Green Mountain National Forest
In most years, snow in Vermont's mountains is generous. Although the ski industry didn't really enter the picture until the 1930s, Vermont's first snow report is believed to have been issued more than 300 years earlier by the French explorer Samuel de Champlain. In the summer of 1609 as he cruised the lake now bearing his name, Champlain remarked about the snow he detected atop the highest of the Green Mountains. It must have been some snow year!
As the downhill ski industry grew, three major centers for downhill skiing were developed under special use permit on Green Mountain National Forest terrain. And trails for cross-country skiing on the National Forest are nearly as generous as the snowfall. For skiers willing to break away from established trails, terrain for skiing is virtually limitless.
In addition to the fee-based x/c centers, the following no-fee trail networks for cross-country skiing are established in the National Forest.
Fine skiing is available off Forest Road 32 in the Ripton-Goshen area. Parking space is free at Widow's Clearing along FR 32, which gives access to several trails leading off both sides of the road. Widow's Clearing is in the Middlebury Ranger District.
Not too many miles distant, but on the opposite side of the Green Mountain range in the Rochester Ranger District, is the Chittenden Brook Recreation Area. Snow conditions there are as reliable as they are likely to be anywhere. A trail network leads from the access road, a spur off State Route 73, to the campground and surrounding terrain.
In the Manchester Ranger District in southern Vermont, one of the leading meccas for x/c ski fans is the Grout Pond area south of Stratton Mountain. A spur road leads south from East Arlington to West Wardsboro Road (Forest Road 6), to the pond where skiers find good conditions and trails circumnavigating the pond. The East Arlington side of this road is not plowed, so remember to approach from the West Wardsboro end. If that is confusing, check a map and you'll see that East Arlington is at the west end, West Wardsboro at the east.
Still another option is the Catamount Trail, which when completed will extend the length of the state, north to south. About 60 percent of this trail is open for skiing, with inns and bed & breakfasts spaced one day's ski apart. One section winds through the Green Mountain National Forest. Contact the Catamount Ski Trail Association for maps and a guidebook: Catamount Ski Trail Association, P.O. Box 1235, Burlington, VT 05402 (802-864-5794).
Many other opportunities are available on unplowed roads, logging roads, hiking trails, and footpaths. And don't forget bushwhacking, an alternative for skiers trying to get away from the beaten (or skied) path to find solitude and untouched beauty.
Remember: Be sure of your location and destination, let someone know where you expect to go and when you expect to return, and keep a wary eye on weather conditions, which can change suddenly and forbiddingly at high elevations (and sometimes at lower elevations, too).
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication