Brattleboro Cross-Country Confidential

 

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4/16/21 — Henar Nuestro y Henar Vecino

Nor’easter! Just when we thought that springtime was truly here (think: snow long gone, daffodils in full bloom, shorts & T-shirts, robins & red-winged blackbirds, peepers, etc.), along comes a wonderful little grace note to our all-but-forgotten ski season! This morning we woke up to a January-like scene of several inches of fresh snow on the ground & heavily flocked pines (thank God, the leaves on all the deciduous trees are just now barely peeking out). By late morning, the snow was coming down in big, fluffy, wet clumps, with the temp in the low 30s, not even below freezing, & by early afternoon it had turned into a wet sleet & then rain . . . but, by God, for a couple of hours there, the skiing was pretty damn good — joyfully ridiculous fun to to stride-&-glide around the hayfields, even with fresh grass poking up through the snow.

Such a nice little coda to a great ski season!

A

 

3/14 — Henar Vecino

I did go out to BOC to have a look, & what I saw was a big cornfield & a golf course with some patches of snow/ice — it would have been absurd to ski in little circles, or to make portages between patches. BOC is done for the season. Thanks, Bill J. & gomers, for great work — you’ve earned a nice rest!

So it was back to my “bunny slope,” the hayfield next door. Lots of wind, which made it feel colder than the low-30s, & an early-afternoon snow squall put a dusting of fresh flakes on the ever-deteriorating base — by the time I got out, it looked like it had been sprinkled with powdered sugar, with the wind whipping it into snow devils that engulfed me a couple of times & blew my cap off. I made a new uphill trail that was goodish the third time around; the downhills were nice schussing near the top, but more like mooshing near the bottom, where the base kept collapsing under me. Skiing as metaphor . . .

C

 

3/13 — Henar Vecino

More scientific research today than real skiing. The temp has turned cold again, refreezing the remaining snow in the snowfield equivalent of an anguished grimace after the traumas of 60-degree afternoons & last night’s 50-mile-an-hour winds. Yesterday’s tracks are useless — deep, hard-frozen death traps. Despite the roughness, at least the crust is firm enough to bear my weight now, so I could use the nabe’s hayfield for the cross-country simulacrum of downhill skiing, dodging the bare spots. Fun-ish, in a sad, futile sort of way.

C+

 

3/12 — Henar Vecino

Not really a ski today — just data collection. Yet another day well in the 50s, and mud season is back with a vengeance. Incredibly, there’s still a lot of snow — nearly total coverage in the open fields — but it’s down to a thin, fragile crust over about 6–8 inches of loose, mooshy sno-cone, & I sank right in, making it a chore to break trail. (And my old tracks, still visible, are icy & worthless.) A couple of times around the nabe’s hayfield was enough for the sake of science, for the sake of this report.

C

 

3/11 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

It must be some kind of morbid fascination with deterioration & decay that has kept me coming back to BOC every day lately. By the time I got there at about 4:20 this afternoon, the temp was well above 60 degrees. Bill J. was there at the trail head, preparing to store the grooming equipment lest it get beached by the thaw. Signs of spring . . .

So it’s really kind of miraculous that so much snow (or semi-frozen whitish stuff) remains, more than 90 percent coverage, & much of it very skiable: an inch of sno-cone on top of the still-frozen trails, deep sno-cone on the fairways between trails, a lot of puddling on top of rotting rock ice, & enough bare spots that getting around them requires some . . . . flexibility. The forest trails are terrible — tons of tree debris baked into what’s left of the snow, & there was such a big bare stretch on Trooper’s Way that I had to take my skis off & do a portage.

Trying to give a letter grade to BOC today reminds me of the line about the guy who had one foot in a block of ice & the other in an oven — so on average he was comfortable.

C

 

3/10 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Another warm, sunny day — when I got to BOC at about 1:00 in the afternoon, my car thermometer was showing 46°F, but it felt a good deal warmer, & for the first time this season I regretted not having any sunscreen in the car. And would anything be left of the trails?

Why, yes indeed, it turned out . . . & even as the groomed trails are deteriorating, they’re softening beautifully, if a bit unevenly (depending on how much direct sunshine any given spot receives). So, for the most part, there was a nice, sloppy, sno-coney layer on all that frozen, packed snow & even on the patches of rock ice, all of it very skiable. Of course, a few bare spots are beginning to appear, & by tomorrow afternoon there may be more than a few.

But today, better-than-decent spring skiing conditions prevailed . . . so where is everybody — where are all my fair-weather friends in this lovely fair spring weather? I was all alone out there, & it was like exploring the site of an ancient village: Imagine — they used to ski here . . .

A–

 

3/9 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Mud season has come on like gangbusters in the last two days. At 4:20 this afternoon, my expections were as low as the temp was high — 48°F. Well, silly me. The conditions at BOC today were the opposite of what they were a few days ago, when everything was frozen & the trails were so treacherous that the crust was the way to go. Today, the crust has softened up to sno-cone all the way down, but the trails are actually pretty good — softened up just enough to present a very skiable surface, still pretty icy & fast, especially in sections that were shaded by the trees throughout the afternoon.

The ski season may be in its death throes, but there’s still a damn good time to be had out there!

B+

 

3/8 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

With spring skiing, timing is everything. Midday is never my preferred time to play outside (whether skiing, hiking, rowing, or whatever), but I had to go to town on an errand anyway, & since it was a sunny, clear day, in the upper-30s, I hoped I would hit the daily sweet spot of ski conditions, that just-right time between too icy & too soft. Lucky me — a 12:30 start nailed it today. The gomers have done more heroic work on some of the main trails; the loose stuff they’ve scraped up as a topping over the ice is like reconstituted snow . . . though some stretches are nothing but rock ice to be avoided (e.g., the little bridge, below the parking lot, that leads to Freedom & Dogtrot & the snowshoe trail). And the crust is good in the fairways, where it’s getting plenty of sunshine to soften it up (too much in some places, & not enough in others). Ungroomed trails in the woods are terrible — too frozen except where the ground is bare alogether.

The days are supposed to get warmer & warmer this week; it’ll get trickier & trickier to find that sweet spot, that window of opportunity . . . & then the window will close for the season. But what a season it’s been!

B

 

3/7 — Marlboro: Post Office to Marlboro College & back

For Bill E.’s birthday, he opted for what has become our go-to trail this season, & what a relief it was to ski on actual snow after the previous several days on ice at BOC. Sure, there’s a lot of tree litter, but the Town Trail has been well groomed within the past day or two, it’s not overused (& not used at all by ski-skaters), & — did I mention this? — the surface is still actual snow. Maybe not quite the primo-supremo conditions we had a month ago, but what a joy to have a damn fine ski on actual snow.

A

 

3/6 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Another cold (27°F) & windy day. The trails & crust are even a bit more frozen & treacherous than yesterday. Mainly I stuck to the crust between trails, the fairways, which were navigable only by dint of sharp metal edges & a whole lot of skating & poling. At least the gentler downhills were kinda-sorta fun.

I can’t imagine why I was the only one there at 4:20 this afternoon . . .

C+

 

3/5 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

A sad notice from Bill J. today: there’s only so much the gomers & the equipment can do anymore. They’re getting tired, & who can blame them? What a shame that we have this fabulous base just sitting there, turning to ice. But that’s how it is. They’re going to stop grooming on Sunday unless we get some fresh snow, which just ain’t in the forecast.

Today’s conditions were about like yesterday’s, but I had more fun because my expectations were appropriately low. I skied the trails where they were skiable (not just rock ice), & I skied the crust wherever necessary &/or fun. A good day to emply the full quiverful of techniques — not much stride-&-glide, but plenty of skating, ’boning, & double-poling.

Are we singing our swan song? Next week’s supposed to bring rain & temps pushing 60 degrees . . .

B

 

3/4 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Even with the late-afternoon temp in the mid-30s, the wind made it feel colder. And despite the gomers’ best efforts, the trails are super-icy — no softening at all (because, I suppose, of the wind), & deeply rutted by one particular skate-skier who didn’t have the good sense & common decency not to ski when it very soft yesterday afternoon. (Please don’t do this anymore. Just . . . don’t.).

I was in no mood to deal with the hill in these conditions, so I made a big loop of Unity & Lower Heartthrob, staying more or less parallel with Upper Dummerston Road. On the way back I discovered that the crust is much better than the trails; it’s frozen so hard that you barely make a mark, but the wind has roughened up the surface enough that you can maneuver easily, at least on the downhills. There’s some fun to be had, but overall, I’d say: for fanatics only.

B–

 

3/3 — Marlboro: Post Office to Marlboro College & back

Bill E. informed me that the Marlboro trails were freshly groomed this morning, & early this afternoon we found the snow conditions to be excellent . . . except for all the tree litter, which kept me busy in my trail boss role (i.e., a flicker of sticks). The spring skiing season (a.k.a. sugarin’ time) has arrived right on schedule with cold nights & warm(ish) afternoons, pushing 40°F — yesterday’s cold & wind were an aberration. Sap’s a-risin’!

A–

 

3/2 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Well, I wrote the ski season’s epitaph a bit too soon, after the crappy ski I had yesterday on the hayfield. Today, the BOC gomers have managed to scratch up a skiable surface on a few of the main trails. The base ranges from hard-frozen packed snow to pure, clear rock ice (in many cases of the latter, the gomers have wisely groomed detours). Diligently groomed though they may have been, the trails were icy & very, very fast (so no stride-&-glide, just herringboning up, skating on the flats, & double-poling—or tucking, balls-to-the-wall—down). Plus, it was cold (low 20s) & windy — oh, & there was plenty of tree debris to contend with after all the strong winds of the past couple of days.

On the whole, the ski conditions were tough today. Not so bad for skate-skiers, but not so good for us classicists — strictly for the stout of heart, sharp of edge, & hard of core.

B–

 

3/1 — West Brattleboro: Henar Nuestro y Henar Vecino

We’ve been blessed with a lot of truly great skiing days this season. Today was not one of them. After a warm night & morning that softened up the base, a cold wind blew in, putting an icy glaze on top. The result was almost comically unskiable: the thin crust couldn’t support my weight & collapsed under my skis with each step. Poling was nearly impossible as the tip & basket punched through the top layer & deep into the softer stuff below. Oh, & anywhere near trees, the trail was heavily littered with the debris blown down by the wind. In short, the ski conditions sucked this afternoon — not even in the same zip code as fun. Sorry to say this, but skiing is done until we get some fresh snow.

D

 

2/28 — West Brattleboro: Henar Vecino

I coaxed Bill E. to meet me at BOC; when we got there, we were greeted with a “No Skiing” sign. Oh well — probably Bill J.’s smart, abundance-of-caution response to the warm, 40-ish weather. Burned once, Bill E. was reluctant to take my Plan B suggestion that we try the hayfields around my place. Too bad for him — the nice big “bunny slope” of the nabe’s hayfield, across the driveway, was amazingly skiable, with an inch of softened-up sno-cone on top of the still-frozen, still-serviceable crust below. In fact, this combination made for a rare treat: the chance to do a little alpine-style skiing on the wide, even surface. Think: up the hill on my old, pre-thaw tracks, then down the hill, carving big, lazy S-turns — whee-ee-ee! Over & over & over again. In the flat light of late afternoon, the snow was unreadable; that is, the bumps & dimples were invisible in the uniform blankness, even the pitch was unreadable, so skiing down was like flying a plane through a dense white cloud, or flying blindfolded, solely by feel & instinct — a weird, trippy thrill!

A

 

2/27 — Marlboro: Post Office to South Pond & beyond

Despite an inch or two of fresh snow that fell during the night, the forecast this morning was dismal: by noon, the snow would turn to rain, with the temp set to climb well above freezing. Bill E. & I decided to hit the trail early (for me) & hope for the best, thinking that the rain might hold off a little longer in Marlboro. Still, I fully expected the conditions to suck.

How wrong I was: the Town Trail had just been groomed when we set out at 10:00 a.m. The new snow, pressed to an even, buttery smoothness on top of the frozen base, was just about perfect for classic stride-&-glide cross-country skiing — a little sticky at first, but not too sticky for our gooped-up skis, & a few minutes of sleet was like a sprinkling of tiny ball bearings. In fact, sleet is just about the best skiing surface there is . . . but it often turns to rain, & sure enough, today’s brief sleetfall quickly became a peristent heavy drizzle that was starting to soak through my clothes by the time we decided to turn around rather than complete the whole 10K South Pond loop.

By this time tomorrow, the conditions will probably suck — the trails will all be frozen, with patches of standing water. And then, unless it gets cold again, there’ll be the daily trick of guessing when the sweet spot between too icy & too slushy will occur — spring skiing in Vermont. But today, returning to the Post Office via the pond was hardly a booby prize — I’ve never had such a fine time skiing in the rain.

A+

 

2/26 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

In anticipation of a full-moon skiing event this evening, the gomers have done their damnedest to scour up a half inch or so of snowlike, sno-coney substance on all the main trails. And then the midday skiers did their damnedest to wreck all that good work. Since the temp was supposed to fall from 40ish in early afternoon down to 30ish by 7:00, I decided to give the moonlight skiing a pass this time — it might be magical (I hope so!), but it might also be treacherous, too treacherous for these old bones.

So instead I timed it just right: I got to BOC at 4:40 p.m. & hit the sweet spot between too soft & too icy. Decent-ish classic conditions but, evidently, great skate-skiing conditions, to judge from the blur of the BUHS ponytail squad flashing by.

I would have graded the day B or B+ . . . but when I reached the high point on Upper Heartthrob I got to witness the full moon rise through the mist over Wantastiquet . . . so I got my moonlit skiing after all. And as a bonus, the sunset this evening, when I got home, was absolutely spectacular. So:

A–

 

2/25 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Like it or not, spring skiing conditions prevail. Meaning that timing is everything. Today, my predilection for the last hour of daylight got the better of me; even though the air temp was still in the mid-30s at 4:50 p.m., the whole BOC hillside was in shadow & the snow was icing up fast. The trails were pretty badly scarred by the skiers (skate-skiers especially) who had done considerable damage at midday when the snow was soft, & skiing on the forest section of Sugarin’ was a drag because I felt honor-bound to flick sticks (my being the former Trail Boss & all), & sticks there were aplenty. Then over to Owl Loop. Anything remotely uphill required either skating or herringboning — a big shoulder workout in either case. Coming down Whoa Nelly was a thrill — quite possibly the fastest I’ve ever gone at BOC, fast enough to get me all the way up & over the next little hill without having to skate or stride, just double-poling. And this on fish-scale skis, mind you!

B–

 

2/24 — West Brattleboro: Henar Nuestro y Henar Vecino

It never even got below freezing last night, & by the time I got onto my skis at 11:00 a.m., my porch thermometer was showing 52 degrees! Well, that side of the house seems to collect heat . . . but the ambient air temp must have been well over 40, & when I skied around my home track, I found myself sinking in way too much, & the snow under my skis made that deep, ominous crunching sound of snow structure collapse syndrome (SSCS). After just one lap, I crossed over to the nabe’s big hayfield & got all the way up to the top & into that little chunk of forest when I heard a super-loud airhorn blast from our driveway — an unexpected delivery of a pallet of pellets that I had to attend to a.s.a.p. So much for skiing today.

Please, dear snow gods, make it cold again, don’t let winter suddenly end like this — we’re just not done with it yet . . .

B–

 

2/23 — Marlboro: Cowpath 40 to South Pond & beyond

This is fast becoming one of my favorite go-to local trails. It’s all skier-tracked (i.e., not machine-groomed) all the way past South Pond; today Bill E. & I tacked on another mile or so on the groomed trail from the pond to the college before turning around to re-enjoy everything back to Cowpath. The Marlboro advantage: elevation. What was falling as a light drizzle in Brattleboro turned to a light snowfall as I drove up Ames Hill Road, & so, even if it was too damn warm (36°F, according to my car) & the snow a bit sticky in spots, we had plenty of glide goop on the skis & that made all the difference. Another day of blissful skiing — ain’t we lucky!

A

 

2/22 — West Brattleboro: Henar Nuestro y Henar Vecino

The forecast called for 1–2 inches of snow. But it snowed all day, at least four or five inches. That’s the good news — in fact, the wonderful news. But the less-good news is that it also got warm today, above freezing, & by the time I got out into the perfect-looking snowscape, after 5:00 p.m., the new snow was gorgeous but sticky, even after a couple of times around the track. Still, it was fun to ski to the mailbox & even ski up still-unplowed Bonnyvale Road, a rare thrill.

As we’re edging toward spring skiing conditions (warm afternoons) — a.k.a. sugarin’ season — it gets more & more crucial to time the skiing right. Today would have been perfect at, say, 11:00 a.m. . . . but the falling snow beguiled me into waiting, even as the temp was rising. I’m always drawn to the flat light of late afternoon — why is that? Tomorrow: Maxi-Glide for sure.

A

 

2/21 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Even with the temp just a leetle too warm (maybe a degree or two above freezing), the trails were newly groomed this morning & prit’ near perfect at midday. Great for both classic & skating. Temporary local resident Jane F. & I started out at the same time, from the parking lot — Jane on snowshoes, Mike on skis. We made a game of trying to rendezvous at a couple of points where the snowshoe trail intersects ski trails (skiing, it turns out, is way faster than snowshoing, even if the skier takes a deliberately roundabout way up the hill — Dog Trot to Owl Loop to Sugarin’ to Forest to Lower Heartthrob). Great fun to blast down Cardiac Arrest at full throttle — it’s completely ice-free, buttery smooth.

Do yourself a favor: get out to BOC before the trails start to deteriorate next week, with afternoon temps expected to be in the high thirties or higher.

A

 

2/20 — West Brattleboro: Henar Nuestro y Henar Vecino

My new motto: Ski local, dream global. So skiing right out the door & around the hayfields — well, you can’t get any more local than that. My tracks from avant le déluge were still visible under the two- or three-inch layer of yesterday’s fresh powder, so skiing them today was like re-establishing a lost civilization. The interesting & tricky part was poling: it required some finesse because, if I pushed too hard, I’d punch the pole through the frozen layer, down into the softer layer beneath, & risk catching the basket under the crust.

Something I love about skiing is how improvisatory it is. There are countless variables to contend with at any given moment: the pitch of the slope in front of you; the presence or absence of tracks to follow; the freshness of the snow, & how packed it is, how sticky or icy it is; etc. etc. etc. You have to stay focused on the snow right in front of you, & take in as much information as your eyes & skis (via your feet) & poles (via your arms) can deliver, & evaluate all this spontaneously & continually in real time, & respond to it accordingly with just the right amount of kick, just the right amount of pole push, just the right balance of your weight on one ski & then the other. There’s no time to think about all this, you just have to do it & make micro-adjustments on every stride, every glide — improvising, man, improvising. Nordic jazz . . .

A

 

2/19 — Marlboro: Cowpath 40 to South Pond

Ahh, it’s snowing — been snowing, lightly, all day long. Nice, fat, fluffly flakes, just a few inches so far but that’s quite enough to put a beautifully skiable fresh surface on the foot-deep frozen base. Bill E. & I took that wonderful skier-tracked trail from Cowpath 40 to South Pond, then along to pond to the groomed MNSC trail back over the pond itself — always a weird, magical experience for those of us who were swimming there just a few months ago, & will be swimming again, God willing, just a few months from now. At the moment, though, the ice seems so thick & sound that you could drive a tank over it . . . or at least a snowmobile dragging a roller & a tracker, which appears to be happening on a regular basis these days.

Have I ever mentioned that I love skiing through a silent forest while snow is falling? At least for a few days, we’re back in Ski-topia.

A+

 

2/18 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Mindful of the x-treme iciness yesterday, I was skeptical when Bill E. called to say he wanted to try out his schmancy new poles at the Outing Club this afternoon. Apparently, though, the gomers have run their machines over the main trails again, & they’ve scoured up some more skiable snowlike substance, with mostly hard-frozen snowpack underneath, rock ice in the low spots. Climbs were a little difficult but doable, downhills were fast & fun. This will be a great base for fresh snow, & we’re supposed to get a little over the next couple of days. Fingers crossed.

B

 

2/17 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Hoo boy, what a transformation — all that foot-deep-plus powder is now half as deep & ten times as dense, frozen hard all the way through — it’ll be a bullet-proof, iron-clad base when we get more fresh snow, but for now it’s just cold white iron, all but unskiable except where the ever-doughty gomers have scratched up a quarter inch of barely skiable sno-cone on some of the main trails. Super-icy except where it just plain old rock ice. Just going around Dogtrot was a good workout —fast double-poling on even the slightest downhills, skating on the flat stretches, herringbone on all the climbs, however slight. I hardly left a mark. Yikes. The snow gods gave us a great run of fabulous skiing, & now the snow gods have taken it away.

There’s a chance of snow tomorrow night. We don’t really have any volcanoes around that we can toss virgins into (a dubious practice, in any case), but, this being Ash Wednesday, we can at least rend our garments & fall to our knees in supplication: Please, snow gods, please . . .

C

 

2/16 — Brattleboro

I woke up this morning to the sound of rain pelting the window, & I feared the worst. I got an anguished text from my B3C correspondent in Marlboro, to wit: “FUUUUUUU[ . . . ]UUUUUUUCK!!!! It’s RAINING~! damn it.” Ugh. In fact, it was even worse than the worst I had feared: hours of heavy rain followed by hours of oppressive, way-too-warm tropical air, so that by late afternoon the snow was snow no more: just deep slush.

Our all-but-unprecedented string of superb ski days is over. And it’s supposed to get cold again tonight, so . . .

F–

 

2/15 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Late afternoon was overcast, bordering on gloomy. BOC was all but deserted, adding to the spookiness, as if an ancient civilization had groomed perfect ski trails & then vanished into the ether. Giving in to the mood, I steered clear of my usual favorite routes & instead climbed the hill via Forest & the snowshoe trail for a taste of real backwoods skiing, then took Fortitude to Upper Heartthrob for a fast, thrilling trip back down the hill. The trails couldn’t be better — firmly packed, lightly used (i.e., not rutted by skate-skiers), exquisitely resurfaced with a light dusting of fresh snow. Stride-&-glide heaven . . .

A+

 

2/14 — West Brattleboro: Henar Nuestro

Sometimes it’s nice (a dream come true, in fact) just to step out the door, take a deep breath of pure, cold air, clip into my skis, & enjoy the tracks I’ve laid down around the perimeter of the hayfields. No having to drive anywhere else, no machine grooming, no nothin’ — just the local terrain & the snow. Real old-time, down-home cross-country skiing. The temp got a little high today (probably a degree or two above freezing) & that softened up the surface in a way that’ll probably make it icy until we get some fresh snow. Which is likely to happen tomorrow &/or the next day.

A

 

2/13 — Marlboro: Post Office to Marlboro College

Ski-topia, cont.: how many times will I get to write “superb conditions” in describing this wonderful string of great ski days? The Marlboro Nordic Ski Club groomed the trails again last night or this morning; by the time Bill E. & I set out from the post office at 10:00, just two or three skiers had preceded us on the Town Trail to the college. All but the steepest climbs were doable on the groomed tracks (i.e., without having to step out of the tracks to herringbone), & the downhills were an absolute blast. Today was brilliantly clear, so the places along the trail that got direct sun (the 20-ish air temp notwithstanding) will be firm-bordering-on-icy tomorrow unless there’s fresh snow tonight . . . & there just might be! But wait, it gets better: NOAA predicts an 80 percent chance of fresh snow on Tuesday. Snow gods, do your thing!

A+

 

2/12 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

After an afternoon listening to Donald Trump’s lawyers fail to defend the indefensible, I had just an hour of light left & decided that skiing the dog trails — Dog Trot, Trooper’s Way, & Lab Land — would be both a way of flushing Trump out of my consciousness for a while & also a nostalgic tribute to Trooper himself. Gee, I miss him — good boy! The excellent condition of the trails, both machine-groomed & skier-tracked, is being miraculously preserved by the continuing chilly weather, high teens to low twenties. And I love seeing the new trail we worked so hard to create, Trooper’s Way, getting plenty of use. Another thing I love is seeing all the BUHS skiers, the race team — how great to see these young skiers, the future leaders who will ensure that XC skiing flourishes for decades to come.

And meanwhile, folks, there’s a decent chance of more snow in the forecast for nearly every day next week. On so many fronts, things are getting better & better (despite the pandemic, of course, & still-rampant Trumpism, & global climate change, & . . . ).

A

 

2/11 — Marlboro: Post Office to South Pond

Even a full couple of days since they were impeccably groomed, the Marlboro trails are still in superb condition because (unlike on the BOC trails) 100 percent of the traffic has been classic XC skiers — no ski-skaters carving deep, herringbone-patterned ruts. With the air temp at 21°F this morning, the snow had a buttery smoothness that was pure joy to ski on. Bill E. & I spent a blissful hour & a half gliding through the woods to South Pond, then across the pond itself on tracks that seemed firm & safe in the lingering cold, then northward alongside the pond on the ungroomed but perfectly tracked trail back to the groomed South Pond trail. As good as it gets.

So why were we all but alone out there on a fine, cold Thursday morning? What are these “jobs” that keep people from enjoying the best ski season we’ve had in years? I just don’t get it . . .

A+

 

2/10 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Okay, I’ve only lived in New England for sixteen years, so I’ll admit it: I’m a “flatlander” (from the mile-high Rocky Mountain city of Casper, Wyoming). But in those mere sixteen years, has there ever been a string of fabulous ski days quite like this in our corner of the world? After a wrenching day of listening to the Senate impeachment trial’s detailed account of Trump’s many-layered wickedness in fomenting insurrection & the sacking of the US Capitol, it was a blessed relief to enjoy the near-perfect conditions on the Outing Club trails: expertly groomed, firmly packed, exquisitely chilled at 25°F — my preferred temp for skiing. Both the classic tracks & the skate lanes are at peak. No ice, no thin or bare spots, no drifting (because no wind) — just snow the way we dream of it. Thank you, snow gods!

A+

 

2/9 — West Brattleboro: Henar Nuestro y Henar Vecino

Like all American citizens, I was riveted by the opening of the second Senate trial of Donald Trump, especially the video of the gut-wrenching violence of the pro-Trump mob that invaded the Capitol on January 6 (not a great ski day, incidentally; see below). But when Trump’s lawyers took the stage, & the shouted arguments degenerated into rank sophistry (“‘Shall’ means ‘shall’!”), I’d had enough, & I could no longer resist getting outside — since it had been snowing all day. Wonderful, light, fluffy powder — all day. Another three or four inches on top of the great base we had already. By the time I got out there, a wondrous rose sunset glowed over the tracks that are the bestest, mostest perfectest I’ve ever managed to lay down on both our own hayfields & the nabe’s. Glorious, just glorious. We get to live here.

A+

 

2/8 — Marlboro: Pooh Hill

The fact that this place is completely unadvertised or sign-posted makes me a bit squeamish. Is it okay for me to write about these nicely groomed (rollered) trails — or should I keep this place on the QT? And as a non-Marlburger, am I even allowed to ski there at all? Bill E. assures me that this lovely little trail system is indeed a public amenity, open to anyone who loves great skiing over varied terrain, at a high enough elevation (up to 1,700 feet) to sustain superb snow conditions. Few seem to know about it . . . but just let me say this: do what you have to do to find this fabulous little jewel of a trail system — its location seems to be available on a need-to-know basis, & if you want great cross-country skiing in Windham County, you do need to know! (Hint: Pooh Hill doesn’t show up in google searches, so don’t waste your time hunting for it online — that won’t help you . . . )

A

 

2/7 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Another great day for skiing — temp in the low 20s, plenty of snow on the ground (well packed where groomed, deep powder elsewhere), & more snow lightly falling. At first the trails were a bit icy, but the falling snow soon cured that, & the classic tracks were perfect on all the main trails. I wanted to show Bill E. my favorite BOC trails, Trooper’s Way & Dunham Loop — specifically, the section with the long, gradual climb through the forest for a real back country vibe (if you can ignore the freeway a hundred yards away, which I’ve learned to do over the years). We found that the Dunham Loop trail had been double-rollered, making for a nice, wide, firm surface without classic tracks, all the more perfect for the trip back down — the sweetest ride that BOC has to offer (sez me). Super Sunday indeed!

A

 

2/6 — West Brattleboro: Henar Nuestro

The hayfields around the house are sort of like a lap pool or home gymnasium for cross-country skiing. Never machine-groomed, just whatever tracks I lay down & then refine, snow by snow, freeze by freeze, thaw by thaw, all winter long. When they’re bad, they’re very very bad . . . but when they’re good, they’re perfect . . .

A

 

2/5 — Marlboro: South Road to South Pond

Bill E. talked me into a route to the pond we’ve never taken before. We parked on South Road & hopped on the South Pond Trail there — I guess you’d call this our southern strategy. The trail appeared to have been groomed yesterday afternoon, & then got a nice little dusting this morning, making for gorgeous conditions, 30°F, absolutely ideal for using the tracks — stride-&-glide all the way to the pond. The groomers evidently thought better of proceeding across the pond with a snowmobile pulling a heavy grooming sled . . . but there were an inviting pair of tracks, so we went for it. About halfway across, we started seeing holes about the diameter of a baseball, & dark down there, all the way to . . . what, a watery grave? Yikes!

Anyway, we got all the way across without incident or ominous cracking sounds, then onto a stretch of groomed trail, then the wonderful connecting track through the woods alongside the pond — the snow was so soft & cushiony, like surfing on a marshmallow (without the stickiness or cloying sweetness). Then across a narrow section of pond & back to the main trail, so beautiful with the pines & hemlocks flocked with fresh snow. Ahh . . .

A+

 

2/4 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

As we’ve learned to take for granted, the gomers have done a beautiful job grooming the trails, & there’s plenty of snow for them to groom. The trails have gotten some fairly hard use, though, because the high school XC team hosted a regional meet yesterday. And with the temp getting several degrees above freezing today, any use is hard use — there are a lot of ruts that will have to be groomed out. But that’s for tomorrow. For today, the trails are wonderfully skiable, just a little slow but no iciness anywhere. All in all, great mid-winter skiing.

For tomorrow, NOAA forecasts a chance of snow . . . & also rain. No-o-o-o! Maybe if we all do the chant from Woodstock: No rain, no rain, no rain . . .

A

 

2/3 — West Brattleboro: Henar Nuestro

Oh my . . . in heaven, the snow is always just like this (even in July) — fresh powder a foot deep, kept chilled to perfection in the mid-20s. Not too drifty, just . . . perfect. Miraculously, the temperature in West Brat hasn’t gotten above freezing since the nor-easter (unlike Marlboro yesterday afternoon, even though we’re 500 feet lower in elevation here). It’s rare that I’m perfectly content just to circle the perimeter of our hayfields & the section of forest bordering Felicity R.’s property — the first time around, breaking trail, was work, dutifully keeping the sea lanes open; the second time around was like surfing, riding the half-compressed snow under my long glides; & the third time was like skiing on a dream . . .

A+

 

2/2 — Marlboro: South Pond

Bill E. can’t resist that undulating trail from Cowpath 40 to South Pond, & I guess I can’t, either — not when a nor’easter has dumped a foot of fresh powder. Earlier today, someone had labored mightily to break trail, & just a few skiers had followed. By the time Bill & I hit the trail in mid-afternoon, it was just a leetle warmer than perfect, just above freezing, but all that fine fresh snow was the nearest thing to heaven. The tracks still had a lot of give, but they were just firm enough for wonderful long glides with each stride — like skiing on a cloud. Magical . . .

A+

 

2/1 — West Brattleboro: Henar Nuestro y Henar Vecino

A word about my grading system: it’s 80–90 percent an objective evaluation of the day’s skiing conditions: the quality of the snow (how fresh or frozen, how deep or thin, how icy or melty or crusty or drifty or whatever), & the general weather conditions (how warm or cold, how windy or snowy or rainy or drizzly or sleety or whatever), & even factors like the time of day (how light or dark, etc.).

To be sure, this “objective” evaluation is made though through the lens of my own judgment. To me, “good” snow is good for real stride-&-glide cross-country skiing. If I can get just enough grip for a good kick, & there’s nice, even coverage without ice patches or rocks or sticks or corn stubble or whatever poking through, then that’s good snow — at least A– or B+ right there. If, say, because of drifting snow or strong direct sunlight in some spots, the quality is uneven, then we’re getting into the B or B– range. Lots of iciness &/or bare spots, & now we’re down to C+ or even C, at which point it’s just not fun anymore. Below C, forget it — not a ski day.

The other 10–20 percent of the judgement that goes into my grading is purely & honestly subjective — room for extra credit. Certain X factors are magical to me: skiing in a particularly beautiful forest of snow-flocked pines; skiing by moonlight; skiing with snow falling & steadily improving conditions.

Today, the X factor was a real deep-winter nor’easter — arrrr, a nor’easter there be, arrrr. . . A steady, heavy snowfall, not so wind-driven that you could call it a blizzard, but plenty enough snow to rejuvenate all my trails around the hayfields & to promise many more days of great skiing to come. Hence:

A+

 

1/31 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Nice cold air temp (20-ish) this afternoon, so I knew the trails would be well preserved — & well used, too. Sure enough, there were plenty of cars in the parking lot . . . but where were those skiers? I stuck to the groomed trails today, no off-roadin’ like yesterday, & during an hour of great cold-weather skiing I came upon approximately two other skiers. Is BOC really such a huge trail network? Or do most people stay off the hill & stick to the flattish Lower Heartthrob along Upper Dummerston Road? Dunno, dunno. . . Why doesn’t everyone ski every day when conditions are so damn good? What’s wrong with people? Dunno, dunno. . .

Supposedly we’ll be hit with a Nor’easter tomorrow — a nice dump of fresh snow on this excellent base. Fingers crossed!

A

 

1/30 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Has it really been more than a week since I skied at BOC? Well, that great snow up at Marlboro has been calling . . . & so has the local snow of West Brat — but the cold temp (~15°F) & the prospect of freshly groomed trails at BOC brought me back this morning. It didn’t disappoint. I knew that I had to keep moving to stay warm, so I headed up & up to the top of the trails — the top of Dunham Field that Bill Jahn & Co. have helpfully named “High Heavens.” Glorious skiing all the way up: just-groomed & exactingly chilled — prit near perfect. At some point the BUHS ski team flew past me in a blur, & this set me off on my usual inner rant about the difference between skate-skiing (or is it ski-skating?) on machine-groomed trails & real cross-country skiing, actually crossing country in the woods or fields or wherever there’s snow . . .

Anyhow, I decided to head back downhill on “real” backwoods trails, beginning with the misnamed Dunham Field Loop alongside the freeway, which had been righteously tracked by a skier, not a machine, & this was great . . . until it wasn’t, due to the buildup of sticks & miscellaneous tree debris, which I felt honor-bound (as the one-time Trail Boss) to remove . . . until that became a drag, so I got back on the groomed Owl Loop Trail & lived out my Jean-Claude Killy fantasies by bombing down Whoa Nelly back to the parking lot, more than making my peace with the grooming machines that make this madness possible. I’ll go back to righteousness again soon, I promise . . .

A

 

1/29 — West Brattleboro: Henar Nuestro y Henar Vecino

I’m as hardy as the next guy, but man, was it cold this afternoon — 14°F & gusty enough to put the wind chill somewhere around absolute zero (at least, that’s what it felt like). Nevertheless, cold, cold air makes for good, good snow. My recent trails were mostly drifted over, but after a couple of laps the tracks were all good as new, & I love the long stride-&-glide downhill on Meg K.’s hayfield — making the long chug back up the hill totally worth it, again & again & again . . .

