Fresh Tracks to Cozy Inns
Fresh powder clings to the branches of the balsams. I ski beneath a low-hanging limb; it suddenly springs skyward, showering me in cold flakes that sting my skin and momentarily steal my breath. Just ahead, I see a sign that could just as well be posted at the gates to the underworld: THIS TRAIL IS STEEP, NARROW, LONG, NOT PATROLLED, AND UNGROOMED. DO NOT SKI ALONE. A minute later, another sign advises that it’s nine miles to the Trapp Family Lodge, our ultimate destination today.
Is this heaven or hell? Our answer comes just uphill, past the ominous warnings, when one of my ski partners flies down through a snow-filled glade of bright-white birch trees. A grinning Sam von Trapp lets out a hoot and stops. “Welcome to Paradise,” he says. He scoops up a handful of fluff and blows it into the air. “Utah powder, right here in Vermont.”
It was Sam’s father, Johannes, who in the early 1980s oversaw the rebuilding and expansion of the famous lodge to which we’re headed. Sam has joined me, along with his wife, Elisa, and my wife, Sue Minter, for our foray along the Catamount Trail. The conditions we find there–a foot of soft snow under a bluebird sky–surprise us all.
Surprises are the only thing I can be sure of on the Catamount Trail. Although I’m familiar with where the trail goes, I can never predict how the day will go once I glide off into the backcountry. Icy snow at my house may be light powder on the trail; an inviting blue sky that beckons me out for a backcountry trek may quickly morph into a frigid gale. That’s why I return here, again and again. In a world that’s scheduled, mapped out, linked in, synced, and GPSed, the elemental unpredictability of a day sliding on snow in the Vermont mountains is something to be treasured. And the blanket of sparkly snow that we find on this day is like stumbling across a pirate’s hidden booty.
The Catamount Trail is the crown of Vermont. How it sparkles depends on where you ski it: Most of the 300-mile-long trail is beautiful, some of it is downright spectacular, and a bit of it is merely pedestrian, as it fulfills its ambitious mission of being a skiable path extending the entire length of Vermont.
Then there are the gems in that crown. For me, the ultimate experience of the Catamount Trail includes great skiing and a stay at one of the 13 inns that dot the route. This is the sugar and spice of the Catamount Trail: the rugged backcountry, bookended by the comfort of Vermont inns.
The best of the Catamount Trail is captured in two distinctly different tours. The first is the Bolton-Trapp Trail, a high, wild mountain adventure that ends at the opulent Trapp Family Lodge. The second is the route from Rikert Ski Touring Center in Ripton to the deliciously funky Blueberry Hill Inn in Goshen.
Johannes von Trapp recalls how he got it wrong. The 71-year-old éminence grise of the Trapp Family Lodge is shuttling Sam, Elisa, Sue, and me to Bolton Valley, where we’ll begin our day-long ski back to his lodge. “I thought that the future of skiing was in hut-to-hut travel through the mountains,” he chuckles.
The youngest child of Maria and Georg von Trapp (immortalized by Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer in The Sound of Music), Johannes founded the lodge’s cross-country ski center in 1968. Four years later, he and Gardiner Lane, who was running the cross-country center at Bolton Valley, cut the rugged Bolton-Trapp Trail.
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