and I plan to make good use of this year. We do not take for granted the current abundance of snow. My memories of the snowless winter of 2012 make me happy for the new snowmaking. I just hope we aren’t dependent on it in 2013.

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