It’s supposed to stay cold like this for the next few days, so bundle up & get out there on your favorite trails!

A

 

1/28 — Marlboro: Race Trail & South Pond Loop Trail

The recently organized Marlboro Nordic Ski Club is doing a superb job of grooming the extensive trail network that connects the town center, the college campus, & South Pond — miles & miles of trails through forest & field (& over ice). Today, Bill E. & I were among the very first skiers to hit the trails within an hour or two of the groomers doing their thing, & they left us a fine, buttery-smooth corduroy all the way, at a perfect ski temp in the low 20s — just chilly enough to provide the incentive to keep moving.

Spencer Knickerbocker, please keep doing what you’re doing!

A

 

West Brattleboro: Henar Vecino

Ah, a full moon in a clear sky over fresh snow — how could I resist a couple of late-night turns around Meg K.’s hayfield — what could be more magical? (Cue the lush, trippy music accompanying old black-&-white newsreel footage of night skiing on Casper Mountain, with the moonlight sparkling on the fresh powder . . .)

A+

 

1/27 — West Brattleboro: Henar Nuestro y Henar Vecino, Bonnyvale trails

What a joy to wake up to fresh snow — callooh, callay, oh frabjous day! A beautiful do-over for the trails I’ve made around the hayfields. Even though, by mid-afternoon, the temp was warm enough (mid-30s) to make for sticky conditions, a dose of Maxi-glide was enough to keep things sliding right along. Bill E. & I made all the local rounds, even the “short loop” through the forest up on the hillside. Hair-raising!

With colder temps forecast for the rest of the week, & a full moon tomorrow night, we’re in for some great ski conditions. Get out there & play in the snow — this is why we live in Vermont!

A

 

1/26 — Marlboro: South Pond

Bill E. & I set out to retrace the Cowpath–South Pond route that Marti & I did on Sunday. Today, the trail in was okay, perfectly skiable, a bit more “well loved” & littered with tree debris . . . but it started to snow right about when we set off from Cowpath 40, & by the time we got to the pond there was at least an inch of fresh powder & plenty more coming down. The trip across the pond was, well, trippy, with a few slushy patches that had us thinking, This is not how I want to go . . . but we decided to be reasonably sure that there was solid ice under the various layers of drift, crust, & even slush. The return leg, over all that fresh, pillowy powder, was magical — stride-&-glide heaven the whole way.

And it’ll only be better tomorrow.

A

 

1/25 — West Brattleboro: Henar Nuestro y Henar Vecino

Mostly out of a misplaced sense of household duty, I began by skiing my main trail around the perimeter of our hayfields — the tracks Mostly out of a misplaced sense of household duty, I began by skiingwere frozen very unevenly (I think that a neighbor gave them hard use on a warm afternoon recently) & were partially, unevenly covered with drifted snow, & the tracks in the forest section were icy & littered with tree droppings. Hmm, skiing as chore — what’s wrong with that picture?

But the nabe’s hayfield, just across the Golden Driveway, was perfectly skiable, despite the weirdly synthetic feel of the snow, a.k.a. the Astro-snow. (Not exactly snow — a complex layering of lumpy, frozen, rained-on-then-drained white stuff of variable density, wind-glazed on top, with thin drifts of almost sand-like snow in between the lumps.) My up-the-hill tracks have held up well & gotten better with use; & the downhill run over the crust was a nice, fast stride-&-glide all the way, so I repeated the circuit again & again, until it got too dark. Not bad for a bunny slope!

B+

 

1/24 — Marlboro: South Pond

Well, the snow & the trail from Cowpath 40 to the pond may be a bit more tired & shopworn than they were a few days ago — more dog tracks, more tree debris, etc. — but damn! what a great way to spend a sunny, chilly (20-ish) afternoon. And after all the cold, cold nights we’ve had lately, Marti & I didn’t hesitate to ski right across the pond itself, per the official map of the Marlboro Nordic Ski Club. Amazing to be out there skiing atop the very water we swam in just a few short months ago! (No more skating, though — the rink-perfect ice of two weeks ago has been snowed on, slushed on, frozen, thawed, refrozen, etc. But it’s fine for skiing. No, really.)

A

 

1/23 — Marlboro: Town Trail

Wow — what a difference an additional 500 feet in elevation make! Each night last week when West Brat was getting little sub-quarter-inch dustings on top of that hard-frozen base, Marlboro was getting a healthy inch of fresh snow, & the temp has stayed nice & cold, all of it making for prit-near-perfect ski conditions. The Town Trail (how cool to have a town trail!), recently groomed with a skate lane alongside classic tracks & well-preserved at 23°F, was pretty much ideal for stride-&-glide all the way from the post office to the college. What a great way for Bill E. to get his ski legs!

A

 

1/21 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Notable improvement at BOC since three days ago. It’s still icy, but there’s a thin yet undeniable coating of fresh light snow — actual snow, making for real stride-&-glide conditions (along with a lot of slip-&-slide on the icy patches under the powder). The skate-skiers were really whipping along today — this stuff is perfect for them.

With temps in the 20s, the hard styrofoamy stuff provides a solid base for the substantial snow that, sad to say, is nowhere in the forecast, so . . . enjoy this while you can!

B+

 

1/20 — West Brattleboro: Henar Nuestro y Henar Vecino

We’re stuck in a holding pattern — it’s cold enough that the frozen, lumpy, styrofoam-like white stuff persists, & every night there seems to be a very light flurry that adds a powdered-suger dusting. And that’s what we have to ski on — Astro-snow. Surprisingly okayish, at least on the bunny-slope hayfields around the house. Until the snow gods really deliver, this will have to do . . .

B

 

1/19 — West Brattleboro: Henar Nuestro y Henar Vecino

This white stuff on the hayfields — not snow but petrified snow, weirdly lumpy & dimpled from rain & warm afternoons & cold nights. But the judges say: skiable, in that astroturfy, refrigerated-shopping-mall-in-Dubai sort of way. The tracks I made a few days ago are like twin miniature luge corridors, as fossilized as dinosaur tracks & treacherous at speed . . . but the surrounding crust is surprisingly skiable. No, really.

The forest sections are littered with sticks, but the open hayfields are plenty clear enough for real skiing, fun in that bunny-slope sort of way . . . in fact, the neighbor’s big hayfield is about the size (maybe five or six acres?) & the slope (gentle but real) of the bunny slope where I first learned to ski (alpine ski, that is) at Hogadon up on Casper Mountain, when I was about eight or nine years old. The skiing here today was like that, minus the ravenous, mitten-eating rope tow.

B

 

1/18 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Hoo boy — way icy today. As opposed to yesterday’s glorious stride-&-glide conditions up in Marlboro, down here in the Connecticut Valley there’s no snow at all, just the hard-frozen white stuff that was all slush a couple of days ago. Yesterday’s notice from the gomers was: Please stick to the trails, for fear of wrecking the fragile fairways. No longer an issue this afternoon! The crust between trails is absolutely bulletproof — I couldn’t have made a mark on it if I’d wanted to.

So it was all herringbone up, bomb down, double-pole on the flats. This is why God made sharp steel edges.

B

 

1/17 — Marlboro: South Pond

Well, well, well . . . it may have been too warm to ski in Brattleboro today (high 30s), but all the precip that fell mainly as rain in Brattleboro yesterday fell mostly as snow in Marlboro (500-plus feet higher & five degrees cooler). I parked on Cowpath 40. No motor vehicles had been on the road to the pond, but there was an excellent tracked ski path — a mile of perfect stride-&-glide that felt like swimming.

Now, I’d been at South Pond a couple of days before for a hike, thinking there couldn’t possibly be enough snow to ski on, but to my amazement a beautiful ski-skating lane had been machine-rolled around the perimeter of the pond, & that’s what I was determined to ski on today. So I got to the pond via much better snow than I’d expected & just kept going, right onto the surface of the pond. I looked for the groomed lane, but it was gone, snowed over & drifted over. I started around the perimeter . . . & within a hundred yards found my skis sinking into deeper & deeper slush — yikes! Not the way I want to die. Gingerly, I made my way back to more solid snow, with more-solid ice under it, & then I re-enjoyed that fine track back to Cowpath 40.

Pond skiing can wait till it gets cold again & stays cold again . . .

A–

 

1/16 — West Brattleboro: Henar Nuestro y Henar Vecino

What a crappy month all the way around. We’ve all been hoping that 2021 would be a dramatic turnaround from The Worst Year of Our Lives, 2020. But in the politics, the pandemic, & even the cross-country ski conditions, 2021 has mainly been the thirteenth month of 2021.

And rain was forecast for today, so — ugh. But first, as it so happened, there was an actual snowfall last night & into the early morning. Heavy, wet, beautiful snow, with the air temp about 33°F — no way was this gonna last. Sure enough, the snow turned to rain. But then the rain stopped for an hour, & the skiing was amazingly okay — sort of like skiing on wet concrete that was just starting to set. The thin layer of crusty, crumbly ice that has persisted for the past ten days provided just enough base to make for decently skiable conditions.

I managed a couple of very enjoyable laps around the hayfields before the rain returned . . . & by the time anyone reads this, the “snow” will be slush, so stay off till it drains & then freezes in colder air in time for real snow (not “snow-turning-to-rain”) on Wednesday.

A–

 

1/7 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Just as I was setting out from the parking lot, I saw a guy walking back to his car with his skis slung over his shoulder. “This isn’t skiing,” he warned me. Well, he wasn’t totally right — there was plenty of skiing to be had today, but the trails range from bare ground to icy snowlike frozen substance to rock ice. The uphills are challenging; the downhills are scary fast.

So it is skiing, with a lot of double-poling & skating thrown in, plus some careful stepping around the bare spots. But I do agree with the guy in the parking lot: I won’t be back till we get real snow.

B–

 

1/6 — West Brattleboro: Henar Vecino

Still skiable, barely . . . it’s not really snow, not exactly . . . more like the XC equivalent of Astroturf, or like skiing on tundra . . . just enough snowlike frozen stuff to ski on, even with all the hay stubble poking through . . . if they had artificial XC skiing in an excessively air-conditioned shopping mall in Dubai, say, it would be pretty much like this . . .

B–

 

1/5 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

At 4:30 p.m. (absurdly late time to hit the trail in early January), the alchemy of air temp (mid-30s), late-afternoon shadows, & a thin layer of fresh snow on a thin base of crumbly ice made for surprisingly skiable conditions. A few of the trails had been rolled by the groomers, & these trails have seen a lot of use today, but it hardly mattered — the off-trail crust was just as good. Despite having to get around some washed-out sections & patches of ice, this was so much like skiing that we might as well call it skiing, something to do while we wait for real snow.

B

 

12/24/21 — West Brattleboro: Henar Nuestro y Henar Vecino

Hmm . . . what a weird start to the year, weatherwise. The ground was pretty much bare for a week following the Christmas washout, & then we got three inches of . . . well, not snow, but thick, slushy goop. People drove in it, walked their dogs in it, even tried to ski in it . . . & then it got cold, & all those tire, boot, paw, & ski tracks were fossilized, cast in ice . . . & then, last night, we did get a skiff of real snow, about half an inch . . . & the result is surprisingly skiable. You just have to think of frozen goop as a base, of sorts. This afternoon I took a few turns around the local hayfields. Even with hay stubble sticking up through the frozen-goop-plus-dusting-of-snow, there was real skiing to be had away from the fossilized ruts — it was almost crust-cruising in spring, at the end of the ski season.

Please, snow gods, don’t let this be the end of the ski season . . .

B

 

12/25 — Christmas in Vermont

Well, the snow gods giveth, & they taketh away. (Yes, I’m aware that the Middle English “-eth” suffix is singular, not plural — I’m just trying to get that biblical flavor.) Today’s rain & warm temps (nearly 60°F) has completely wiped out the snow. It’s as if Santa snatched away the bright, shiny new bicycle he’d brought & left us a lousy lump of coal. We’re back to perpetual November . . .

F–

 

12/24 — West Brattleboro: Henar Nuestro y Henar Vecino

The temp has been above freezing for most of the day, & by the time I got out on the trails at twilight, the snow had softened to the point of being perfect for snowballs but a little less perfect for skiing, so even in the tracks I’d packed over the last week I was making an audible crunch with each stride. Nevertheless, I managed to get a few circuits in before it got too dark & a soft rain began to fall.

We beseech ye, snow gods — leave us at least some of this wonderful mid-December snow, at least enough to provide a nice base for the rest of the winter. Puh-lease — it’s Christmas!

A–

 

12/23 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

The groomed trails are getting slightly rutty from use, but the snow is just so darn good & so plentiful that the skiing is still great — such fun to bomb down Cardiac Arrest like Jean-Claude Killy! (I need to update my Alpine skiing reference points. Bode Miller?) Get out there & enjoy this wonderful gift from the skies, & pray that the coming rain doesn’t ruin everything.

A

 

12/22 — West Brattleboro: Henar Nuestro y Henar Vecino

Again it was warm enough this afternoon, mid-30s, & I waited out the drizzle or freezing drizzle or whatever that was, & by sunset the sky was clearing & the air was cooling & the skiing was surprisingly great — my trails were still intact, still viable, & in fact better for having been skied on yesterday by . . . my next-door neighbors, Lissa W. & John L.? Dunno. But I love to see my trails take on a life & a history of their own.

As it was getting dark, I made my way to the top of Meg K.’s hayfield for a westward glimpse of the so-called Bethlehem star— actually the rare conjunction of Jupiter & Saturn, so close in the heavens that they seemed to touch, their light magnified by each other. “Star of wonder, star of light . . .”

A

 

12/21 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Even after a weekend’s hard use & rising temps (up to the mid-30s), the superb grooming job on the trails is holding up beautifully . . . maybe well enough to withstand the rain predicted for later this week? And then it’ll get cold again, & all this lovely white stuff on the ground now will become the base for whatever snow falls over the rest of the winter. And winter starts . . . today!

A

 

12/20 — P—ney: D—ty R—ge trails

As a Brattleburger, I can only use these trails as a guest of a real local. Luckily, Lynne W. is just such a P—neyite, & she’s as crazy about skiing as I am, & she even talked Marti into playing in the snow today, so there were three of us. Good thing, too: ski-topian conditions with perfect snow at a perfect 25° temperature on mile upon mile of perfectly machine-groomed trails through a perfectly New England hardwood forest.

What a fabulous start to our ski season! And of course it can’t last, not with warm temps & even rain (boo!) in the forecast. So get out there while the gettin’s good — the skiing will never be better than this!

A+

 

12/19 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Ahh . . . what a nice way to kick things off at BOC! Bill Jahn & crew have done a great job of preparing for the season: there’s now a nice little staircase connecting the parking lot to the hut, & a brand-new trail from the parking lot down to Dogtrot (no more having to get around the golf course’s workshop). Best of all, the gomers have knocked themselves out to make the best of this wonderful snow, with many of the main trails already groomed to perfection. But the highlight of the day was breaking trail myself through the virgin snow up Lab Land & Trooper’s Way — a joyful, high-stepping slog up the hill through the woods for a taste of real back-country skiing (never mind the interstate highway just out of sight). With all the cars back in the lot, I might have expected some company out there . . . but no. The BOC trails are extensive enough to give us all the solitude we could want. Magical, just magical . . .

A+

 

12/18/20 — West Brattleboro: Henar Nuestro y Henar Vecino

Just like yesterday — perfect ski conditions. Jane F. (noted nurse practioner & sister) came over & we snowshoed yesterday’s trail around our hayfields & then did the loop around the big hayfield next door. Shnooing is . . . fun . . . I guess . . . but it ain’t skiing. Still, what a joy to see that the tracks I laid down yesterday have already been used by the nabes, who have a standing invitation. And of course I got out there myself later on, one loop each around the two trails before dark. Dusk skiing is magical . . . & all the more magical in ideal conditions like this. Thank you, snow gods!

A+

 

12/17/20 — West Brattleboro: Henar Nuestro

What a wonderful early Christmas present: a roaring start to the ski season! Last night, a whopper of a sou’wester came up the East Coast & blew in on a hard, cold wind, dumping a shitload of snow — 20 inches on average in Windham County (so says Mark Breen on VPR), but, by late afternoon, already drifted & uneven, ranging from about 10 inches deep, which is already plenty, up to 30+ — & the drifted snow is deeper & denser. (Good names for tiny flying reindeer: On Deeper! On Denser! On Drifter & Ditzen!)

So it was a tough, exhausting, joyous, high-stepping slog the first time around, breaking trail, with the snow thigh-deep in places. But what snow! Light, fresh powder, nicely chilled at about 25°F — the perfect skiing temp.

One of those times when you look up at the sky & marvel, We get to live here . . .

A+

 

*     *     *

 

4/18/20 — West Brattleboro: Henar Nuestro

A late-April snowfall isn’t quite a freak occurrence in Vermont; these things do happen, though this is the latest snow I’ve seen here since moving to New England fifteen years ago. We woke up this morning to a January scene of snow-blanketed fields & snow-flocked trees (thank God the leaves aren’t out yet). April 18 — wow.

But someone who would pull his skis out of storage at such a late date just for a few spins around the hayfields — now that is a freak. By the time that the snowfall was tapering off in late morning, the snow on the ground was already starting to melt. I knew that the window of opportunity was closing. I knew that the snow would soon disappear &, at 35-plus degrees, would be sticky before making its exit. So I gooped up my skis with MaxiGlide & headed out. The snow was wet & thin, only a couple of inches deep, & already tufts of grass were poking out everywhere. Staying away from the spots where I knew there were rocks, I made a few loops; after about 45 minutes, I couldn’t kid myself any longer — there just wasn’t enough snow left to ski on. As of noon, winter was over.

An amusing & fleeting diversion from lockdown blues. A weird little coda to a weird little ski season that gave way to this exceedingly weird & scary time.

B–

 

3/26/20 — West Brattleboro: Henar Nuestro

Late this morning Marti warned me to get out & ski sooner rather than later — the snow was disappearing fast. By noon big gaps were starting to open up in the snow coverage, & what was there was very thin & very soft. Skiing on it squashed it down to nothing — a perfect metaphor for the end of the season. By one o’clock the temp was up to 60 & by the end of the afternoon most of the snow was gone, gone, gone.

It’s over, folks.

B–

 

3/25 — West Brattleboro: Henar Nuestro y Henar Vecino

Just as I was pulling on my ski boots this evening, Marti surprised me with a poignant, well-intentioned “virtual birthday party,” my friends arrayed fuzzily on Marti’s iPad screen like the Hollywood Squares. (If prayer is the intention to pray, is partying the intention to party?) I still managed to get in a nice little dink-around ski after that, at dusk — actual fun, not virtual. Even with the temp having hit 50 this afternoon, there was still good overall coverage, though very soft. I’m extending “sheltering in place” to include the hayfields that surround my place, since there’s nobody within six feet . . . or sixty feet . . . or six hundred feet . . . or . . .

B+

 

3/24 — West Brattleboro: Henar Nuestro & Bonnyvale Trails

By noon today the sky was clear & the temp was already in the mid-40s — a rare opportunity to ski my quotidian hiking trails on the wooded hillside above the house (“rare” because those trails are treacherous throughout much of ski season — steep, narrow, twisty, & lethal when icy). But with the snow so sticky & doughy, I was able to scoot straight up with barely a herringbone, & then enjoyed some nice stride-&-glide along the ridge & just a little prudent side-stepping on the way down, with one “portage” over a swampy section along the way. There’s no base or even frozen ground under this snow, & it’ll be gone by the end of the week — but how nice to enjoy it for a couple of days, a weird little coda of great skiing to end a season that began with a fabulous early snow at the beginning of December & then offered precious little more until now.

A

 

3/23 — West Brattleboro: Henar Nuestro y Henar Vecino

It seems like a hundred years ago that our local ski season ground to an early & inglorious end, the snow disappeared, & the BOC trails closed — all that before the world was turned upside-down by the coronavirus pandemic. And then, in some kind of cosmic joke, a nor’easter blew in this morning & dumped half a foot of fresh, beautifully skiable wet powder snow. By dusk it was deep enough for skiing without fear of hitting sticks & stones. I made one circuit around the hayfield & then headed back home for a pit stop — with the air temp in the mid-30s, the white stuff is really sticky & a fresh coat of Maxi-glide is essential.

There’s something magical about skiing in fresh powder in the fading light, with the snow still coming down but tapering off . . . especially when I’d all but given up on skiing this season. What a wonderful little respite from the tension of sheltering in place!

A+

 

3/3 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Another day of near-60° temps. The crust & the trail base at BOC is down to, oh, 60 percent coverage, meaning a lot of bare patches, wash-outs, rock ice with standing water on top, etc. — late-spring conditions. In early March! Well, it’s been that kind of winter. It was kinda-sorta fun to dink around & make a game of skiing the slushy, sno-coney residue of winter — real stride-&-glide skiing in some places, gingerly double-poling over ice in other places, squeezing through narrow isthmuses (istmi?), corridors of white stuff, in still others . . . but that’s just dinkin’ around. BOC is done until/unless we get more snow.

They used to call it winter . . .

B–

 

3/2 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

The winter weirdness continues: Yesterday was too cold & icy for skiing, so I just took a walk in the woods, with grippers on. Now it’s warm again. Really warm. Mid-50s. Big bare spots are opening up, & big puddles that are bound to freeze at night, so in the absence of any new snow the ski conditions are sure to deteriorate steadily. By late afternoon today, though, the BOC trails had softened up beautifully (except for the bare spots & puddles), & wherever they were washed out, it was easy to go around via the crust, which is a nice skiable sno-cone. Tomorrow’s supposed to hit 60°F — if this ain’t spring skiing, what the hell is?

B

 

2/28 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Since the last time I skied BOC (a mere three days ago), it rained heavily, then got cold & extremely windy (yesterday), then simply stayed cold (today). Everything, on both the trails & the crust between, is either ice or icy. The rain that collected in the hollows along the trails is now rock ice — mini–hockey rinks. The gomers have done their damnedest to scratch up a skiable surface, & they’ve largely succeeded — if your skis have nice, sharp metal edges & you know how to use ’em. Whether you have skate-skis or not, a lot of skating & double-poling is the order of the day — no stridin’-&-glidin’ at all on stuff like this. And it’s f-a-s-t.

All in all, strictly for speed freaks & adrenaline junkies.

B–

 

2/26 — West Brattleboro: Henar Nuestro

The warm temps persist, & the crust is getting pretty soft all the way down. Sometimes today, when I was planting my poles, I could feel the tip break through one hard layer beneath the loose sno-cone & then another hard layer beneath that — legacy of the two freezing-rain episodes we’ve had this month, with a couple inches of sleet in between. What a weird winter!

So what can we do but enjoy such skiing as there is to be had, & pray to the gods of winter for the first real snow in, what, six weeks now . . .

B

 

2/25 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

The relentless warm weather (high 40s again today) has really softened up the base, which is getting mighty thin in some places & has disappeared in a few others. Coverage is still very good, however, & even though the trail bed is deteriorating for want of new snow, the gomers have done such a fabulous job of packing down every little bit that has come our way that there’s still a substantial base. And yet almost no one seems to be skiing these days . . .

B+

 

2/24 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Late afternoon turned out to be just right — the sky had been overcast all day, no direct sunshine on the snow, & by 4:30 the base was just starting to ice up, making for herringbone uphills & fast downhills — I made it all the way down the Whoa Nelly part of Owl Loop without taking a single stride, just a little double-poling over the humps. Whoa Nelly!

A–

 

2/23 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

I finally got Marti to come for a nice little midday ski. It was nearly 50 degrees, & sunny enough for sunscreen. The trails have softened to sno-cone, but the base is still holding up — all very skiable. Slow, but skiable.

A–

 

2/22 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Finally I managed to get out to BOC in the early afternoon, & for the most part the trails are superb: groomed just hours before, nicely softening but not fully melting in the sunny places, firm & a little icy in the shade. Great climbing conditions all the way to the top of Dunham Field via Forest & Owl Loop & Dunham Loop, great fast double-poling conditions all the way back down via Whoa Nelly to the hut. This is why we ski!

A

 

2/20 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

It’s stayed cold & the winter-under-glass icing still prevails, so I knew that the groomed trails would be the only chance for a ski. Well, damn — I should have gotten out when the sun was still on the trails, which would have been damn near perfect . . . but at 5:00 the trails were all in shade, getting icy & very fast — lots of fun to be had if your skis have nice sharp edges & you know how to use ’em.

A–

 

2/19 — West Brattleboro: Henar Vecino

So after yesterday’s snow/sleet/rain/whatever event, it got cold again — down to around zero last night — & although it warmed up a bit during the day, it never got above freezing, & by the time I got out there at 5:00 the skiing conditions were really pretty ridiculous: a hard quarter-inch glaze over a couple of inches of mooshy sleety stuff over a firm base. So my skis broke through the glaze & sunk down another inch or two & created parallel paths like the trail that a pair of miniature navy icebreakers might make in a miniature Arctic Ocean. Zero chance of maneuvering, so I zigzagged up the hill mainly on shoulder power, then pointed my skis straight back down & went for it.

Something to do . . . but barely.

C–

 

2/18 — West Brattleboro: Henar Nuestro

All day it snowed heavy, wet, clumpy flakes, & I could hardly wait to get out in it to play. But work kept me preoccupied until 5:00, & by then the snow had stopped & turned to a light, drizzly rain, & the temp had risen to this winter’s typical 34°. Well, damn, I thought . . . what a drag. I put on my raincoat & rainhat, & figured I’d have to walk up Bonnyvale for the day’s exercise . . . but as soon as I got outside & stepped in the white stuff, I found that it was exactly like three or four inches of sleet, which is actually a blast to ski on, like skiing in slippery sand. So I swapped my snow boots for ski boots, & even in my ridiculous rain get-up I made a few laps around the homestead & adjoining hayfields. Tough going the first time around, like plowing through wet cement . . . but actually kind of fun the second time, on the new trail I’d just made, slowish but slidy enough — now more like a thin layer of wet cement on a firm base. It’ll have to do.

B

 

2/17 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

As I was arriving at about 4:30, I was amazed to see cars parked all the way up the drive from Upper Dummerston Road to the BOC trailhead & filling the parking lot along the way. And hundreds of people — no exaggeration — on the Lower Heartthrob trail beside the drive. I drove in slowly, just in time to watch a slim skate-skier in Brattleboro Union High purple flash across what was obviously the finish line of a race — the regional finals, I was soon informed. Before taking to trails myself, I watched in wonder & admiration as one young skier after another shot out of the woods to cheers & cowbells, & streaked toward the line. Kids these days! The BUHS girls took third, & the boys took first — go Colonels!

The temp had just fallen below 32° by the time I stepped into my skis, & the, er, well-loved trails were icing up & getting very fast. The trails away from the races were completely unpeopled, as usual — lots of fun for the stout of heart & sharp of edge!

A

 

2/16 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

More or less the same fine conditions as yesterday, but a bit better because it was 10°F warmer at 4:30 than yesterday, so the icy places have softened up without melting away, &, best of all, the crust is now eminently skiable at this temperature, so you can roam pretty much everywhere (e.g., Dunham Loop, which hasn’t been groomed for ages but doesn’t need it). Normally the groomed trails get a lot of wear & tear on weekends with good conditions, but the grooming is holding up just fine because almost no one is skiing — there were only about five more sign-ins since I signed in 24 hours earlier. Where the hell is everybody?

A

 

2/15 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

I wouldn’t quite call the white stuff on the ground “snow” — most of it fell to earth as snow, of course, but in between snowfalls we’ve had thaws, freezes, rains, sleet . . . what next, locusts? Anyhow, February finally arrived today: the temp this morning at dawn was –10°F, & that white stuff all around is mostly hard as stone, lumpy & all but unskiable . . .

. . . But not the groomed trails at BOC, as of late this afternoon (temp about 25°F by then). Those that were groomed yesterday had seen a lot of Saturday use, & they were hard-packed & frozen & icy but not ice, so my sharp-edged skis performed well. Fast & fun. I was also lucky enough to be the first to ski sections of Lower Heartthrob right after the gomers had made a double pass, laying down a corduroy sheet of velvet-smooth powdered ice over a firm base, heaven to ski on. Ahh . . .

A

 

2/13 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Mainly I’ve been bitching about the temps being too damn warm this season, always seemingly stuck at this winter’s official temperature, 34 degrees. Well, that’s what it was today at 5 o’clock — & that was perfect. Just right for softening the base under the mashed potatoes pressed down by the dauntless gomers (&, as is critical when the temp is above freezing, it was overcast all day — no direct sunshine). So not only was the skiing great this afternoon, but this was the first time this season that I’ve been able to get a nice ski in after putting in a full-day’s work. The light is returning!

A

 

2/12 — West Brattleboro: Henar Nuestro y Henar Vecino

Darn — it was a nice, sunny day in the mid-30s, & it would have been great to get out there at about, say, 1:00 this afternoon. But no, I didn’t manage to step into my skis till 5:00, & by then the surface of the crust was pockmarked by the day’s melting & then refreezing as the temp fell a little below 32. The result: the snow (or whatever you call this complex, multi-layered white stuff all around) was very fast & very hard to maneuver on, with my sharp metal edges very resistant to turning as they caught on every little icy protrusion. On the fields around the house, this was treacherous, not so fun, because of the steep grades & tricky turns, so I was thinking B– . . .

. . . But Meg’s big hayfield across “Barred Owl Lane” was actually pretty decent for a few laps because there’s more room to maneuver with step turns & I could pick long, straight downhills that made for blissful, almost effortless double-poling, & was thinking B+ at least, so, on average:

B

 

2/11 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

I got the picture right from the start, as soon as I arrived: the people leaving couldn’t stop smiling. Soon I knew why. In fact, the conditions today weren’t perfect — or maybe they were, in a strange & wonderful & fleeting way, with the mid-30s temps holding steady in the fog, & yesterday’s mashed potatoes melting into the icy base beneath to create a nearly perfect surface for the full range of techniques, from chug-&-plug uphills to fast, full-tuck downhills, with plenty of stride-&-glide in between & lots of rare opportunities for classic skiers to show off their skating chops. With the temp so constant & no sunshine at all, there was no need to game the timing today — anytime would have been good. Weird, magical ski conditions that made me feel blessed indeed — I get to live here. This just can’t last . . .

A+

 

2/10 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

A nice little unexpected mid-crummy-winter bonbon. Throughout the morning, the temp stayed just barely cool enough (low- to mid-30s) that the anticipated wintry mix / rain was instead fluffy but very wet snow. By noon, when it stopped, there was six inches of light, white dough atop the winter-under-glass from two days ago. I looked at the BOC facebook page (no account needed!) & saw that the gomers had jumped right on the opportunity, so I did too.

The conditions were weirdly good. The gomers had just made a couple of go-rounds with a snowmobile, no grooming sled, making for two inches of packed dough on a hard-ice crust that I could feel on every plant of a pole. Glide goop was a good idea today. Slow, steady, easy uphill on Upper Heartthrob, not-quite-too-fast (& kind of thrilling) downhill on narrow, single-track Cardiac Arrest, blissful stride-&-glide conditions, even if a little slow, on Lower Heartthrob heading home.

No way can this last. It’s 39 degrees out there right now. Maybe around late morning tomorrow (Tuesday 2/11) we can catch the right moment in the freeze/thaw cycle. And then . . .

A

 

2/8 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

After two dismal days of “wintry mix,” I was hopeful that the freezing rain that gave way to sleet & then an inch or so of wet snow would, with clever grooming, leave us with something skiable. But no — after dumping all that wet stuff, it (“it” being the sky, the heavens, God . . . whatever “it” is when we talk about the weather) finished off with another round of freezing rain & then much colder air. The result was obvious the second I turned into the driveway at BOC: the sunshine reflecting off the “snow” was blinding, because all surfaces are encased in a half-inch-thick carapace of hard, clear ice, beautiful to look at, but . . .

I happened to meet Jesse Palmer, one of the Gomer Brothers, as he was giving up after valiantly trying to scratch up something skiable near the hut. Nice try . . . but no dice. Everything is rock ice now — the trails, the crust between the trails, everything.

It would be suicide to try to ski this stuff. I declined the opportunity.

F

 

2/5 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Glass half empty:

It’s February in Vermont, & it’s supposed to be the dead of winter (that is, the life of winter — skiing’s winter sweet spot), yet here we are stuck in the second thaw of the season, no new snow for at least the past two weeks & a dismal “wintry mix” due tomorrow. Out at BOC, the coverage of frozen, snowish white stuff is about 60 percent — soft sno-cone in the midday sun, hard crust & rock ice in the shadows. Challenging to ski on, either way. The gomers have given up on it days ago — too little to work with.

Glass half full:

For diehards, there was more fun to be had at BOC today than in, say, a stinky gym or weight room. It’s just dinking around, not really skiing, but you can amuse yourself with finding isthmuses (isthmi?) of white stuff connecting little continents of crust on the fairways.

C

 

2/3 — West Brattleboro: Henar Nuestro y Henar Vecino

This white stuff we still have on the ground . . . it’s not really “snow” anymore, but a varyingly thin layer of sno-cone-like ice granules that may have started out as snow but then, after getting rained on, has been subjected to almost daily freeze/thaw cycles for the past two or three weeks. So whether it’s skiable or not depends on catching the right moment in the day — in other words, spring skiing conditions.

The hayfields around here are still most covered with this stuff, though there is a lot of hay stubble sticking up through it here & there. Late this afternoon, with the temp pushing 40, I had fun (of the subdued variety) dinking around — muscling my way uphill, enjoying the fast downhills, dodging bare spots — but it’s just dinking around, not really skiing. We’ll need some real snow for that!

B

 

2/1 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Just two warm days since that last ice-capades day at BOC, but, man, things have changed. With the temp pushing 40, many of the groomed trails (especially near the parking lot / trailhead area) are very thin ice with a thin layer of slush & lots of bare patches. The crust, meanwhile, is a very soft, two-inch-deep layer of wet sno-cone over a firm base, with some bare patches. The crust was very skiable — good for stride-&-glide on the flattish strecthes alongside lower Upper Heartthrob (Hank, these names!), & then, unaccountably, the rest of Upper Hearththrob was just like well-packed, well-groomed snow — hell, it was well-packed, well-groomed snow. Thanks, Gomers!

On the way down Upper Hearththrob / Cardiac Arrest hill, I experienced that “flat light” thing, whatever it is about late-afternoon light when you’re looking down at the snow in front of you & suddenly you get this vertigionous sense of not being able to read the pitch at all — your only clue as to whether you’re going uphill or downhill is your sense of whether you feel yourself speeding up or slowing down. It’s a spooky, other-dimensional feeling, not at all scary but dreamily pleasant on days like today, when the snow’s soft & slow & predictable. Picture yourself on a boat on a river . . .

So, overall, lots of fun for a diahard like me willing to make a game of avoiding the bare spots & icy patches. Winter no. 2 this winter is pretty much over — this is a another fucking thaw — I gotta face it, it’s over. But look at the calendar — our prayers for winter no. 3 won’t go unanswered!

B+

 

1/30 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Not exactly skiing — more like skating, but on a three-dimensional rink. And not skate-skiing (or is it ski-skating? I can never remember) — I mean ice skating. The groomed trails are pretty much all thin rock ice with some bare patches; the crust between trails is once-deep, then-rained-on, & now-hard-frozen snow — fossilized snow, the kind of “snow” you can ski over without making a mark. Lots of double-poling, even on the crust. And mainly I went with the crust, putting my nice new sharp-edged skis to the test. Schussing & slaloming downhill was fun, if a little hair-raising. Bode Miller, c’est moi!

