During the Blizzard of 1978, Carol Catalano was a neophyte Nordic skier attending the Rhode Island School of Design. A Maine native, she put her newfound interest in skinny skis to use after the snow piled high.
"I joined a group of volunteers that went out skiing on Route 95 – yes, Route 95 – to search for anyone that might be trapped in a vehicle," said Catalano. "The snow was so deep we were skiing over the roofs of cars buried in the snow."
Catalano and her husband, Tom, have now lived in Hamilton for three decades, and are still fans of Nordic skiing, both traditional "classic" (kick and glide) and the more vigorous "skating" s
The couple is spearheading a group of cross-country enthusiasts intent on bringing groomed trails to the North Shore, joining other eastern Massachusetts locations such as the Weston Ski Track and Great Brook Farm State Park in Carlisle.
"Tom and I started this effort six weeks ago," said Catalano in late December. "Judging from the response we've gotten, there is demand from a diverse range of people and ages.
"One common element is they're all passionate," she said. "People are interested in it because it is a great way to get outside in the winter, stay warm, and get the best exercise of your life."
The nonprofit North Shore Nordic Association has received permission to groom trails totaling more than 20 miles at Appleton Farms and Grass Rides, a Trustees of Reservations property, as well as Bradley Palmer State Park and the Pingree School.
"We're working on getting the word out to raise money to buy the equipment and get started this year," said Catalano, 58.
"Having Craft Sportswear come on board early as our primary corporate sponsor has been very important for our credibility.'' She said the Beverly-based firm committed to matching donations made in 2015 up to $5,000.
For Eric Schenker, Craft Sportswear's 42-year-old chief executive officer, the partnership made perfect sense, from both a personal and a business perspective.
"I've been Nordic skiing since I was a kid growing up in New Hampshire," said Schenker. "As an endurance junkie, there is nothing better in the winter than" the sport.
Add another $5,000 matching grant from Brotchie Capital Management, and the Catalanos' fledgling group is financially flush. Carol Catalano estimated the group needs $25,000 for capital costs, and $7,000 for annual operating costs.
"The ultimate goal is to have free public-access groomed cross-country skiing in the Hamilton area," said Schenker. "The main areas will be Appleton Farms, Bradley Palmer, and connection points into town through the Schooling Fields and Patton Park. Over time, this could expand well beyond, but we need to walk before we run."
According to a 2015 industry study, said Schenker, Nordic sales rose 15 percent in a year, led by a 28 percent jump in sales to women. Overall, the Outdoor Industry Association estimates that 4.3 million Americans ski at least once a season.
"Because so many of us travel far and wide to get groomed skiing," he said, "once the word started spreading, I've been shocked and delighted by how many people want this."
Hamilton's Bob Carroll, an association board member, exemplifies that support.
"I've been skiing the trails behind Pingree (School) and in Appleton Farms with friends" for years, said Carroll, 44. "On many of those tours we've said, 'Wouldn't it be great if we had groomed track here?'
"Of course, we just talked about it, and the idea never went anywhere," he said. "Fortunately, Carol and Tom Catalano are doers.''
Board member Ernest Ashley of Wenham said the association has embraced the multi-use trail ethic.
"Skiing, walking, snowshoeing, biking — we all will share the same trails or pick which trails suit us best," said Ashley, 58. "We want the introduction of grooming of trails to go well for all parties. We'll endeavor to 'share the road,' as well as provide the road for even more winter use of area trails."
The group bought an Arctic Bearcat snowmobile and is halfway toward its $25,000 capital goal.
"The trail system in our area is amazing," said Carroll. "This project would provide year-round accessibility and more kilometers of groomed trails than anywhere else in Massachusetts."
Katherine McMillan of Wenham said local, groomed Nordic trails are "a dream come true."
"Having a track,'' she said, "means you glide almost effortlessly and increases your enjoyment 100 percent."
"The challenge is to educate other members of the public who enjoy being out in the snow not to walk in the ski tracks," she said. "We plan to have signs on the trail asking people not to walk in the tracks. Hopefully they'll respect this."