Vermont: Ski-Inn, Ski Out

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By Wendy Knight
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, December 1, 2002

You've spent the last five hours in near solitude gliding through Vermont's pristine backcountry. Now, as the sun starts to sink, the last place you want to bunk is a noisy lodge crammed with ski bums sucking down Jack Daniel's and spinning powder tales.

For Vermont without the Gen-X verve, adventurers can tramp inn to inn along the Catamount Trail, the longest cross-country ski trail in North America, running nearly 300 miles over the length of the state. Fortunately, many of those miles ramble through some of the most picturesque villages in New England, many packed with B&Bs. And while hosts are quick to accommodate, they generally maintain a comfortable distance. It's the Vermont way.

Since a good share of the Catamount runs through unspoiled wilderness, seclusion is pretty much assured. The white birches and sugar maples, stripped of their leaves, offer an artistic contrast to the dense conifers that make up much of the state's forests. Snow can blanket Vermont anytime between October and April, so frosted evergreens are almost a given.

The Catamount was conceived in 1981 by native Vermonter Steve Bushey who, fresh from a post-college cross-country bike trip, hatched the idea of skiing the length of the Green Mountain State. It took three years to develop. The 250 or so landowners who allow winter access to their property are essential to the Catamount's survival. Sixty percent of it is on private land.

Today, the volunteer-driven Catamount Trail Association (CTA) maintains the path and provides skiers with detailed information about conditions and lodging, making an end-to-end jaunt -- or the more customary inn-to-inn trip -- quite manageable. Most of the inns along the Catamount offer complimentary transport to and from the trail's access points and will even shuttle your luggage to the next destination. Accommodations range from free-but-primitive USDA Forest Service cabins to plush suites at upscale resorts costing up to $660 a night.

Trekking all 300 miles of the trail can take up to a month, but we've outlined two more manageable ways to tackle the trail on a weekend, including inns to stay at along the way. Both itineraries require good endurance -- up to 15 miles a day -- and backcountry winter skills. Check with the CTA (see Details, Page E5) for trail updates and route suggestions before venturing out.

Goshen to Killington

The Blueberry Hill Inn and Cross-Country Ski Center (800-448-0707, www.blueberryhillinn.com; from $125 to $160 per person per night) in Goshen is an ideal start for a strenuous 25-mile, two-day backcountry tour.

The 1813 farmhouse in the Moosalamoo Region of the Green Mountain National Forest features greenhouses and a wood-fired sauna. Rise early so you're not finishing the first day's 15-mile-plus ski to Mountain Top in the dark. (Bring a headlamp just in case.)

After a breakfast of almond croissants, shiitake mushroom omelets with mango-pear compote and homemade granola, get on Blueberry Hill's Hogback Trail and head south, where you'll cross the Brandon-Mountain Road (Route 73).

The trail ascends steeply along the shoulder of Goshen Mountain (elevation 3,292 feet), then tumbles down along the base of other Green Mountain mid-range peaks. Five miles later there's a second steep climb, followed by a gradual downhill to the Mountain Top Inn & Resort (800-445-2100, www.mountaintopinn.com; from $125 before Dec. 20), a 345-acre oasis in central Vermont.

The state's first commercial Nordic ski center, Mountain Top has a first-rate restaurant and a range of accommodations with fireplaces, whirlpool baths and in-room massages. A $99 Nordic package includes one night at the inn, breakfast, ski or snowshoe pass and a lesson.

After the first day's grind, the comparatively flat 9.7-mile journey from Mountain Top to Route 4 will seem mundane . . . well, almost. Beyond the ski center, the backcountry trail skirts the Chittenden Reservoir and Lefferts Pond. Then it follows mostly groomed snowmobile trails for about two miles along Wildcat and Old Turnpike roads. For the final 1.3 miles, you hook up with an old logging road that leads into the trail-head parking area on Route 4.


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© 2002 The Washington Post Company

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