B–

 

1/29 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

All winter long I’ve been bitching about the temperature — seemingly always a few degrees too warm to preserve the snow conditions. Well, I’m all over that. Now I’m bitching about the temp being a few degrees too low. Out at BOC, the indefatiguable gomers have managed to scratch up a mostly skiable surface of loose, granular, snowlike stuff over a hard-frozen base — but (Danger, Will Robinson!) in some places the trail is unskiable rock ice, & in some it’s just bare ground.

Luckily, the crust between the trails, although completely frozen, is surprisingly skiable — especially on the downhills, where the groomed trails have lethal patches of rock ice. The hill between Cardiac Arrest & Upper Heartthrob, in particular, was a blast to slalom down alpine-style — today on this evenly frozen crust, unlike yesterday on the uneven crust of the hayfields, metal edges are essential. For veteran crust-hoppers only — & thanks for the tip, Barb!

B

 

1/28 — West Brattleboro: Henar Nuestro y Henar Vecino

Hoo boy. With the temp just above freezing this afternoon, the snow (that is, the former snow) is frozen, hard, & treacherously fast. Last week’s tracks are now lethal luge runs, & the crust is dangerously tricky — my sharp metal edges were catching on every little irregularity, making it damn difficult to maneuver (i.e., slow the hell down). Definitely not for beginners.

C–

 

1/27 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Bad news / good news. The bad news is that there’s been no new snow, just lots of warmish weather (low 40s) & then a miserable day of rain. The gomers have done their usual yeoman’s work of making the best of things, but there are thin patches, bare patches, ice patches, slush patches . . .

And yet. Late afternoon turned out to be the best time to get out on the trails, which were mostly pretty darn good, at least for classic skiing — soft surface on a firm base, slowish but good for stride-&-glide if you’re mindful of the bad spots. Don’t give up on BOC!

B

 

1/25 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Endoplasmic reticulum. Not a phrase you hear every day, or think about . . . but the words seemed magical to me in seventh-grade biology class when we were studying the innards of cells. Endoplasmic reticulum. I loved the illustration of the super-convoluted something that constituted most of the inside of a cell, some kind of connective tissue. Endoplasmic reticulum . . .

That’s what I thought of (for the first time in nearly a half century) when I skied up some of the crazy-ass trails the gomers have laid down in the past few days, winding up though those houses near East Orchard & then up to Dunham Trail, which is more endoplasmic reticulum as it swirls around the big cornfield before connecting with the Dunham Loop Trail alongside the freeway. (The names should be exchanged — the trail alongside the freeway should be the Trail, & the loopy loop on the hilltop should be the Loop. But I digress.)

I managed to get in the last hour of skiing possible before the wet sleet started to fall this afternoon. The snow under my skis was still snow — wet, melting, soft — but not ice, as I had feared. Totally skiable, but a lot of thin spots in the woods & stretches of rock ice in the flats. God knows what it’ll all be like after the sleet, & then the wintry mix, & then the rain . . .

A–

 

1/24 — West Brattleboro: Henar Nuestro

Molly & Ian brought Etta back for a visit — & the only thing better than hiking with a dog is skiing with a dog. A little too warm today, though — 40ish — & so the snow had a wet, doughy quality that means it’s melting, & tomorrow morning it won’t be snow anymore, it’ll be ice, & we’ll have the freeze/thaw cycle to contend with until there’s fresh snow. And that means the spring-skiing challenge of picking the right moment each day when the porridge is just right — not too icy, not too mooshy. Really, though, January’s no time for spring skiing!

A

 

1/23 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Ah, the woods trails . . . today I enjoyed some trails I haven’t skied for a while: Freedom (newly groomed for the first time since early December), Dogtrot (newly groomed following a new route that avoids the worst of the corn stubble), Lab Land (ungroomed but nicely tracked), Trooper’s Way (for the third time this season I broke trail), & then, glory hallalujah, my favorite of all, especially when it’s groomed as it was today at last, Dunham Loop — an easy, steady climb up, & the best long, sustained stride-&-glide downhill of all the BOC trails. Pure fun today!

A

 

1/22 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

By mid-afternoon, the temp was back up to what seems to be the iconic temperature of Winter ’20: 34 degrees. Not quite warm enough to preserve the fine snow conditions, but not quite so warm as to ruin them, either. We’re on that cusp. But the gomers are still working their magic every day, & both the classic tracks & the skate lanes are in superb shape. Much to my chagrin, I only learned when I’d done one of my usual loops on the main fairway trails that the gomers had finally gotten around to some of the woodsy trails that haven’t been groomed since December — Forest & Dunham & Dunham Loop, maybe even Lab Land & Trooper’s Way.

So much to look forward to, starting tomorrow!

A

 

1/21 — West Brattleboro: Bonnyvale trails

A star-crossed day: I put on my boots, drove over to BOC . . . & then realized that I’d failed to put my skis in the car. Okay, I drove back home, got my skis, plopped them down on the trailhead of the neighbor’s hayfield . . . & then realized that I still needed gaiters for all the powder. Okay, I went back inside, put my gaiters on (never easy), went back to the trailhead, clipped into my skis, headed up the trail . . . & promptly broke the strap on one of my poles. That kind of day.

In the woods, though, things got a whole lot better. It took some serious bushwack-skiing to get over the little creek & up to the trails, which were already well set, & soon enough I came upon the setter: Denny F., Man of the Woods, out with his dog, enjoying the snow in the last hour before dark. Lucky us.

A

 

1/20 — West Brattleboro: Henar Nuestro y Henar Vecino

Skiing the new snow on top of the remnants of the wonderful December snow was like finding traces of a lost civilization in the jungle, or skin-diving in a shipwreck. The old trails are still there, barely . . .

Oh well. I didn’t have much time before dark, so I re-skied the old trails on the hayfields, plowing through the powder at first, then packing it down on the second circuit, & just plain enjoying it on the third. Nice & cold, about 15 degrees — January the way God intended.

A

 

1/19 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Rare, perfect conditions for skiing on groomed trails — plenty of fresh snow that the gomers have already pressed into nice fresh corduroy, temps warm enough (mid-30s) to give the surface a buttery consistency that is great for grippage on the ups & not too bad for slippage on the downs. The classic tracks, hardly even used yet this afternoon, were perfect for stride-&-glide — skiing felt like swimming today. Blissful . . .

A+

 

1/18 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Even though an inch or two of dense snow fell a couple of days ago, the thaw had done so much damage to the trails in the Bonnyvale area that it didn’t even occur to me that BOC might have anything skiable. Wrongo, said John U. when I saw him yesterday — he’d just come from BOC & said it was great. Really, great? Didn’t seem possible . . . but just in case, I headed over there today, & found that John was right. The gomers had worked their magic the day before, once again making a lot out of a little. Yeah, today there were some thin spots where the pole tips were hitting asphalt (who wants to think of our winter ski trails as summer golf-cart trails?), & a fair amount of blown-down debris under the trees (especially & weirdly, piles of acorns that must have been released in the thaw). But the sustained post-thaw cold (14 degrees this afternoon) is preserving such snow as there is very nicely, thank you. And by the time anyone reads this, a winter storm will have moved in, promising to dump at least a few more inches of fresh snow. We’re back in business . . .

A–

 

1/10 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Back to the groomed trails — beautifully groomed, I should specify, with freshly laid-down corduroy on the main fairway trails. Still, today I found myself hankering for a little of that cross-country reality that I was pontificating about yesterday, so I went up Forest, which hasn’t been groomed for a month; it was icy & strewn with debris blown down from the treetops — not so great. But the groomed trails were pretty great, despite being slow due to the warm (40-ish) air . . . & that’ll probably be the swan song for this phase of winter ’20. There’s going to be rain & temps in the 50s for the next few days — ugh. January thaw — ugh.

A–

 

1/9 — West Brattleboro: Henar Nuestro y Henar Vecino

Sometimes I’m in the mood for real cross-country skiing — that is, for actually crossing some territory that hasn’t been machine-groomed for my convenience. That’s the essence of this sport, right? The heart, the soul? Getting out there in the uncharted wilderness, braving the elements, that sort of thing: cross-country skiing.

All sanctimony aside, the conditions were really pretty crappy today. I hadn’t skied on the hayfields around here since before Christmas; since then the snow’s been rained on, it’s melted in the sunshine, it’s been refreshed with a few small snowfalls that were then blown hither & thither. For all that, it’s still skiable, but not very — there are exposed rocks, icy patches between drifted-over patches, etc. etc. etc. I’d give it a C, but the long slope down the neighbor’s hayfield was fun for three or four go-rounds. Otherwise . . .

B–

 

1/8 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

After a nice little snow squall at midday there was an inch of fresh powder, & by mid-afternoon our intrepid gomers were already out there pressing that new stuff onto the base, laying out a beautiful, pristine corduroy that was pure pleasure to ski — like buttah. The wind made it seem chillier than the high 20s shown on the thermometer — incentive enough to keep moving, keep moving . . .

A

 

1/7 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Much like yesterday: very firm base, icy in places, but with a thin coating of loose snow on top. I only had time for a quickie before dark, & that’s just what I got: a really quick quickie, extra-quick because it was fast out there in the flat light of late afternoon.

A–

 

1/6 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Since that warmish spell last week it’s gotten cold again, & the trails would be forbiddingly icy . . . but there was a nice little half-inch snowfall this morning, just enough to resurface the trails. And even on a Monday afternoon, people are getting out — BOC seems to be thriving! Could it be the new warming hut? Could it be . . . something I said? (Nah.) Must be the snow . . .

A–

 

1/3/20 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Happy New Year! Considering the lack of new snow & the temps in the mid-to-high 30s, the trails are in pretty damn good shape — thanks, of course, to the gomer crew, who have gotten the machines out the minute there’s anything new to press down onto the base. I’ve been sick most of the week, only able to stagger out onto the trails today, & the slowish conditions suited my infirmity just fine. The classic tracks have a lot of ice & tree debris, but the skating lanes are in good shape, with only a few bald spots. Better skiing than we have any right to expect, what with the dreaded wintry mix said to be on the way (could be sleet, which would be fine, but could be freezing rain ?— not fine at all).

B+

 

12/22/19 — West Brattleboro: Henar Nuestro y Henar Vecino

It’s hard to believe how well the snow’s holding up — still the consistency of sugar on a firm-not-frozen base. The key, it turns out, is air temps staying just cold enough — who knew? Every day the weather guys threaten temps in the 40s; every day they’re wrong, & the temps stay near or below freezing. The stride-&-glide conditions are still superb — on the long, gentle downhill on the hayfield next door, skiing on the tracks I’ve made is like . . . swimming with fins on, with the aid of a gentle but powerful current . . .

A

 

12/21 — West Brattleboro: Miller Road & environs

Steve C. seems to have any number of variations on his favorite trip from the Miller Farm hill down through the woods to the bowl above Vermont Studio where he can practice his beloved telemark turns. I always love these backwoods mini-adventures with their harrowing downhills along narrow streambeds, all the clambering over logs & through thickets of beech saplings, etc. — real cross-country skiing. And the snow was never more perfect than today: a nice firm base topped with several inches of light, granular powder, no wind, temp in the low 20s . . .

We get to live here!

A+

 

12/20 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Nothing new to report, just more great skiing on beautifully groomed trails, with the just-right temps holding in the low-to-mid 20s, making for good grippage on the uphills, fast slidage on the downhills, & plenty of fine stride-&-glide in between. I don’t want to jinx anything, but hasn’t this been some of the best December skiing in years? Shh . . .

A

 

12/18 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

More of the same — great skiing surface, great mid-twenties temp, great snowfields all a-sparkle in the sunshine. The gomers have worked their magic on more of the trails, though not yet all the woodsy trails, so I took it upon myself to inaugurate Trooper’s Way for the season — real back-country cross-country skiing right here in town, a hundred yards (& a million miles) from the freeway. Trooper would have loved this . . .

A

 

12/17 — West Brattleboro: Henar Nuestro y Henar Vecino

Today was all about exceeding expectations. Two to four inches of fresh snow were expected; the snow gods delivered about six inches of fine, light powder. I had thought that the base left over after two rain “events” would be completely ruined; it was indeed much diminished, of course, but several inches remained, frozen & firm (but not rock ice), & even my tracks from the snow-topian conditions of two weeks ago (= a million years) were still intact & usable.

A+

 

Brattleboro: BOC trails

I just couldn’t get enough today, so I motored over to BOC to see what our gomer-geniuses had made of the fresh snow. They didn’t disappoint. About half of the trails had been groomed, & that word — groomed — has never been more apt. The ski lanes & tracks were prit’ near perfect, with just a couple of icy sections left over from the rain damage. Great stride-’n’-glide conditions, great skating conditions — what’s not to like?

A

 

12/12 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Okay, okay, back to reality — winter in New England. We had that weeklong hallucination of snow-topia, day after day of perfect conditions to kick off the season . . . then rain. That woke us all up — it’s still Vermont in early December. And then it got cold again. If we can just make ourselves forget about last week’s magical snow, we can take in the fact that the BOC gomers pulled up their socks & got busy & managed to scratch up a surprisingly decent skiing surface on the trails — a half inch of ground-up sno-cone on a base that’s hard-frozen snow but not rock ice, with only a few bare patches. Surprisingly skiable, though not for the faint of heart or dull of edge. Lots more double-polling & herringboning & even (gasp!) skating than stridin’-&-glidin’ today, & boy howdy, even the gentlest downhills were fast — I felt like Jean-Claude Killy shooshing down Upper Heartthrob. Well-earned thrills!

All in all, pretty darn good, considering. Oh, and more rain is said to be on the way, ugh.

B

 

12/9 — West Brattleboro: Henar Nuestro y Henar Vecino

Oh well. In a better world, one without catastrophic climate change, maybe it wouldn’t be in the mid-30s right now, maybe it would be snowing instead of raining, maybe the wonderful conditions that have prevailed for the past week would endure for the rest of the month, for the rest of the winter . . .

. . . But today, in this world, I tried to get out as early as possible to beat the rain. At 9:30 it was already starting to sprinkle, so I made a few laps around the hayfields to tamp down my tracks a little more before all hell breaks loose, & round & round I went, with the impeachment proceedings as my soundtrack. Oh, it was still fun, of course — the snow isn’t gone yet, isn’t even wrecked yet — but it was a little sad to find myself getting more & more soaked as the rain picked up, & all our beautiful wickedness melting, melting . . .

I blame Trump.

A–

 

12/8 — West Brattleboro: Henar Nuestro y Henar Vecino

The perfect conditions continue to prevail. All the trails I’ve made on the hayfields around the house have held up beautifully, making for easy skiing uphill & down; even Marti got into the act today, & loved it.

A+

Brattleboro: BOC trails

Knowing that there’s an inch of rain in the forecast for tomorrow, I just had to squeeze all I could from our early-December ski-topia, so after a couple of laps around the trails here I headed over to BOC, where Bill J. greeted me with the news that he’d just groomed the lower section of Freedom that includes “my” bridge & that I should go & enjoy “the fruits of my labor.”

Ahh, tasty fruits indeed! As I stopped on the bridge to take it all in, who should come along the trail but Carl H., one of my co-conspirators on the Freedom bridge project, & we stood there for a minute admiring our handiwork before I began a long perimeter loop around the whole system: Faithful, Owl Loop, Fortitude, Upper Heartthrob, Cardiac Arrest, Lower Heartthrob. Same perfect, buttery snow as yesterday — this is the best season-opening week we’ve had in years!

A+

 

12/7 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Perfectly fresh snow, perfectly groomed, & a perfect temp in the mid-20s made for perfect ski conditions today. The word creamy kept coming to mind — that just-right, freshly groomed texture on the surface over a not-too-hard, not-too-soft base. I did all the trails on the freeway side today: Dogtrot, Faithful, Owl Loop, & a long, fantastic glide back down Whoa Nelly to Sugarin’. I can’t even imagine better conditions at BOC; today was just . . . perfect.

A+

 

12/6 — West Brattleboro: Henar Nuestro, Bonnyvale trails

The most exquisitely perfect snow conditions imaginable: my trails from earlier in the week still perfectly intact (no warm weather or rain or significant wind since then), with a nice two-inch topping of fresh powder as the snow fell lightly & the temp hovered in the sweet spot, mid-twenties. Lissa W. & I made a big loop around the hayfields with a brief foray into the woods, all of it perfect . . .

A+

 

12/5 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

More of the same as yesterday: fine mid-afternoon conditions, a bit soft & slow at first but firming up nicely as soon as the sun set behind the hills & a cool breeze began to blow over the trails. By this afternoon, Forest had been groomed so I headed uphill that way, up through the woods on a track two snowmobile-passes wide (why didn’t they pull the four-foot grooming sled on a single pass?), then down down down via Lower Heartthrob, wonderful stride-&-glide conditions all the way. This is why we live here!

A

 

12/4 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

The gomers have already done a fine first-time-of-the-season job of grooming most of the main trails up & down & around around the fairways — what a pleasure to cruise along without any of the slog of breaking trail! At 3:00 p.m. it was sunny enough to soften the snow but not enough to wreck it, making for slowish but perfectly enjoyable skiing. And I had all the trails entirely to myself!

A

 

12/3 — West Brattleboro: Bonnyvale trails

Blowy & cold, & so much snow! I headed up Henar Vecino & into the woods to get out of the wind & soon found myself doing some crazy bushwhacking across the creek, over logs, & up the steep face of the hill through sixteen-plus inches of still-fresh, dense snow — fun & beautiful, but exhausting!

A

 

12/2/19 — Henar Nuestro

And so it begins — another ski season, not with a whimper this time, but with a bang: a Thanksgiving nor’easter (arrr . . . ) has, over the course of more than twenty-four hours now, dumped, by my careful reckoning with the aid of a yardstick (in the yard, of course), a full sixteen-plus inches of fairly dense, heavy snow. As if by magic, the world is transformed into our winter playground! To usher in the season & break in my fine new pair of skis, I laboriously broke trail all around the perimeter of our hayfields — the stuff was so deep that I barely saw my ski tips as I slogged through the first lap, then tamped my tracks down another six inches on my second lap, & was only able to do some real stridin’ & glidin’ on the third lap.

Fresh tracks: a perfect metaphor for the start of the ski season!

A+

 

*     *     *

 

3/25/19 — Woodford: Prospect Mountain Nordic Ski Area

For years I’ve been hearing about Prospect, but with so much great skiing accessible with a ten-minute drive, or no drive at all, why bother? Well, now I know: when the snow is all but gone in Brattleboro, there’s still mountains of the stuff on Prospect Mountain, a forty-minute drive toward Bennington. Miles & miles of wide, perfectly groomed skate lanes complete with classic tracks. Five hundred feet in elevation change from base to summit. As Don Jr. would say: I love it!

For my first visit, I took a two-hour-long perimeter route up Shea’s Rebellion & around the mountaintop with a quickie detour to the summit, then down, down, down the Mountain Trail — maybe the most fun long ski trail I’ve encountered in Vermont (uphill might have been a different story . . . ). This may have been my swan song for the season — the repair job I did on my boot seems iffy at best, & by the time I got back to the base I had a steel edge sticking out on one ski &, on the other ski, a ten-inch section of edge knocked out altogether. Wardrobe malfunction. Oh well. Happy birthday to me!

A

 

3/20 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

After these past few days of warm temps, in the 40s, I hoped to catch the last of the BOC snow today (spring starts at 5:50-something this afternoon!). I found that the deterioration of our winter wonderland has continued apace — lots of bare spots, patches of rock ice, plenty of wash-outs, pools of standing water, etc. — in general, pretty crummy ski conditions. But it was kinda-sorta fun to make a game of finding ways around the obstacles, & the remaining crust was surprisingly skiable — half an inch of wet sno-cone over an ice base. I made it up the hill to the top of Whoa Nelly & felt good enough about the day to consider giving it at least a C . . .

. . . But on the way down, snowplowing as well as I could through the goop, I suddenly crashed & didn’t know why . . . until I got back on my feet & then saw that I’d been torquing my boots so much that the attachment pin was half torn out of the left one, meaning that the ski was no longer remotely manageable, meaning that I was done for the day & had to walk back to the car, meaning that BOC is done for the season unless we can start almost from scratch again with fresh snow, & that ain’t very likely with mud season already well underway. Oh well.

D

 

3/17 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Consider the weather: last week’s perfect ski conditions were brutally interrupted by what you might call calendrical abnormalities: two days of April followed by a near-June day that stuck a shiv into those pristine ski conditions, turning our fine abundance of snow to slush. And now it’s gotten cold again, or at least coldish, aka mid-March. The result: frozen slush. The game: how to time it for the hour or two of skiable conditions. Well, today I timed it wrong — by four o’clock BOC was (rightly) deserted but for a guy just coming off the trails, warning me to stay off the hills. Sure enough — BOC was like an abandoned city where you could still see the ruins of what were once (less than a week ago!) superbly groomed trails in what was once actual snow, all of it now an ice-scape of hard-frozen slush & out-&-out rock ice, with a few patches of bare ground for seasoning. Even the crust on the fairways was pretty treacherous — thoroughly glazed by a cold, harsh wind, temps in the mid-30s notwithstanding.

After squishing through the swamp at the trailhead, I clipped on my skis & made a game of seeing how far I could go without deviating too much from level ground. This turned out to be a rough line, first out along Sugarin all the way to the patch of Lab Land forest beside Freedom; then back the other way to Unity & across the crust to Lower Hearththrob at the corner of East Orchard & Upper Dummerston Road. In a few places the gomers had been game enough to scratch up a skiable surface on the remains of the trails; mostly, though, the crust between trails was a little less lethal. Lots of gingerly double-poling across rock ice in the depressions.

Marti says that my grading stinks of grade inflation. Well, it’s certainly not objective — it’s less about the conditions in any objective sense & more about my own experience, how much fun I have. So today, yeah, the conditions merited a dismal D–. But early spring. But St. Paddy’s Day.

C

 

3/14 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

So there I was at about 1:30 this afternoon, alone at BOC — the whole thing. It was like a new kind of neutron bomb had taken out all the skiers except me (the Omega Man), & the temp was about 40 & the snow, too, was in a state of gradual meltdown — the sno-conification continues — yet there’s still so much base that, excepting Cardiac Arrest & Lower Heartthrob, there’s no exposed ground, no meltwater pools. And the fairway trails had just been groomed today! I had to keep pinching myself — what kind of Red-Headed League, what kind of private Xanadu was this? All to myself! I started on Forest, which, from Hemlock Crossing on up, hasn’t been groomed or even much skied on since the last snowfall, then Fortitude to Upper Heartthrob, down on Moxie & back to my car on Unity — a perfectly enjoyable circuit, all on sno-cone, no iced-up patches, & excellent grippage the whole way, as in s-l-o-w . . . but not to the point of s—l—o—g. So really: where the hell is everybody? Tomorrow’s supposed to get up into the 50s, & all our beautiful wickedness will be melting . . . melting . . .

B+

 

3/13 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

So much better than we have any right to expect! The gomers are relentless; even though the grooming map on the kiosk is dated 3/12, they must have made another pass today, because in some cases the already superbly groomed fairway trails have seen little to no traffic. Even with the temp in the low 40s, the surface is still just a little sno-coney on the top, firm below, & there seems to be plenty of it. I made a big loop up around the lower (groomed) part of Forest & then over to Owl Loop & all the way around, up the hill & back down on Whoa Nelly — whee! The snow is holding up amazingly well . . . but tomorrow the temp’s supposed to get up into the 50s, so get out early for some fine spring skiing before it all goes to hell. And don’t forget your sunglasses!

A

 

3/12 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

As soon as I saw the temp shooting up into the high 40s, I hustled Etta into the car & headed for the BOC dog-friendly trails. Dogtrot was surprisingly good — even with direct sun exposure & a sno-coney surface, it had been groomed today & the base was still substantial & firm. The forest trails (Lab Land & Trooper’s Way) were much more challenging; the back-country-style double tracks (i.e., no machine grooming) are pretty much frozen into place, so it takes some mighty fancy footwork to work your way uphill or control your speed downhill. But fun!

B

 

3/11 — West Brattleboro: Henar Vecino

I was thinking about heading over to BOC today, but then I checked TrailHub & saw a warning that it was just too warm today, so stay off the trails until tomorrow. Well, fine. Instead of a lap pool, or a Concept II rowing machine, or a NordicTrack contraption, or a treadmill, there’s the nice big snow-covered hayfield on the other side of the driveway. When my time is limited &/or I just don’t feel like getting in the car, I can pop over there & do a few laps around the perimeter with Etta scampering along behind or naughtily nipping at my poles.

So it went today — with the temp way up in the mid-40s, I could feel & hear the snow collapsing & compacting beneath my skis, which was dismaying, of course . . . but there’s still so much snow, in so many layers, that even after a few more days of this tropical heat wave we might still have a decent base, just in case winter decides to return. Hey, since we got April in January, can we have January in April? Seems like a fair swap, sez me.

B

 

3/10 — West Brattleboro: Henar Nuestro, Henar Vecino, Bonnyvale trails

As of midday, the predicted “wintry mix” was still just three inches of wet snow, so Joe P. & I set out with Etta, hoping the predicted (threatened) rain wouldn’t materialize, at least not yet. Well, lucky us — even with the temp a few degrees above freezing, additional precip held off altogether for an hour or two, time enough to enjoy fresh snow that was kinda-sorta sticky but not shit-I-should-have-waxed-up sticky.

Are the woods ever more beautiful than when flocked with fresh snow? And is there any better way to see the woods than while skiing?

There it is, then.

A

 

3/9 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

It’s about 4:30 pm & there’s still time — if you haven’t already skied today, get out to BOC now. This is a skimergency. It’s a gorgeous, sunny, April-like day, the groomed trails are as close to perfect as the fates will ever allow, & if you don’t ski at BOC this afternoon you’re going to regret it — maybe not today & maybe not tomorrow, but soon & for the rest of your life. Did I mention “close to perfect”? Hard-packed snow (not ice — snow), groomed as expertly as a champion Afghan hound at the Westminster Kennel Club. Did I mention “gorgeous, sunny, April-like day”? Yep, an early taste of superb spring skiing . . . & by dark this evening, it’ll be icing up, & then tomorrow, according to NOAA, there’s a “100%” chance of that most horrible bane of XC skiers anywhere, Wintry Mix. Meaning: drizzle, freezing rain, the shits. Meaning: this could be it for the season if we don’t get any more snow this spring, which is possible, given the new normal. (Thanks a lot, Koch Brothers! There’s a special place waiting for you in hell!) Did I mention “get out to BOC now”? So just do it already!

A+

 

3/8 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Sometimes the trail conditions are so close to perfect that the blemishes really stand out: the deep ruts on Dogtrot left by a couple of assholes on fat-tire bikes, the spots where meltwater collects & freezes, the fallen branches that have been skied over by people who couldn’t be bothered with stopping (or at least slowing down) to flick them away. Then I shake my head & take note that, nevertheless, the ski conditions are damn good, almost perfect, if not quite . . .

 . . . But prit near. The grooming is fantastic, the air is just cold enough, the surface on the trails is nearly all hard-packed snow, not yet turned icy, & at least for today & tomorrow, we just couldn’t ask for better. Fresh snow coming on Sunday, they say, then turning to, ugh, “wintry mix.”

Carpe skiem! And if you happen upon a couple of ruffians — rogues, reprobates — on fat-tire bikes, box them soundly about the ears by way of informing them that ski trails are for skiers.

A

 

3/7 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Etta & I hit all the dog-friendly trails today. Dogtrot is beautifully groomed, smooth as silk. On the way up the hill through the woods on Lab Land & Trooper’s Way, the powder was holding up fine in the cold air & I followed a track that, evidently, a couple of skiers had laid down just hours earlier. And on the way back down, I found that Lab Land had just been rolled . . . & sure enough, there was Hank L. on a snow machine pulling the roller. We chatted for a minute about what a great job the grooming crew is doing on the skate lanes, about the sad fact that a lot of people who aren’t even BOC members seem to feel free to use the trails, & about how even some of our BOC members don’t bother to sign in or help keep the trails clear of debris. C’mon, guys — it’s a club, & it’s the best deal in town. Let’s keep it going! Honor system all the way! Let’s not spoil it with a lot of rules & policing those rules! Do the right thing & pitch in!

A

 

3/5 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

After those big backcountry jaunts of the past few days, I felt the itch to see what all this nice fresh snow is like on groomed trails. As soon as I turned into the driveway at BOC I saw that virgin tracks had just been laid (!) on Freedom, so that’s where I started out, first the lower Freedom loop, then the whole Faithful loop, up the hill & back down to Sugarin & back to the parking lot — nearly all of it on brand spankin’ new machine-laid tracks that skied like a dream, or, on the fast downhills like Whoa Nelly, on the wide skating lane (no damage! I promise! it’s too cold!), where I could tuck & fly like Robert Redford in Downhill Racer, if only for a few delirious seconds.

John U. arrived at BOC at the same time I did, & he went off & did his skating thing; when I came across him along Faithful later on, he told me that the skating conditions were merely very good, but he wished he’d brought his classic skis so that he could enjoy the magically superb fresh tracks. So, lucky me!

A+

 

3/4 — West Brattleboro: Bonnyvale trails & Henar Nuestro

Is there any sight in nature as beautiful as a forest just after an all-night snowfall? It’s the whole world draped with tinsel. For once the accumulation (about 8 inches of fresh powder) exceeded the forecast. What a game changer! With this much powder, I had the rare opportunity today to ski my main hiking loop on the hillside overlooking my house, a trail that is so steep & narrow in places that it’s rarely skiable at all. (In wintertime, it’s normally only doable with grippers or snowshoes.) So with Etta bounding alongside & burying her nose in every foot-, paw-, or hoofprint we encountered, I was able to muscle my way up to the ridge (lots of herringboning & sidestepping necessary) & then treat myself to some wonderful stride-&-glide on the way back down (along with a few harrowing passages on the steep bits — the snow’s dense & fast & too deep for effective snowplowing). Real back-country XC skiing — this is why we live here!

When I got back to the house, I took a turn around the hayfield to lay tracks for Marti, & found that, in places that got a lot of afternoon sun today, a crust is already starting to form despite the nice cold temps. With so much lost time this winter — due to rain, wind, drought, thaws, etc. — it’s hard to imagine that, yes, it really is March already, & that means spring skiing conditions. Pick your daily ski times accordingly!

A+

 

3/3 — West Brattleboro: Henar Nuestro

The local conditions are still holding up pretty well, with more snow in the forecast for tonight. Today I had just a few minutes for a little “trail boss” work, clipping back the pine branches & multiflora rose, a wicked invasive that is rife throughout northern New England. Now here’s a foreign invader for the goobers to get excited about. Curse you, rosa multiflora! Chop it up, chop it up!

B+

 

3/2 — West Brattleboro: “Harris Hill II” (R___ Farm)

A place I’ve never skied before: “Harris Hill,” dubbed (though not officially named, I’m told) after the same Harris of the Harris Hill where the ski jump is, off Cedar Street. This other “Harris Hill” is right across Ames Hill Road from the home of Linda P., one of my summer rowing buddies. After warning me that we’d need metal-edge skis where we were going, she led me up through the woods behind L____ R____ Farm & onto the extensive (seemingly endless) R___ family property, up the big wooded hill owned by the R___ family. And up & up & up . . . which was easy enough, because the newish snow on top of all the icy stuff was nice & grippable (& we had those metal edges for the steep herringbone stuff) . . . but all the way up I kept thinking, This is gonna be suicide coming down — the narrow, frozen snowmobile trail we were skiing on would be like a luge track, with zero chance of slowing down or maneuvering or stopping by any means other than slamming into a tree.

After checking out the beautiful little stone cabin at the top, we came down a gentler slope following a different snowmobile trail; where it was too steep we detoured through the woods, bushwhacking our way down. At last we got to several big hillside clearings & had a blast slaloming down alpine style on a thin layer of powder overlaying a fast icy crust — what a reward for the big climb & all the bushwhacking! Thanks, Linda!

A

 

3/1 — West Brattleboro: Henar Nuestro & Henar Vecino

That same fresh snow on top of that same icy base — good, clean fun to zip around the hayfields. On the fast downhills, Etta was literally dashing along between my skis, pushing her nose against the backs of my legs — faster, faster!

A

 

2/28 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

There’s been another long stretch, nearly a week, of snow-wrecking warmth & powerful winds that left the snow glazed to an ungodly sheen. All that base, just sitting there, unskiable — what a tragic waste. Nothing to do but hike the icy local trails with grippers on my boots (that’s grippers as in grrrr . . .).

Well, now we skiers are back in business. After a light, patient all-night snowfall, only a few inches of had accumulated by morning. But what snow — just-right, cold-weather powder that the ever-alert gomers groomed to silky perfection this morning. By mid-afternoon the air had warmed up to the low 30s, not enough to cause any serious meltation but perfect for just the right degree of grippage on the uphills & slippage on the downhills, with stride-&-glide heaven in between. To thank the snow gods for this bounty I stopped from time to time to flick sticks away from the trails; the big winds left a mess behind, but stick-flicking is a small price to pay for perfect ski conditions. Enjoy!

A+

 

2/23 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Yet again I couldn’t manage to get to BOC until nearly 5:00 — much too late, I feared — but today that was a perfectly fine time to show up. Perfectly. The groomers had worked their magic this morning, & it stayed cool enough all day, no warmer than mid-30s, so even after a lot of use today the trails were just about as close to perfect as is possible without fresh snow. Firm, smooth base with a nice topping of finely granulated snow, no icy patches at all, fast & fun. Grab this while the grabbin’s great — rain expected tomorrow . . . & then, who the hell knows. Well, hallelujah, the days are getting longer & longer. Carpe skiem!

A

 

2/22 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

The springlike conditions persist (warm & sunny today, though a bit cooler & less windy than yesterday), so I wanted to time it just right, get to BOC at about, say, 3:00 . . . & then life intervened, & I couldn’t get there till nearly 5:00. (Curse you, gainful employment!) The few people just coming off the trails told me that they’d gotten there too late themselves, that it might have been perfect at, say, 3:00, but by now was getting icy — too bad, man.

Well, yeah, it was icing up after a warm day’s thaw, but still pretty damn good, sez me. Icy, yes, but not ice, no rock ice anywhere, but instead an expertly groomed & well-used surface, very fast — in fact, I think I must have set a personal-best record on Owl Loop. Great conditions if you’ve got nice sharp metal edges, a willingness to do a lot of herringboning on the uphills, & a bit of attitude when it comes to using the poles. Fast double-poling downhills. Fun!

A–

 

2/21 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

A mission today: clip some branches away from the Dunham Field trail (now known, according to the latest BOC trail map, as High Heavens Loop). With the temps shooting up today, I should have gotten there at about, say, 10:00 a.m. . . . but no, I had to arrive at 1:30 p.m., & the temp was well over 45 degrees, & I shouldn’t have gone onto the trail at all. But, like I said, I was on a mission, so I parked along East Orchard Road & got right onto the Dunham Field trail (I mean, High Heavens, or whatever). Weirdly late-spring-like conditions: sunny, very windy, two inches of sno-coney wet snow verging on slush over a firm, groomed base. I felt guilty as soon as I set out & saw that I was leaving inch-deep grooves in an otherwise pristine trail. But I was on a mission . . . & to tell you the truth, the skiing was great — the fragile surface was so smooth, so uniform, so all-round velvety that both stride-&-glide & even my trademark skate-skiing-with-classic-skis felt wonderful, even as I was wrecking the trail.

