Northeast Cross-Country Ski Roundup
Windblown Ski Touring
New Ipswich, New Hampshire 03071
Trail System: 40 km (20 km skate, 25 km classical, 5 km groomed)
Our Personal Estimate: Good easy and intermediate skiing, with a couple ungroomed dare-devil trails. Not much for skaters.
Scenic Beauty: 4
Touring Center: Rentals - skis, snowshoes, pulk, lessons, wood stove, waxing room, homemade food
Favorite Trail: Broken Dam Trail
Payment: MC and VISA
Lodging: Birchwood Inn-Temple (603-878-3711, $$$); The Ram in the Thicket-Wilton (603-654-6440, $$); Youth Hostel-Peterborough ($)
Local's Tip: Check out the amazing ski-through outhouse at the intersection of Valley Trail and Pond Loop. If the snow is high enough you can ski in and ski out the other side. It's a little harder for women, but can be done.
The peaceful, Windblown touring center lies just across the Massachusetts border in New Ipswich, New Hampshire. Forty kilometers of trails range over highlands, through valleys, and along the top of Barrett Mountain. The center was started in 1971. Although its trail system has substantially expanded, the atmosphere of the center is pretty much the same as in its earlier days. Wool pants and gaiters abound. The ski-in, ski-out warming hut sleeps eight and can be rented for big Epicurean parties; the scent of homecooked food issues from the upstairs restaurant; and friendly local skiers kick their feet up over the wood stove in the touring center and joke with owners Al and Irene Jenks. Windblown has a unique half-day rate for morning-only skiers. Pay the day rate and get money back on your trail fee if you're finished by 12:30 pm.
Owner Al Jenks first knew he wanted to run a ski center in his early teens. When he got his driver's license at age 16, he drove around the back roads of New Hampshire and Vermont looking for the perfect spot. He found Windblown, and at the ripe old age of 17, purchased the property with money borrowed from his grandfather. After forestry college and a tour in Vietnam, Al came back to the land. He did not want to get involved with the increasing complexities of Alpine mechanics, opting instead for the blood, sweat, and tears of cross country. He cut eight miles of trails and opened for business. In those days, grooming consisted of snowshoeing after a fresh snow, to pack the trail, and then skiing a set of tracks for tourers to follow.
Wood stoves crackle everywhere in the ski center, the restaurant, the wax shed, and the warming hut. During Al's first winter, he ran out of his winter's supply of fuel in late February, and that March his first task in the morning was cut down a tree and chop it up for the wood stove. Since then he's felled plenty of trees and hauled stone from the property to build the ski shop, trail shelters, and picnic shed. You buy your trail pass in the brick-floored, wood-walled ski shop. Rental and retail equipment hangs from the walls in neat rows, and couches and cushioned benches cluster by the wood stove. Upstairs, the bright sunny restaurant serves homemade soup, cookies, and muffins, all made on the premises by Irene. On busy weekends they serve hot dogs and hamburgers from the outdoor grill.
Windblown deserves its name, although Al will steer you to sheltered trails if you ask him. On days when the wind chill factor drops the temperature by tens, you'll feel it. Those are the days that the central warming hut on the trail system is at its most convivial: skiers built a fire in the wood stove and head out for the protected trails in the lowlands. Others help themselves to hot drinks on the honor system, sit in front of the stove, and chat. Grooming at Windblown is like Sisyphus doomed to roll his stone up the hill in Hades, only to have it roll back down: follow the trail system as well as you can, but you're still bound to get drifting. The area is best suited to classical touring, but there are 20 kilometers of packed trails for addicted skaters.
The easy trails at Windblown are gatekeepers for the rest of the trail system. Right around the touring center are a series of short, blink-and-you-miss-'em trails. Gray Birch is a wide teardrop of a trail leading up from the touring center through relatively open land. It takes you to the view fields below the Jenks' house where you can see long views north into the blue hills of New Hampshire. On a windy day, watch out. You'll be paragliding back where you came from , whether you want to or not.
The Stagecoach Road was once, naturally, the stagecoach road. The low-lying, sheltered trail is hemmed in by stone walls that mark where old pastures once met the road. Stagecoach becomes an intermediate trail at the intersection with Old Logging Road; just beyond, it crosses an old stone bridge built by settlers. This is easy to miss in the snow. The popular Pond Loop (not to be confused with Pondside Loop) was part of the original trails system. It takes off from the warming hut in a gentle evergreen climb and encloses Wildlife Pond. From the top of the lop you an ski through the outhouse and onto some of the intermediate level trails.
Intermediate level skiers will feel the terrain change on the Valley View Loop, which climbs the opposing molehill to Bartlett Mountain. The tail carves a curvey traverse of the wooded hillside while a ravine drops below. You'll ski past the pretty Valley View Shelter where the Jenks wanted to get married but the wedding guests threatened revolt at such a long walk. The mile-long Broken Dam Trail is a favorite with Windblown's regular curves and runouts. At the bottom you cross a tiny bridge and begin a series of hemlock-covered climbs to regain the lost elevation.
The most difficult trails at Windblown are groomed only by snowmobile, and climb up over the top of Barrett Mountain. Even Evil Knievel wouldn't ski down them. The quick-climbing prelude to the East View Trail feels like a giant slalom course with trees; after another intensive uphill, the trail swiftly drops down the side of the mountain. Through the trees you can catch views of the eastern hills.
East Side Drop is a steeper version of the same terrain, with turns to cut your speed. Local skiers climb to the top of East Side drop and ski full bore to the bottom of Broken Dam Trail; the trail drops 550 feet and is downhill all the way. The really crazy skiers time themselves.
If you've climbed the mountain and the idea of skiing these tails makes your knees wobble, the ZigZag trail provide a humane way to get down. It swings out and back like a shuttle on a loose-warped loom, dropping 400 feet in elevation through thick evergreens.
You can take your dog on the ungroomed Loop de Poop (3-4 km) across the road. It is actually not a loop, but two prongs of the ungroomed Wapack Trail, which treks through the region. The left fork is a fairly level ski to a pond; the right is a rugged climb up Kidder Mountain. Then leave the beast in the car while you ski Windblown's regular trail system.
Finding Your Way: From Route 2 in Massachusetts, take the Leominster exit for Route 13 north. In Townsend, turn onto Route 119 west and follow it for two miles. You will see signs for New Ipswich and Windblown pointing right. Take that road for eleven miles. The touring center is three miles northwest of new Ipswich on N.H. Route 124. You can't miss the sign.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication