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During our century skiing has become synonymous with both Middlebury and Vermont. Beginning with the North-South interstates that replaced overnight ski trains, and increased the weekend exodus from the cities, skiing has influenced the history and landscape of Vermont. Many Middlebury students first came to Vermont on ski trips. For Feb graduates skiing down the Snow Bowl to a diploma will be their farewell.
Every discipline of skiing can be practiced within a 20 minute drive of Middlebury. The College owned Snow Bowl offers lift-serviced skiing, while just down the road the College’s Carroll and Jean Rikert Nordic Center links its 25 miles of groomed trails to the backcountry touring of the Catamount Trail. To the north the unplowed pitches of Lincoln Gap provide excellent telemark skiing.
While there are many ways to slide over and down the following locations they share a common history; all were owned and willed to be kept wild by Joseph Battell. A Vermonter, the state’s largest landowner, Middlebury drop-out, Middlebury Trustee, amateur author, philosopher and politician, Battell spent his life accumulating wilderness, in his own words, like art. “Some folks pay $10,000 for a painting and hang it on the wall where their friends can see it while I buy a whole mountain for that much money and it is hung up by nature where everybody can see it and it is infinitely more handsome than any picture ever painted.”
Joseph Battell died in 1915 and left Camel’s Hump to the State of Vermont, 25,000 acres around his Breadloaf estate, and 5000 acres of ridgeline between Mt. Ellen and Mt. Abe to the government for a national park. The government turned down the gift and the land was given to Middlebury College.
Battell’s will clearly directed that all these lands should remain wild, uncut, whether for lumber or for ski trails. However, the idea of wilderness having intrinsic value was judged as wasteful by the trustees and attorneys of the College. They decided Battell meant something other than what he wrote, and in 1917 logging began. Old-growth spruce was sold to build bi-planes for the first World War, and to finance the construction of campus buildings.
During the Depression the College sold much of the land to the U.S. Forest Service, with a second sale in the 1950’s. In the property shuffling, Battell’s intent was forgotten, allowing the development of the Sugarbush ski area.
The Breadloaf Wilderness, created by the Vermont Legislature in 1984, and which many of us ski through, is the closest approximation of Battell’s intent. It can’t be logged or developed. It exists for its own sake, and for us to ski, hike and hunt through.
Carroll and Jane Rikert Ski Touring Center
Winding through the forests and fields given to Middlebury by Joseph Battell the Center’s 25 miles of trails form the nordic counterpart to the Snow Bowl. Like the Snow Bowl there are trails for all ability levels. Most of the loops are groomed for skate and classic techniques. If you need instruction in either lessons are available. The Center also provides an excellent base from which to explore the Catamount Trail (described below).
Directions: Same as to the Snow Bowl except stop at the yellow buildings of Breadloaf. The ski shop/ticket window is in the large yellow barn.
The Middlebury College Snow Bowl
Middlebury College’s Snow Bowl: The Last of a Dying Breed, by Trina Hosmer ‘00
Often catching thick snow while it rains down on campus, the Snow Bowl is the premiere college ski area in the country. Three chairlifts cover 100 acres of open and gladed skiing. There is a 1,020 foot vertical drop from the 2,520 foot summit, and 22 miles of trails. The college ski area is a result of the passion Middlebury students have long held for skiing.
The precursor of the Mountain Club, called the Outing Club, first organized a ski and snowshoe team in 1916. In 1921 the Club organized the first intercollegiate ski races on Chipman Hill. Three years later the Club had added a ski jump, still visible on the west side of the hill. In 1934 the first trail was cut on Worth Mountain, and in 1940 a rope tow was installed. In the years after the second World War the focus of competition shifted from Chipman Hill to the Snow Bowl. The third-oldest ski area in Vermont the Snow Bowl has continued to expand and add technology. In the 80’s the college bought Piston Bully groomers and a modern snow-making system.
The Snow Bowl remains the training ground for the Ski Team, consistently one of the top in the nation, and home to the Middlebury Winter Carnival in February. Just under 15 miles from campus, the Snow Bowl is accessible after or instead of class. Students teach all disciplines of riding at the ski school. The ski patrol is also made up of students, selected for their exceptional medical and skiing skills.