A–

 

2/20 — West Brattleboro: Henar Nuestro & Henar Vecino

Most people wouldn’t think of snow as “complicated” — but, man, it’s complicated snow we’ve got right now. The top half inch or so is what’s left of the fluffy flurries of the past few days after being blown around a lot; the crust layer under that, about two inches thick, is hard & icy; there’s an unknown amount of soft stuff under that, a few inches at least; & down on the bottom, as I recall, is rock ice in some places, bare ground in others.

Given all that, it was good clean fun to stick to the household trails today, with Etta running along right between my legs (which is weird, but okay), or else nipping at my ankles (not okay — I’m not a sheep).

A–

 

2/19 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Etta & I followed all the dog-friendly trails today: Dogtrot, Lab Land, & Trooper’s Way. Yesterday’s inch of fluffy powder has done a decent job of resurfacing the groomed-&-then-much-used trails, which are pretty chopped up & icy under the powder, making for fast, tricky skiing. The woodsy trails are fairly treacherous in spots, especially the big curve on Trooper’s Way, pockmarked with big dents that are suspiciously knee-, face-, & butt-shaped. Not for the faint of heart!

A–

 

2/18 — West Brattleboro: Henar Nuestro & Henar Vecino

Conditions a little weird, but not at all bad — a light snow fell on & off through much of the day, adding up to just about an inch of fluffy powder on top of a firm two inches of crust. In other words, a nice resurfacing of that rained-on & then refrozen crust. The first time around my usual hayfield trails was a bit tedious as the crust broke & collapsed into the softer, older stuff beneath. The second & third times around, though — ahh . . .

A–

 

2/14 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

It’s great that there’s such local enthusiasm for great skiing when we get the chance! Yes, by this afternoon the trails were well worn since the grooming yesterday morning, but the snow itself is very good & the trick is to catch it at the right temperature. I guessed that 3:00 would be about right, just backing off from the day’s high temp of about 35 degrees, but not yet icing up. For once, I guessed right — such good skiing today, and what better way to celebrate Valentine’s day than by doing something we love!

A

 

2/13 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

I was excited to see what magic the gomers had worked with the few inches of fresh snow that fell last night, & around midday to early afternoon, the temperature was good — just a degree or two above freezing, perfect for keeping the snow a tad juicy, barely grippy. Unfortunately, I was unable to get to BOC till 5:00, so I knew that the mid-afternoon softening would now be starting to ice up. As I was unloading my skis, I spoke to a couple of people just coming off the course. We commiserated about how, after each snowfall this winter, we have to snatch a day or two of great skiing before rain comes along & ruins everything. “Yes,” they said. “We call it carpe skiem.”

Exactly so! Once I quit bitching & got out on the trails, I found excellent conditions — yes, the trails were starting to get just a little bit icy, but the grooming was excellent, making for the kind of fast, sure, stride-&-glide skiing that makes anyone feel like an Olympic champion. Pure fun!

A

 

2/4 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

At Marti’s urging, I did my skiing early, what with the temperature already topping 50°F at 11:00 a.m., when I got to BOC. Good thing, too — despite the warm air, it was overcast, so at least the warmth affected the snow evenly, “baking” it rather than “broiling” it, as direct sunshine does. Today, perfection came unexpectedly — it was still early enough that just the top eighth of an inch was slushy on top of a nice, firm, uniformly groomed surface, to make for great grip on climbs & not too much drag on downhills . . . & all this rendered magical by the fact that I had the whole trail system to myself, & also the melancholy knowledge that, with such warm temps, all this loveliness was fleeting . . . & sure enough, by noon, the snow was already getting mushy. By the time anyone reads this, the trails will be deeply scarred by afternoon skiers (who will ski on the slushy trails even though they know damn well that they shouldn’t oughta), & then they’ll freeze up tonight, & the freeze/thaw cycle will prevail until we get some fresh snow. But by God I got to ski on perfect trails this morning!

A+

 

2/3 — Saxton’s River: Hume Farm & environs

Amelia D. & I, as a preface to the great oysters-&-sledding party-of-the-year, headed off into the forest for some real back-country skiing. Lots of tracks leading this way & that, whispering C’mon, man, c’mon. . . . The magic was a bit undercut, though, by the rapidly warming air, so that by mid-afternoon the hitherto gorgeous powder had congealed to . . . well, if not quite mashed potatoes, at least whipped potatoes that are tough to manoeuver in. Always great to be in the forest, of course.

A–

 

2/2 — West Townsend: Windham Hill Inn

Same as yesterday but better — third time around on your own tracks is the charm!

A

 

Brattleboro: BOC trails

I set out just to clip some overhanging branches on Fortitude. The trails were in superb shape — beuatifully groomed &, in the cold air, beautifully preserved despite a fair amount of weekend use. The twilight led to rare A+ conditions — I had to come down the main hill in near darkness, counting on the trails to be perfectly groomed . . . & they were!

A+

 

2/1 — West Townsend: Windham Hill Inn

Ah, that same great powder as in Brattleboro, but here at the beautiful Windham Hill Inn, where it’s 1,000 feet higher in elevation & 10 degrees colder (currently about 12°F), the powder is powderier, & there’s more of it — we’re that much higher up in the Greens. Marti & I tracked the perimeter of two enormous hayfields on the hillside below the Inn’s barn where we have a room, & at the end of the day we get a great view of those very tracks — a fine day’s work!

A

 

1/31 — West Brattleboro: Henar Nuestro

The great thing about having hayfields & forests all around is that they’re right there for you on days when you just have time for a quick loop or two — all it takes is twenty minutes to keep yourself (& the trails) in decent condition. No loading up the car, no driving, no hassle. And the snow today is so darn nice — half a foot or so of blown-around powder, not frozen or crusty because the air, at about 15 degrees Fahrenheit, is keeping the snow nicely refridgerated, even with the wind. Etta & I enjoyed setting a trail & then being able to ski it right away — the advantage of a short track!

A

 

1/30 — West Brattleboro: Henar Vecino

What with all the warnings about extreme cold coming from the radio, you’d think that we were trapped in the same Polar Vortex (oh my!) as currently afflicts the Midwest — but really, folks, it’s just an ordinary winter day in Vermont, 20 degrees or so, with a cold wind blowing around the four or five inches of fresh snow that fell lat night. I put Etta’s jacket on her & she trundled along behind me as we did a couple of laps around the nabe’s hayfield. Which reminds me of another old Spanish saying: Traquea su henar vecino . . .

A–

 

1/29 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

It was snowing lightly when Etta & I hit the dog-friendly trails, but the new snow was deceptive: just a thin dusting over whatever was there before, much of it rock ice & treacherous, especially in the low places such as the whole bottom part of Dogtrot. Double-poling over ice between rows of corn stumps . . . not exactly the skiing that we dream about all summer. But much of the course is actually better than decent — real snow for real stride-&-glide cross-country skiing . . . in between scary ice patches. Be careful out there!

B

 

1/26 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Pretty much the same as yesterday, cold & icy, but with a few more trails groomed going up the hill so that you can get a fast run back downhill. Good fun for skillful skiers with metal-edged skis! (Beginners, better stay home & drink hot chocolate.)

B

 

1/25 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Ah, remember when January in Vermont meant winter? Just winter, I mean — not bits of winter interspersed with bits of . . . whatever you call it when a gorgeous layer of fresh powder gets rained on at 49 degrees. And then gets cold again. Like today, for example: at BOC all the low-lying places & depressions filled up with rainwater & are now, at about 20 degrees, basically skating rinks — rock ice right down to the ground. The doughty gomers have managed to “groom” a few trails, meaning that they’ve scratched up a decent, skiable snow-like surface wherever possible, & where it isn’t possible, well, just be careful when making your way over rock ice. A good challenge for expert skiers.

B–

 

1/23 — West Brattleboro: Henar Nuestro & Henar Vecino

You know the old Spanish saying: Traquea sus propios henares (“Track your own hayfields”). A good workout today, breaking trail in the same crust+powder conditions I encountered yesterday at BOC. The first circuit was a slow trudge, but things got a lot more fun the second time around! I got out there at about 11:00 a.m. (as is not my wont) for fear of a gruesome forecast: freezing rain is on the way, as early as this afternoon, & tomorrow will be rainy with the temp in the high 40s. Yuchh.

Get out on this beautiful snow before it’s all moosh, folks! And pray to the snow gods that this weird, much-delayed ski season isn’t about to end after just three good days . . .

A–

 

1/22 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

After yesterday’s deep freeze (too cold to ski . . . sez me!), today the temp got up into the balmy 20s. I found that the gomers have done a fabulous job laying down nice, firm, wide lanes on many of the main BOC trails. But today I had a different mission: inaugurating the newly extended Trooper’s Way through the woods — which, of course, being a dog-friendly back-country trail, has not been groomed. Beginning in Lab Land, I trudged up & up & up through deep powder made even more challenging by yesterday’s wind & cold, which has put a crumbly 2-inch crust on top of a foot of very soft powder, so at times I felt like a navy icebreaker busting through that crust, which was often up around my knees. Oh well — somebody’s got to break trail, & today that somebody was me. Hard work, but wonderful to be in the woods for real cross-country skiing. (Freeway? What freeway?) Since Trooper’s Way ends in the no dog’s land at the top of the golf course, I skied over onto the beautifully groomed Owl Loop & then sailed down Whoa Nelly! & so forth back to the parking lot. Up through the woods — well over an hour. Back down on the groomed trails — ten minutes, tops. This is what we live for!

A

 

1/20/19 — West Brattleboro: Miller Road & Environs

At last! It’s been nearly two months having to hike the hill trails with ice grippers, sacrificing virgins to the snow gods, etc. — finally we had a nice foot-plus dump on Saturday night. On Sunday afternoon, Steve C. & I took out across Miller Farm & then headed southward on Miller Road & down through the forest to the Guilford Studios complex. The snow was everywhere perfect: light but not too light, not fly-away fluffy, just dense enough to pack nicely into tracks but not so dense as to make for a slog when you’re breaking trail or trying to maneuver. And what a joy to glide back home on the fine set of tracks we'd just laid down!

Enjoy it while you can, folks — tomorrow’s supposed to be super-cold & windy, & later in the week . . . warm air & rain. Ugh.

A

 

11/24/18 — West Brattleboro: Henar Nuestro & Henar Vecino

The late-November hallucination of snow continues. The NOAA forecasts keep calling for rain, but it keeps not raining & it stays cold enough to sustain this weird snowlike white stuff on the ground — too thin & uneven to be anything like a real base, but hell, you can ski on it if you?re quick about dodging the protruding rocks & patches of grass. A tease of what?s to come!

B–

 

11/22/18 — West Brattleboro: Henar Nuestro & Henar Vecino

A Thanksgiving Day hallucination — is that white stuff on the ground actually skiable snow? It’s not that I’m not grateful, of course . . . but really, is this for real? It kinda-sorta wet-snowed a few days ago, & that was supposed to turn to rain, but it didn’t quite as the temp stayed in the low 30s . . . & then that happened again, & then again today . . . & the result is a few inches of snowlike stuff that, I figured, ought to be skiable, so just for the hell of it I took a spin around the hayfields, even with lots of clumps of grass & hay stubble still sticking up, & rocks & sticks to avoid . . . & it was fun or at least fun-ish, mainly a novelty — a late-fall preview of what actual winter skiing will be like.

We hope!

B

 

*     *     *

 

3/26/18 — Marlboro: P___ H___ Trail Center

Did I hallucinate this place? My buddy John U. told me about it yesterday — a semi-secret local ski-topia I’d never even heard of before. I’m not sure that it’s cool to say too much about it; the map says that it’s for “the use of friends and neighbors of the P___ H___ Community.” It’s not a commercial operation (no trail fees, no rentals, no nothin), & I’m astonished that it even exists at all. But it does, it does!

John, Molly B., Peter G., & I had a wonderful couple of hours exploring this lovingly groomed & little-used trail system today. We barely missed the window of what would have been the most perfect spring skiing conditions; by mid-afternoon the air temp was pushing 50 & the snow was just a little too soft . . . but that’s just a quibble. This place is great — trust me! (If you ask me in an e-mail, I’ll tell you exactly where it is — amazingly close to Brattleboro, but more than a thousand feet higher, & well worth the short drive!)

A

 

3/25 — West Dover: Timber Creek

With the snow pretty much over in Brattleboro, you’ve got to get to higher ground to find the snow; & if a place has a reciprocal arrangement with BOC, so much the better. This was my first visit to Timber Creek, a very nice little trail system entwined around a Mt. Snow condo community (& right across Rt. 100 from Mt. Snow itself). Plenty of snow (4-foot-plus), superbly groomed trails 10 feet wide with classic tracks on the side, a warm afternoon (in the 40s) — perfect conditions for a beginner such as my buddy Tom McL., who was not only game but who seems like a natural. Any basically athletic person — by which I mean, somebody with an innate sense of how to move the body in a complex but coherent & purposeful manner — can learn to ski. It’s “just” a matter of getting a feel for the parameters — how much to stride, how much to glide, how hard to push & when, when to let gravity do all the work, etc. etc. etc. That is, reading the snow. Tom picked it all up right away.

So with Tom busy mastering all this, I took a quick loop up around the perimeter of the trail system. Up at the high point, I loved the view of Mount Snow, with all its many downhill-skiing slopes. But they got nothin on real skiing — XC, man! On the way back down, I loved the long, steep downhills on the well-named Chute & other trails back to the lodge — fastest I’ve skied all year.

Happy Birthday to me!

A

 

3/23 — West Brattleboro: Henar Vecino

The much hoped-for nor’easter missed us, & the snow from the last one (a week & an eternity ago) continues to deteriorate apace. The hayfields here by the house are still mostly covered, but they look better than they actually are — only semi-skiable, & therefore only semi-fun. The top crust is icy & very fast, but it’s just a skin less than half an inch thick, so even at speed you crunch down into the much softer stuff beneath, forming a slot that resists any maneuvering except for iffy step turns. My sharp steel edges, such an asset on icy but firm surfaces, are a handicap in this stuff — my skis just want to go straight, period. Mainly for the sake of exercise, I chugged up to the top of the field a few times & luged down again, & then said to hell with it & took Etta for a walk on the road.

That kind of day.

B–

 

3/20 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

The weather turned cold after a couple of days of thawing, so the trails in the woods are as stiff as styrofoam — perilously resistant to any maneuvering. (I’ve lowered myself to snowshoeing — which is to skiing as flapping your arms is to actual flying.) Today, though, Hank mentioned good skiing at BOC, so I took Etta over there & found amazingly decent conditions for the first day of spring — decent, that is, if you forget about “trails” & just ski around the ever-spreading patches of bare ground. Dunham Loop, in the forest beside the freeway, is especially good (with one big bare patch to work your way around). The end of the season’s in sight, I’m afraid . . . but hey, it’s spring!

B

 

3/17 — West Brattleboro: Bonnyvale trails

Erin go skiing! Several days of warm air & strong winds, & now plummeting temps, have produced a very unpredicable crust — in some places you sail right over it, in others you break through into the softer snow beneath. This is especially pronounced in exposed areas like the hayfields, so today Etta & I headed into the woods & followed the tracks we made a couple of days ago. What was pillowy soft is now firm enough to be treacherous — a luge track. Well, that’s okay — cautious skiing is still good skiing, & it’s no hardship to sidestep down the steep bits if the alternative is going to be a rude encounter with a tree. In real cross-country skiing, you deal with whatever conditions present themselves — & God knows, we see it all here in Vermont!

A–

 

3/15 — West Brattleboro: Bonnyvale trails

Inevitably, the snow is deteriorating pretty quickly with the temp above freezing & the wind whipping the snow all around in the open fields. Better, then, to take to the trees. The skiing is still very good once you get out of the wind, & bushwhacking through a foot of virgin snow is always a happy return to real cross-country skiing, which Etta loves almost as much as I do. The ides have it!

A

 

3/14 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

The snow is merely excellent today, not magical like yesterday, but we take what we can get. The gomers have done a fine job laying down a nice corduroy skating lane, complete in some places with classic tracks. But after yesterday’s glorious conditions in the woods, I was more in the mood for a little off-roadin’ today, so Forest (ungroomed) was a fine way to get up the hill; on the way back I couldn’t resist a thrill ride down Cardiac Arrest before I detoured to follow the deer tracks through the otherwise-untrammeled powder on Unity. Damn fine skiing today!

A

 

3/13 — West Brattleboro: Bonnyvale trails

These nor’easters just get better & better — the third nor’easter in two weeks has delivered a good (very, very good) 8 inches or so of superb powder, pillowy, not too dense & not too fluffy but just right for real back-country skiing in the woods. The temp has held steady in the lower 30s all day & the snow just kept coming & coming until late afternoon. And, Daylight Savings Time now being in effect, it was no problemo that I didn’t get out on the trail (with Etta, of course) until nearly 6:00, which still gave us over an hour of blissfully perfect ski conditions, surrounded by the heavily snow-flocked trees — hallucinogenically beautiful. Whether breaking trail or following the fresh tracks laid down by my equally ski-crazed neighbors, skiing was nothing short of magical today.

Best skiing of the year — that’s what I’m trying to say. All hail the gods of snow!

A+

 

3/12 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Surprisingly nice skiing, given the 40-ish temps & rapidly thinning snow cover, especially in open areas where there are a lot of growing bare patches. So forget what’s left of the groomed trails; this was a good day just to point your skis in whatever direction you (& Etta) want to go, make your way around the wash-outs & melt-outs, & have a good time. Dogtrot the trail is gone, but Dogtrot the big hayfield is perfectly skiable if you’re not bothered by hay stubble poking up out of the snow. Meanwhile, back in the trees, Lab Land & Trooper’s Way still have fine coverage of nice soft spring snow.

And yet another nor’easter is due tomorrow — all snow, no rain. Yowza!

B

 

3/11 — West Brattleboro: Henar Nuestro y Henar Vecino

Even with the snow beginning to disappear in the tracks I cut just a couple of days ago, there’s still plenty of coverage overall, plenty of room to set new tracks, thank you. With the air temp around 40, the snow is soft & “warm” — downright buttery & easy skiing. And to Etta especially, it’s all good.

B+

 

3/10 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Very odd snow conditions prevailing these days: a lot of snow fell in the nor’easter last week, but it fell on unfrozen, muddy ground with hardly any base (which mainly disappeared in the February thaw) & it’s been fairly warm the whole time, days up near 40 & nights in the upper 20s. The result is a soft surface that you sink into with a noticeable crunch, even on the groomed trails that, Etta-free for the day, I skied on for a change. Just a little iciness — too warm for much of that, even in late afternoon — & a few wash-outs where the snow has disappeared altogether.

What I like about conditions like this is that I get to employ my full range of skiing skills: plenty of the basic stride&glide, of course, but also herringbone, downhill racer, & even a lot more skating than usual (I’m by no means a strict classicist). The main skills this time of year, though, are reading the snow & the weather, timing the skiing. I hit it on the cusp today — a leetle too soft at first, then perfect for a while, & then a leetle bit icy after 5:00 p.m. Never mind the calendar — this is spring skiing!

A–

 

3/9 — West Brattleboro: Henar Vecino, Bonnyvale trails

So nice — even though the air temp is a degree or two above freezing, it’s been cloudy all day so there’s been no direct sunshine on the snow, which has “dried” (drained, I suppose) a little bit to produce a kind of whipped-cream consistency (real whipped cream, whipped in a bowl with a whisk — not that insipid crap in the aerosol can) with good grippage on the uphills & good slippage on the downs. My sharp-edged skis make it almost impossible to maneuver when I’ve got a little speed going on a downhill — they just want to cut a straight line, so I had to sidestep down some of the steeper slopes through the trees, where unchecked speed would be suicide. No matter — it’s such a pleasure to ski on a foot of fresh snow in a perfect snow-bedecked forest that there’s no need for haste.

Thank you, gods of snow!

A+

 

3/8 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Well, if we have to start over again after a thaw, how great that we’ve got a good foot of heavy new snow to play in! On the groomed trails like Dogtrot & Freedom, the snow still has a soft, buttery texture that is a bit slow but very forgiving. And what fun to strike off into the Lab Land & Trooper’s Way trails, untrammeled until Etta & I came along. The ungroomed snow has a meringue-like density that packs with a satisfying crunch as you ski along through it.

Since, as usual, I was skiing in the last hour of daylight, the flat-light effect on the new snow was very pronounced, making the contour of the surface of the snow almost impossible to read, but with the sheer pillowy softness of the snow it was like skiing through the clouds . . . and then a little corn snow fell —absolutely the best snow for XC skiing — & for a while there I could forget about last month’s thaw & this month’s early mud season. For today, at least, it’s wintertime again!

A

 

3/7 — West Brattleboro: Henar Nuestro y Henar Vecino

Still snowing! And still warm (low 30s) & the snow is still sticky, but there’s lots of it — maybe 10 inches, & breaking new trails is a pleasant chore that is rewarded by fast, slippery tracks the second time around the circuit. It’s a little depressing when the pole occasionally pokes all the way through the snow & into unfrozen mud — meaning that all that beautiful base that had built up since December is gone, & the ground is no longer frozen. So we’ll just have to enjoy this while we can!

A–

 

3/6 — West Brattleboro: Henar Nuestro

Hallelujah, real snow from a real nor’easter, not like that phony one last week that alternated snow & rain to produce 6 inches of slush. It’s been snowing on & off all day long, 4 or 5 inches so far with no end in sight. It’s pretty warm, though, low 30s, so the snow is sticky & you’ll need Astroglide where you’re going . . .

A–

 

2/20 — West Brattleboro: Henar Nuestro y Henar Vecino

It didn’t even occur to me to go out skiing today, what with the temp up into the 50s & bare patches of ground emerging all around . . . but then I saw somebody who looked suspiciously like Lissa W. skiing across the lower forty (well, lower one, maybe two). That looks doable, thought I, & by this time it was late afternoon, 4:30ish, but still plenty light outside, & the next thing I knew I was zinging along, up & down the hayfields with Etta running wild all around. So fun! And so sad to see that fine, thick base disappear, but what’s left of it (still about 90 percent coverage, but melting fast) is, at the moment, uniformly sno-cone — a wet, soft pack of one-milimeter ice crystals. Not really snow, but surprisingly nice to ski on. The sun set at just about exactly 5:00 — we can’t keep pretending that this can’t be spring skiing just because spring isn’t due yet. Oh, it’s spring all right, even if we do have a few more bursts of winter. The sap’s a-runnin & sugarin’s underway.

I blame Trump.

B+

 

2/18 — West Brattleboro: Henar Nuestro y Henar Vecino

It snowed last night! Just a few inches, but how nice to ski in fresh snow on a bright, sunny day. Marti had the good sense & foresight to insist that I goop up our skis beforehand with the Maxiglide; the snow would have been sticky otherwise because already the temp was back above freezing. We then made the big circuit of our hayfields & the nabe’s, with Etta bouncing merrily along. This is why we live here . . .

. . . And this was so fine that I did it again later in the afternoon — by then our earlier tracks were iced up but so what, I just set new tracks & the crust everywhere was perfect for classic stridin’ & glidin’. Gotta get our licks in while we can, folks — the temp is supposed to get up to nearly 70 in a few days!

A

 

2/16 — West Brattleboro: Henar Vecino

Nice, highly skiable crust, so even though the tracks are long since ruined by all the unfortunate & unseasonable rains & thaws & lack of fresh snow, it’s just as well to set new tracks, strike out for the territories (if the neighbor’s hayfield can count as “territories”). Etta was somewhat less nutso, & was evidently content to cover just 200 yards for every 100 of mine — as opposed to her usual 400.

A–

 

2/15 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Another day of warm air & soft snow, & with a bit more time available Etta & I did all the dog trails — Dogtrot, Lab Land, Trooper’s Way, & Dunham Loop. Overall, the ground is still 95 percent covered & it’s easy enough to ski around the bare patches — & well worth it, though still a little sad that the pretty-damn-good conditions are coming at the expense of a gradual thaw that leaves the golf course looking like . . . a golf course. Best to stick to the woods on Dunham Loop trail, which may run alongside the freeway but it’s a world away in the trees.

A–

 

2/14 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Schizo winter — it’s warmed up again, well above freezing today, & that’s softened up the snow again, if we can even call it snow anymore after so much abuse by rain, thaws, & refreezings. But surprisingly skiable sno-coney conditions — if it’s got to be in the 40s, then it’s good that it’s been overcast all day, so at least the surface is affected uniformly as it gets slowly bakede . . .

I took Etta for a spin around Dogtrot, mainly staying just off what’s left of the groomed trails, which, though softened up, still have patches of rock ice (with puddles on top) as well as bare patches. The crust between trails is more skiable — or, in Etta’s case, run-around-&-go-nuts-able.

B+

 

2/11 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

As it cooled back down today, I knew conditions would be dicey (= icy), & I tried to time it just right — I guessed 4:00 p.m. Well, wrong, too late. By the time Etta & I got out to BOC, the trails were iced up hard & even the crust between trails was a kind of ice foam — porous & light, but ice all the way through. Lousy conditions for classic skiing, no grippage at all. The BUHS ski team was out in force, though, zipping right along on their skate-skis, so if you’ve got the gear & the skills & the grit, go for it. We classic skiers, though, will just have to wait for a decent snowfall. Right now, there’s nothing in the forecast. Just a Chinese hoax?

By the way, sometime earlier in the day another lone skier had also timed it wrong, skate-skiing when the trails were mush & leaving deep ruts that froze hard & really wrecked the trails wherever he (she? probably he) went. I keep wanting to think that cross-country skiers are a better breed of cat, but . . .

C–

 

2/10 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

What a difference a 20-degree rise in the temp makes. The snow conditions are still excellent today — a nice, firm, highly skiable surface on all the groomed trails, & with the temp up above 40, the tracks have softened enough to allow for good grippage on the uphills without too much draggage on the downs. But speaking of downs, & downers . . . I got my skiing in early today, because it’s supposed to rain this afternoon & all day tomorrow. Sad!

A

 

2/9 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

A gray day, overcast, mid-20s — so, perfect for preserving the snow, which has been groomed to near perfection. (Great work, Brett & Co.!) It was just a little bit on the icy side this afternoon, but that’s why God made metal edges. Crust-hopping between groomed trails is weird: you break through the top layer, a half-inch-thick crust, which sits atop several inches of soft snow which is, in turn, sitting on top of the thick, deeply frozen crust that consolidates most of the snowfall we’ve had so far this winter.

Best to get out there early tomorrow, folks — the morning snowfall is supposed to turn to “wintry mix” (yuck) by mid-morning, & then rain all day Sunday (double yuck).

A

 

2/8 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

The gomers seem to have caught yesterday’s snow at just the right moment, pressing down a superb corduroy swath &, for good measure, fresh classic tracks on many of the main trails. With the temp right in the sweet spot at about 25 degrees, the conditions could hardly be better. The real treat for me, though, was breaking trail on the ungroomed sections of Trooper’s Way. One of the prime joys of skiing through the woods on fresh-fallen snow is the heady sense of being a pioneer, of skiing into an uncharted wilderness where no one has ever ventured before — real cross-country skiing!

(The muffled whoosh of traffic on an interstate highway just 100 yards away notwithstanding . . .)

A

 

2/7 — West Brattleboro: Henar Nuestro, Henar Vecino, Bonnyvale trails

Oh, hooray, the forecast called for 7–11 inches of fresh snow, & it came down pretty heavily all morning long. By the time I got out for a ski, late in the afternoon, the snow was tapering off after delivering a nice 6 inches or so, & that was great . . . & then the snow turned to sleet that went pip-pip-pip on my jacket, & that was okay since skiing on sleet is like skiing on tiny ball bearings . . . & then the sleet turned to rain & the snow immediately got sticky & . . . ugh, rain.

B+

 

2/6 — West Brattleboro: Henar Nuestro y Henar Vecino

The many layers left by this strange winter have resulted in a strange skiing surface, with soft snow between layers of frozen crust — so trail-breaking is a real chore, but then following those fresh tracks is fast & fun. The strange snow is also strangely beautiful — the top layer of rained-upon-&-then-refrozen snow has crystalized into a million little windowpanes, & it’s like skiing on a field of white sequins & dreaming of Hedy Lamarr . . .

A–

 

2/5 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

The weather has put on quite a show over the past 24 hours: a nice light snowfall that turned heavier & steadier & eventually turned to rain last night during the Super Bowl, & then the temp went down into the 20s, leaving the snow conditions . . . weirdly like what they were before this latest round of weirdness. The gomers have done a very nice job of scratching up a skating track on some of the main trails, & for good measure they’ve even grooved out some classic tracks — though they’re so icy as to be all but useless. Still, it was a nice gesture, a defiant fist (We’re-being-normal!) raised up at the gods of winter. Real snow is said to be on the way in a couple of days . . .

A–

 

2/3 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

More of the same, but a bit better — some of the main trails have been groomed to a nice, flat, fast surface for skating, & the temp is down a bit, which firms up the thin layer of loose, snow-cone-consistency ice crystals. All very skiable for classic skiers, too, as long as they’re nimble & prepared for the icy patches.

B+

 

2/1 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

A good news / bad news kind of day for local ski freaks:

It snowed this morning! (But only a half an inch, barely enough to resurface the hard, frozen crust that still covers about 80 percent of the ground after the latest thaw.) But the crust-hopping is actually pretty good! (But the forest trails are so full of sticks & miscellaneous tree crap that they’re barely skiable at all, & even in the open sections, what’s left of the groomed trails is iffy due to patches of rock ice lurking beneath that little bit of fresh powder.) But it’s a bonanza for ski-skaters! (But for classic stride’n’glide, only so-so.) But we’re skiing again!

Keep praying to the snow gods . . .

B–

 

1/20 — West Brattleboro: Henar Nuestro y Henar Vecino

Just enough time for a few quick laps around the hayfields. Even with the warming temps (low 30s, headed for 40+ in a couple of days), the snow is holding up pretty well — a little soft, a little sticky, a little slow, a lot of fun. And so convenient!

A–

 

1/19 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Well, the trails have been expertly groomed, & it’s nice to see them getting a lot of use. The temp keeps inching up — it got into the low 30s today, so inevitably the snow is starting to degrade as it goes through the daily freeze/thaw cycle. And it’s getting a bit thin in spots. Dogtrot is still in pretty good shape; Lab Land, in the woods, has a lot of tree schmutz, but not enough to render it unskiable — not by a long shot. In general, it’s almost like spring skiing conditions out there, & you’ll need to time your skiing to find the sweet spot in the day (late morning? mid-afternoon?) . . . but so worth it!

A–

 

1/18 — West Brattleboro: Henar Nuestro y Henar Vecino

Lucky, lucky us — the temp stayed in the mid-20s all day, colder than expected, & yesterday’s “warm,” wet, dense powder seems to have cooled down & dried out (is that even possible?) to become prit’ near perfect for blissful, this-is-why-we-live-here, cross-country-skiing snow . . . marvelous mesmerizing magical snow . . .

A+

 

1/17 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

What a difference some fresh snow makes! And still coming down! That all but unskiable ice-carapace is now covered with several inches of fairly wet, fairly dense powder, & it’s like butta to ski on — a little slow, though nowhere near a slog; a little sticky, especially if you make the rookie mistakes (that I made today, for the million-&-seventh time) of failing to bring along the glide goop for warm days like this (barely below freezing), of failing to let my skis cool down for a few minutes after removing them from a warm car. Oh well. Things worked out.

Etta & I made the big loop around Dogtrot, which appeared to have been groomed a few hours earlier but now had about an inch more of the afore-mentioned buttery powder, then up through Lab Land, following a single bushwhacker’s tracks up to Faithful & on to Trooper’s Way, our real destination, where we were the first bushwhackers through the fresh snow. Ahh . . .

Better get out there fairly early tomorrow — it’s supposed to starting getting warmer & warmer. This beautiful snow ain’t gonna last!

A

 

1/15 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Pretty terrible skiing conditions, to tell the truth. Two days in the 50s, followed by two more days near zero, has turned all that lovely powder into rock ice in the low places & hard, frozen styrofoam everywhere else (oh, & there are some bare spots, too). Brett & the gomer team have done a heroic job of scratching up some corduroy, of sorts, mainly for skillful skate-skiers. Classic skiers had the chance today to use every tool in their box: double-poling, skating, tuck-&-pray, even a little actual stride-&-glide where the pitch is just right. And given how frozen it all was (temp around 15 degrees), crust-hopping was as good as (that is, no worse than) sticking to the trails.

So why was I out there at all? Well, Trooper died this morning. He was long a familiar sight on Dogtrot & the Lab Land trails, & the new trail, Trooper’s Way, is named for him (thanks again, Hank). So my impulse was to honor him with a ski around Dogtrot, accompanied by Molly’s dog, Etta, who sensed my sadness & behaved a little better than usual. (She just scampered over the ice without leaving so much as one pawprint.) Once around Dogtrot was enough to make whatever point I was making. Normally I would grade such conditions with a D at best, barely skiable, but this was for Trooper, so

A

 

1/11 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Another day of better skiing than we have any right to expect. Nice temp, in the 20s, & the gomers have done their damnedest to make the best of what we have to work with — fast, icy conditions that favor steel edges & double poling. The thaw is supposed to begin in earnest tomorrow, with temps in the high 40s, maybe even the 50s. Good thing that global warming is just a Chinese hoax, right?

B+

 

1/10 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

On Monday, the day after my spectacular wardrobe malfunction cum face-plant, I paid a visit to Burrow’s Sporting Goods downtown. Woody told me he’d never, ever seen the toe-bar pulled out of a boot before & knew of no way to fix it in any way that could be trusted, & he further informed me that this model of Rossignol boot (bought there in 2010) has been discontinued & replaced by one that now costs $185 for a pair . . . except that they’re out of stock. Duly dismayed, disappointed, & discouraged, I spent a couple of days brooding & had to resort to a road walk with Etta & then, yesterday, a snowshoe around my favorite loop with Bill E. Today I decided to take matters into my own hands: first with a vice-grips & then with a hammer I managed to cram & then pound the toe-bar back into place without (apparently) damaging the surrounding rubber. Success! Right on cue, Steve C. called to invite me back to the scene of my Sunday crime, but I declined to get back on the same horse lest it result in another 2-mile trudge back home, uphill all the way. Better to test the damn boot first.

So — over to BOC to see what horrors have been perpetrated by the incipient January thaw (I’m always a baby about these things). Most of the trails, I’m happy to report, are still in pretty good shape, especially those that appear to have been groomed a couple of days ago, & especially especially those that didn’t get too much direct sun today. My spring-skiing skill of picking the best time for snow conditions is a bit rusty — by the time I got there at 3:30, nearly all the trails were in shadow & were starting to get icy. But not too bad — mostly the surface is still what the last grooming report listed as “packed powder,” with good coverage despite a lot of tree schmutz. And the boot repair held up!

A–

 

1/7 — West Brattleboro: Miller Road

The deep freeze lifted, the wind abated, the sky was clear & beautiful, the snow gods were smiling. Steve C. led me down Miller Road (“Road” completely overstates what is, in summer, a barely passable jeep track, & in winter, an unplowed passageway through the forest down towards Guilford). We got to Steve’s favorite destination, the bowl above the Guildford Sound studios, where he likes to perfect his telemark turns. I bombed down the slope, faster & faster through the powder — & then suddenly wham! Evidently I’d bombed right into a deep drift that grabbed my skis even as my body kept right on going, & so: face-plant! By the time I’d dug myself out of the drift & raked the snow out of my hair, I discovered that I’d ripped the toe-bar (or whatever it’s called) right out of my left boot. I detached it from the ski’s binding, & Steve tried gamely to reattach it to the boot, like trying to shoe a horse in knee-deep snow . . . but to no avail. The rest of the afternoon was a long day’s trudge into night, a sad end to a great day of skiing until it wasn’t. As if I didn’t already know: skiing is way more fun than wallowing.

