After a day of errands and beginning to obsess about where to live, we decided today would be a good day to initiate our Vermont nordic skiing careers. We are in Vermont, we are committed to embracing the winter. Given the relative lack of snow in recent weeks, with some rain mixed in to boot, I was concerned about the conditions in the area and we were considering heading north. However yesterday we drove by Morse Farm, just a couple of miles up the road in East Montpelier, and saw folks skiing on what looked like pretty nice trails. So we decided to go there instead.
Our last few winters in Maine we made a habit of skiing on free trails around Brunswick – places like The Commons or Crystal Spring Farm. We skied these sites partly because they were free, and therefore attractive for an hour or two of skiing, but primarily because they were close. The fact is that the closest “real” cross-country skiing area to Brunswick was a good 45-minute drive to Pineland Farms in New Gloucester.
But despite the fact that I am a cheapskate and love to do things for free, there’s a clear downside to the free skiing.
For one thing, the trails are usually not groomed and shared with other users like dog walkers. Folks, I love your pets, but I really don’t like skiing where they’ve relieved themselves. For another thing, there’s nobody making sure the trails are in good condition, and therefore the conditions are often pretty lousy except when there is fresh snow.
Plus, if we want to know what this place is really about, I think we need to see what there is to offer.
Morse Farm is an interesting local institution. At it’s heart it’s an old family-owned sugar works that has turned into a tourist trap. The gift shop has everything maple and everything Vermont, and people come here by the busloads, particularly when the sap is running in the spring and when the leaves are changing in the fall. But it’s also really dependable. Need to decorate with pumpkins and mums in the fall? Morse has got ’em. Need a Christmas tree? Morse has got ’em.
Rather than pay the day fee (a reasonable $14) for skiing for a couple of hours, we decided to go all-in and buy a season pass. It will pay for itself with seven visits, and we figured this will encourage us to go out when we have a free hour on the weekend rather than fret about paying the cost. But there is an added benefit – Ski Vermont has the Nordic Reciprocal program, wherein your season’s pass at one center entitles you to a free one-day pass at each of nearly 30 other Vermont nordic areas, including such high-end spots as Trapp Family Lodge. Despite our season passes, we won’t feel tethered to Morse Farm and will therefore be more willing to explore. The best of both worlds!
As for the Morse Farm Nordic Center itself, it’s certainly not overly large, but its 24 kilometers are plenty big, especially if you’re not going to be out all day. The terrain is pretty gentle, with a couple of big easy loops that are mostly in the open fields. These were nice, but a little undefined in the late-afternoon overcast, and exposed to the cold wind. That’s not much of a problem when you’re moving, but can be uncomfortable when you’re trying to figure out where to go next. So after skiing the Sugar Loop and across the road in Dot’s Meadow, we made our way to Harry’s Heaven, which offered steeper terrain but also welcome sheltering in the trees. This was a fun trail, an 2.5K Intermediate with a fair amount of uphill that took 3/4 of the skiing time and 90% of the effort. The downhill was not-overly-steep and not-overly-narrow, easily managed by a not-overly-great skier like me. (One-way traffic helped.)
There were a ton of cars in both the main and overflow parking areas when we arrived, thanks to a Bill Koch kids ski program this afternoon. Many of those cleared out shortly after we purchased our pass and headed out, but the lot was still plenty full when we returned back to the lodge at 4:00. When out and about, we didn’t come across a lot of traffic, particularly on Harry’s Heaven, but we saw lots of folks in the distance. Everyone we met had a smile and a friendly hello.
When we were taking off our skis, feeling just a few steps ahead of the fading light, we met a woman who was hustling to the trailhead.
“How is it?” she asked eagerly.
“Awesome!” she replied, and she was off.