With more than two dozen ski touring centers, Vermont is to Nordic skiing what Cape Cod is to summer beaches: lots of great choices, but in a frozen version.
Despite that variety, many cross-country skiers gravitate to the big name favorites every year, opting for the famed or familiar, forgetting the adage that variety is the (snowy) spice of life. That’s a shame, because they’re missing out on new pastoral and mountain landscapes and places with character as thick as maple syrup, not to mention escaping trails that can resemble an I-95 for the lycra crowd.
Here’s a Pick Five to break out of the ski rut, whether you’re an avid fan of freestyle skating or kick and glide, or you’re just hoping to move higher on the learning curve. Our picks run a gamut from rustic and homey to posh; some are virtual one-man/woman (or family) shows while one is an unlikely high mountain collegiate venue (with snowmaking and fat bikes). They all take grooming seriously, offer lessons and rentals and snowshoeing for those days (this is Vermont, after all) when getting above zero degrees is an accomplishment.
Ole’s Cross-Country Center
With the high peaks of Sugarbush Resort and Mad River Glen as a backdrop, the gentle undulating terrain at Ole’s may be the finest spot in Vermont to ski on a windless sunny day. Norwegian Ole Moseson, a legend in Vermont’s Mad River Valley, introduced Nordic skiing to the town of Warren in the mid-1970s. His genius was to lay out the 45 kilometers of trails around the scenic Warren-Sugarbush airport (closed in winter), on a plateau between two mountain ranges. Groomed for skating and classical, it’s a pastoral paradise of mostly open fields. Odd tidbits: US World Cup racer Caitlin Compton Gregg grew up skiing here, and the airport tower doubles as the touring center during winter.
Trail day passes: Adults, $18, kids and seniors, $15.
Nearby digs: West Hill House B&B, www.westhillbb.com
Rikert Nordic Center
Whose skiing woods these are, Robert Frost knew, because he taught for four decades at the site of the Rikert Nordic Center at the historic Bread Loaf campus of Middlebury College. Located around 1,400 feet up Route 125, the locale is a 1900s time warp with its elegant grounds and old yellow wooden buildings. But the skiing is all 21st century, with superb grooming on 55 kilometers of trails for skating and classical, and 5 kilometers of snowmaking. A sumptuous view of white-crested 3,482-foot Battell Mountain in the Green Mountain National Forest looms over the center, whose trails wind through meadows and hardwood forests offering terrain for all skills (Middlebury’s high-powered ski team trains here). The small cozy touring center, attached to a big barn, also offers fat biking. Bonus points: The high elevation brings snow when the valleys get rain, and the skiing usually lasts well into spring.
Trail passes: Adult $22; students and seniors, $15
Nearby digs: The Chipman Inn, www.chipmaninn.com, 800-890-2390
Hazen’s Notch Ski Touring
Located in the rural Northeast Kingdom snow belt with stunning views of Jay Peak, Hazen’s Notch is a determined and delicious throwback to the early days of Nordic skiing. Its peaceful 60-kilometer system offers only old-style classical skiing on lovely narrow trails through birch groves, maple sugarbush and meadows, though with modern grooming. There are loops for every ability, all suffused with a focused intimacy with nature. Odd tidbit: Rolf Anderson runs the center in a converted barn whose interior is a mini-shrine to Sweden in celebration of his ancestral roots.
Trail fees: Adults $12, kids $5.
Nearby digs: Phineas Swann B&B, www.phineasswann.com, 802-326- 4306
Woodstock Nordic Adventure Center
The ski touring in this tony town with its elegant village green is often overlooked for the many other diversions at the Woodstock Inn (a spa, pool, snowshoeing. racquet and fitness club). But the 30 kilometers of well-groomed trails (skating and classical), which wind around the golf course meadows and the flanks of Mount Peg, have a nice rhythm that appeals to skiers of all abilities. A short drive down the road is the hidden gem of the Mount Tom trail complex, which leads to a wonderful overlook on the village and to a warming cabin. Odd tidbit: The Mount Tom trails wind through an interesting slice of history on century-old carriage roads and forests in Vermont’s first national park.
Trail fees: Adults $20, kids and seniors $15.
Nearby digs: Woodstock Inn, www.woodstockinn.com, 888-338-2745. Ask about ski packages.
Wild Wings Ski & Yoga
Tucked deep in national forest lands not far from Bromley Ski area in southern Vermont, Wild Wings is a remote and rustic jewel for the kick and glide set and nature lovers. Now a third-generation family operation, the one-way trails are organized in loops named after birds and have an exhilarating and peaceful flow to them. Skiers come for the good grooming, the forest scenery, and wildlife sightings — bobcats, deer, rabbits, even moose. Odd tidbit: The cozy converted horse barn that serves as the touring center also offers yoga and has a unique feature: a heated outhouse.
Trail fees: Adults $20, kids $15
Nearby digs: Blue Gentian Lodge, www.bluegentian.com, 800-456-2405Andrew Nemethy can be reached at email@example.com.