A (until my untimely wardrobe malfunction), then: F

 

1/6 — West Brattleboro: Henar Vecino

More deep freeze & deeper wind chill — about 5 degrees on the thermometer, but it felt like 50 below. Plenty cold enough to keep the snow in good shape, with all the layers perfectly evident to any attentive snow archeologist: the original mid-December snow, still soft, under the quarter-inch or so of rock ice from the ice storm, under the several inches of soft snow from Christmas, under the firm, crusty result of the recent blizzard & wind-driven drifting. All topped with a generous sprinkling of twigs & miscellaneous wind-blown crap from the trees. It was nice to meet Lissa W. & her husband, John L., & son Spencer L. on the trail — they’re as into skiing as I am. It’s a Bonnyvale thing.

B+

 

1/5 — West Brattleboro: Henar Vecino

Windy all day long, with mini-tornados of snow swirling across the hayfields. Cold, too — under 5 degrees by the time I finally got outside, & getting colder as nightfall approached. All previous tracks were thoroughly drifted over, so I was just breaking trail the first time around, a bit of a slog because of a 2-inch crust of blown-over snow on top of a softer layer. The second time around my tracks were starting to get packed nicely, & I would have gone for a third lap but Etta, who had been following me closely, sat in the snow & lifted one of her forepaws so piteously that I knew she was cold & so we called it a day. The good news is that there is a ton of snow out there, folks! And even the bad news — that it’s about to get butt-freezin’ cold for the next couple of days — means that the snow will be well preserved for a while. Hooray! But Mark Breen, the “Eye on the Sky” weather guy on VPR, says that, historically, an extreme early-winter cold snap like this tends to be followed by a January thaw. Let’s hope that history is wrong this time!

A–

 

1/4 — West Brattleboro: Bonnyvale trails

The “bomb cyclone” blizzard — a nor’easter, arrrr [pirate voice] — began early this morning & lasted into the afternoon, whereupon the snow let up after dumping about 6 inches, & the temp dropped down below 10 degrees. Better to head on up into the trees, out of the wind. I set new tracks all along the hiking loop, this time following the customary clockwise direction — the uphill climb eastward is challenging, lots of side-steppin’ & ’bonin’, but then a nice gentle glide southward along the ridge, down to the old stone wall for another easy glide westward, & finally the fun-verging-on-perilous descent through the trees back northward to the trailhead. The whole way, Etta was half out of her mind with doggy glee as she blasted through the drifts on one crazy mission after another. Six inches of fresh snow is no match for that beagle nose of hers!

A

 

1/3 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Another day in the high teens, low 20s — positively tropical compared to what we’ve acclimated ourselves to in the past week or so. I stripped down a couple of layers (nothing dirty) & took Etta over to Dogtrot, where she found the snow still as perfect for high-speed cross-country travel as I did. The woods trails in Lab Land have a lot of schmutz from the trees, but they’re still perfectly skiable, with last week’s grooming holding up fine. More snow on the way tomorrow thanks to a “bomb cyclone” — that’s actually the technical term, imagine — crashing up the East Coast that has already dumped snow & ice on places like Swamp City, Florida, & Heatstroke, Georgia. Can’t wait!

A

 

1/2/18 — West Brattleboro: Henar Vecino

We’re havin’ a heat wave — the thermometer shot up to almost 20 today, & it was still nearly 15 by late afternoon, always my favorite time to ski (even when “late afternoon” begins between 3:30 & 4:00 p.m. & is over well before 5:00). Just enough time for a few laps around the nabes’ big hayfield, a long gentle climb followed by a beautiful long stride-&-glide section that feels like swimming with the aid of a nice strong current, & then into a fifty-yard “bobsled track” where people & their dogs have created a narrow chute, a half-pipe about a foot wide & fun for double-poling at a sprightly clip.

When I lived in New York on the Lower East Side I sometimes rode my bike over to the track in East River Park & then ran round & round on the rubbery surface — ten times easier on the joints than asphalt or concrete. Well, skiing round & round Henar Vecino, maybe a half mile or so in circumference, is a million times nicer still. Why would anyone ever go jogging if they could go skiing instead?

A

 

1/1/18 — West Brattleboro: BOC trails & Henar Nuestro

We love Vermont! Our Happy New Year gift from the skiing gods is plenty of snow & sustained polar cold. This is the coldest New Year’s Day, in fact, in a century. Over at BOC, about three-quarters of the trails are groomed — some tracked for classic, some rolled flat for skating. With the temp hovering down around zero, the snow is staying ju-u-u-ust right: firmly packed, little or no ice, perfect for my skis with their subtle fish scales & sharp steel edges. Good grippage for fast uphill stride-&-glide & herringbone where necessary; good slidage for fast, in-control downhill runs. Gotta keep moving when it’s this cold!

A

And this evening I couldn’t resist the lure of night skiing on the hayfields in the molten silver light of the Wolf Moon, which also just happens to be a supermoon & might even add a few more lumens (the technical term for a supermoon, when the full moon is closest to Earth, is perigee syzygy, which will yield quite the bonanza if you ever get to play it in Scrabble). Even though it was about minus-10 degrees, there was no wind whatever & I was plenty bundled up for the occasion, so it was easy to stay warm, especially with Etta bounding ecstatically along in front of, beside, & behind me. Magical . . .

A+

 

12/30/17 — West Brattleboro: Henar Nuestro & Henar Vecino

So nice to head right out the door & take a few laps around the by-now-well-established trails near the house, which have been graced with a nice quarter-inch dusting of fresh snow. Etta was with me today. She seems to mind better in the very cold weather (around zero late this afternoon, in the gorgeous Maxfield Parrish light just before & after sunset) — she sticks close, doesn’t run off on her secret missions into the woods or across the road to “play with” the horses. Oh, she can be such a naughty, naughty girl.

A

 

12/29 — West Brattleboro: Henar Vecino & Bonnyvale trails

A little cold (about 5 degrees) & a little windy, but the snow itself is prit’ near perfect — firmly packed on tracks, still powdery elsewhere. I headed up the long hill southward on the nabe’s hayfield, then saw tracks heading eastward into the woods, a route I’ve never tried before. Getting down to the little creek was challenging — I had to thread my way through the trees, which have dropped a lot of branches & twigs since the ice storm last week — but crossing the little creek was easy via a little bridge I’ve never seen before, & then on up the slope to connect with our beloved loop trail. A fresh layer of snow would cover all that crap on the trail nicely.

A–

 

12/28 — West Brattleboro: Bonnyvale trails

The Adventure Conditions on the hill got even more adventurous today, with the temp dropping below zero, making for the coldest skiing I’ve done in years. But fun! The snow itself is eminently skiable, but poling is challenging because the sometimes the pole tip just glances off the ice below the snow, & sometimes the pole tip punches through the ice layer & gets hung up in the still-soft layer of snow under the ice. (No, really, this is fun.) I bundled up in my Full Wyoming outfit & enjoyed an hour of bushwhacking through the forest before my fingers started to get frighteningly cold, then even more frighteningly numb (“But these are my lined elkskin gloves, officer — I swear!”). Time to call it a day, ski home before dark, & suffer through ten very painful minutes as my fingers thawed out.

I’m quite the hero to be typing this tonight.

A–

 

12/27 — West Brattleboro: Henar Vecino

It’s getting very cold, colder than the proverbial witch’s tit, barely above zero, & the snow is staying nice & powdery. I just got in one lap around the neighbor’s hayfield before the “septic guys” (guys who work on septic systems, not guys who are septic) arrived to continue their Herculean task of digging down through the snow, ice, & topsoil to get to the buried tank containing the pump that has failed at the worst possible time of year, but there you go — of course that’s when things go kaput. This time they brought a little excavator & enlarged the hole behind my office to where it looks like a mass grave in the making, or, less horribly, a completely nutso outdoor pool for aspiring members of the Brattleboro Polar Bear Club.

A

 

12/26 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

The gomers, evidently interrupting their Christmas pudding yesterday, have done a superb job of packing down down the snow before it all blows away (very windy & chilly today), creating a lovely surreal landscape of fine packed-snow ski trails among little hillocks that seem to have been coated with glass (the result of the ice storm that came before the snowstorm). About half the trails are groomed — plenty enough for an hour of fast, vigorous cold-weather skiing. The wind has blown chunks of ice from the tree limbs onto the trails, giving them a strange cocktail-party vibe . . . & did I mention fast?

A–

 

12/25 — West Brattleboro: Bonnyvale trails

Well, ho ho ho — what a couple of days this has been for ski conditions: an ice storm the day before yesterday, putting a half-inch-thick coating of hard, clear ice on the trees & the snow & everything, & then today, Christmas morning, a serious snowstorm that dumped another six to ten inches of powder snow on top of the ice, & voilà — the White Christmas of our dreams! All this made for weird, challenging, beautiful skiing conditions in the woods. The ice storm brought down so many branches that it’s tough to make out the trails that I thought I knew like the back of my hand, & maneuvering is a bit difficult because the snow is sitting on a thick layer of glare ice, & yet, even if these would have been less than ideal conditions on groomed trails, in the woods it all made for Adventure Conditions, a separate category — real cross-country skiing the way God intended.

Speaking of Whom: God bless us, every one!

A

 

12/22 — West Brattleboro: Henar Nuestro & Henar Vecino

Today’s the first full day of winter, but this winter already has a history: the wonderful conditions that prevailed for a week in mid-December came to an abrupt end with a couple of warm days that turned the snow to slop by midday, styro-ice by late afternoon (suitable only for snowshoeing) . . . but enough persisted on the ground to remain as a great base for the weirdly spring-like corn snow (or weirdly fall-like sleety stuff) that fell all day long, turning to real snow somewhere along the line, producing great conditions for the first day of winter. Last week’s tracks were nicely frozen in place & recoated, so I could revisit all the trails I laid down on the two hayfields, the smaller one (Henar Nuestro) presenting a just-right slope for fast double-poling & the much bigger one (Henar Vecino) with its just-right slope for a fine long stretch of fast classic stride-&-glide — Etta could barely keep up with me. Magic!

But! Tonight’s forecast: freezing rain, aka ice storm. Tomorrow’s forecast: rain. Like I said, it’s only the first day of winter & already this winter’s got history. . . .

A+

 

12/18 — West Brattleboro: Henar Vecino

Today I set a good track around the perimeter of the neighboring hayfield, a route that includes a nice shortcut through woods & is altogether about a half mile around. Lap 1: pushing through surprisingly deep powder on the uphill, then relaxing into long, effortless, almost dreamlike strides on the downhill, pillowed by the snow. Lap 2: now it’s a nice fresh set of tracks, very easy skiing probably twice as fast as the first time around. Lap 3: Wheeee!

A

 

12/17 — West Brattleboro: Henar Nuestro

Late this past summer, Marti & I had our two fallow fields (mostly goldenrod thickets) brush-hogged, so with those & the big hayfield I’ve got twice as much area as last year for ski trails — the XC skiing equivalent of a go-kart track, great for days when I just have less than an hour for exercise time & I don’t want to waste any of that time driving over to BOC. How nice to have choices!

I can’t recall another December in Vermont in the past decade when a substantial snowfall was followed by a whole week of perfectly cold-enough weather — but that’s what we’ve got, & it’s supposed to last for at least another couple of days. God bless us, every one!

A

 

12/16 — West Brattleboro: Bonnyvale trails

There’s a certain loop of connected trails through the woods on the hill behind our house that Marti & I have been calling “our loop” for the year-plus we’ve lived in West Brat. Eight months of the year we hike that loop at least three or four times a week — our default go-to walk when we just want a nice half-hour bit of exercise. Usually we go clockwise so that all the steep stuff comes first, then a nice ramble along the ridge southward to an old wall, where we turn westward for a couple hundred yards, descending gradually, before turning back north towards home.

In winter, it’s a different thing entirely— especially if, as today, I’m on skis & going counter-clockwise, with the nice gentle slope first to wind up to the ridgetop, saving that steep section for last. The path is narrow & threads its way through dense patches of beech saplings; it would be suicide just to point my skis downhill, yell “Cowabunga!” (or “Morituri te salutant!”), & hope for the best — the Sonny Bono / Michael Kennedy method. The saner approach, instead, is to zigzag down the hillside in short, controllable switchbacks along carefully selected traverses. Maneuvering is impossible among the fallen logs & testicle-tickler beeches; the trick is to aim for stopping places wide enough to execute those crazy 180-degree step-around kick turns where the skis are like giant clown shoes. And live to ski another day.

Real cross-country skiing, as God intended . . .

A

 

12/15 — West Brattleboro: Miller Road trails

This afternoon was just-right cold (low 20s again) & Steve C. led me along his favorite local route: up the big Miller Farm field & then down through the woods beside & sometimes upon Miller Road (such as it is) down, down, down to the big open bowl above the Guilford Sound studios, where Steve perfected his telemarking skills in the beautiful powder while I ’splored the area & Etta the Wonderbeagle frolicked insanely all around.

How often do we get to use a word like frolicked? How often do we have December conditions as eminently skiable as this?

A

 

12/14 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

What a joy to SKI our beloved BOC trails after all that work throughout the autumn clearing the trails & repairing the bridges — totally worth it — & now we’re back in business. For my inaugural BOC ski of the season, I was accompanied by Etta, Molly’s snow-crazed beagle/pit bull, & we did the Dogtrot loop before heading up into what is now officially Trooper’s Way, thanks to Hank’s gracious gesture, & then on up Faithful on the new trail through the woods almost all the way to Dunham’s Loop, & back as Etta bounded ecstatically ahead of me — dog bliss, skier bliss . . .

It’s turned nice & cold, low 20s this afternoon, preserving the snow in perfecto condition, & Hank & the gomers have done a superb job grooming the first trails of the season. Life is good again, we’re skiing again . . .

A

 

12/12/17 — West Brattleboro: Henar Nuestro

Well, well, well — it came, it came all the same . . . we’re skiing again! It snowed a couple of days ago, just a couple of inches, just enough to give us the look of winter . . . & then it snowed another six or eight inches today — real, skiable snow, no kidding — & the hayfield was officially back in action as the Henar Nuestro XC Ski Center, & the world is new again. The stuff was sticky, requiring a pit stop for a little Glide-o-lube, but perfectly skiable thereafter, & the forecast rain didn’t materialize, & the snow just kept falling & falling . . . ahh . . .

A

 

*     *     *

 

4/3/17 — Brattleboro: BOC trails . . .

. . . but not exactly the BOC trails, which are long gone (& there has been no grooming after that weird April Fools snowstorm a couple of days ago). Today the golf course is basically . . . a golf course, but with a thinning blanket of dense, soggy, sno-coney crust on the fairways, & in a strange way all this made for something like real back-country skiing, where there are no established trails so you choose your course based mainly on avoiding obstacles — in this case, the roped-off greens, more than a few patches of bare ground, & deepening pools of slush. Given those constraints, the skiing was surprisingly okayish — nice & grippy on the uphills, slow on the downhills. A very pleasant way to spend an hour on a sunny spring afternoon.

This was probably the last day of skiing at BOC this season. The rest of the week is supposed to be rainy, with rising temps, so . . . that’s all, folks!

B

 

4/1 — West Brattleboro: Henar Nuestro

April Fools! Just when you thought the ski season was over, a leftover snowstorm snuck into town last night & stayed for nearly 24 hours, never quite turning to rain like the forecasters said it would. So, yay! I clipped into my skis at about 6:00 p.m. (what a rare treat: cocktail-hour skiing!) & set out for a few more turns around the ol’ hayfield, but . . . April Fools! The stuff on the ground, about six inches deep, wasn’t even snow, not really — more like dough, as heavy & dense as Portland cement just before it sets up. The first circuit was murder, a joyless slog, as though gravity had been unaccountably doubled. But . . . April Fools yet again! Once I’d set tracks, the skiing was pretty much like . . . actual skiing, except that any maneuvering outside the tracks was prit’ near impossible. On a not-so-hilly open hayfield this is fine; up in the woods on the hill behind the house, skiing would be suicidal in these conditions.

So, one last little April Fools Day joke of a ski — a suitable coda for a weird winter . . .

B

 

3/26 — West Brattleboro: Henar Nuestro

Amazingly skiable snow, considering that, in the two weeks or so since it fell in such abundance, it’s been blasted by the wind, melted by the sun, frozen by frigid Arctic air, rained on, melted again, & frozen again. The quarter-inch dusting we got a couple of days ago has put a decent, sno-coney surface on the crust, & the overcast skies today make for uniformly soft, skiable snow . . . wherever there is snow. This may well be the last day of skiing this season (heavy rain in the forecast for tomorrow), so there’s a melancholy sweetness to taking a few laps around the hayfield right here where the ski season began in mid-December. Forty ski days since then — not so bad, not so bad at all . . .

Springtime in Vermont: mud season, & then black flies, here we come. Then summer, then fall . . . or as old-time Vermonters say, six months of bad sledding.

B+

 

3/23 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

The calendar & the thermometer promised spring skiing in the 30s . . . but the wind was cold, & the skiing conditions were, well, pretty brutal — there’s still a lot more white stuff than bare ground, but what last week was snow got soft in the warm air earlier this week & then froze hard yesterday & never really softened up again today, so the one groomed trail (Lower Heartthrob, groomed yesterday just because) was mighty icy: hard work getting any traction uphill, hard work staying alive downhill. A good day for metal edges. I guess that I get the Diehard Award today — nobody else signed in.

B–

 

3/20 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Just like yesterday, but the warm-weather (50-something) deterioration of the trails continues apace — more bare spots, more soft-to-the-point-of-collapsing spots, more icy-in-the-shade spots. Today is officially the first day of spring, so this is officially spring skiing. Meaning: timing is everything! On “seasonably” warm, sunny days like this, the best conditions can be had, I’m guessing, at about 11:00 a.m. & 4:20 p.m., especially the latter — otherwise it’s just too icy or, around midday, too slushy. It’s been great to have this late-season skiing, but the fact remains that there’s no base at all, that your pole tips often strike hard ground, or mud, or asphalt, & that spring is here. . . .

B

 

3/19 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

The trails were actually pretty good today, considering that (1) there was no base left by the time the snow returned last week, & (2) the past couple of days have gotten warm again — today must have been around 50, & sunny. Okay, so it’s spring skiing, so we ski in shirtsleeves. The trails were soft to the point of mooshy in places where the sun shone all day; they were frozen firm & fast in places that may have melted in the sunshine earlier but, by late afternoon, were back in shade; they were still kind of, well, snowy in places, in the woods, that get no direct sunshine at all. In these conditions the trails deteriorate pretty quickly, so there are bare spots, thin spots, slushy spots, icy spots, & groovy spots (not in the good sense, but in the rutted sense) . . . but overall, this was probably the last day of pretty good conditions as the returning warmth & sunshine take their toll.

Better get out there while the gettin’s good — warmth & sunshine may not be so great for the snow, but they’re great for people who like to play outside!

B+

 

3/17 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

I met up with Barb B.-T. at midday to enjoy yet another day in the afterglow of the nor’easter, with the snow still fresh, the sky still blue, the temps still just barely cold enough to keep the thaw-freeze cycle at bay. The gomers had been hard at work setting about half the BOC trail system, laying down plenty of classic tracks & corduroy skate lanes, all of them still all but pristine, hardly used yet at all. Super-consistent, buttery-smooth surface, great for uphill grip, downhill slide, & lots of balletic stride-&-glide in between — the kind of conditions that make you feel like the finest skier in the world. We made a big loop: up Sugarin’, & then, finding Faithful & Dunham Loop still ungroomed, back to the machine tracks, down Dipsy Doo, up & down the hills of Curvy Wurvy, & then, as the big payoff, the l-o-n-g, fast run down Cardiac Arrest followed by a gentle, dreamlike glide down Lower Heartthrob back to the parking lot. This is why we ski . . .

A

 

3/16 — West Brattleboro: Bonnyvale trails

Steve C. & I took to the hill at about noon — what a pleasure that the tracks I set two days earlier were still perfect, & the weather was still perfect, clear skies, temp in the mid-20s . . . perfect. We broke a lot of new ?ground,? made a loop of about three miles altogether: all the way up to South Street, along the old logging road on the ridge southward, & then more or less straight back down through the trees, with plenty of deep, pillowy powder to slow us down & preserve our necks.

A

 

3/15 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

As soon as the twenty-four-hour nor’easter finally gave way to brilliantly clear blue skies, the great BOC gomers managed to begin setting some classic tracks on a Greatest Hits of the BOC trail system: Sugarin’, Whoa Nelly, Upper Heartthrob, Lower Heartthrob. By the time I got there, at about noon, the tracks were still pristine & the snow prit’ near perfect — buttery soft. Far from the full complement of BOC trails, true, but what there was, as Spencer Tracy is said to have said of Katharine Hepburn, was cherce.

A

 

3/14 — West Brattleboro: Bonnyvale trails

Nothing like a nice, bracing late-winter blizzard to lift a despondent skier’s spirits! With just about all the December-January-February snow long gone, & all hope for the winter gone with it, suddenly a nor’easter blew into Vermont with nearly continuous heavy snowfall all day long. Nothing finer for honest-to-God, back-country skiing than a forest under a foot of fresh snow. Heading uphill through the trees into deep, dense powder was a hard, happy slog; gliding back down the trail I’d just so laboriously tracked was glorious, like dancing on a cloud. Lovely!

A

 

2/28 — West Brattleboro: Miller Road

Yet another February day in the 50s — mud season weather, April weather. I walked up Bonnyvale & then Miller Road, past the fast-receding tracks that Steve C. & I left behind just last week, when the thaw was already underway. Now the fields are half open — half bare ground, half melting patches of snow. February in Vermont: we used to call it winter.

Tonight President Trump will stand before the Congress &, I suppose, remind his followers that global warming is a Chinese hoax, & at least half of those present will leap to their feet, applauding wildly & slapping each other on the back — That’ll show those lib’rals!

Sad.

F

 

2/22 — West Brattleboro: Miller Road trails

It was so sunny & warm this afternoon that I didn’t even think of skiing, but Steve C. called me up & suggested that we give the Miller Road trails a try — & even with temps in the 50s, the snow conditions were surprisingly okay: dense but soft on the surface (sno-cone / mashed potatoes), good for grip & glide, lousy for maneuverability. A rare day when sharp metal edges were a distinct disadvantage — with turning so difficult, downhill runs were a matter of pointing the skis & hoping for the best. We made our way to Herman’s Field (named for Herman the Hermit, former denizen of these parts), where Steve practiced his telemark turns while I practiced pratfalls & flop stops, & then we toasted a fine Vermont sunset & spring skiing in February. Who’da thunk!

A

 

2/20 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

What a difference a day makes . . . or rather, several days of “unseasonably high temperatures” (in the high 40s & even up into the 50s). There’s still plenty of snow on the ground, & no bare spots so far, but the melting has been substantial. I arrived much too late — just after 5:00 — & the trails were icing up. They were already pretty shopworn after getting some heavy usage on the weekend (with particularly deep ruts left by that one certain skate-skier — you know who you are!), & so, with no new grooming since Friday morning, the trails were all but unskiable. Okay, I thought, I’ll just ski off-trail on the crust . . . but it wasn’t quite thick & hard enough to support my weight, & kept collapsing under me. Not much of an outing.

The temps are supposed to stay warm, with rain & — God help us! — freezing rain in the next few days. I’m afraid there’ll be no more skiing in what’s left of February, folks!

C

 

2/19 — Putney: Hickory Ridge trail

I never knew about this before: a beautifully groomed, single-track trail running more or less parallel with Hickory Ridge Road, starting (I think) at Putney Student Travel & going all the way up over the hill & down to Westminster West (I’m told). We had a jolly little party of Lynne W., Billy S., Lisa P., Marti S., & me. Lots of data: thanks to my watch, I know that we arrived at about 11:15 a.m.; thanks to an app on Billy’s phone, I know that we went 3.2 miles; & thanks to a thermometer, I know that the air temp was over 50 degrees. This is supposed to be Vermont in February! We stripped down to shirtsleeves & had a great time, especially in the trees & out of the sunny sections where it was too damn hot. (Did I mention that this is supposed to be February? In Vermont?) Marti, a great lover of summer & beaches, gave the outing an A+. Me, I’m more a February kind of guy, so . . .

A–

 

2/18 — West Brattleboro: Bonnyvale trails

The trick today was timing: there’s a whole lot of snow up there on the hill, but the forecast called for “unseasonably warm” temps — in the 40s — which would turn the snow to goop by mid-afternoon. So Barb B.-T. & I headed up the hill at about 10:30, & that turned out to be just about right. The snow was still snow in the shady places in the forest, & it was getting a little soft & sticky in the open places in the hayfields . . . but overall, still pretty damn great in the hours before those “unseasonably warm” temperatures hit.

A

 

2/17 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Wow, what a difference a couple of weeks can make — if more than a foot of fresh snow falls in that time. The gomers have served up a feast of all that snow, with all trails expertly groomed in one way or another — snowmobiled, rolled with the four-foot roller, rolled with the six-foot roller, &/or tracked for classic. This is the BOC trail system in its full glory, the way God intended. I got there at about 3:30 in the afternoon, leery about the warm temps in the forecast, but instead I found nice mid-30s temps & all that fine, fresh snow with very little meltage, driftage, or freezage. Good thing that the parking lot is at the bottom of the hill: the air temp was cooling down but still warm enough to make the surface ever-so-slightly sticky as I made my way up (good for grippage), & then, after 4:00, it was getting firm & fast as I whooshed back down. Whee-e-e-e . . . !

A

 

2/15 — West Brattleboro: Henar Nuestro

The thing about a New England winter: always some new & sometimes weird combination of moisture & temperature. This morning it was pretty cold, below 20, with a gorgeous light snowfall, a couple inches of super-fluffy crystals that formed a kind of three-dimensional lace on top of the foot-plus of snow already on the ground. And then it got warm, high 30s. The result was a strange, sticky foam-snow — even with a fresh coating of Maxiglide on my ski bottoms, I still had to keep scuffing my skis on the tracks to clear the buildup. One of those days when I have to keep reminding myself how much I love this, how great it is to be out playing in the snow. . . .

B

 

2/14 — West Brattleboro: Henar Nuestro

The wind stopped, I could get out there & resume the work of once again resetting tracks — plod, plod, plod the first time around, & the happy payoff of getting to ski on those tracks. More snow is in the forecast for tomorrow: this is shaping up as a real Vermont winter after all. The immortal Brattleboro Reformer headline of a few years ago — “Let Is Snow, Let Is Snow, Let Is Snow!” — makes for a lousy chant (did they fire all the copyeditors to save money?), but there’s always the great Woodstock chant: No Rain No Rain No Rain . . . !

A–

 

2/13 — West Brattleboro: Henar Nuestro

How I would have loved another day of the magic powder — but the wind was howling all day long, & all that beautiful powder was swirling this way & that, & it might as well have been Wyoming out there. By the time I got out, in the last hour of late-afternoon light, just about all my trails from the days previous had been obliterated by the blowing snow, which gets packs itself more densely when it resettles after being blown around, getting especially dense near the top — a kind of proto-crust, even if the day stays cold & there’s no melting. The first time around, each of my loops was a real slog through drifts so deep that sometimes my skis disappeared altogether for several strides as they bashed along like a pair of navy ice-breakers bashing doggedly through Arctic sea-ice. Hard work! But I did allow myself the payoff of skiing back over the newly remade tracks — actually skiing, the second time around, not bashing. And skiing’s why we do this.

B

 

2/12 — West Brattleboro: Henar Vecino, Henar Nuestro

Another couple of inches of light powder fell this morning, & the snowfields were silent & lovely, & the skiing was just like yesterday — beyond perfection, magical. I won’t jinx it by saying more . . .

A+

 

2/11 — Chesterfield, NH: Madame Sherri’s Forest; West Brattleboro: Henar Nuestro

One of those rare, magical ahhh. . . days after ten inches of fresh powder two days ago, then a fair amount of wind-driven driftage yesterday, & then — hallelujah! — another three or four inches of fresh powder last night, temps holding steady in the twentyish range. Festivities commenced early this morning: my good buddy Anne L. took me to Madame Sherri’s forest & we snapped on our skis & set out on a mission: hunt down the ice gripper that, on a full-moon hike last night, seems to have slipped off her boot somewhere on the trail, sometime soon after one of her companions may or may not have seen a catmount sliding through the trees (I have my doubts, but I love the wish that gives rise to the spectre). After skiing along for just five minutes or so, I spotted something poking up out of the fresh snow — it was indeed the Lost Gripper of Chesterfield. Mission accomplished! We then set out on the Anne Stokes trail, which hadn’t been hiked or skied on since the past few “snow events” — so we were in for real cross-country skiing, breaking trail through the trees on a pillow of fresh powder, stepping over a few little rills that trickle down the hill, then gliding back down over our track for the well-earned payoff — magic.

Then back to Bonnyvale, where I reset the Henar Nuestro trails & added a bunch of new variations, all the while thinking about the archeology of a New England winter, how the layers under my skis tell their story of the winter so far, the sequence of snow, rain, warmth, more snow, freezing rain, sleet, more snow, wind, more snow . . . a backward chronology that you press down with your skis & poke through, layer by layer, with your poles. I only meant to be out there for a half hour or so . . . but the time seems to have gotten away from me in that wonderful timeless way of a perfect snow day . . . & now, even after a couple hours of that already, I’m fixing to head out for a little more, just a half hour this time, I swear . . . no, really . . .

[late in the evening] I’m still in the afterglow of my third ski of this wonderful day — this time skiing by the light of the one-day-past-full moon, with the snow sparkling around me like an ocean of stars. Isn’t this why we live in Vermont?

A+

 

2/7 — West Brattleboro: Henar Vecino

Weird — it got too warm to ski for a few days, a lot of melting, & then it got cold, leaving the trails (& all the surrounding snow as well) petrified, treacherous, all but unskiable, & then, today, it sleeted four of five inches. So . . . sleet skiing, eh? . . . well, that’s a thing, & I headed out to BOC, only to find a NO SKIING sign — presumably because of needing to protect the groomed trails from the rain & warm temps looming in the forecast. But still, at least for the moment there was still all that sleet just lying there, minding its own business, so back to Bonnyvale I went. In order to get Trooper outside & staying put where he could see me, I got him parked on the driveway & then headed up into the Henar Vecino loop next-door. The sleet was the consistency of sand, or salt, & it went swish-swish-swish as I plowed through it — weird, & yet perfectly skiable, sleet on a hard-frozen base, & the sleet was still coming down & that too was weird because it sounded like steady rain as it hit the trees & my jacket & cap, but with sleet you don’t get wet & you barely even see it, a steady sprinkling of ice crystals the size of salt crystals, the size of grains of sand . . .

A–

 

2/2 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

The same as yesterday, prit near . . . but a bit warmer, a few degrees, just enough to soften the surface ever so slightly . . . to the extent that it got me thinking about the connoisseurship of cross-country skiing, about becoming more & more sensitive to ever-finer nuances of snow conditions, which become ever more fascinating to an ever-shrinking number of fellow obsessives . . .

A–

 

2/1 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Ah, back in the saddle again after a lengthy hiatus. Kinda-sorta weird conditions out at BOC today: with all the pre-existing January snow frozen hard underneath, there was also an inch of nice, fluffy fresh stuff sprinkled on top, & then, just to make things a bit weirder, warm, above-freezing temps this afternoon. The result was a slightly sticky but perfectly skiable surface, though you had to be mindful of the ice just beneath the powder. Given that the crust alongside the trails (that is, everywhere but the trails) was frozen as hard as the packed trail base, & given further that the trails themselves hadn’t been groomed since the fresh snow fell this morning, & so were pretty choppy with the petrified traces of the skiers who used the trails the last time it was fairly warm . . . yes, given all that, today the skiing was actually pretty good just to the side of the trails, wherever that was possible. Which is to say: not so very bad at all.

B+

 

1/16 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Pretty much ditto last time: again the gomers have scratched up a fast, skiable surface, sno-cone corduroy on a rock-hard base, ideal for ski-skaters & quite doable for classic skiers with metal-edged skis. Good timing helps: when it’s icy like this, midday or early afternoon is best — softens up the surface a bit, gives the skis that much more bite.

None of these niceties, I’ll bet, mean a damn thing to Brattleboro Union High School’s championship-caliber nordic ski team, which was out on the trail today, whipping past me like some kind of spandex wind. Man, can these kids ski! Skate-ski, that is, & they’re out there training every day, whether the conditions favor skating, as now, or real classic cross-country on fresh, ungroomed snow . . . & even then, they still whip past me like a spandex wind!

B

 

1/14 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

After a couple days of rain & warm temps & now back to real January cold, we probably ought to have grade-F skiing conditions today . . . but our genius BOC gomers have managed to scratch up a couple of amazingly skiable loops, a mile or two of fast, crazy ski lane, a thin layer of sno-cone over an icy base, with some patches of bare rock ice & even some bare ground to make your way around somehow, pronto. Ski-skaters should love this! For classic syle, these are conditions that reward sharp edges & sharper skills — beginners, just stay home & watch football (or whatever it is that non-skiers do in wintertime).

B

 

1/10 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Fearing a truly ugly forecast for tomorrow — heavy rain, temps nearing 50 — I made a quick circuit of our exquisitely groomed trails out at BOC. The gomers have made the best of the two light snowfalls of the past few days, & laid down a nice, perfectly skiable corduroy on top of the hard-frozen base. There are some thin spots, a few icy patches, & the predictable tree debris on the forest trails, but still — we get to ski here. Thanks, gomers!

A–

 

1/9 — West Brattleboro: Henar Nuestro, Henar Vecino

The local tracks, rained on last week & now frozen hard with temps below zero at night & only up to about 10 degrees at noon, ought to be all but unskiable — but there’s yet another half-inch layer of fresh powder that makes for surprisingly okayish conditions. Yesterday I walked the woods trails off Bonnyvale with my grippers on to check things out, & came across a young woman skiing like an old pro. “Oh, you must have klister on,” I said — to which she replied, “What’s ‘klisteron’?”

Ah, klisteron — the primordial goo from the all-but-forgotten, pre-fish-scale past! You can find it on an old periodic table, in the column of elements that react with prit-near everything — your hands, your gloves, your jeans . . .

A–

 

1/7 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

The rain on our lanes has drained mainly to the plains, we’re back to nice, chilly January temps, & the gomers have had the morning to work their customary magic on the trails — so it’s time to head back to BOC. Good but not great conditions: cold temps (10ish), trails frozen hard with very thin coverage in spots, & the surface would be treacherously icy were it not for a half-inch of crumbly stuff on top & a quarter-inch more of the light snow that fell last night. (My dad, a son of Minnesota, would have called this a “skiff” of snow. Does anybody in New England ever use that term?) I saw a gaggle of newbies really struggling to make forward progress . . . but they were laughing, so they just might get the bug. For grizzled vets, though, it was a good day to be a good skier.

A–

 

1/4 — West Brattleboro: Bonnyvale trails

No skiing today — even though the weather has turned cold again, yesterday’s yuck (rain, drizzle, freezing drizzle . . . did someone say “freezing drizzle”? Yuck.) has ruined the ski tracks until we get some fresh snow on them, so it’s snowshoeing time — a good-enough way to get around in the woods, & that’s something . . . but it just ain’t skiing.

