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Vermont's ski centers glide happily into winter

Email|Print| Text size + By Stephen Jermanok
Globe Correspondent / December 23, 2007

Judging from the lumps New England has already taken, it looks like The Farmers' Almanac may be right once again. For the 2007/2008 season, it predicted "a long, cold snowy winter in areas east of the Mississippi River, with New England and the upper mid-Atlantic taking the brunt of Old Man Winter's fury." This is wonderful news for the skiing hub of Vermont, which offers a variety of terrain. Choose from the rolling hills of an underused section of the Green Mountain National Forest to the Currier and Ives farmland found atop Darling Hill in the Northeast Kingdom to one of the few cross-country ski centers in New England that makes snow.

Blueberry Hill

In 1966, Tony Clark purchased an 1813 farmhouse and parcel of land nestled deep in the Moosalamoo Region of the Green Mountain Range. Only 12 miles from Middlebury, the last four miles are on unpaved dirt roads, giving the 11-room inn the allure of being in the middle of nowhere. Clark has since built Blueberry Hill into one of the most beloved inns in New England, known for its acres of cross-country and hiking trails, dinners around long tables, and an always ample supply of their signature chocolate chip cookies.

The inn's cross-country ski center offers more than 46 miles of trails, with at least two-thirds of the system being groomed, providing good opportunities for all levels. There's the gently rolling beginner trail and the Hogback Trail that weaves in and out of pine and birch forests. More advanced skiers should take the Romance Trail. At an elevation of 3,000 feet, it's one of the highest groomed trails in the state.

Even backcountry skiers can get in on the fun with a loop around Chittenden Brook. Chittenden has a northeast exposure, which keeps the trail white long after the rest of central Vermont has started to thaw. A trail borders the rushing brook, crossing over bridges and leading to Beaver Pond, where locals find an occasional moose slurping by the shore. Afterward, head back to the center for homemade soup, included in the price of admission.

Clark's desire is that this thicket of forest will remain a wilderness preserve. He is looking into turning over the inn to a nonprofit venture such as Vermont's Green Mountain Club at some point. Spend some time in this setting, and you'll appreciate his concern for conservation.

Darling Hill

Nestled atop a ridge between Lyndonville and East Burke is Darling Hill, a plot of rolling farmland that fits the romantic image visitors harbor of the Vermont countryside. Here, four immense red barns stand, offering a stark contrast with the snowy pasture. Built in 1883 by hotel owner Elmer Darling as the quintessential gentleman's farm (and now part of the Inn at Mountain View Farm), the impressive barns once housed 100 Jersey cows, pigs, and Morgan horses. The meat and dairy products were shipped to Darling's Fifth Avenue Hotel in New York.

On weekends and holidays in winter, the Darling Hill Nordic Center operates out of the Vermont Children's Theater building. There are more than 12 miles of groomed trails on Darling Hill that roll through the fields and connect the Inn at Mountain View Farm with the Wildflower Inn. For more advanced terrain, continue onto the Kingdom Trails system that snakes into the surrounding forest. Narrow trails sweep up and down the hills, shaded by fragrant spruces and firs.

Families will appreciate the full slate of winter activities offered at the Wildflower Inn, such as sledding down a big hill, skating on a frozen pond, and cuddling under blankets on a horse-drawn sleigh ride. Their winter carnival weekend, replete with a bonfire, tug of war competition, and fireworks display, runs from Jan. 25-27. Nearby, the Stepping Stone Spa & Wellness Center offers massages and other treatments to work out those knots in your legs after cross-country skiing.

Grafton Ponds

Last January, when snowfall was barely a trickle, I had the good fortune to be skiing around a wonderful 3.1-mile loop at the Grafton Ponds Cross-Country Ski Center, one of the few ski centers in New England that feature snowmaking. If Mother Nature cooperates, you can add an additional 18-plus miles of groomed trails that start at the center's log cabin and wind through the forested hillside. Experienced Nordic skiers who make it up to the cozy Big Bear Shelter get their reward of hot chocolate and views of the historic village of Grafton below. Grafton Ponds also offers snow tubing down a 600-foot hill and skating on natural ponds.

Afterward, stop by the rustic Phelps Barn on the property of the Old Tavern at Grafton, plop down on one of the homey sofas, and order a Vermont microbrew. You can toast to a great day of gliding atop the snow. There's no better workout in winter.

Contact Stephen Jermanok, a freelance writer in Newton, at farandaway@comcast.net.

If You Go

Blueberry Hill Inn
1307 Goshen Ripton Road
Goshen
802-247-6735
blueberryhillinn.com
Rates start at $130 per person, including breakfast and dinner. Bring your favorite bottle of wine, since dinner is BYOB.

Inn at Mountain View Farm
3383 Darling Hill Road
East Burke
800-572-4509, 802-626-9924
innmtnview.com
The 14 rooms and suites start at $155 a night and include a bountiful country breakfast.

The Wildflower Inn
2059 Darling Hill Road
Lyndonville
800-627-8310, 802-626-8310
wildflowerinn.com
The $10 day pass at the Darling Hill Nordic Center is included in the price of a room. Doubles start at $119 and include breakfast.

Stepping Stone Spa & Wellness Center
1545 Darling Hill Road
Lyndonville
866-626-3104
steppingstonespa.com
An hourlong deep-tissue massage costs $75.

Old Tavern at Grafton
92 Main St., Grafton
800-843-1801
old-tavern.com
There are 46 rooms in the main building and four guest houses scattered about the quaint town. Rooms start at $195 and include breakfast.

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