Take a snowy glide outside with your family
I think the exercise benefit (of cross country skiing) is unmatched. It’s not hard on your body, you’re not banging up your knees, you’re not confronting cars, as you might on a bicycle. It’s just this whole-body workout.
— Elissa Bradley
Remember when we used to do stuff indoors during the winter? My family used to spend an awful lot of time lingering in the Snow Bowl lodge, in Junebug, in the children’s room at Ilsley Library and the college field house.
It’s been great to be outdoors all the time this winter. But sometimes I just want a place to dump our stuff, warm up a bit and eat a snack.
So when I heard that the nonprofit Blueberry Hill Outdoor Center in Goshen is renting out the upstairs of its lodge for private use by single households, I jumped at the chance — here was an opportunity to get out and get some fresh air and exercise while still enjoying a few creature comforts.
We brought our own cross-country skis, plus sleds, snacks and a few games. You can rent adult- and kid-size snowshoes and adult-size skis there. You’ll also find soup, hot cocoa, cookies and other snacks available for sale downstairs in the lodge.
Upstairs was our own big, rustic space, with couches, tables, a chess set and other games — oh, and WiFi. We kept our masks on, since occasionally folks came in and out downstairs to use the bathroom, grab a trail map or get a cup of coffee. But for the most part it was just us.
There’s a whole network of trails at Blueberry Hill, but we’re still extremely novice cross-country skiers, so we stuck to the beginner trails right around the lodge. Then we came back and planted ourselves around an outdoor fire pit, which was tended by a nice guy named Nico.
After a long break, with many snacks and a partial game of chess, we dragged our sleds right across the road to a sweet sledding hill next to the inn.
To get a better sense of cross-country skiing (now that it’s a thing we do) I called Elissa Bradley, a lifelong skier who loves encouraging folks to get out in the snow. She’s on the board of the New England Nordic Ski Association and the Blueberry Hill Outdoor Center.
Growing up in Shelburne, Bradley first learned to ski with her parents in their backyard. “Our house backed up to an apple orchard,” she explained, so on snowy winter days they’d go out in the woods and follow tractor tracks.
When she got to CVU high school, she joined the ski team and quickly became “hooked,” she said.
“I’ve skied ever since.”
I asked Bradley to explain the difference between the two styles of Nordic skiing: classic and skate skiing. Classic skiing, she said, is when your skis are parallel to one another in a track, the kind of skiing you’d do if you went out exploring in the woods. “That was really all that people did until the ’80s,” she explained.
Then Vermont skier Bill Koch came along and turned everybody on to skate skiing, a style he saw a Swedish skier use during a race on a frozen Scandinavian river, according to an article by Paul Robbins on the New England Nordic Ski Association’s website.
“Bill was surprised to see a Swede, Bjorn Risby, go sailing by him with a different technique,” Robbins wrote. “Risby had one ski in the track, but was pushing off to the side, like a speedskater, with his other ski. The technique was faster. Risby won the race and Bill decided he had to learn the technique. He perfected the technique in the winter of ’81, then jolted the international community in ’82 when he used it to win in Le Brassus, Switzerland.”
These days, if you’re competing, you have to do both styles, Bradley said.
She had her husband, Joel, let the terrain and their mood — and whether or not they have their 7-month-old and 3-year-old children with them — determine which style they’ll ski. “If it’s beautiful, packed tracks, we’ll skate,” she said. “When I’m a little lazy and have kids and need to get out the door, I’d classic ski.”
Sometimes they take their baby out in a chariot, a cozy little covered sled that attaches to one parent’s waist, or they carry him in a pack. “The 3-year-old will ski for about 10 minutes and then she’ll tell me she’s tired,” Bradley said with a laugh.
Like most people this pandemic winter, the Bradleys are just happy to get outdoors and have something to do. “Because of COVID, we cleared a bunch of trees off of our logging roads in our woods, and we’ve been going out on backcountry skis, which has been really wonderful,” she said. “This year people are just trying to get out.”
What keeps Bradley returning to the sport?
“I think the exercise benefit is unmatched,” she said. “It’s not hard on your body, you’re not banging up your knees, you’re not confronting cars, as you might on a bicycle. It’s just this whole-body workout.”
Plus, it’s a good way to get through a relentless cold season. “Winter sucks if you don’t have a way to enjoy being outdoors,” she said.
Blueberry Hill has a special place in the Bradleys’ hearts: In 2011, they got married there, on the south side of Hogback Mountain where the eponymous blueberries grow in summer.
Bradley thinks it’s a great place any time of year. Especially during a pandemic.
Skiing there, she said, “is the perfect way to get out in the woods and not encounter a lot of other people.”
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