 

1/2 — West Brattleboro: Henar Nuestro, Henar Vecino

Ditto yesterday’s report — aren’t we lucky that the perfect New Year’s conditions have hung around for one more day! And what a pleasure to see the proliferation of tracks connecting all the local hayfields with the trails in the forest. After all these years of mostly skiing on groomed trails out at BOC, I like being reminded that cross-country skiing is essentially all about . . . crossing country. Good thing I’ve got those nice, fat back-country skis. No skating on pencil-thin skis through all that powder in the woods!

Well, enjoy it while you can, folks — tomorrow’s forecast is all-day rain, with temps in the 40s. Yuck.

A

 

1/1/17 — West Brattleboro: Henar Nuestro, Henar Vecino

Last night, as 2016 finally expired at the stroke of midnight, a light snow was falling — & we woke up to the first dawn of 2017 & yet another couple inches of nice, fluffy snow on the considerable base we’d already built up . . . last year. So this afternoon, sunny clear & windless, temp a little above freezing, the snow was close to perfect, & a great way to greet a carload of friends who happened to show up on their way from one party to another. Sharon S. & Ellen K. strapped themselves into snowshoes & headed up into the wooded hill between Bonnyvale Road & South Street; meanwhile Joe P. & I had a fine old time skiing the hayfields on the tracks that my neighbors & I have been laying down over the past several days.

What a great way to start 2017 — Happy New Year!

A

 

12/31/16 — West Brattleboro: Henar Nuestro, Henar Vecino

We’re not even out of 2016 yet but we’ve already had a whole winter in miniature: plenty of snow, some mighty cold days, Wyoming-like winds, a couple of thaws, rain ruining our playground, & an ice storm thrown in for bad measure. So how nice see out the Old Year with a good foot of snow on the ground, a couple more inches of fresh powder, & just-right temps in the 20s. After a couple of spins around the go-kart track, I parked Trooper in front of the house where he could keep an eye on me as I circled the neighbor’s hayfield a few times. (Poor old Trooper can’t handle deep snow at all anymore, but he’s happy enough to be outside & lie peaceful & alert in the driveway.)

How great to see all the tracks that are proliferating through the forests & fields around here! Not only do lots of my neighbors ski (turns out), but nobody is paying any attention to property lines — everybody skis everywhere. This is true cross-country skiing — no mechanically groomed trails, just the tracks that go pretty much anywhere that you want to go . . . & if they don’t, well then, you just set out to make some fresh tracks yourself. Life as the Gods of Snow intended!

Here’s to Trooper & the rest of us finding our footing in ’17 — Let’s make skiing great again! (Uh, not that it hasn’t been great all along . . . )

A

 

12/30 — West Brattleboro: Henar Nuestro, Bonnyvale trails

More snow fell last night, but by midday the sun was out & the wind was blasting — real Wyoming conditions. The trails I tracked yesterday out on the open field had all been obliterated by drifting by the time I got out today in the early afternoon. But then the wind died down, leaving conditions that can only be called excellent: plenty of fresh snow (& freshly redistributed by the wind), temp in the mid-20s. I started out skiing with my nabe, Lissa W., & was trying to follow her tracks into the woods . . . but, it turned out, there were lots of tracks — meaning, lots of people skiing today. Everybody skis around here! All the trails that I explored in the fall are now tracked by skiers, & there are some more trails I never discovered at all before the snow fell. Real cross-country skiing, like God intended — hallelujah!

The forecast calls for a few more fine winter days before another rain / freezing rain horror show next week. What a weirdly wide range of conditions we’ve had already, & it’s not even January yet!

A

 

12/29 — West Brattleboro: Henar Nuestro

An unexpected treat today, almost a miracle — I got to ski with Trooper! After last year’s sad debacle on the BOC trails, when his poor old rear leg gave out & he had to “swim” himself home with just his forelegs, I thought that his skiing days were behind him, & so did the vet. And now he’s got this vestibular disease, so that even when he’s just walking he seems drunk & unsteady on his three pins. But, after a week of rain & warm/cold/warm weather & all manner of shittiness had left the remaining crust thin & all but unskiable, today we did get a nice little storm that dumped eight inches of fresh, heavy powder. Thank you, Gods of Snow!

Sure, the part with Trooper was only skiing the as-yet-unplowed driveway, just an eighth of a mile, & sure, the snow was sticky & slow . .  but Trooper could follow me all the way down to the road & back to the house, & he seemed to love it, & for a few minutes there the good old times were back. That would have been an A+ day right there anyway, but then I slathered a coat of Astroglide on my skis, parked Trooper up by the house, & retracked my little go-kart system in the dusk with the flat light on the snow doing that weird inversion thing (Jesus/Elvis/Jesus/Elvis . . . ) & got some fine stride-’n’-glide in the fresh tracks, & all this, too, was magical . . .

A+

 

12/22 — West Brattleboro: Henar Nuestro

First the good news: more than the predicted “dusting,” this morning’s snowfall laid a very nice couple of inches of fresh powder on top of the crust left behind by the rain four days ago. But the bad news: the crust isn’t quite tough enough to support the weight of, say, one skier — so no March-type crust hopping. I followed the faint, rained-on-&-then-snowed-on trails around my go-kart track of a trail system; the first time around it was breaking trail all over again, harder than before because of having to break through the crust, but once I had a packed track I could zip around quite nicely, thank you very much, & enjoy the fine late-afternoon/early-evening of the shortest day of the year, temp in the mid-30s, not quite warm enough to melt off the snow on the branches of all the trees. We’re welcoming the season in fine Winter Wonderland style — beautiful day to be outside! Now let the light come back, little by little, day by day!

B+

 

12/21 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Woohoo! Excellent conditions — the trails were groomed again this morning, the temp at midday was just right, about 32, for softening the surface just enough, the sky was clear & blue & stretched into forever. After that last lovely snow on Saturday (& despite the Sunday rain), the base is deep enough for the gomers to have set classic tracks alongside the skate lanes, & as near as I can tell the whole system has been rolled at least once. This is why we live here. . . .

It’s weird, this early in the season (in fact, the first official day of Winter, our favorite season!), to have to strategize my skiing time around the temperature as though this were spring skiing with big daily temp fluctuations. Usually the wintertime marriage of clock & thermometer doesn’t unravel until March, so I can ski in the last hour of light, always my favorite time to hit the trail. Now, though, what with Global Climate Change (you know, the Chinese hoax), the temp & the time are as estranged from each other as the Dems & Reps, regardless of time o’ day. Given the present state of the BOC trails, I’d say: try to aim for an hour of great skiing when the air temp is right around freezing, maybe a bit warmer (low-30s). At least for now, we’re already in that spring skiing thing where the porridge can be too hot, or too cold, or — like today at 1:00 pm — just right.

A

 

12/19 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Cold today, just like last week . . . so did we just hallucinate that yesterday it rained & rained & got up into the high 40s? Well, it did, but BOC had the great good sense to close the trails & beg people to stay off them for just one day (little enough to ask, right?), so that they could let the rain drain through the snow before it got cold again this morning & could be regroomed. Amazing work, gomers! They picked their moment just right, & laid down a nice, even surface that would be prit near perfect . . . except for a certain somebody (I have my suspicions) who, evidently, just couldn’t resist skate-skiing in the rain yesterday & leaving deep ruts behind, too deep for the grooming to fix. Otherwise the trails are in good shape, a bit on the icy side late in the afternoon (which occurs, this being late December, early in the afternoon).

A–

 

12/17 — West Brattleboro: Bonnyvale trails

I’ve been exploring the trails between Bonnyvale Road & South Road for a couple of months since moving into the neighborhood, & by now I have a pretty good sense of where the trails are & how they connect . .  but how great to have a longtime local & fellow XC nut, Steve C., take me for a big tour, including some trails & connections I hadn’t found before. And the snow! Last night & this morning, southern Vermont was treated to a big, beautiful dump of about ten inches of fresh powder — I rarely get to use my favorite cliché from the Rockies, “champagne powder,” in these parts, but today was a pop-the-cork kind of day in the woods. Perfect conditions: plenty of perfect snow, temp in the perfect low 20s. More than once Steve & I were rewarded with that magical skiing-on-a-cloud feeling you get on a nice long stretch with a just-right decline & a just-right depth of fresh powder. Thanks, Gods of Snow! Thanks, Steve!

By the way, the Gods of Snow that gave so generously today are supposed to take so cruelly away tomorrow — heavy rain with the temp up to nearly 50! Please stay off any & all trails that you don’t want to wreck!

A+

 

12/16 — Brattleboro: Henar Vecino

Mighty cold — it got down to about 10-below last night & barely up to 10-above today. Well, since any & all trails around these parts seem to be open to any & all neighbors, I gave the loop around the neighboring hayfield a try today, just before twilight descended. I found that the track led to yet another hayfield, with another perimeter loop already tracked. So great to see that my neighbors all seem to be skiers!

B

 

12/15 — Brattleboro: Henar Nuestro

It’s gotten very windy & cold, so inevitably the trails have deteriorated a bit, what with driftation & crustation, etc. Always great to get outside & ski, of course, even if it’s just on my little go-kart track, but I was going to downgrade the rating to a simple B . .  until I saw the new tracks connecting to the trails, & it made my day to see that my neighbors are using my trails — hooray! Welcome!

B+

 

12/13 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Leaping right in, the BOC gomers have done a superb job of laying down the first trails of the season — making a lot of a little, as is their wont. And the snow was still surprisingly great today, despite the warmish upper-30s midday temps. By late afternoon (which begins at about 3:30, don’t forget, & has turned to dusk by 4:30), conditions were just right. What fun to ski the Lab Land trails we worked so hard on this past fall! The snow isn’t deep enough yet to allow for fully groomed trails, but the gomers have pulled the four-foot roller over a lot of the main routes (more than are shown on the map on the sign-in station), & you can cover a lot of ground & get a full workout, all the way up to Dunham Loop — if you’ve got the juice.

A

 

12/12/16 — West Brattleboro: Henar Nuestro

Ah, we’re skiing again! We had a nice little snowfall this morning, about nine inches of fairly wet, packable snow, just cold enough not to stick to your skis (assuming you’ve coated them with Astroglide). The little cat’s-cradle of trails I set on the hayfield below the house is the skiing equivalent of a go-kart track — not exactly crossing a lot of country — but it’s great to loop around the field a few times & work out the first-day-of-season kinks & generally get warmed up for the real skiing to come.

And speaking of warming up . . . this was a nice little snowfall, an early Christmas gift, but it’s mainly been fairly warm lately & I suppose that this snow will be gone completely before winter settles in like it really means it. So let’s just enjoy it for a couple of days: time to hit the trail, kiddoes!

B+

 

*     *     *

 

4/5/16 — Brattleboro: Fort Dummer trails

Well, well, well . . . a weird little coda to The Winter That Never Was. Nearly two months after the last skiable trails disappeared during the warmest February in Vermont history, & then early spring weather prevailed throughout March (great sugaring, I’m told), it actually got cold & snowed this past weekend. The inch or two that fell on Friday night already looked fake in the woods by midday Saturday, like shaving cream used on a movie set to simulate snow . . . but then real snow fell on Sunday night & well into Monday — at least five inches, & not heavy, sludgy spring snow, either, but the kind of nice, granular, medium-density snow that we “should” have gotten in February. In fact, if we had gotten that snow in February, it would have fallen on our nice bulletproof base & the BOC gomers could have sculpted it into at least another two or three weeks of good skiing. . . .

Anyhow, these were my reflections as I took Trooper to Fort Dummer yesterday afternoon for a walk, & no sooner did I get him out of the car than I saw that somebody had been skiing, leaving a nice set of tracks that begged to be followed. But — no skis. I haven’t had ’em in the car for more than a month. Why bother? Because you never know, that’s why. I vowed to return the next day. . . .

And here it is, the next day, & by the time I got back to Fort Dummer it was warm enough (mid-30s) to have melted a lot of places on the trail down to bare ground. Well, gamely Trooper & I set out anyway, & indeed there were a few nice, skiable stretches on the service road up to the picnic meadow . . . but really it seems like this was one last little joke for Winter ’16 to play on us — a couple stray days of February in exchange for all the unwanted April days we had in what was supposed to be the dead of winter.

And that was our ski season, folks — fine for a few weeks there until it wasn’t. And today’s grade pretty much covers the whole year:

C

 

3/25 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

I’ve spent about eight hours over the past week walking the trails to pull up our trail-marker stakes, & all that’s left is a golf course with a few patches of ice here & there. A melancholy birthday & a premature end to a ski season that started late & then went all but snowless until we lost that base of frozen/thawed/refrozen/rained-on/re-refrozen sleet that fell at the end of December.

Last year I saw a couple of bluebirds when I was collecting stakes; this year, no such luck. Is this what March 25 is going to be like from now on?

 

2/25 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

After heavy rains last night & today, & the temp climbing up into the 50s, going for a “hike” at BOC this afternoon was a solemn & depressing business. It looks like mid-April out there — the ski trails are all but gone, just some lingering patches of rock ice with fossilized ski tracks, & the ground is 90 percent bare. It’s just a golf course. . . .

Some people want a scapegoat for this winter that never was — “Blame the Koch Brothers.” Even if it were that simple, there’d be little consolation. The fact is, it’s an El Niño year, weather fluctuates, we had a great snow winter last year & maybe we will again next year . . . & yes, the Earth is warming up & it’s almost certainly our fault . . . but we’re all at fault, not just the Koch Brothers — we all burn the fossil fuels that the Koch Brothers are happy to profit from, & if we weren’t buying coal (for electrical generation) & oil (for our cars) from the Koch Brothers, we’d buy coal & oil from somebody else.

Still: what a sad, crappy winter this has been. Pray for snow . . .

F–

 

2/17 — Brattleboro: BOC snowshoeing trails

So it’s come to this: with all the warm, snowless weather the ski trails are now closed so they won’t be damaged, & for the first time ever I gave the BOC Truuske trail a go today. Snowshoeing is . . . something, I suppose . . . something to do in the woods when the snow’s not good enough for skiing. Trudge-trudge-trudge instead of stride-&-glide. Once you make your peace with that, you’re left with the always-delightful fact of being outside, being in the woods. The Truuske trail winds along the creek & up the hill in a big loop — you’d hardly know that there are ski trails nearby (to say nothing of a golf course). At the slightly less than walking pace of snowshoeing, you hear more (birds chirping, squirrels skittering around) & see more (fox tracks, deer tracks, even moose tracks — I swear). I’d still rather ski . . . but snowshoeing is pretty darn okay, I guess.

Still — pray for snow.

 

2/15 — Brattleboro: Fort Dummer

With the temp back up to about 20, it was nice to go to Fort Dummer for a quickie this afternoon: up the main road, through the campsite areas on both sides, then through the open field & over to Sunset Point, then back down the service road, that nice, long, gentle downhill — whee! The wind has raised less hell at Fort Dummer than it has over at BOC, so the trails were surprisingly skiable, with much of last week’s two piddling snowfalls still intact. Somehow we’re managing to put a kinda-sorta ski season together, even as we’re still hopeful that a real Vermont winter will arrive sometime soon. Meanwhile, though, the forecast is for some kind of wintry-mix / freezing-rain / rain horror show tonight & tomorrow — if true, it’s certain to wreck our already marginal conditions. Sigh . . .

B+

 

2/14 — Dummerston: Flaherty Field, Black Mountain

It felt downright balmy out there today, what with the temp up to about five degrees & the wind finally dying down this afternoon. Although the big hay field behind the old Flaherty place has been pretty worked over by the wind, the surface is consistent & perfectly skiable. As I usually do here, I broke trail on a big loop around the perimeter & then got the benefit of my tracks a couple more times. Then it was up onto the old logging road on Black Mountain, where there’s plenty of snow for real cross-country skiing — working my way around obstacles like fallen trees & little streamlets, following the tracks of whatever lives in the woods: deer, foxes, fisher cats, yetis. . . .

B+

 

2/13 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Holy crap, it was cold out there today! Just about zero, with a wind chill, according to my careful, precise calculations, of minus 197. Bundled up like a Michelin man, I headed out late in the afternoon thinking, Where’d this come from? Well, yeah, from Canada . . . northern Canada . . . far northern Canada . . . but I mean, hasn’t this been a warm El Niño winter? But now we’ve got the Canadian Arctic counterpunching against the tropical South Pacific. Brrr . . .

Okay, think global, ski local. A couple of days ago, the gomers were finally able to groom a woodsy trail — Dunham Loop, alongside the freeway — for the first time this season, so I made a beeline across the frozen wastes to get out of the wind & into the trees. Well worth it, sez me — after making my way up slowly, stopping again & again to flip sticks off the trail, I was able to head back down & enjoy the best sustainable stride ’n’ glide conditions now available at BOC. And then back across the tundra — I mean, the fairways, which the wind was blasting almost bare of snow in many places — to the parking lot, all the while praying that my car would start. Brrr . . .

B+

 

2/12 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

You’ve got to navigate around some rocky patches in the thin spots, but the groomed trails — of which there are more than ever so far this season — are nicely packed powder that yet again show our brilliant gomers making the best of this year’s meager snow. Great work, guys!

A–

 

2/10 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Just time for a quickie around Dogtrot, which was groomed earlier today for a thin but very skiable surface (yes, there’s still some hay stubble poking through here & there, but it does no harm). Trooper preferred to break trail across the field today, & who could blame him?

I bumped into Hank L. & family (including Belle the Lab) along the trail, having a jolly old time. Hank insists that by this time next week there’ll be so much snow that Dogtrot won’t even look like hayfield anymore, & the rest of the trails won’t look like a golf course, either. Okay, from your lips to God’s ear, Hank!

A–

 

2/9 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Hooray, another couple inches of fresh snow! The lightest, fluffiest stuff imaginable — we’d better ski on it before it floats away. Trooper & I found Dogtrot very skiable, as were the Labland trails. Trooper fails to see any good reason why he can’t go on every other TOC trail, & I keep telling him: “You’re a dog, that’s why.” He fails to see the logic in this . . .

A–

 

2/8 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Trooper & I made our way across the Dogtrot field & up through the new Labland trails — our first trip there ever. The snow is very thin, but what’s there is quite skiable.

On the way back down to the hut, we came across Spenser Knickerbocker hauling snow-filled sledge after snow-filled sledge from the pump-house pond over to that very bad patch of rock ice & plain old rocks where Sugarin’ crosses Owl Loop. Bravo, Spenser! And Camille sent out a newsletter today that contained a photo of Brett doing just this kind of winter engineering in the same place with what looks like a brobdingnabian snow shovel. Great work, Brett! That’s the spirit, guys!

B–

 

2/6 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

No dogs today, so Barb B-T & I made a big loop around the trails that have been groomed: Owl, Upper Heartthrob, Lower Heartthrob. Even with a lot of traffic today (nice to see the trails being enjoyed!), the new snow on the old base was behaving itself very nicely, thank you, despite some thin places barely covering (or not covering at all) patches of rock ice & bare ground.

Word has it that BOC currently has “more groomed kilometers” than any other cross-country trail system in Vermont. Well, as pleased as I am about our three or four groomed “kilometers,” this is mostly just a sad commentary on the state of this strange El Niño winter in Northern New England.

B

 

2/5 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

The dismissively forecast inch or two of new snow contained a couple of bonus inches — enough to put us back in business. I took Trooper over to Dogtrot, which hadn’t been groomed but that didn’t matter because the whole field is perfectly (or imperfectly) skiable, with still enough of that base of frozen sleet from late December to make a nice skiing surface, even with hay stubble poking through.

B

 

1/30 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

It was the best of skiing, was the worst of skiing: It finally snowed yesterday . . . but only about an eighth of an inch. But the gomers managed to get on it right away, & to get those seven flakes of snow (pretty much the January ’16 total) pressed nicely into fresh corduroy — superb to ski on. But in some spots, especially on the freeway side of Owl Loop, the new snow didn’t really stick to the rock ice underneath, merely masking it & making for some treacherous patches, at least two which strung me up by my toes (so to speak). But the good (95 percent) far outweighed the bad (5 percent). But the bad was really bad. But the good was really, really good. But . . .

B

 

1/28 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Getting mighty icy in spots, folks — but perfectly skiable where there’s been fresh grooming, so as long as you stick to the just-groomed sections, you’re good for some fast & furious fun. Stay off any trails without fresh grooming, though — they’re like petrified relics of ski trails of the distant past. . . .

B–

 

1/27 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Again it got into the high 30s today, so again the trick was to time the skiing just right. I missed it this afternoon; by the time I got to BOC at about 4:30, the trails were already getting very icy, making for fun & fast but challenging conditions. Until we get some real snow, things will be, essentially, just like spring skiing — more & more afternoon daylight, which is great, but also a daily thaw/freeze cycle to contend with, & larger & larger patches of both rock ice & bare ground.

Also: most people have the good sense & the group ethic to stay off the trails when they are especially soft . . . but not one particular skate-skier, who has graced our trails with deep ruts that are now frozen hard, adding pointlessly to the challenge of negotiating our snow-starved trail system. I hate to be bossy, but, well, they did make me the Trail Boss, so: please respect our fragile trails & help keep them in the best possible shape for everybody! Surely it can’t be a loyal BOC’er who’s doing this to our trails. . . .

B

 

1/25 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Everything fell into place just right today: I arrived uncharacteristically early, about 1:30, & the warm afternoon sun (it was about 35 or so) made for a nice, soft, sno-coney surface anyhow, but it so happened that the gomers had just done their thing on Owl Loop, so I got the rare privilege of skiing a perfectly virgin corrugated trail — what fun! Even after so many snowless days, the base (that layer of late-December frozen sleet) is still holding out . . . mostly. But tomorrow might be warm & rainy, so we’ve got to get our licks in while the gettin’s good — & today was amazingly good!

A

 

1/24 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Today was just like it’s been for a week now, but a bit warmer — probably right around freezing this afternoon, so that the sun softened up the trails a little, making them slightly more skiable (for classic, that is), even as a certain amount of degradation continues apace. Every day that we go without fresh snow, it becomes more & more critical to pick your moment when the porridge is just right — not too warm & soft, not too cold & icy. You can pretend you’re in California, where it’s almost always like this on the warm days between four-foot “dumps” in the High Sierra, creating alternating slush & rock ice as the shadows of the mighty Douglas firs sweep across the trails over the course of a long, sunny day. Actually, BOC is a lot better than that right now — it’s too cool here for slush (in so many ways).

Be sure to check out the latest issue of the Outing Club newsletter, which introduces me as BOC Trail Boss (aw, shucks) & features my very own XC skiing autobiography. It’s been a long & twisted trail that’s led me here to Brattleboro, but here I am, praying for snow just like a real native Vermonter . . .

A–

 

1/23 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

More of the same, superbly skiable where there’s been fresh grooming, with only slight (& inevitable) deterioration of the trails (debris, rock ice, thin/bare spots, etc.). C’mon, all ye fair-weather skiers: the air is cool & clear, the trails are very good for both classic & skating, plus it’s supposed to rain next week. (How maddening that all that snow that just fell on Washington & New York is regarded as a “natural disaster” & a “state of emergency” & an “act of God” — for us, the only disaster here is that we didn’t get the snow!)

A–

 

1/22 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

I should just get a stamp made: ditto of yesterday. Another fine, cool (mid-20s), winter afternoon; another fine grooming job on the main fairway trails. They’re still making a lot out of very little actual snow, mainly just half an inch of loose sno-cone on a base of frozen sleet . . . but there must be an upper limit in the number of times they can bounce the rubble, because, inevitably enough, there’s more & more debris from trees, more & more little rocks kicked up in the thin spots, & more & more patches of rock ice that just won’t groom (maybe we should get a zamboni). All that bitching aside, though, the conditions are still very good for the discriminating classic skier, & apparently great for the skater, too. The high school XC team was whizzing around like a cloud of gnats!

A–

 

1/21 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Pretty much the ditto of yesterday: another great grooming job (thanks, Brad!) has made for a handful of very skiable trails on the main part of the course. Skate-skiers, in particular, would be nuts to miss out! For classic, there’s a little more trickiness about getting the timing right, especially on sunny but cool (mid-20s) days like this. Starting out at 3:00 was just about perfect today. As for tomorrow . . .

A

 

1/20 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

What a difference a day makes: it warmed up to the high 20s today, just right for softening up the trails a bit, & the wind stopped. Plus, the gomers caught their moment & did their thing on a few more trails, so now we’ve got lots of options as we make our way up & down & all around the main hill. By getting there late again today, just after 4:00, I missed the peak conditions by about an hour; I was having some momentary troubles with flat light at about 4:30 & the trails were starting to ice up again, but they were still plenty flat, fast, & fun.

About the grading: there are those who might object (shades of W!) that grading the conditions each day is subjective — as though that’s bad, & as though there were some other, better, way to grade. I don’t think so! We ski for fun, after all; we’re not the 10th Mountain Division or the Norwegian resistance or heroic deliverers of serum to snowbound Alaskan villages. Nope, we’re just in it for fun, so that’s my main criterion: how fun was it today? What made it more fun, or less fun, than yesterday? Naturally, context is everything. Last year, I would have graded today’s conditions at about B+/A–. This year, however, different curve, so it’s time for the year’s first

A

 

1/19 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Yesterday’s wind never let up until late this afternoon; at about 4:00 when I hit the trails, the conditions were pretty x-treme, even as the wind died down: it was still blowy & cold (15-ish) & very icy . . . otherwise, not so bad. I first went over to Lab Land to see how many million branches have fallen out of the trees & onto the trail, but it’s never been groomed & it’s treacherously icy there in the tall timber, so I thought better of it & continued on around Dogtrot instead, which was last groomed about a week ago. Weirdly quite skiable — the ice is mitigated by all the hay stubble sticking up through the trail, which is mostly just a few inches of hard-frozen sleet. This year we take what we can get!

B

 

1/18 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Kind of a good-news / bad-news sort of day. Good news: It’s staying cold! It snowed again last night, a nice, fluffy inch or two! And the gomers were right on it this morning, grooming most of the main trails around the golf course itself! They even laid down the first classic tracks of the season in many places — groovy! It was sunny & gorgeous today!

Okay, now for the bad news: As soon as I arrived at about 3:30, the wind started to blow — hard. Although much of what the gomers pressed down into the trails stayed put, all of the rest of the snow on the fairways was soon airborne, swirling around & making ground blizzards & forming drifts. The trails began to get icy again, though nothing like the rock-ice suicide runs of the first part of January.

But for all of that, the good news outweighed the bad today, & the trails were fast & fun — a good day for metal edges & a bit of attitude. Keep praying for a real snowstorm!

A–

 

1/17 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Our BOC leaders are geniuses: closing the trails yesterday was a great idea, & then picking just the right moment this morning (not too cold, not too warm) to unleash our crack gomers was an even greater idea. They’ve managed to make a lot — two nice corduroy trails, anyhow — out of very, very little. Dogtrot & the Lower Heart Throb loop were fast & fun today, & if it stays cold enough, we’ll at least have these trails & maybe a few more until we get some real snow. (God, do thy stuff, please, & send down some white stuff — we’re ready!)

Last year at this time . . . aw, heck, it’s just too depressing to go there. This year, we’ve got to grade on a curve, so:

B+

 

1/16 — Brattleboro: Fort Dummer trails

It turned warm overnight, up into the 30s, & heavy, wet snow was falling this morning, so I thought I’d give BOC a try before the snow turned to rain. All the way over, I was grumbling about how much I’d wanted to believe last year that, due to climate change, Winter ’15 was the new normal . . . & now it turned out instead that there was no new normal, which is pretty much the old normal: unpredictable winters in northern New England. Some people are grumbling about global warming, some people are grumbling about El Niño, & some people (like me) are grumbling that January in Vermont just plain means that it’s supposed to snow, supposed to be cold — grumble, grumble.

When I arrived at BOC I found that the trails were closed (just as well, I suppose — skiers, snowshoers, & dogs would just wreck whatever base is there), & then the rain did, very light . . . so I went to Fort Dummer. The rain let up & I found an inch or two of heavy, wet mashed-potato snow sitting on the sleet / rock ice . . . & it was surprisingly skiable. I went up the service road to the picnic meadow, then over Campsite Hill, & around the full loop of the Sunrise Trail. Coming down the south part of the loop was a little hairy — not enough depth to cover up the big rocks that stick up in the middle of the trail along the steepest part — but then, back at the campsite area, I could retrace my earlier tracks all the way back to the front gate of the park — fun, easy stride-&-glide all the way.

Last year, this would have seemed like crappy conditions. This year:

B

 

1/15 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

“Marginal” would be overstating things — the “snow” conditions basically suck right now. There’s little bare ground (though plenty of grass is poking up through the thin spots), but all that sleet that got heavily rained on is now frozen hard, with big stretches of rock ice in all the low places, & just a sad little dusting of snow blowing around on top, here & there. Incredibly, while I was clearing branches off the new Lab Land trails yesterday, I heard voices & poked my head out in time to see the BUHS ski team doggedly skating their way up Whoa Nelly — God bless ’em! I hope there were no casualties! Today, I found that enough of the drifting snow had accumulated on the lower section of Freedom/Sugarin’ to allow me to ski back & forth a couple of times, but, with patches of rock ice in every direction (including down), it felt more like pretending than real skiing. . . .

Pray for snow! (More “wintry mix” is forecast for the weekend. Ugh.)

D–

 

1/9 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

The weird base of frozen sleet has persisted long enough for a little dusting of snow, plus a just-right temperature (right around freezing), plus some very adept work by the gomers, to make for a surprisingly skiable surface on a single big loop that begins at the parking lot & goes up the hill via Whoa Nelly & then the whole length of Curvy Wurvy, down Cardiac Arrest & back to the parking lot via Lower Heart Throb. Very nice for both skate-skiing & classic stride-&-glide.

However. It’s supposed to start raining tonight & then come down heavy tomorrow, with a high of 50, so that’s probably it for this phase of Winter ’16. We still haven’t had a real snow! But the National Weather Service calls for snow in a few days, so maybe January will arrive before, say, February. Let’s hope.

B

 

1/1/16 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

It got cold last night, & it stayed cold all day — I thought I could catch a good time for the conditions, but even mid-afternoon it was still only 15 degrees or so & the whole course — trails, fairways, everything — is frozen hard & treacherous. Even with metal edges, you just can’t get purchase on this stuff — making for a real hips-&-shoulders work-out, hardly any stride-&-glide, too much work & too scary to be much fun.

Last year I got well into that epic season of great skiing conditions, day after day, month after month, trying not to think too hard about the possibility of getting through my first full season of skiing in forty-some years without a single fall. Not to put too fine a point on it, but as of about five minutes up the trail today, day two, I no longer had to worry about being burdened with the thought of not falling this season . . . maybe next year . . .

And on that note, Happy New Year — let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

C

 

12/31/15 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Finally! On the very last day of the warmest December on record, we’re skiing again — this might be the latest start to the season since I’ve been in New England. We’ve put the extended autumn to very good use, with lots of work on the trails, particularly Lab Land, which is now a whole network of trails in that fairly steep patch of forest between Dogtrot & Faithful. So today I got to try ’em out!

But first, an observation: this white stuff we’re skiing on, it ain’t even snow. It’s a thick layer of sleet that got rained on, then freezing rained on, & now thawed slightly on a sunny afternoon in the 30s. Hard-frozen sno-cone base, with enough crumbly sno-cone at the top that the skis work just fine. Still, think of it: it’s January in Vermont, & we still haven’t had any snow. Scary.

But we do have skiing! Trooper & I had a nice trip across the stubble field that is Dogtrot, & then up through the Lab Land maze. It works! Of course, there are a lot of rocks & logs & stuff to step around, but that’s real cross-country skiing.

B

 

*     *     *

 

4/2/15 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

I accidentally went skiing today. That is, I got a message from Brad Dinwiddie about going over to BOC to pull up the trail-marking stakes, & that’s exactly what I thought I’d gone there to do . . . when Jack & Carl skied down to the parking lot & told me that the skiing was “great,” that they’d been all over the course & found enough snow that they never had to take off their skis & only once had to step across a grassy section. Well, that was enough for me: I happened to have my skis in the car, so I made an executive decision that the ski season was still on & that the whole course was dog-friendly today, & with that Trooper & I were off to the races.

The course is still more than half snow-covered, & at 50+ degrees Fahrenheit, it’s all corn snow, or sno-cone, where it’s not rock ice or bare altogether. There are places where the remnants of the trail are still actually pretty good; mostly, though, you just point yourself in the direction you want to go & then make a game of finding the little connecting isthmuses (isthmi?) between one snow patch & the next. Jack & Carl were right: most of the course is indeed skiable if you’re creative about picking your route. These would be appalling conditions in February . . . but folks, it ain’t February.

Tonight it’s still nearly 50 degrees, & it’s raining, with more warm rain in the forecast for the next several days, so I suspect that this was the last hurrah of the season today. Dear BOC, Hank, gomers, & especially the Gods of Snow: thank you so much for a spectacular long winter season of great skiing!

B–

 

3/30 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

The cold weather is lingering; I doubt that it hit 40 today. There’s still a lot of snow out there. So I really don’t get it: where is everybody? Okay, yes, it’s spring skiing, not pristine mid-February snow conditions. You have to make some adjustments this time of year. Fine, you adjust — it’s fun! So . . . where is everybody? If you’re not skiing, what are you doing for exercise instead — slogging through the mud on Wantastiquet? Subjecting yourself to the rack & screw at the gym? Playing video games while polishing off whole sleeves of Oreos?

Those reflections aside, I certainly don’t feel like a “bitter ender” out there at BOC. Who’s bitter? Spring skiing has its special challenges, but it’s still more fun than just about anything else we might be doing for exercise these days, folks!

B–

 

3/29 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

These fast-lengthening days are such a temptation to keep pushing ski time later & later. At 6:30 in the evening the trails (that is, what’s left of trails & crust) were getting pretty icy, which added to the challenge of not getting stuck on snow-peninsulas surrounded by bare ground. It’s nearly over out there, folks, & I’m the only one still signing in each time . . . but I don’t seem to be the only one still leaving fresh tracks out at BOC, hmmm . . .

C+

 

3/28 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

I was a little late to catch the right moment of the day — always the trick with spring skiing — so things were a bit on the icy side in the late afternoon. By now I’m not even thinking of BOC as a trail system; the trails are either bare ground, or rock ice, or indistinguishable from the slowly melting crust all around. Which is fine — now you can just point yourself up or down whatever fairway you want. And the Dunham Loop Trail is still quite passable if you can dodge a few sticks. Just about the whole course is perfectly skiable! Okay, maybe not “perfectly,” but there’s still, say, 80 percent coverage over what is undeniably a golf course, & yet the fun factor is still over 90 percent, so it’s still well worth it — sez me!

B

 

3/27 — Brattleboro: Fort Dummer

Even with temps in the 40s there’s still plenty of snow — or crust, or whatever to call it this late in the season. I caught the time/temp moment just right: the Sunset Trail at sunset. The snow had a lot of pillowy give to it, & so skiing was especially 3-dimensional, almost like surfing. Some icy patches along the trails, but not enough to induce terror.

B

 

3/26 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Another day of conditions exceeding expectations. Just like yesterday, it was warm but overcast, so the snow was uniformly soft but still quite skiable, classic style. I pushed my luck & went up Forest, which was mostly okay but for a lot of debris & a couple of bare spots that were hard to get around. C’mon, folks — if the skiing was this good in December, you’d flock to BOC — so how come I’m only the second person to sign in today? (Though not, obviously, only the second person to enjoy the skiing . . .)

