Since we arrived in Vermont we’ve been hearing about the Craftsbury Outdoor Center in Craftsbury. The Center is a four-season athletic training ground that specializes in running, skulling and cycling in the summer, and nordic skiing, including biathlon, in the winter. The COC offers very good value With nearly 100 kilometers of groomed ski trails and a very reasonable day pass of $10, though we skied for free thanks again to the Ski Vermont reciprocal program.
Last weekend we hopped in the car and headed north.
Craftsbury is only about an hour and 15 minutes from Montpelier, a beautiful drive through Woodbury and Hardwick. We arrived late morning to find the parking lot full of cars. Many of the folks were there for a sprint race that was confined to the trails close to the touring center that didn’t affect the traffic on most of the trails.
We headed out for a warmup tour before lunch. We headed toward Murphy’s field, a short loop not far from the touring center, then headed out to Little Hosmer Lake. Here the trail resides on the lake, not far from the shoreline. Given that temperatures were below freezing for all but a few hours in January and February – the average temperature for the two months was about ten degrees – we had no concerns about ice safety on this day. Fortunately the mercury reached the low 30s, so despite a little wind the exposed skiing was quite comfortable. My original plan was to pop back onto land and ski the Fox Run loop, but that trail was ungroomed and looked to have been trod by snowshoes. So we stayed on the groomed portion and headed back to take the Cabin Trail back to the center. This took us up a short hill then across the lower portion of Big Hosmer Lake.
Due to the race we knew traffic would be lighter than the parking lot indicated, but things were even more sparse than we expected. With so much skiable terrain we probably shouldn’t have been surprised. There are trails that head out to the village of Craftsbury Center, and even the affiliated Highland Lodge in Greensboro. There is a lot of room to spread out. The signage on the core trails is ample, which is important given how many trails converge close to the lodge. For the most part the signage is very good, though we did find a couple of confusing spots where the map and the signs didn’t necessarily agree about the difficulty of a given trail.
We stopped for lunch in the lodge following our initial loop. During the break I plotted our afternoon ski. The trail map is double-sided, with the core trails highlighted on one side and the full network on the reverse. Though I knew we wouldn’t have the time or the energy to ski to the Common, I did want to go “off map” from the core trails and hit some of the more distant terrain. I identified a blue loop called Sam’s Run that was about 8.5K. I figured this would take us about 1:15, and then we could evaluate how we felt when we got back to the lodge.
The most direct route from the touring center to Sam’s Run is through the race loop, much of which is black. We wanted to stay on blue/green terrain, so we took the Duck Pond trail, an easy green loop, down to Bailey-Hazen which would take us to Sam’s. This had the added benefit of taking us past the biathlon range, which we were keen to check out.
This was the first miscalculation, at least in terms of time, as Duck Pond isn’t the most direct way to Sam’s Run, and therefore likely added at least another kilometer to the loop. Just after the biathlon range is a big drop called Elinor’s Hill, which is fairly long, fairly steep, and fairly curvy. It was a fun glide down, followed by a short ski to Bailey Hazen. On the map this trail is marked both blue and black, but I had been assured that it wasn’t difficult, and indeed Bailey-Hazen is a pretty flat wooded run. After a couple of kilometers we found the turnoff to Sam’s, which is a trial called Ruthie’s-Sam’s alternate, so named because it’s part of two different loops.
It turns out that there are contour lines on the map that I didn’t really pay attention to. And it also turns out that, in the case of cross-country skiing, what goes down must come up. Which is a nice way of saying that Ruthie’s-Sam’s is long, steady uphill of probably a mile, that made back most of the elevation we lost back on Elinor’s Hill. It’s not overly steep, but it is persistent.
When we got to the end we were faced with the option of continuing our original plan of taking the Sam’s loop or instead taking the Ruthie’s option. We remembered Elinor’s Hill, which we would have to climb back up, and decided that the slightly longer Ruthie’s loop was the better option. Ruthie wasn’t quite done with the uphill, but we figured it was going to be more downhill on the final run back to the center. At this point it was clear I had us on a longer tour than expected, and we were really feeling the pain in our legs. The last couple of kilometers were a slog that we had no choice but to endure, but we knew we had the legs and the light to make it back. In all, this was a two-hour loop that was a good test of our stamina. Fortunately we were up to the task.
When we got back to the lodge there was no thought of taking another short run. We took the time to appreciate the lodge, which had been built to modern energy-efficient standards. The double-thick insulated walls keep the lodge, which houses a rental shop and a small cafe along with many tables, remains extremely comfortable at all times. The attached fitness center is built similarly, and has restrooms with showers and good changing space. We were equally impressed with the 45 KW solar array outside, that provides about a third of the center’s annual electric usage. We are pleased that the COC has made such an effort to be responsible about its power usage.
The Craftsbury Outdoor Center certainly deserves its reputation. The snow was immaculate, thanks to weeks of sub-freezing weather and excellent grooming. There is a lot of terrain available for all skiing levels, and the staff is friendly and efficient. And the energy efficiency is nothing but a bonus. I look forward to coming back to ski, and perhaps do some biking this summer.