Local opportunities for Nordic skiing abound – whether on a designated trail or out the back door.
Unlike its alpine cousin, Nordic skiing is something you can do just about anywhere there is snow and room to set off on skis, be it a field, a snow-covered path, or open woods—and we have all of these in abundance around here. While it stands alone as a sport for some skiers, many in the Mad River Valley enjoy Nordic skiing as the perfect complement to their more gravity-fed alpine and backcountry skiing pursuits. Skiers of all kinds love it for the convenient exercise it provides, the rhythm and flow of the movements, and the self-reliance it demands. In addition to the woods and fields out our back doors, the Valley is home to several formal Nordic skiing centers and trails.
Referring to all types of skiing where the heel of the boot cannot be fixed to the ski, Nordic skiing was the earliest form of skiing to arrive in the Valley, in the early decades of the twentieth century. Under their own power, skiers would take to any fields or mountainsides they could handle on the wooden planks and simple leather boots of the era. With the development of ski resorts throughout the U.S., Nordic skiing fell under the shadow of lift-served alpine skiing. But by the late 1970s and early ’80s, a nationwide boom in outdoor recreation and fitness led to renewed interest in the sport. Nearly one dozen Nordic ski centers operated in the Valley during this time, including trail networks at the Round Barn Farm and the Mad River Barn.
Today, two excellent Nordic ski centers survive in the valley: Ole’s Cross Country Center and Blueberry Lake Cross Country and Snowshoeing Center, both in Warren. A 15-mile section of North America’s longest backcountry ski trail, the Catamount Trail, also passes through the Valley. Combined, these resources offer a tremendous variety of terrain, scenery, and opportunities for Nordic skiers and snowshoers of all abilities to explore some of the Valley’s quietest corners in winter.
Blueberry Lake Cross Country and Snowshoeing Center
Valley native Lenord Robinson opened Blueberry Lake in 1993 in his retirement. Now in his eighties, he’s still actively skiing the trails he built. Named after the beautiful lake in East Warren that Robinson himself constructed and that was later acquired by the Green Mountain National Forest, Blueberry Lake features more than 18 miles of groomed trails for classic cross-country skiing, skate skiing, or snowshoeing. Many trails are sheltered by the surrounding forest, ideal when it’s cold and the wind is blowing, but several carry into meadows with beautiful views of the mountains surrounding the upper Mad River Valley. While there are great options for all abilities and energy levels, I’ve discovered that mixing trails 6, 7, 8, or 11 brings some solid climbs and fun descents to your ski tour. Lessons, as well as rental skis, snowshoes, and pulks (sleds for towing a child), are available. Well-behaved dogs are also welcome at Blueberry Lake.
Ole’s Cross Country Center
Started in the late 1970s by Ole Mosseson, who returned home to his native Norway several years ago, Ole’s is just a couple of miles north of Blueberry Lake, alongside Airport Road. Featuring guided tours, lessons, a popular kids’ program, a ski shop, and a café open on weekends and holidays, Ole’s is cherished for its abundance of wide open views and its network of generally spacious and rolling trails. These same features, combined with Ole’s excellent grooming, make it a favorite place among locals to go skate skiing. Ole’s features about 30 miles of groomed trails. For some of the best views of the Green Mountain skyline, make your way out to trails 3, 4, 4a, and 5. Skis, snowshoes, and pulks are available for rental. Ole’s Cross Country Center
Catamount Trail—Mad River Valley
(CT Sections 18 & 19)
The Catamount Trail (CT) is a 300-mile Nordic and backcountry trail that varies in character and difficulty along the length of Vermont. The CT wouldn’t be possible without countless cooperative landowners and the volunteer members of the Catamount Trail Association (CTA) who help to maintain it. Approximately 15 miles of the CT weaves its way through the west side of the Valley between Lincoln Gap to the south and Huntington Gap to the north. The trail can be skied in either direction, and can be accessed at a variety of trailheads along its route. A scenic and popular section connects the Sugarbush Inn (park in the lot across the street) to the Mad River Barn along Route 17. This section winds, dips, and climbs for over 4 miles between the two inns, crossing German Flats Road along the way. If you’d like to experience a more remote side of the CT, head north from the Battleground Condos on Route 17, where the trail climbs into the Phen Basin backcountry toward Huntington Gap, and offers a fun descent upon return. The CT is generally ungroomed and unpatrolled; be sure to visit the CTA’s website, catamounttrail.org, for detailed trail information and other guidance before setting off.