B

 

3/25 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

I can’t quite believe that I’m about to dole out an A for ski conditions in late March — but there it is. Today was warm, probably in the high 30s or even the 40s, but was overcast all day, so the warm air was baked evenly into the snow, making for slowish but highly skiable conditions on trails & crust alike — a great day for the classic stride & glide, in fact. So many unexpected blessings to count . . . you’d think it was my birthday.

A

 

3/24 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

A gorgeous early spring day, & I finally caught the moment by getting there at about 4:30 — the few groomed trails were very good, though I was leaving inch-deep ruts — & elsewhere there’s still lots & lots of the ’tween-trail crust, which is perfectly skiable just about everywhere . . . as long as it lasts. So it’s real spring skiing: soft in the sun (snow ranging from sno-cone to mashed potatoes) & firm-to-icy in the shade. Still worth it, folks!

B+

 

3/23 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Another day too cold to soften up the snow, so another day of damn hard work getting uphill on the fairway crusts — all herringbone all the time — & defying death on the downhills. A good day for sharp metal edges. Not a good day for the trails, with their many bare patches & their stretches of rock ice. Forget the trails, in fact — from here on in, we’re just skiing out the crust, which may not make it through the rains expected later in the week. But the crust skiing on the fairways is sorta-kinda fun — & just what would you rather be doing on a cold day in this not-really-spring?

C+

 

3/22 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

The thing about trying to time it for spring skiing is that you can usually count on the conditions, this time of year, to be icy most of the day, so the trick is to catch the moment when things are warming up late in the morning (or cooling down late in the afternoon) just enough to soften up the surface. Well, no dice today — it never got above freezing. The trails are pretty awful — icy, rutted, downright dangerous. But the crust is actually fairly good — rippled like the sea on a nice day, a skiable sno-coney kind of snow. And there’s still nearly complete snow cover . . . even though you can hardly call that icy, wind-swept carapace “snow.” I suppose that the Arctic, or the Antarctic, is much like this in the polar “summer.”

B–

 

3/19 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Well, it’s spring skiing — whatdya expect? Mooshy, with a few bare spots on sunny slopes; hard frozen, deeply rutted crust in the shade. It’s amazing that there’s still so much snow, or whatever you can call this abundant white stuff that originally fell as snow, some of it as long ago as Thanksgiving, & that has now been through the freeze/thaw cycle dozens of times, & has been rained on two or three times . . . & yet, incredibly enough, given that it’s late March, is still there. So let’s ski on it!

B

 

3/12 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Well, after that great long stretch of superb winter trail conditions, from mid-January right on into early March, things have now changed considerably — the difference being, of course, the effects of three days in the 50s & three nights in the mid-30s. And last night it got cold again & today was in the 20s, mostly. Evidently the gomers made a pass at a few of the trails this morning to groom what is now officially corn snow, & this made for a nice, firm, very skiable surface this afternoon.

However: just as evident as today’s grooming & very light traffic afterwards, there were, fossilized deeply into the trail, a single set of classic tracks, & a single set of skate tracks, & a single big-pawed set of dog tracks, all obviously left there during that warm spell . . . & these tracks were, at times, a real impediment to skiing today, even with this morning’s grooming. Hey, you guys: Was it really any fun to slog through the slush like that? Were you thinking, Hey, I’m wrecking the trail? Or maybe you were just thinking, Damn, it sure is warm & sloppy today or I told Bowser we were going for a ski & by God we’re going for a ski. In any case, we shouldn’t need a written rule or bylaw for something so axiomatic: Don’t Wreck the Trail. If you’ve just gotta stick to your program & get out on a day when the snow’s really soft, then fine, ski all you want to — but not on the groomed trails.

In fact, as any ski freak can tell you: when the conditions are like that (very deep snow on a very warm day), it’s hardly different to ski on or off the trail — either way, you sink in deep. So why wreck the regular cold-day trail that we’ve been cultivating for months? Anybody can look at the weather forecast. (Most skiers live for the weather forecast, right?) So here’s a proposed ethic: if we’ve got a great trail base going late in the season, & then the weather forecast indicates that we’re in for three days in the 50s after which it’ll get cold again, then we stay off the trails. But if the three days in the 50s are to be followed by, say, a week in the 80s, then okay, go ahead, sploosh your way through what’s left of our wonderful memories of Winter ’15. . . .

B

 

3/8 — Rochester, Vermont: When Words Count Retreat

Today Marti & I were directed to the trails set by the Forest Service — but we’d hardly gone a half mile towards Rochester when we spotted an xc trail heading into the forest up here on the hilltop area (is that where we are? is that why it’s called Mountain View up here?). Magical conditions: the trail had been tracked into deep powder by, say, a half dozen skiers before us, leaving the snow under the tracks pillow-like & the snow beside the tracks, where you pole, cloud-like, all of it requiring a delicate attention to balance. So skiing that trail was surreal: gently slowish-motion 3-dimensional surfing.

And all around, the beautiful Green Mountains, looking very Vermonty & loftier than any of the forested hills around Brattleboro.

A+

 

3/7 — Rochester, Vermont: When Words Count Retreat

Now here’s a change of pace. The Green Mountains of central Vermont are like a time machine that takes you back two or three weeks to mid-February — a little more snow, a little less degradation due to rising temps, a lot more elevation than the Connecticut Valley. On actual trails, these would all be good things . . . in the field across the road, maybe not so much. Breaking a trail in such deep snow (at least 2 feet) is damned hard work, & on that first tough slog uphill I was thinking C+, maybe B– tops . . . but the subsequent downhill on the trail I’d just made was sorta-kinda fun, & going back up was much easier than the first time, & the next downhill was pretty damn fun after all. Always good to play in the snow!

B

 

3/6 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Another fine day out on the links: the snow is firm, fast, frozen, & fun . . . but also unforgiving. Late in the afternoon, as the sun was setting, I’d already made it all the way to top of the hill via Owl Loop — a real shoulder workout on fast, frozen tracks — & then, as I was zipping down Sugarin’, I saw movement in the trees — three whitetail does skedaddling. Sap’s rising, folks! On that last little stretch back to the parking lot I got abstracted thinking about how magical it was to see those deer on a such fine day of skiing day . . . & maybe it was so magical & so fine as to make this an A+ day . . . & then wham, down I went, tripped up by a little hiccup in the tracks that I should have seen coming. Yet another humbling comeuppance!

A

 

3/5 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Since there’s a full moon tonight, I thought it would be cool to hold off skiing till evening, & then head over to Memorial Park & buy a ticket for the T-bar & try a few runs, downhill style. (It’s weird to pay for your downhill skiing with money, rather than with the effort required to ski first uphill . . . but of course this is the eternal difference between “Alpine” & “Nordic” skiing.) Anyhow, late in the afternoon I took a peek at BOC’s Facebook page & saw that with the return of the cold the gomers had been busy, & I just couldn’t resist. I didn’t arrive until ridiculously late — 5:30 — but found that the groomed trails were very skiable indeed, fast & fun. I took Unity up the winding section through the trees & over to East Orchard, & then Lower Heartthrob, mostly just double-poling on the hard, fast, perfectly groomed gentle decline all the way back to the parking lot — wheeee!

A

 

3/4 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Good news, bad news. Good news: we seem to have dodged the rain bullet, or the freezing rain bazooka shell. Bad news: after well over 24 hours of freakishly warm air temps, the top couple of inches of snow have turned to dough, so when you ski on it you sink in to the point that it’s virtually impossible to maneuver, & yet there you are, whizzing along the still-superb base, which is pretty great on flat stretches, but a tough poling workout on the uphills, & a scary thrill ride on the downhills. Our unforgettable run of A conditions is over, RIP.

When I arrived, late as always, hoping that things had started to cool down, I found instead that Hank had taken the very sensible measure of closing all the trails but Dogtrot so that they wouldn’t get too badly rutted. The hope, of course, is that when the cold comes back tomorrow & today’s inevitable ruts freeze hard, the gomers can get out there & put a new surface on the trails. We’re officially into spring skiing conditions now, folks!

B–

 

3/3 — Brattleboro: Ft. Dummer

No shortage of snow, that’s for sure. Today was the first time I’ve skied the Sunrise Trail this season—a good challenge, especially on the uphills, because the packed trail (2 snowshoes wide) is flanked by deep powder, making it all but impossible to ’bone your way up.

For whatever reasons of luck, skill, or cowardice, I’ve gone the whole season so far without a fall—not one. Maybe I’m just not skiing hard enough, or not skiing in hard-enough places. Well, comeuppance time: after making it all the way around the very difficult Sunrise loop, I was ’boning up that last little steep bit . . . when one of my tips snagged a hidden sapling in the deep powder, & the next thing I knew I was on my knees. Time to pray for humility!

A–

 

3/2 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Just plain ol’ good skiing: even though I once again courted fate by waiting until much too late in the afternoon (I signed it at 5:10), it was still a little too warm (30-ish) to be icy, & last night’s inch of fresh snow had blown around without drifting too much. We’ve had an unprecedented string of fine skiing days, & the trails are holding up amazingly well . . . but the word I fear most this time of year, rain, is in the forecast for Wednesday, so . . .

A

 

3/1 — Putney: Putney School trails

Except for one thing, the Putney School 5k trail was absolutely perfect at midday: a nice, wide, well-groomed trail in very good condition; the same perfect temperature as yesterday, about 20 or 25 or so; the first fat, tentative flakes of an anticipated 1–3 inches just starting to fall. All perfect, right? A+ stuff. Except for one thing: the main Putney School trail system takes you down, down, down that hillside to the west of the big field by the school, & then, of course — cross-country karma being what it is — up, up, up that same hillside. And up . . . and up . . . So, although the physics of the trail are superb . . . the psychics of the trail are inverted: most of the fun first, with most of the hard work to finish, like a meal that begins with several wonderful desserts, more than enough to fill you up & make you giddy with a sugar high . . . but then, uh oh, there you are at the bottom looking up at the trail disappearing into the trees, & now it’s time to eat your vegetables . . . & more vegetables . . . & more vegetables. . . .

I do have to say this, though — even as a meal served upside down, this is one great trail. If only there were a good way to begin at the bottom of the hill . . .

A

 

2/28 — P-----: D---- R----

Sometimes, every now & again, everything’s perfect: the sky, a cloudless blue; the air, a crisp, comfortable 20–25 degrees; the snow, freshly groomed & right in the sweet spot between too this or too that; the woods, lovely, light, & deep. Perfect. What my dad would call “Cadillac” conditions, meaning: the best there is, luxury . . . though not for the likes of us. But there we were today, the likes of us — Marti & me — back here in her old stomping grounds (evidently one-time residency in this neck of the woods, even if it was years ago, makes her an honorary lifetime local, hence welcome on these hush-hush-private trails). Marti was trying a new pair of skinny touring skis that were perfect for the newly set tracks, so no snow caking onto the bottoms like last week, just gliding along on a dream. . . .

A+

 

2/27 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

I’m really pushing this end-of-the-day thing — I didn’t sign in until 5:30 today & was kicking myself for not getting out an hour or two earlier. But lucky me: I bumped into someone just coming off the trails who said that Forest was “recommended” (meaning: Four out of Five Gomers Agree — Try Forest Today!), & sure enough, Forest was freshly groomed & was lots of fun on what would otherwise have been an icy & difficult trip up the hill. Up near the top, along East Orchard, I never quite get which trail is which, Forest & Fortitude & Upper Heartthrob, etc., but the skiing was great wherever the grooming was fresh — on most stretches I was the first skier to follow the gomers, & both the tracks & the corduroy were in perfect shape. Lots of fun coming down — fast! — on Upper Heartthrob & a fine glide home on Unity, almost too late to be out (well after 6:00). Thank you, Gods of Winter! Thank you, Gomers!

A

 

2/26 — Brattleboro: Lilac Ridge Farm

My writing buddy Ross treated me to a nice long jaunt along a snowmobile trail through the woods near Round Mountain on a part of Lilac Ridge Farm he calls “the Rogers place.” It was maddeningly close to being perfect — if only it were just a few degrees warmer, to soften up the icy sections . . . if only it had snowed just a half inch this morning, to put a fresh surface on the trail . . . etc. But a glorious day to be out anyhow — thanks, Ross!

A–

 

2/25 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Not much recent grooming, still pretty icy late in the afternoon, so today was a nice day to stay on the lower, flatter trails — Lower Heartthrob & the lower part of Unity. Fast & fun!

A

 

2/24 — Brattleboro: Ft. Dummer

The snowshoe trails made for a fairly difficult skiing surface today; just as I arrived (a little too late in the afternoon, as usual), a bunch of middle-school kids were piling into a mini-bus after stomping a lot of deep holes in the trail (they didn’t have snowshoes, just boots). So that, plus the thawing & refreezing from Sunday, made the trails a real challenge, particularly on the uphills.

I hate to admit it, but we’re getting into spring skiing conditions — which means, above all, that skiing needs to be carefully timed each day according to sunshine & air temperature in order to catch the moment of optimal conditions. That is, the porridge has to be just right — not too soft & mooshy, not too hard & frozen, with further attention to sunny & shady places, etc.

But who doesn’t like spring skiing?

A–

 

2/23 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Back to deep-winter cold, but the warm weather yesterday has left the trails a bit icy & challenging. Today I stuck mostly to trails like Forest & Unity that don’t get so much direct sunshine, & they were okay, but the more exposed trails, like Fortitude, have thawed & refrozen in spots. I did a little true cross-country skiing through the untrammeled powder between trails — it’s deep, & the poles go down about 18 inches before hitting that old half-forgotten post-icestorm crust.

A–

 

2/22 — P-----: D---- R----

Great news & not-so-great news today: Another 8 inches of fresh beautiful snow, hooray! But it’s also freakishly warm, well in the 30s, so by midday the snow had a somewhat doughy quality, making it hard to maneuver on downhill curves. Also, Marti was having a devil of a time with snow caking onto the bottom of her skis — damn, we should have brought the Easy-Glide. (I treated my skis with this stuff more than a week ago & they’re still sliding along just fine.) But what a gorgeous day to be out in the woods!

A–

 

2/20 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Another cold day, 10-ish; the trails are fast & they’re getting a little chopped up with use, but it’s been too steadily cold for any thawing that could lead to iciness. I love the Dunham Loop trail for the sake of the long, long stridy-glidy downhill it gives you; theoretically I should be bothered by the presence of a major Interstate highway just 50 or 100 yards away, & I can certainly hear & see the cars if I think about it . . . but mainly I just don’t think about it.

What I was thinking about today was an interesting visual wrinkle to the how-late-can-I-ski question. As the light starts to get dim, the snow on the trail can seem to “flop” or invert: little ridges suddenly seem to be little grooves, depressions seem like raised areas, etc. I suppose this is a matter of the way we process visual information to create the idea of 3-D landscape; “reading the snow” of a ski trail means making sense of very subtle nuances of gray on white, & as the light is beginning to fail, the brain begin to misinterpret the information provided by the eyes. Barb calls this “flat light” — light insufficient to provide unambiguous 3-D information about the surface we’re skiing on. Interesting, interesting. . .

A

 

2/19 — Brattleboro: Ft. Dummer

The snow-shoers have packed down a nice little 18-inch-wide half-pipe that functions very well as a ski trail & makes me think of Nordic communities where “mixed-use” trails (boots, snowshoes, skis, sledges, dogs) are simply the wintertime norm — no grooming, no machines.

This time of year is my absolute favorite: now there’s no trouble getting in a full day’s work followed by a nice, vigorous late-afternoon ski. And the question that concerns me isn’t so much What time does the sun set? as How late can I ski? That is, at what point is it just too dark for a skier to be able to read the snow effectively? Today the answer to that question was: 5:45 pm. Not bad, not bad. . .

A

 

2/18 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

So what do you do when your work life is interfering with your ski life & there’s simply no time to ski . . . but you do need to travel a bit, & your route could possibly be reinterpreted to include Upper Dummerston Road, & the BOC trails do happen to be right there anyway . . . ? The loop around Lower Hearththrob is just about doable in ten minutes, it turns out, what with the great snow & the fine, fresh grooming & all. Thanks, gomers!

A

 

2/17 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Pretty much the same protocol as yesterday, but today was a bit warmer (a balmy 20-ish), & I mostly stuck to the groomed trails, which are fast & fun. And the real triumph today is that even though I didn’t hit the trail until just after 5:00, there was still time to get a good hustling ski in before dark, so we’ve turned the corner on winter: it’s now possible to get something like a full day’s work under your belt before rewarding yourself with some time out on the snow where you belong. We get to live here!

A

 

2/16 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Okay, here’s the situation after the Saturday/Sunday blizzard (a little new snow but lots & lots of wind) reshuffled the deck, snow-wise: the gomers seem to have regroomed a few trails on the freeway side of the course, & these are nice & fast on a cold day like this (somewhere around 10 degrees). On the east side of the course (Upper & Lower Heartthrob, etc.), the trails are pretty much completely drifted over . . . which makes for real cross-country skiing over terrain that I’ve really only known as groomed trails. In some places I followed the tracks of the dozen or so skiers who seem to have ventured out earlier today; in some places I found myself breaking trail in drifted (sandy-textured) snow more than a foot deep on top of the base. A bit of a slog at times, but that’s real skiing.

A–

 

2/14 — P-----: D---- R----

I’m not really supposed to advertise this place, which is semi-private, so you have to know someone who knows someone, etc. Oh well — one of those New Englandy things, I guess, & lucky me, because I do know someone who knows someone. Magical conditions: cold enough (~8 degrees) to keep a guy moving, tons of fresh snow & still snowing lightly, a recent grooming on this great trail system through the sugar bush.

A+

 

2/13 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

All woods trails today: up Forest & down Unity. The snow on the packed trails is getting a little stiff — still far from “icy,” just stiff enough to be challenging when maneuvering at speed through the trees. But how glorious to be out in the cold air (~10 degrees) amidst all this snow!

A

 

2/12 — Brattleboro: Ft. Dummer

The snow is just about the deepest I’ve seen up here. So nice to follow the snowshoe trails — real cross-country skiing, like our ancestors used to do, from cave to cave, back when poles were still made from bamboo sticks & ski socks were woven from belly-button lint. And they skied with pet dinosaurs — but today I got to ski with Trooper.

A

 

2/10 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

It just keeps getting better: a couple inches of fresh snow. Trooper & I just about the first ones on the trail after the gomers have done their magic. Ahhh . . .

A

 

2/9 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

A quick loop around Dogtrot with Trooper. Trail holding up just fine & dandy in the cold air.

A

 

2/8 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

One of those rare, magical days . . . perfect snow (fresh from the sky & still lightly falling), perfect temperature (mid-20s), perfect afternoon (Sunday, no work rush). And perfect grooming: nice, w-i-d-e lanes not unlike those (they say) up at the fabled G------, just north of L---, N-- H------- (of which I disclaim any knowledge whatsoever — I swear, officer, I swear).

So this is the dead of winter? — seems pretty damn lively to me. We get to live here!

A+

 

2/7 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Back to Dogtrot & lower Freedom with Marti & Trooper. Mid-afternoon the air temp was the warmest it’s been in a week or two — thirty-ish — & we could feel the snow softening up a little under our skis. This might be cause for minor concern about iciness when the cold comes back . . . but the great good news is that we’re supposed to get another nice dump in the next couple of days, as much as a foot on top of what is already the best snow we’ve had in several years. Thanks in advance to the Snow Gods, & may it stay nice & cold!

A

 

2/6 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Everything nice today: Nice chilly air (15-below this morning) to keep the snow nice & fresh. Trooper & I had a nice couple of loops around Dogtrot. At least on the lower part of the trail system, the base is holding up . . . nicely.

A

 

2/5 — Brattleboro: Fort Dummer

Another few inches of fine, fresh, Vermont Grade-A Fancy powder snow last night — ain’t we got fun! Whoever has been skiing up at Fort Dummer has laid down a mighty nice pair of tracks, which now form a deep slot in the surrounding snow. This kind of skiing used to be called “touring”: not really deep-woods trailblazing & definitely not racing around on a machine-groomed trail. I imagine that this is what commuting is like in certain parts of Scandinavia . . . or, say, Marlboro, Vermont. Those lucky, lucky souls. . . .

A

 

2/4 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Just as I suspected, Dogtrot had been groomed by the time I got there in the afternoon, & I took Trooper out for a short one in the cold air. The snow is perfect — fresh, lightly packed, no thaw/freeze/thaw/freeze cycles as of yet. Thanks, gomers!

A

 

2/3 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Remember the Snowmaggedon we were supposed to get last week, & didn’t? Well, we got it yesterday . . . or at least a lovely 16 inches of the kind of light, dry snow that falls in very cold air. Trooper & I were among the lucky first few to follow the groomers out onto Dogtrot — but then we found that Dogtrot still hadn’t been rolled, but the lower part of Freedom had, so we made three loops around before Trooper started to get alarmingly gimpy with that rear leg of his. Better give it a rest.

A

 

2/1 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Trooper’s back, so we kept to the legal doggy trails — just as great today as they were yesterday, & even better, in fact, because Trooper’s back. The snow on Labland & Dunham Loop is still nice & fresh; connecting them, there’s still that exposed section of Owl Loop that’s drifted over in a few spots. Poor Trooper got bogged down in one especially deep drift; it was heartbreaking to see him drag his one rear leg along behind him as he churned himself forward with his front legs. But he emerged with his head unbowed & his tail wagging. He likes skiing at least as much as I do!

A

 

1/30 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

A couple more inches of fresh snow — if this keeps up, we may have a real winter on our hands. When I arrived at my usual too-late-in-the-afternoon time-slot, I heard someone in the parking lot say, “This is skiing snow.” Can’t argue with that! Again I went with the ungroomed woodsy trails today: the newly reconfigured Labland was lots of fun, & Dunham Loop trail was so sublimely great that I never thought even once about the freeway just a snowball throw down the hill.

A

 

1/29 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

It warmed up to a balmy 25+ today, so the trails softened up a bit (& slowed up a bit, too, but that’s okay). The long fairway trails — Upper & Lower Heartthrob, Sugarin’, etc. — are especially nice in weather like this.

A

 

1/28 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

More trails have been regroomed today, & it’s cold (below 10) so the packed snow is fast. I could quibble about icy spots, a fair amount of blow-down (small branches, etc.) on the trails . . . but c’mon, it’s winter & we get to ski — what’s not to like?

A

 

1/27 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Okay, so Snowmaggedon was something of a bust — the nor’easter dumped most of its load on Connecticut & Rhode Island & eastern Mass, & instead of the 2 feet we were promised for southern Vermont, we got, oh, maybe 4 or 5 inches . . . hard to say, since it was so windy that the snow was blowing into uneven drifts even as it was still falling. The gomers did a heroic job of pressing down as much of it as they could onto the hard-crust base. This paid off best on the woodsy trails (Forest, Unity) that were protected from the wind. And the steep climbs on Forest were just the thing today to ward off the cold — just keep on a-movin’!

A–

 

1/26 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Well, the BOC trails sure could use some fresh snow. And that’s exactly what the weatherfolk are predicting, with a nor’easter bearing down on us. Somebody on VPR said the storm would be “Historic, catastrophic, & crippling!” Snowmaggedon! Snowpocalypse! Bring it on!

B

 

1/25 — Saxton’s River: Vermont Academy trails

Mighty cold but how nice to get into the woods for some real cross-country skiing. Sorry, ski-skaters — I love watching you guys whiz along on wide, machine-groomed trails, but there’s no way you could ever manage trails like these (narrow, ungroomed, a bit icy here, a bit chewed-up there) just like our ancestors skied on when they were hunting mastadons & being hunted, in turn, by saber-toothed cats.

A–

 

1/24 — Dummerston: Flaherty Field

Whoopee, winter again! Top marks for beauty: fresh snow flocking the trees, misty silver light, etc. etc. etc. Kind of challenging to ski on, though, because under the couple of inches of fresh powder, there is the Ghost of Ice Storms Past — a treacherous crust on top of that nice New Year’s snow . . . & below that, a treacherous crust on top of that nice Thanksgiving snow, making for conditions commonly known as double-crypto-crustaceousness. I can even see the trace of my Thanksgiving tracks under all those layers — this ain’t skiing, it’s snow archeology. Well, okay, it is skiing, I guess — fun, but not too.

B

 

1/18 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Well, I knew it was supposed to rain today, & get up to 40 degrees F, so I thought, Okay, then, I’d better get to BOC early — & I managed to drag Marti & Trooper there by 11:00 a.m. By then it was already sprinkling pretty steadily, & the trails were icy & fast — much faster than they’ve been in all the cold weather of the prior couple of weeks. We made it once around Dogtrot before deciding that skiing in the rain really ain’t all that fun . . . & by the time we made it back to the parking lot, sometime before noon, “they” (Hank, etc.) had already made the decision to close the trails to avoid damaging them.

So that’s the ski report, leaving out the rest of the story: the part about the rain on cold pavement meaning, essentially, ICE STORM . . . & the part about Upper Dummerston Road suddenly becoming a three-dimensional skating rink . . . & the part about sliding the car into a snowbank, & having to put on chains, & parking in an unused driveway, & then having to walk a mile to Sherm & Beth’s house to wait out the hour or two I knew it would take for the road to be salted, by which time the day’s little ski jaunt had turned into a three-hour tour, a three-hour tour. . . .

So let us review: we’ve had two nice little mini-winters now — one at Thanksgiving & then this last one, the past nine days. Let’s all pray for another big snow, another winter.

C–

 

1/16 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Labland has been problematic lately — trees must have fallen across the trail in several places, so this season I’ve had to bushwhack most of the way up (never down — that would be suicidal) to get Trooper from Dogtrot to Faithful: the trails legal for canines. So today, at Hank’s instigation, Brad, John, Gurudaram, & I rerouted Labland along better gradients, with a new entrance on Dogtrot closer to I-91. And then Trooper & I gave it a go (up, of course — never down): even though we still have some wrinkles to work out, it’s a big improvement, & will be even better when we get some serious snow on top of that icy base. And I look forward to seeing more dog tracks alongside the moose tracks (no kidding!) throughout this section of the forest.

A–

 

1/14 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Lucky me — the gomers had just worked their magic when Trooper & I got to BOC for a couple of loops around Dogtrot. How do they do it? Even with hay stubble poking through here & there, they still manage to create a fine, fresh surface for the discriminating skier.

A–

 

1/12 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

It snowed another inch this morning, & the prediction was that the temperature would warm up & the snow would turn to sleet & then rain . . . luckily the precip petered out before those bad things happened. This afternoon was brilliantly clear & unusually warm (over 30), making the snow sticky — almost but not quite sticky enough to clump to the bottom of the skis. So the skiing was slow . . . but so what? It was still skiing.

B+

 

1/11 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Barb & Walter were back; we only had an hour today, so the four us — all eleven legs of us — did the Dogtrot loop a couple of times. Cold again, so the snow’s still holding up. And then we had to run off & attend, ahem, a performance of Verdi’s Requiem. (At least two members of our party would have preferred to continue playing in the snow.)

A

 

1/10 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Barb & Walter joined Trooper & me for a nice, long, two-hour ski through the cold, sparkling air, around Dogtrot via Honeysuckle Gulch, up through the woods on Labland, up around to the Dunham Field Loop — fine conditions. The snow is still a bit thin in spots, but, as is their wont, the gomers have done a great job of making a lot of a little.

A

 

1/9/15 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Ah, back to Vermont winter . . . but what a weird winter so far. Let us review: after that beautiful Thanksgiving snowstorm & several days of great skiing, it got warm & rained . . . then after Christmas we got a couple of inches of sleet, then freezing rain, then days & days of cold weather, leaving a hard, shiny carapace of ice o’er all the land — the skiing conditions were suicidal. And the people were sad. But last night & this morning it snowed again, & the people were happy! At least the ski people were happy, & the BOC gomers were happy to keep us happy & they pressed the new snow into nice corduroy trails before the wind picked up this afternoon.

So Trooper & I gave Dogtrot a whirl. The trail surface was amazingly good, considering that the gomers had only an inch or two of fresh snow to work with. It was cold & the wind was cold & the snow was blowing all over that big open field, swirls of fine, sandlike snow across the open tundra, making it look like a polar Sahara, like . . . winter in Vermont, like skiing.

A–

 

12/28/14 — Casper, Wyoming: Casper Mountain, county trails

By myself today. Feeling ambitious, I decided I’d try to get a sense of the full extent of all the new trails by doing the whole perimeter of the system. Well, I discovered that one of the most far-flung trails was a loop that was only groomed halfway, & so I returned to the main system by way of a snowmobile trail that ran along the cold, windswept ridge where all the new radio & cell phone towers are . . . making it a joy to get back into the trees & onto the groomed trails. This time I parked the truck at the old Wawa Pancake House at the downhill end of the trail system, so I got to end my day’s ski with a mile of big strides & big glides, almost like swimming gently through space, twilight in the pines. Heaven should be exactly like this. . . .

A+

 

12/27 — Casper, Wyoming: Casper Mountain, county trails

Today my old buddy Tom Rea & I, with no dog in tow this time, came up to try out the county trails (as everybody has always called the Natrona County Parks Department Nordic Trails . . . or whatever the official name is). The fabulous snow from yesterday had been expertly groomed, the snow & the temperature (20-ish) were perfect. We discovered that the trail system has been nearly doubled in extent since the last time I was here several years ago — & I hate to make invidious comparisons, but the sheer vastness of the landscape here, & the miles & miles of pristine groomed trails &, above all, the perfect snow all combine to make our beloved Brattleboro Outing Club system seem small & brave & sad. (I won’t feel this way if & when the magic returns to the BOC trails . . . I promise.)

A+

 

12/26 — Casper, Wyoming: Casper Mountain, K2 tower area

Okay, okay — it’s not Brattleboro, it’s not Vermont. But how could I pass up a Christmastide trip back to my old hometown & the chance to ski on Casper Mountain, where I first learned to ski nearly forty years ago? Especially when the snow was already a foot or so deep even before new snow started to fall at dawn on Christmas Day & hasn’t entirely stopped since? And I mean real, honest-to-God Rocky Mountain champagne powder snow, the kind that falls through thin, dry air & stays perfect. Well, in town the snow only stays perfect until the wind picks up & blows it to Nebraska . . . but up on the mountain, except in a few exposed spots, it falls among the lodgepole pines & aspens & limber pines & Engelmann spruce & ponderosa pines, & it flocks all the trees, & it just keeps building up, getting six feet deep by April, & it never gets rained on or sleeted on, & it just stays perfect — perfect, I tell you, perfect!

So . . . with that outburst out of my system, I’ll just report that I took my niece Teresa, a snowboarder but XC ski novice, up to the K2 tower (locals will all know where I mean) because we had Teresa’s mutt, Albert Einstein, with us (so the county trails were off-limits today). Teresa was a great sport & a dogged learner as we made our way along the ridgetop road for a mile or two out & then back to the truck, & all the while the snow was perfect & even in hazy sunlight a few flakes were still falling & the air itself was sparkling & I could have wept at the beauty of it all. This was where I became a cross-country convert all those decades ago, & this was why — no turning back once you’ve tasted the magic.

A+

 

11/30 — Dummerston: Flaherty Field

Already this nice little teaser of winter is coming to a close: the temp is near 40 & the forecast for the week calls for even warmer days & everybody’s least-favorite weather, the dreaded “wintry mix,” a.k.a. yuccho-goopo. The big loop trail I made a couple of days ago is still passable today, not icy at all but you do hear that ominous crunching sound under your skis as the melting snow collapses. And the snow elsewhere is turning to mashed potatoes, getting too heavy & thick for maneuvering when you get a little speed up going downhill. But all in all, conditions were okay for a nice little workout — hey, it’s skiing.

B

 

11/29 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

A nice big perimeter loop around the golf course, which suddenly isn’t a golf course at all anymore, but our wonderful BOC wintertime playground — big improvement, sez me. Even more of the trails have been groomed & not just a single narrow swath like yesterday, but full trails tracked on one side for classic & wide enough for skating. The stretch along East Orchard Road was mostly not groomed, so the day’s work was a nice combination of hauling ass on the groomed trails & slowing down to smell the roses (or pines, or whatever) on connector trails blazed by a few of my fellow BOC’ers earlier in the day. Let’s be grateful for this Thanksgiving prequel to the real ski season while we can; it’s supposed to warm up, starting tomorrow, so all this lovely white stuff will turn to moosh next week, with rain in the forecast.

A–

 

11/28/14 — Dummerston: Flaherty Field / Brattleboro: BOC trails

Can it be? It can! We’re skiing again — there’s been a nor’easter, me hardies! Usually all we get from nor’easters is rain, or, in winter, gummy white dough followed by rain, but this time, starting at noon the day before Thanksgiving, we got 12 inches of nice fresh powder. Wonderful to see the world transformed from late-November dreary to cross-country heaven in just 24 hours! First snow of winter, wet enough to be packable but not so wet as to be sticky — so: perfect for skiing. According to tradition (the last three or four years, anyhow), I made my trial runs for the season out the back of Marti’s back door & around the big field just off Black Mountain Road. Three big loops: one to set the trail, two more to enjoy it. Real old-time cross-country skiing — no machines involved, & the only fuel burned was this morning’s oatmeal. Hoo-hah — we’re skiing again!

A

 

That was morning — gorgeous, sparkling fresh snow, lots of it. And then, late in the afternoon, I just happened to be driving along Upper Dummerston Road, minding my own business, & came upon the country club, & since I happened to have my skis in the car, I thought I’d get greedy & get a second ski in today. Good idea, it turns out: the mighty Gomers had already run the roller over a number of the trails & the surface, though it had gotten plenty of use in the course of the day, was mostly highly skiable, just a few thin or icy patches. So nice to be out in the twilight.

And with that, another great season of skiing in underway — oh yeah!

A–

 

*     *     *

 

3/31/14 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

It rained heavily yesterday, the wind blew hard last night, & the temperature has mostly been well above freezing for the past few days. I went to take a look at the trails this morning &, well, there aren’t really any trails to speak of, just remnants that don’t really connect the scattered patches of dirty, branch-strewn snow. There may be enough snow on some of the fairways that skate-skiers can give themselves a mild workout . . . but that’s pretty much it for BOC this season.

And what a great season it’s been! Many thanks to the BOC members, to the crack crew of Gomers who kept the trails in such fine shape throughout most of the season, despite long stretches without fresh snow, & especially to Hank Lange, whose vision, dedication, & enthusiasm make cross-country skiing in Brattleboro what it is.

We get to live here!

 

3/29 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Another warm, overcast day of evenly softening (i.e., melting) snow, & again very skiable wherever it’s skiable at all — which is still 90 percent of the whole golf course. Even some, though by no means all, of the icy patches were passable with a nice skiable coating of slush on top. I love spring skiing!

And that may be just about it for the BOC trails this season — the forecast calls for heavy rain tomorrow and a high of around fifty, so by Monday there may be little left at BOC but an archipelago of snow islands . . .which can be kinda sorta fun if you can find isthmuses (isthmi?) connecting them, but no fun at all when you find yourself stranded with no choice but to risk “skiing” over bare ground or unclipping your skis altogether & surrendering to the inevitable: it’s over.

