A Case for Cross Country Skiing
Vermont is a small and mighty state. The majestic Green Mountains lend themselves to a lot of hidden hilly topography that makes for a great backyard playground for many outdoor adventures. I grew up in Vermont spending winter weekends on skinny skis. What the skis and boots lack in the rigidity you find in alpine gear, they make up for in their light weight and flexibility. Some folks joke that Nordic ski boots resemble winter ballet slippers. In my three decades on earth, traveling the globe, there is nowhere I’m happier than when I'm skiing gracefully through the woods on cross country skis.
Whether you choose to try skate, or classic - the two techniques (one akin to ice skating and the other a bit like hiking on skis at a basic level), cross country skiing is one of the best winter outdoor activities and I can’t wait to tell you why!
First and foremost, it’s a fun way to get some good fitness in the wintertime. Skiing both up and down the hills, you are sure to get in a great workout. Second, it’s affordable! Many ski touring centers in Vermont offer season passes that cost less than a single day pass at most popular downhill ski areas. Many are adapting to rising temperatures by implementing the same snowmaking procedures of their alpine hill counterparts. When I started on this piece, Rikert Outdoor Center was the best place in the area to ski because they had great man-made snow coverage. Luckily we got enough fresh flakes that helped make the rest of the ski areas on my to do list worth the drive.
There are over 20 registered cross country ski touring centers in the state with the famed Catamount Trail running the length of Vermont. The access and options make cross country skiing a perfect option for experiencing the greatness of Vermont in the wintertime. In less than two weeks I was able to explore touring centers from Wild Wings in Peru to Craftsbury, visiting seven of my favorite areas across the state.
I started off at my home ski area - Rikert Outdoor Center in Ripton Vermont. My mom still teaches skiing here and I love snagging her for a quick lap before heading out to adventure further on the trails. Rikert has some of the most magical trails I’ve found because they are narrow, wooded and very picturesque. The iconic yellow barns and buildings are recognizable. It’s helpful to keep in mind when Vermont is low on snow from that ski, Rikert’s snow-making might be some of the best in the state.
Favorite Trail: Battel, Holland, Frost
Wild Wings | Peru
Wild Wings was the only place on this list I’d never had a chance to visit before and quickly became a new favorite. I loved skating around their looping, winding trails. I don’t often find myself in southern Vermont, but if you do, Wild Wings is not to be missed. Make a visit to JJ Hapgood General Store afterwards for some hard-earned treats.
Favorite Trail: Peregrine
Mountain Top Inn and Resort | Chittenden
As you might gather from the name, Mountain Top has some of the best and most expansive views of any XC ski area in the state. It’s a great spot to long some kilometers - less than an hour south of Middlebury and close to Rutland.
Favorite Trail: Loggerhead to Sunset to Deer Run
Trapp Family Lodge | Stowe
The renowned von Trapp family, of The Sound of Music fame, opened America's first commercial cross-country ski center in 1968, and today it is still among the top Nordic centers in the country. No visit to Trapps is complete without a visit to the Slayton Pasture Cabin. Dry off wet layers in front of the fire, grab a sweet treat or a cuppa soup and refuel before taking off back down the hillside. Growing up, speeding down Haul Road was the best part of skiing at Trapps, and this time around I laughed as I skied by a very snow-covered Cheddar Shredder- a Cabot sponsored mountain bike trail in the summer.
Favorite Trail: Hauling down Haul Road is the best reward for climbing the Parizo Trails.
Craftsbury Outdoor Center | Craftsbury
Home of the legendary Craftsbury Marathon and nestled in rural northeast Vermont, Craftsbury Outdoor Center is a non-profit organization whose mission is to promote participation in cross-country skiing and other lifelong sports, while protecting the natural environment. Craftsbury has one of the most extensive and well-groomed trail systems in the state spanning 85 kilometers and includes trails on the property of Fairmont Farm, one of Cabot’s farm family owners.
Favorite Trail: Ruthies Run
Sleepy Hollow Inn | Hinesburg
If you’re looking for some after-hours skiing, Sleepy Hollow’s 3km of lit trails have you covered. Want to dabble in racing? Their Wednesday Night World’s are a fun community event with distance and technique options for everyone, and a potluck afterwards! A perfect place to share a Cabot cheese spread!
Favorite Trail: Ridge Road and Potato Farmer
Catamount Family Outdoor Center | Williston
I grew up on this property and while I have plenty more experience running and biking the trails at the Catamount Family Outdoor Center, this “closest to Burlington” XC ski spot is great when there’s a lot of snow. If you’re up for the challenge, a ski up to the Lookout will yield beautiful views of Camels Hump on a sunny day.
Favorite Trail: The Lookout to Skidway
New to cross-country skiing or want to improve your skills? Many ski areas offer lessons and rentals in both skate and classic technique and are open as long as we have snow. Just remember to pack water, snacks and layers. It’s a rare sport where you might find yourself freezing cold and boiling hot at the same time so layering well is a must. Please note most of my favorite trails are rated at intermediate to advanced level, so proceed with caution. All of these areas have great beginner trails as well. Don’t be afraid to ask for help at the ski lodge before you head out for a ski. An added bonus is that many of these spots also have snowshoe and fat bike specific trails making them fun destinations for the whole family.