This winter has begun with an unusual, though not unprecedented ambivalence. Although a two-inch snowfall on Friday freshened the winter view, it fell short of trail groomers need. And by Sunday yet another round of freezing rain had rendered the local landscape crunchy with a still thin layer of corn snow.
While multi-use trails in Hubbard Park are seeing as much traffic as ever, ski tracks have been absent this winter. While skiers often bemoan the conflict with walkers who trample the groomed ski track, this year they appear to be footing it too – preferably with traction!
After walking a couple miles of the park’s trails at the end of the first week in January, footprints and the occasional tread of a fat bike were the dominant impressions in the thin, compacted snow. Evidence of skiing was apparent only in a couple of places — and only briefly. Skier’s hesitation is understandable. Thin snow cover exposes roots, stones, ledge, and late-fallen leaves, and makes for a skiing obstacle course — and a likelihood of permanently defacing the ski bottoms, the reason old skis are called “rock skis.”
When Will the Grooming Begin?
“Our grooming equipment is primed and ready, we just haven’t had enough snow to get out there. With today’s snow fall on top of our base, I think we could probably groom next time we get snow… but the 10-day forecast is not looking promising,” said Parks Director Alec Ellsworth.
Likewise, the Onion River Nordic Club (ORNC) is also ready to commence grooming as soon snow cover arrives. “We have all the trail markers in place and finished the rest of the trail prep in November,” said Club President Dan Voisin. “We just need more snow.”
Nordic Ski Teams are Making Do
Both the Montpelier and U-32 Nordic ski teams have big rosters this year. Montpelier has 30 skiers on the high school team and 50 at Main Street Middle School, the largest number of participants in the program’s history. U-32 continues its strong program with 20 skiers on the high school team and 30 middleschoolers. Coach Andrew Tripp is particularly pleased with the rebound of the middle school program because the school had no team sports at that level last year due to the COVID-19 restrictions.
“We have kept skiing, but barely.” Tripp said. “We make do. Unfortunately, man-made climate change is making our sport less and less viable. It has turned snow into a commodity. This has the unfortunate effect of making cross country skiing more and more the purview of those with money. This has long been the case with Alpine skiing. But as skiing out the back door disappears, cross-country has become less accessible. Public schools like U-32 and MHS with large, vibrant, free programs do what we can.”
The schools have been able to provide some on snow training on the closely mowed playing fields that surround both schools. “The snow came just in time,” said Brian Carlson, Nordic coach at MHS. “They were beginning to get burned out on dry-land training and I was afraid we’d start losing kids.” The teams first on-snow opportunity came at a race in Craftsbury, he said.
Although the snow cover and quality has remained fitful, MHS staff has been able to groom on the school grounds. The team has also held practices at the Capital City Golf Course (formerly the Elks Club) where the ORNC has done the grooming. “We’ve been up to U-32 a couple of times where there are some hills,” Carlson said.
Where to Nordic Ski?
The public can use the trails at both schools reports Voisin, who also coaches the MSMS program. “Non student skiers should avoid the 3–5 p.m. hours mid-week. It gets pretty busy on the trails with the student athletes alone!” he noted on the Nordic Club Facebook page.
Most of the cross-country ski areas within an hour’s drive of Montpelier have skiing on at least some trails. Sources for trail condition information include the Ski Vermont website and Trail Hub, an outdoor recreation reporting system that is available to the public at no charge. Trail Hub provides reports from commercial ski areas, community recreation departments, and backcountry skiing organizations.
Locally, both the Montpelier Parks Department and the Onion River Nordic Club will post updates on their websites and social media pages — when it snows.