A–

 

3/28 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

A warm (mid-forties) afternoon — misty after a full day of rain, so the snow is slushy but weirdly skiable . . . in fact, excellent on the trails & much of the crust — except for the areas that have turned into frozen ponds, or where the snow & ice have disappeared altogether. No problem getting up Forest — except for (see above). I startled a big doe along the way — sorry! By this time tomorrow, Forest may be melted out in so many places that it won’t be a ski trail at all anymore this season, just a winding path through the woods, & that deer will be right there where she belongs.

But there’s still plenty of skiing to be had at BOC . . . so where is everybody? Where is anybody but me & the deer & the squirrels & the birds? (Okay, one skate-skier earlier in the day, who left his tracks but not his name in the ledger, hmm . . .) Even with warm temperatures & rain, there’s still enough snow for at least another week of skiing, I’ll bet. Just get the timing right — I’m guessing mid-mornings & late afternoons will be skiable.

What would you rather be doing?

B+

 

3/27 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Things warmed up into the high thirties today & the skiing was very good at about four in the afternoon — good ol’ springtime sno-cone on the surface, with firmer stuff not too deep underneath. By & large the crust between trails is better than the trails, which are very deeply rutted & frozen to rock ice in the low spots. More & more bare spots & frozen ponds to avoid.

So it’s real cross-country skiing: you pick a spot, maybe the top of a rise or a space between trees, & go there & pick a new spot, & go there, & so on. Real cross-country skiing like this, where you’re picking your own route according to nuances of terrain, snow condition, obstacles, & openings, can be more deeply engaging than just following groomed tracks & trails — certainly as fun as trail skiing, just in a different way. Even though most of the skiing I do these days is trail skiing, I’m glad I first learned to ski & to love skiing on Casper Mountain back before the era of groomed trails, & much more recently, I’m glad I opted for back-country skis when I upgraded a few years ago! They may be a bit fatter & therefore slower on trails, but it’s great always to have the option to make my own trails.

How is it that I was the last one to sign in at the kiosk — two days ago! — & yet there are a fresh pair of classic tracks & a fresh pair of skate-ski tracks? Hmm . . 

B+

 

3/26 — Brattleboro: Fort Dummer

A cold & very windy day — no chance that the BOC trails will soften up for skiing, so I pulled my ice grippers on & walked the Sunset Loop, thinking about . . . snow.

You know that old saw about the Eskimos having so many words for snow? Ten, or fourteen, or twenty-three — whatever. The implication is that Eskimos have to live intimately with all the possible manifestations of snow, so they damn well better have ways of characterizing the white stuff in whatever form it may take . . . & also that, since we benighted (or bedayed) gringos just have the one word “snow,” therefore we have a laughably impoverished conception of the white stuff. Well, stuff & nonsense, sez me! We may not have such a wide range of one-word nouns for the various forms of snow, but so what? We make do nicely with adjectives & especially with metaphors — oh, we have ways of describing the nuances of snow, all right: fluff, powder, silk, thick flakes, clumps, dry snow, wet snow, old snow, fresh snow, light snow, heavy snow, glaze, rock ice, white sand, styrofoam, Sierra cement, corn snow, mashed potatoes, sno-cone, big granules, little granules, slush, glop. There’s twenty-four right there, so I guess we win, right?

 

3/25 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

It was a brilliantly clear, brisk morning, a real birthday of a morning . . . but I didn’t manage to get out to BOC until five — much too late for a cold day, even in springtime. So the trails were all but unskiable, with deep ruts frozen hard & deadly. Time to stay off the trails & stick to the crust, which was very firm & icy but at least fairly smooth, providing some harrowing fun on the downhills.

The nor’easter that was supposed to dump lots of snow on us tonight & tomorrow has decided to dump all that snow in the Atlantic Ocean instead — so say the weatherfolk (Mark Breen on VPR, & the National Weather Service online). And they’re calling for rain this weekend, with highs in the fifties. The end is near. . . .

B

 

3/23 — P—ney: D—ty R—ge trails

I’m not sure that I’m allowed to say anything much about this trail system, which is on private land in the county of W—ham in the state of V—mont, not so very far from B—boro. Miles & miles of superbly maintained trails, groomed flat for skate-skiing, up & down some moderately serious hillsides through a gorgeous sugar bush, complete with taps, tubes, & buckets. Central casting, send up a classic Northern New England hardwood forest still under deep snow in early spring. Ski-topia.

Except that I blew it — I should have gotten there at about noontime, not late afternoon. As I’ve mentioned umpteen times below, with spring skiing, timing is everything. By the time I hit the trails at about 4:30, the shadows were getting long & the air temp was down around freezing or below; the last of the skate-skiers (or was it a very low-flying jet aircraft?) streaked past me, & I had the mountain to myself. Unfortunately, earlier in the day one skate-skier in particular had lived the dream right when the snow was at its softest, & now his (or her . . .) day on the slopes was memorialized hard & deep into the trail, helping to make the uphills tricky (herringbone herringbone herringbone . . .) & the downhills treacherous. Kicked my ass. Damn, if only . . .

B–

 

3/22 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Just a good, basic, plain ol’ day of spring skiing — sunny, warm, & windy. When I arrived in the middle of the afternoon, Hank had groomed down a nice corduroy in the soft, wet surface of a little loop of Freedom, down to Dogtrot & back to the hut. What a privilege to be the first to use a freshly groomed trail! But I wanted to go uphill, not down, so I found good, perfectly skiable, snow-coney crust all the way up to Dipsy Doo, & from there on, the trails were okay, pretty much like the crust. I earned about a buck seventy-five of my volunteer-time credit clearing branches (& one whole dead tree) that had blown down onto the trail up on Curvy Wurvy. From there, the Cardiac Arrest hill was nicely doable, not too soft or too iced up, & then home on Lower Heart Throb. There’s still plenty of snow, guys, for getting around the ponds & the bare spots — & plenty of great skiing if you time it right!

B+

 

3/21 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

A warm-but-not-too-warm afternoon, perfect for spring skiing, & the snow mostly obligued. The trails were best — mashed potatoes on a firm base. The crust is starting to collapse, so today it was somewhat treacherous. Imagine that you’re skiing down a moderate slope & you’re accelerating & your skis are sinking deeper & deeper into mooshy, snow-coney granules & at first your ankles are cutting through the iced-up crust & then your knees & you’re accelerating & . . . then, suddenly, totally, you stop accelerating. That kind of crust. Stick to the trails!

Meanwhile, the weatherfolk are talking nor’easter next week. . . .

B+

 

3/20— Brattleboro: BOC trails

Ah, but last night’s snowfall never did turn to rain, & this morning — the first day of spring! — came with a wonderful parting gift from the God of Winter: two or three inches of fresh snow. It was supposed to warm up today, so — since I, uh, happened to be in the neighborhood — I got to BOC at the uncharacteristic hour of 9:30 a.m. The snow was nice & wet & heavy, about the consistency of mashed potatoes to make for slowish skiing, but perfectly suitable pretty much everywhere for the ol’ stride-’n’-glide classic skiing. (The only other skier was Brett doing his Mighty Viking thing, evidently finding the conditions great for skate-skiing, too.) The morning was misty & still & lovely, more Mordor than golf course, magical. . . . Whoda thunk we’d get another “A” day of skiing after going more than a month since the last real snowfall? Thank you, oh God of Winter!

A

 

3/19 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Surprisingly nice spring skiing — by late afternoon, after a day of warmish temps (thirties), mostly cloudy from noon on, there was a nice, even inch or two of sno-cone on top of a firm base (on the trails) . . . or on most of the trails, anyhow — some stretches of trail have become little hockey rinks, & others have melted right down to golf course. The crust is still mainly intact — today it was a nice, even three inches or so of sno-cone, & in many places provided a good way to get around problem spots on the trails. And just to make everything nicer, a very, very light corn snow began to fall as I was nearing the end of my day’s ski, & by the time I had my skis stowed in the car this had turned into a light, delicate snowfall. The prediction, unfortunately, is that this will turn to freezing rain or something equally gross, which may put an end to our reindeer games altogether for this season.

So . . . where is everybody?

A–

 

3/18 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Got the timing pretty much right today, maybe just a little past peak — fourish to about fivish. The snow (trails or crust) is soft to the point of slushy in the sunshine, then firm to point of icy in the shadows (& better to stick to the trails then — the crust becomes the worst of all worlds: icy on the very top but soft & deep below that). Good day to have sharp edges on your skis — you’ll need ’em.

B

 

3/17 — Brattleboro: Fort Dummer

Since it’s another mostly cold day during what is undeniably the early phase of the spring thaw (we can’t kid ourselves that we’re just once nice snowstorm away from another February, guys), it’s another day to stay off the ski trails, & don the ol’ grippers & hike the Sunset Trail & — for the first time this year — the Sunrise Trail too. A day, in other words, to daydream about spring skiing . . .

     . . . The skiing can be great in springtime, day after lengthening day, but as the temperature extremes widen this time of year — though most days are sunny & getting up into the thirties & even the forties, it’s still getting well below freezing at night — the optimal time-window for skiing can be short, maybe just an hour or two, & hard to predict exactly, & therefore hard to fit into even my admittedly über-flexible freelancer’s workday schedule. And as springtime progresses, then you get into the two-window per day season: too icy in the morning, then softening nicely for an hour sometime noonish, then getting altogether too warm & goopy for a while (forgive the technical terminology), then firming up again for another window of skiable conditions, then getting too damn icy as the shadows fall in the late afternoon. If I’m pretty much sure that I’ve missed either the early- or the late-afternoon window, then it’s just as well to pull the grippers on & take a walk up at Ft. Dummer. So there’s the daily calculus in springtime: when is skiing likely to be fun, & when will it be no fun at all?

 

3/16 — Dummerson: Black Mountain

Couldn’t talk Marti into skiing today — she was sure it would be icy & unsafe & unfun, & we kept this discussion going for hours & by mid- to late afternoon she was certainly right. So we went up Black Mountain with grippers on & the trail was fine for that — it would have been suicide on skis.

 

3/15 — Brattleboro: BOC Trails

What a difference a day makes! By afternoon it had warmed up into the forties & gotten overcast, so all the snow was being baked evenly, which made it uniformly soft & snowconey on top, but still firm below — very skiable. In a number of places the rock-ice base is exposed, but there’s plenty of room to get around.

B+

 

3/14 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

How desperately fanatical am I about skiing? I actually gave it a go today, on an even colder afternoon after even more sun & wind, & the ice was even icier & the sandy stuff was even sandier, & I got around Stadium, just off the parking lot, & up a hundred yards or so onto Lower Heartthrob . . . & I thought: This isn’t fun. There’s every chance that I’ll slip on the rock ice & fall onto all this rock ice, & that will be even less fun than trying to ski on the stuff. So I turned around & went home.

F

 

3/13 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Okay, the temp began to fall like a rock sometime early this morning, & as it was petering out the rain turned to a light, fluffy snow that was beautiful & delicate . . . & only about a quarter-inch “deep.” By late afternoon, unfortunately, a very cold, very sunny, & very windy day had created near-unskiable conditions on trails & crust alike: either frozen rock-hard or, in unpredictable patches, little drifts of the morning’s snow now blown to the consistency of sand. So you’re skittering along half out of control over the ice when suddenly you hit the sandy stuff — it’s like you’re a jet fighter swooping down & catching its tailhook on the deck cable of an aircraft carrier — whoa!

D

 

3/12 — Brattleboro: Fort Dummer

Ach, much warmer & raining, forget skiing today — in these conditions, it’s just as well to put on a trenchcoat & a wide-brimmed hat & a pair of good, waterproof boots, & slog your way around the Sunset Trail up at Ft. Dummer — at least you’re in the forest, right? Slogging & plodding through the moosh . . . “Slog, Plodd, & Mouche” — the world’s dreariest law firm.

(C)

 

3/11 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Cold & icy, very tough skiing, whether on the trails with their deep, fossilized ruts, from one skate-skier in particular (you know who you are . . . but I don’t blame you for skiing the last time it was warm).

C+

 

3/9 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Even though the air temp never got much above freezing today, it was brilliantly sunny, enough to soften up the top several inches of snow . . . but also windy enough to put a hard glaze on top of the mashed potatoes, making for a very difficult surface in places. This would have been a great day to get out there at about 11:00 a.m. . . . so when I started out, at 4:15 p.m., the snow had gotten very soft — too soft — but that top glaze of ice kept getting more & more treacherous: on the crust, the skis were breaking through the glaze & getting caught under it (when I tried coming downhill on the crust — bad idea); on the trails, the warm day’s ruts were very deep & firming up solid & unyielding, making it impossible to manoeuver. There was simply no way to come down the Cardiac Arrest hill safely & in control, nothing to do but pick the least lethal-looking line down on the crust & try not to die. Pray for fresh snow, everybody!

B–

 

3/8 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Ah, finally hit the spring-skiing bull’s-eye — excellent, consistent inch of moosh over that still-hard base. A bit on the slow side, but very skiable. The air was so warm — forty-ish, I imagine — that I figured even the tough forest trails would be softened up enough to be passable, so Trooper & I went up Labland, which was .   . passable . . . but no way was I going to come down Labland & break my neck, so we came down Freedom, where the grooming is holding up well. Thanks, Gomers.

A–

 

3/7 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Still trying to game the spring skiing, still missing it. A little too cold today, especially if you’re trying to hit the softened-up trails at the end of the afternoon . . . when they’re no longer softened up (today they probably never were). After a circuit around Dogtrot with Trooper, during which I kept trying to think of just the right word for the good parts (a nice half inch of mashed-potatoes-consistency snow over the frozen base, & just the right word of the bad parts (“bumply”?), a woman came off the trail with just the word: “rubbly.” Yes, perfect: frozen rubble. You don’t ski those parts; you negotiate them, either very, very gingerly, or by going around.

B–

 

3/6 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Lucky me — just as Trooper & I arrived for what I was hoping would be late-afternoon spring skiing (wrong — still too cold), the Heroic Gomer had just finished scratching a new surface onto Dogtrot, at long last. Whoopee! For the most part, it was really like skiing, not just skating, with the worst of the ruts scraped down passably & the best sections a nice, skiable corduroy. When I’m confined to Dogtrot (Trooper insists), I like to go around counter-clockwise first, then clockwise — twice the topography that way. Not warm enough today to soften up the snow for spring conditions, but not cold & arctic like earlier this week. I’m amazed (& a little dismayed) at how few people, to judge from the sign-in sheet, are getting out to enjoy the trails, which are better than we have any right to expect. . . .

A–

 

3/5 — Brattleboro: Fort Dummer

You know the skiing’s lousy when it seems just as well to walk. There are no groomed trails in Fort Dummer, of course, but people have beaten a path that is icy but smooth, perfectly walkable if you have grippers on. Always nice to get out in the woods, even if you’re not on skis. And thank God for grippers — remember that awful winter a couple of years back when all the trails (at Fort Dummer, & up Wantastiquet & Black Mountain & pretty much everywhere) were covered with a thick hard coat of rock ice, all that was left of the December snow? Grippers were the only way to go — if I were a celebrity, I’d happily do a celebrity endorsement: “Try grippers on all your icy trails — they bite!”

B

 

3/4 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

The temp is going up a bit, so I hoped to game it for spring skiing — catch just the right moment in the afternoon. Unfortunately, it’s still too damn cold for spring skiing, it’s still winter skiing on old, rutted, frozen, rained-on, refrozen trails, or else striking out across the crust, which makes me feel like Robert Scott on his ill-fated Antarctic expedition, struggling along over the ice & fissures, eyeing the dogs hungrily. . . . (Just kidding, Trooper).

B–

 

3/3 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Okay, after that brief Green Mountain Orchard interlude, it’s back to reality at BOC, with Dogtrot frozen up harder & scarier than ever, no stride-&-glide at all today, just navigating the petrified ruts still left over from that one wonderful afternoon a couple of weeks ago, just after the rain & just before the cold came back. Another day not for the faint of heart — but Trooper insisted on going out, so go out we did, & got a good workout.

C+

 

3/2 — Putney: Green Mountain Orchard

A rare treat: Green Mountain Orchard teamed up with the West Hill bike shop to sponsor a free ski day open to the whole community, with the Putney School groomers setting trails through the orchards. Tons of fun! The groomers found nice snow under the icy crust, providing a fine skiing surface up & down the hills between the apple trees. A festive atmosphere, with lots of people bringing their kids & trying out the equipment provided by the West Hill shop & enjoying hot cider afterwards. Please send the good folks at GMO (& the West Hill shop & Putney School) your thanks & kudos in the hope that they’ll do it again next year!

A

 

3/1 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Marti took Trooper for a walk, so I was able to make good use of the newly regroomed trails in the upper part of the course — Faithful, Fortitude, Upper Hearthrob, Cardiac Arrest, Lower Hearthrob. The Gomers have done a masterful job of putting a very flat, even, skiable corduroy surface onto the underlying iciness. Fast & fun — I’ll bet that I was skating at least a third of the time, striding-&-gliding a third of the time, & just plain old double-pole schussing a third of the time. Fairly hard work mixed with no work at all, & well worth it.

A–

 

2/28 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Marginally better than last time on the still-ungroomed Dogtrot: a very light snow yesterday, falling on the hard-frozen surface, has now been blown around into a fine powder about the consistency of, say, fine-ground salt, & this has been deposited in most of the ruts, so that, if you’re really paying attention, you can keep steering yourself onto surfaces that allow for as much skiing as skating. But it’s very uneven & constantly changing, so you’ve got to bring your whole game, as they say, & be prepared to change technique every few seconds — very challenging, but a good, honest workout.

B–

 

2/26 — Brattleboro: Fort Dummer

Snowshoeing again, waiting for decent ski conditions. Snowshoeing gives you a chance to contemplate, in isolation, some of the side factors that make skiing so great: the beauty & solitude of the forest, the pine-scented air, the brave little chirps, squawks, & melodic scraps of wintering birds, etc. etc. etc. Okay, now pray for more snow to ski on!

B

 

2/25 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Karmic payback time: just as predicted, that great spring skiing on Sunday came at the price of ruts in the trail that are now frozen hard, making for such challenging conditions that it just ain’t all that fun — too damn icy. And even the crust beside the trail is frozen rock-hard, too. I imagine that skiing to the North Pole, over barren, wind-swept, icy wastes, must be something like this. Zero traction, so lots of herringbone on even the slightest uphills, & lots of shoulder work-out with the poles. Fast, scary downhills. For fanatics only!

C

 

2/23 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Warm & sunny after two days of rain. I was amazed at how much snow is left — nice, soft, snow-cone kind of snow, just like spring skiing at its best. Real guilty-pleasure kind of snow, because we’re wrecking the trails today — even as you’re cruising right along, you hear & feel the crunch of the base collapsing under your skis, & you know that the ruts you’re leaving behind will be fossilized by the cold weather that’s supposed to be coming back tomorrow. Oh well.

A

 

2/21 — Brattleboro: Fort Dummer

Ugh — rain. Warm rain. All that perfect snow turning to moosh. The BOC trails are closed to prevent the certain damage that will result if people ski today (but who would want to?), so with the greatest reluctance I went instead to Fort Dummer & strapped on my snowshoes to plod, slog, & trudge around the Sunset Trail in a light rain. (Sounds like a really bad law firm: “Plod, Slog, & Trudge, how may I direct your call?”) Snowshoeing is a great way to remind yourself how fun skiing is.

C

 

2/19 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Yet another fresh snowfall — we’re so blessed! Another couple of inches of nice, soft, pillowy snow, perfect for, say, skiing on. No new grooming today, but skiing in the tracks of yesterday’s skiers seems like real cross-country skiing anyhow. Machine-groomed trails are great, to be sure . . . but let’s face it: our favorite sport grew up in the wilderness, in the northern forests. Speaking of which — the conditions were perfect today for going down the Forest trail, which can be pretty intimidating in fast &/or icy conditions. In soft, fresh snow, though . . . well, ahhh . . .

A+

 

2/18 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Ahhh . . . a couple of inches of fresh powder, some fresh grooming but not much but who cares? Great just to float along in the tracks of a few good citizens who have passed this way an hour or two before — thank you, Good Citizens.

A+

 

2/17 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

The trails are getting very well used & so are a bit chopped up; by late afternoon (my usual ski time) it had gotten cold & the snow on the trails had set up hard — time for regrooming! I have to note, though, what a luxury it is to be able to ski later & later in the day, now well after 5:00. So civilized!

A–

 

2/16 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Even with a lot of people using the trails today (or so I infer from looking at the sign-up sheet), I seemed to have the place pretty much to myself — superb snow conditions, even though only a few of the trails have been groomed.

A

 

2/14 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Just time for a quick loop around the Dogtrot field with Trooper (the actual trail hasn’t been groomed yet). Have I mentioned that I love skiing on fresh snow?

A

 

2/13 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Moonlight magic with Hank & a doughty band of skiers & dogs. Mighty cold — incentive enough to keep moving. There is nothing like seeing the moonlight sparkling on a field of freshly fallen snow. Ahh . . .

A+

 

2/11 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

More or less the same as yesterday — all that careful grooming & regrooming keeps paying off for the true winter sports enthusiast, out there in the snow enjoying winter sports rather than watching other people (the Olympians at Sochi) do pretty much the same stuff on TV. Well, maybe what we do here on the BOC trails ain’t quite up to Olympic caliber . . . but the thing is, we’re actually doing it, not just watching it. (Mostly I’m not at all competitive when it comes to skiing, but I suppose that the Olympics have me revved up.) At Hank’s suggestion, I gave the Lab Land trail a go today — as a narrow, winding track on a steep slope through the trees, it’s definitely one for skiing up, not down, on a cold day like this . . . although Trooper says that he likes Lab Land any way he can get it, since it’s named after him.

A

 

2/10 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

I’m very sorry to have missed the last several days out in the snow, due to a nasty cold, but today I managed one gingerly loop around Dogtrot with Trooper, who can never get enough. The Gomers have more than kept up with the weekend ski traffic, & the trails are still in superb condition. Yay!

A

 

2/6 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

And today the tracks were laid down, making for exceptionally fine skiing on Dogtrot, which I enjoyed with Trooper — first around the loop this way, then around that way . . . amazingly enough, it comes out exactly the same. The word to describe the snow condition today, I finally decided, is pillowy.

A

 

2/5 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

A good (make that great) 10 inches or so of medium-dense snow. Wonderful conditions! Not perfect, but somehow better than perfect because of how fresh & lovely everything is, snowfall tapering off in antique-silver late-afternoon light. Some trails have had a preliminary grooming, no tracks yet & no time for the new snow to bond with the ice beneath, making for a fine stride-&-glide surface. Trooper & I also went all the way up the Dunham Loop trail alongside the freeway, which was all fresh powder, almost like being up on Casper Mountain. This is the kind of day that has me singing: I Love Vermont! I Love Vermont!

A

 

2/4 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Same conditions as yesterday, but even icier & faster, & considerably scarier because it must have warmed up earlier in the day, a few people skied & left deep ruts, & by late afternoon those ruts were frozen hard. All in all, for fanatics only. Supposedly we’ll finally be getting some fresh snow tonight, & maybe a lot by this time tomorrow.

C+

 

2/3 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Cold again after several warm days — super icy & scary fast. Even the crust between trails is icy, hard, & fast. Trooper didn’t even leave pawprints. More & more bare patches opening up on both trails & fairways.

B–

 

2/2 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Despite the warm, gray day & a forecast of rain, I, um, happened to be driving past Upper Dummerston Road anyway, & all my XC gear happened to be in the car, so . . . I happened to pop by BOC for a quick ski. Hardly anybody there, of course — too bad for everybody else, because the conditions were surprisingly good. (That’s another one of the rubber stamps I can use this winter, so far: “Surprisingly Good.”) The crust is quite skiable everywhere that isn’t bare; the trails are actually holding up for the most part, with a nice, thin layer of slush over the icy parts, & it’s no trouble getting around the bare spots. The past couple of weeks have been pretty hard on my skis, though — they’re turning from My Nice New Skis to My Trusty Old Rock Skis . . . & if we don’t get some fresh snow soon, they’ll be My Shitty Old Beaters. But if that’s the cost of skiing . . .

B

 

2/1 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Very warm — well above freezing, maybe pushing 40. So it was slow for my waxless skis, but everyplace was skiable — crust, trails — except where there’s no snow at all (a growing fraction). The Gomers have been out, touching up the trails here & there where it’s worth the trouble. It’s so nice being out . . . where the hell is everybody?

B–

 

1/31 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

A fine day for skiing: high 20s, maybe even up above freezing, with the surface continuing to soften up to a nice sno-cone consistency on top of the sheet-ice base. Nice to take Trooper up Faithful on a weekday. No forgetting that this is a golf course, not a wilderness.

B

 

1/30 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Trooper’s back, so we headed over to Dogtrot . . . where there’s almost nothing to ski on, though the spaces between rows of hay stubble are surprisingly skiable. Always fun to get out there, especially with Trooper.

B–

 

1/29 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

See rubber stamp, below. Inevitably, the conditions can only deteriorate gradually if there’s no new snow, even if it stays cold (and today it’s warming up a bit, into the 20s, enough to soften up the surface & make it a little less icy). But the crust is so nicely skiable that it’s just as well to stay off the trails in the many places where the trails are just plain worn out.

B

 

1/28 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

I could just as well have a rubber stamp made: “No fresh snow, cold & fast again today, trails in amazingly good shape, considering.” Right near the car park area a woman was leading a group of kids (about six, seven, eight years old, I think) in what was obviously their first time on skis — comical & heartwarming & sometimes a little bit painful to watch. Boom — down would go one of them on his ass, & then — boom — another. When I’d done my run (up Whoa Nelly, over to Upper Heartthrob, down Moxie, back on Lower Heartthrob) the kids hadn’t gotten much farther, just around to the other side of the parking lot, really. I heard a lot of giggles & shrieks — fun being had! — but also saw little clusters of three: two exasperated adults with a poor little kid, cold, sometimes crying. I heard one dad say, “No! We came here to have fun!” I heard another dad say to a kid who was stalled on a slight incline & struggling not to fall, “I told you to sidestep here! Why won’t you stop moving & listen to me!” Poor kids. . . . But most were having fun, I think, & I made a point of telling one of the moms about being sure to have the kids wear the straps on their poles correctly, around the wrist from below so that they can use the poles to push, not just to avoid falling. (This is just about the only evangelizing I do, ever, but I do it with a great sense of mission. Skiing for the People!)

B+

 

1/27 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

With no fresh snow in sight, the ski conditions are literally frozen in place — the trails are getting a little more worn out every day, but not much. A lot of ice patches, & a lot more where there’s ice just under the surface; it’s disconcerting when the poles glance off rather than sticking. The wind made me miss the big bushy beard I had last winter.

B+

 

1/26 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

The much-hoped-for snow “storm” delivered only about an inch of new snow, barely enough to refresh the surface of the trails . . . but once again the brilliant Gomers have made a lot of a little, putting down a new corduroy surface (still not enough snow for tracks). Cold & fast again today.

B+

 

1/25 — New Ipswich, New Hampshire: Windblown XC

So nice to be back at Windblown after a five-year hiatus! Minimal snow cover, ice &/or rocks just beneath, & only a fraction of the trails open . . . but nice 25-degree weather made for a nice day’s skiing anyhow. Can’t wait to get back here once they’ve had some real snow.

B

 

1/23 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Still quite cold, around 10°F. I started with a very good idea: stick mainly to the fairways, where an inch or two of powder on top of a very hard crust makes for a fine ski surface . . . so far , so good. And then I got to the top & was seized with a very bad idea: ski down Forest, narrow trails through the trees that haven’t been groomed in weeks, rather than my old reliables like Moxie & Faithful. But I started down Forest & should have turned around as soon as it got sucky, which was pretty much right away — ice, rocks, bare dirt — but after having to sidestep down the first steep bit, I was stuck with it, & soon found myself sidestepping more than I was skiing. Not so fun, but without sharp edges it would have been much, much less fun. A relief to get back down to the fairways.

C

 

1/22 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Icy, fast, & cold — under 10°F. And windy, which is both a good thing (it blew a little “fresh” snow off the crust & onto the trails) & a less-good thing (in that it turned cold into really, really cold). The Gomers are making valiant efforts to save most of the main trails, despite the lack of any substantial new snow since last week. In many cases, though, it’s better to get off the trails: the crust is very skiable (probably not very skatable — those guys are stuck with the trails, which is why skating isn’t exactly “cross-country skiing”).

B–

 

1/21 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Interesting complement to yesterday — today, the skiing should have been lousy because of how cold it was, low teens, somehow the groommeisters have managed to fuse the two piddly snowfalls of last week to a rock-hard base, so it really can be called skiing on snow, not quite directly on the rock ice (or just rocks) beneath. A bit tricky — the poles glanced off in some places, so thin was the snow cover over the ice. Still, overall it was fast & fun.

B

 

1/20 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

The skiing should have been lousy — the snow is still very thin & the temp was a bit too warm, mid- to upper thirties. But there was a light, almost faint snowfall all day long, just enough to put a newish surface on the trails, & with fresh wax on my skis to keep them from sticking, I was able to zip right along.

B

 

1/18 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Pretty much like yesterday, but 10°F warmer & a little more fresh snow — wet, sticky stuff that would cake onto my skis unless I kept moving. This made for relatively easy uphills, with no backsliding at all . . . but slow downhills even with lots of double-poling. Very pretty with the light snow falling. Still, when the snow is this thin, you can’t pretend that the place is anything other than a golf course, not when you can easily see the outlines of the sandtraps & greens. An undisturbed forest, this ain’t.

B–

 

1/17 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

A quarter inch of fresh powder over the hard crust of what’s left after last week’s rain & warm temps — not a promising formula for a great ski, but I was pleasantly surprised. The remains of the groomed trails from last week were surprisingly skiable — powder over rock ice in some (many) spots, but thank God for sharp metal edges. Not a day for the faint of heart or the dull of edge.

B

 

1/10 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

There was just a dusting of new snow, but that was enough to freshen up the surface, which was mostly excellent, despite some icy patches in low spots & the general thinness of the snow cover. Trooper had a scary run-in with a rather phlegmatic Husky (Trooper’s a total coward, bless his heart), but otherwise we had a great time . . . maybe all the greater, knowing that rain & warm weather are on the way — the dreaded January Thaw.

A–

 

1/9 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Just like yesterday — fast & fun. In fact, a tad better than yesterday, because a little bit warmer, making for a better surface. Trooper loved it, as always.

B+

 

1/8 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Wow — super fast, super fun. After a couple of way-too-warm days with lots of rain, followed by a couple of the coldest days of the season, it’s amazing that the trails can be this good — very hard, with cocktail-grade icy patches (beware!), but nice & even, not too badly pitted or grooved (that is, not too much fossilized slush). Great footing for Trooper — he didn’t even leave prints. Hardluck Herringbone on uphills, lots of double-poling & skating on flats (& I don’t even have skate-skis), Morituri Te Salutant on the downhills. Not for the faith of heart, this stuff! A great day to have sharp metal edges & know how to use ’em!

B

 

1/5 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

With Trooper on Dogtrot. The snow is holding up beautifully, tracks have been added to an already great grooming job (thanks, Gomers!). A number of other dogs for Trooper to meet & play with. Nice temp, upper 20s, but supposedly the temp will rise & bring first sleet, then freezing rain, then rain, then . . . I don’t want to think about it. Frogs? Locusts? Sleet I can live with — like little ball bearings. Bring on the sleet!

A

 

1/4 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Skiing with Trooper on Dogtrot. Fabulous, ample snow, well groomed (no tracks, but no matter). Coldish but not too (~20°F), end of a gorgeous clear, sunny day, with a nice whiff of Colorado in the air.

A

 

1/3 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Skiing with Trooper. Plenty of fresh snow after the New Year’s storm has passed, great grooming job (trails, no tracks) but very cold (~8°F) & windy, with lots of drifting over exposed portions of trails on Dogtrot.

A–

 

1/2/14 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Skiing with Trooper. Champagne snow falling on nicely groomed trails, soft afternoon light — magical. (Skied up Lab Land but it wasn’t groomed at all, not even a single snowmobile track, so I lost the trail & had to do some bushwhacking, always a challenge on skis.)

A+

 

12/29/13 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Rain about to start — trails closed to skiing. Hank & I worked on the Lab Land trail, which I plan to frequent whenever I’m skiing with Trooper. Very weird to tear across fields on the back of a snowmobile piloted by Hank. . . .

 

12/28 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Let’s not say the glass is nearly empty, let’s say it’s a little bit full. We have no right to be skiing today, but there’s just barely enough snow left to ski on (though I had my first spill of the season when my ski hit a rock — ow).

C

 

12/27 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Very little snow on the ground but the Gomers have done a lot with a little — quite skiable. When the snow is so very thin the place looks like what it is — a golf course with a bit of snow on it.

B+

 

12/26 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Very light snow falling all day long, lovely feathery downy soft snow which, unfortunately, added up to almost nothing; the trails had been groomed by PM (but not grooved w/ tracks — not even enough snow for that), skiable despite v. thin new snow on top of what was left of last week’s base (now either frozen to glare ice, or gone entirely); some gut-churning moments of feeling schmutz grinding under my skis on especially thin spots; after getting to the top of the hill on trails, the fairway crust looked inviting & was perfectly skiable, so nice that I wondered why I hadn’t stayed off the trails on the way up as well.

B

 

12/25 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Trails reopen after air turns cold again . . . but the trails themselves must all be wrecked after all that rain & 2 days in the 50s; somebody sent Marti a little video of a good local skate-skier finding decent enough crust on the fairways to skate on in the lower part of the course — he did a gorgeous 180-degree aerial turnaround, v. impressive . . . but I wasn’t there.

(B? C?)

 

12/21 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Very warm, rainy, ugly day for skiing; in the AM went out (on foot) with Hank & other BOC’ers for “training” as ad hoc trail maintenance crew, began “constructing” a berm on the trail along the first fairway to help steer the trail up & around a little hill; came back in the PM (& in the rain) after Hank had closed the trails, skied to my berm with poles in one hand & shovel in the other, built berm up to about 2 feet by 15 feet or so, carefully patted it down with my skis but otherwise didn’t try to ski the trails at all — they were all turning to moosh anyhow.

D–

 

12/20 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Much too warm, well over 40, with the threat of rain all day, luckily just a drizzle as I was starting out, & even that stopped after 20 mins., trails getting mushy, gotta get our licks in quick because heavy rain is predicted for the next couple of days.

C

 

12/19 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Trails getting a too soft & worn in the too-warm air (well above freezing, in the high 30s), still great to be outside, as always.

B

 

12/18 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Conditions holding up even as trails are getting well used, nice trail touch-up work by the Gomers, smooth run down Honeysuckle Gulch.

A–

 

12/17 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Still very good snow & grooming, a bit warmer (~15–20°F), trails getting used & just a bit of icing up in the tracks, but mostly still nice powdery quality to snow.

A

 

12/16 — Brattleboro: BOC trails

Magical snow, nice & cold (~10°F — incentive to keep moving), groomed trails still little used.

A+

 

12/15/13 — Dummerston: Black Mountain Road; Brattleboro: BOC trails

AM in Dummerston: still lightly snowing all day, nice & cold, great to ski the tracks I made yesterday on my Black Mountain trail; afternoon in Brat: fabulous grooming job by the BOC Gomers, perfect tracks, pristine, still snowing ever so slightly, lovely run down Honeysuckle Gulch.

A+

 

12/14/13 — Dummerston: Black Mountain Road

First snowfall of season, surprisingly good conditions — cold air, 8–10 inches of champagne powder snow, well worth the extra effort of trail breaking.

A

 

© Michael Fleming

Brattleboro, Vermont

 

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