Of all the College’s facilities, the Snow Bowl is perhaps the one most appreciated by the community. In a decade which has seen skiing marketed as a lifestyle to those who can afford it, the Snow Bowl has remembered its roots. Here, skiing remains about reveling in the starkness of winter; about camaraderie, competition, and sweeping effortlessly down a snowy mountain.
Directions: Follow Route 7 South to its intersection with Route 125. Follow 125 up through East Middlebury, Ripton, and Breadloaf to Hancock, home of the Snow Bowl.
The Catamount Trail
The ski touring equivalent of the Long Trail, the Catamount Trail follows logging roads, snowmobile highways and ski trails between the Massachusetts and Canadian borders. Ninety-percent complete, the trail was first put together in the 1980’s as the thesis project of a University of Vermont student. The trail passes through mostly private lands, and is open only in the winter. It is designed to allow skiers to travel between touring areas and country inns. There are two excellent trips accessible from the Touring Center.
Trip 1- North
Begin at the Touring center and follow the Myhre Trail across the road, and up into the forest. When the trail forks follow the Frost Trail to the Holland Trail. Bear right here and ski around the beaver pond. When you rejoin the Frost Trail turn right onto the Poet Road, which is a Forest Service trail. The Poet Road will lead east until it joins USFS Road 59, a wide unplowed road packed by snowmobiles. USFS Road 59 will in turn lead to USFS Road 54, which is known as the Natural Turnpike.
The intersection of USFS Roads 54 and 59 is 5.5 miles from the Touring Center. You can now ski north another 5 miles to Lincoln Gap for a good one-way trip, or turn back for the car. Continuing on will give you a hard climb to the Gap, but an exciting run down to end the day. This is a beautiful section of trail, rolling through hardwood forests rasping with dry beech leaves. You will cross the prints of other animals out in the snow, coyotes, snowshoe hares, grouse, deer and moose.
Trip 2- South
Also beginning at the Touring Center, follow the Thomas trail south to gain access to the Catamount Trail. This 15 mile section which ends at the Blueberry Hill Inn and Nordic Center is a good representation of the Catamount Trail, and a bit less strenuous than heading north. Using Forest Service Roads, ski touring center trails, power lines and a hiking trail, the route winds through private land, the Breadloaf Wilderness, and the Green Mountain National Forest. If you arrange transportation you can end the day by the stove at the Blueberry Inn, enjoying a beverage, and resting tired muscles.
Unplowed in the winter, this road is popular with telemark skiers wanting to make a few turns. It is a quick ski up the road to the top of the Gap. The leafless trees and destruction of the ’97 ice storm allow views to the eastern and western horizons. Skiing towards the east will give you a bit steeper run, while the western face throws hair-pin turns at you. When spring comes and the snow softens the skiing only improves.
Directions: Follow Route 7 North for 8 miles to New Haven Junction and turn right on Route 17, following the sign toward Bristol. Continue through Bristol and take the first right over the bridge beyond the Squirrel’s Nest Restaurant. Follow this road four miles to Lincoln and continue through town towards Mt. Abe. The road will end in a large snowbank. Begin climbing towards the Gap.
The Norske Trail
A good half-day ski, this trail runs between Breadloaf and the Snow Bowl on the north side of Route 125. Depending on when you want to do your work, park at the Touring Center (work first) and ski up, or park at the turn out on the left of 125 just above the Snow Bowl (turn first). The 3.5 mile trail climbs or descends through hardwood forest filled with beech (look for the claw marks from climbing bears), serviceberry (named because in the spring when its branches budded settlers knew the ground had thawed enough to bury the winter dead) and sugar maple. Ski up the trail in the late afternoon when the light is warm and from the west. Refuel with hot chocolate at the Snow Bowl and ski down to Breadloaf on bluing snow.
Directions: Start from the Touring Center, or park at the pull-off on the left of 125 just above the entrance to the Snow Bowl.
The Catamount Trail Guidebook available by calling (802)864-5794 or in Starr Library
Classic Adirondack Ski Tours, Tony Goodwin
25 Ski Tours in the Green Mountains, Sally and Daniel Ford
25 Ski Tours in the Adirondacks, Almy and Anne Coggeshall
Classic Backcountry Skiing, David Goodman
Relevant phone numbers
Middlebury College Snow Bowl 388-4356
Carroll and Jane Rikert Ski Touring Center 388-2759