We're back for the third and final part of our winter adventure to ski all 23 of the cross country ski areas in Vermont!
To recap from Tour De Hollenbach Part 1 and Part 2:
Helen, 3 year old Johannes and I started a winter 2021/22 adventure to ski all 23 of the cross country ski areas that are part of the Ski Vermont reciprocal pass program. If you get a season pass at any participating area you can get one free day ticket at every other ski area.
In partnership with Fischer and Skirack, we present Tour De Hollenbach - Stops 16 through 23 which includes:
- Stowe Mountain
- Brattleboro Outing Club Cross Country
- Grafton Trails Outdoor Center
- Woodstock Inn & Resort Nordic Center
- South Peak Mt. Tom
- Strafford Nordic Center
- Timber Creek XC Ski Area
- Kingdom Trails Nordic Adventure Center
- Craftsbury Outdoor Center (part 1 & 2)
Stop #16: Stowe Mountain | Stowe, Vermont
Posted Date: February 17, 2022
It was Stowe Derby day for stop #16 at Stowe Mountain Resort in Stowe, VT. The snow was good, the race was on. Helen and I came up with a great plan - and then Vermont (yes the entire state) iced up with a big warm up and subsequent deep freeze. The Derby was shortened at the last minute to just the descent as the touring center trails were not skiable (apart from a loop around the field), but once again Johannes was unperturbed by an icy day and had a blast.
The Stowe Mt Touring Center houses 45km of groomed terrain, and a surprising amount of rolling and climbing terrain that the Stowe Derby normally includes. Many cross country touring centers that are adjoined to alpine mountains use big alpine groomers and are able to have good skate skiing, but inconsistent classic skiing/grooming. Stowe is kind of the opposite as their trails are just narrow enough where they choose to use just snowmobile grooming, and they have really nicely groomed trails and terrain for classic skiing especially.
The downside is that on this Derby day they had no way to break up the hard icy layer on the snow and they were forced to make the race only the Toll Road descent. The conditions were nervously fast on the descent and I chose caution over bravery after three people yard sale crash in front of me early in the race. It was nice to see Johannes and Helen at the finish, but I was sorry we couldn’t go ski around after the race like we had planned. There are some really nice trails along streams and brooks that we had wanted to try and ski altogether.
It was race day though, and a call from my sister came in saying there was a BKL race happening at Sleepy Hollow and there was a Lollipop race Johannes could do with his cousin Daisy. I was old news, and Johannes and Helen hightailed it to Sleepy while I waited for my warmup clothes to make their way down the mountain. Johannes and Daisy channeled their inner Derby racers and managed a couple crashes and big smiles (with their lollipops) at the finish.
Stop #17: Brattleboro Outing Club Cross Country | Brattleboro, Vermont
Posted Date: February 27, 2022
Our furthest destination from home brought us a sunny ski at #17 at Brattleboro Outing Club in Brattleboro, VT. After yet another massive warm-up, freeze, and fresh snow dump we decided we needed to make the drive down to Brattleboro to get while the getting was good. Neither Helen or I had ever skied at the Brattleboro Outing Club (which is located at the Brattleboro golf course) and we really didn’t know what to expect.
BOC is quick to get to off the highway and seems like a really nice community resource and a great model for what’s possible with a golf course doubling as a xc ski center (*cough*Burlington Country Club*cough*). Being the banana belt of Vermont, Brattleboro is usually a touch warmer and maybe a touch sunnier than Richmond - both welcome things when being out for a ski with Johannes. As always, 33F temperatures made for a Three Stooges-esque boot in binding routine with Johannes and I, Helen and Johannes, and Helen and I and Johannes.
Johannes was in a good mood but was very clear that he wanted to ski alone, up ahead of Helen and I. The golf course terrain was perfect to let him do this, as there weren’t any tricky wooded descents and there were long lines of sight. He eventually saw a backhoe parked for the winter at the far end of one of the fairways, so that meant we had some exploring to do. We stayed on the lower, more open trails, but the guy who I talked to at the warming hut said the upper wooded trails are really fun skiing.
After skiing at BOC we had to bring Johannes over to one of the cooler ski things in Brattleboro and all of Vermont - the Harris Hill Ski Jump! The Harris Hill Ski jump is just 3 or 4 minutes down the road and a thing of legend. We were a week late to see the international jumpers who come in for the big annual ski jumping competition, but we were all in awe of the scale and steepness of the jump. I think we’ll put watching the competition and another ski at BOC on our to-do list for next winter.
Stop #18: Grafton Trails | Grafton, Vermont
Posted Date: March 3, 2022
A sunny morning had turned into a windy afternoon for stop #18 at Grafton Trails in Grafton, VT. Grafton is a picturesque little village tucked away in the mountains up above the Connecticut River Valley - mostly known for its super good cheese. Helen and I had been there twice before, once in the winter years ago for a nice ski with my sister and her husband, and once in the summer for a mtb race where I was famously (in our family at least) a real hot-mess.
Just a half mile down the road from the village, the trail center is in a big field that butts up against the side of the little valley it’s in. Although still in the high 20’s when we arrived, the wind was really blowing so we hustled to get moving and up into the woods. I checked us in as Helen got Johannes prepped to go. Grafton has a history as one of the first cross country centers to start using snow making. The snow making guns are still in use, but these days they are also used to build the tubing hill (which, judging by the excited screams I could hear, is very fun!).
We scurried up into the wooded trails on the hill above the field and were instantly warmer. I often get asked at work about temperature ratings for clothing and gloves - and on days like this it’s really obvious how much both wind and sun are equal parts to that discussion. And we’ve come to appreciate how much wind and sun can really affect little kids' ability to be happy outside in the winter. We were pretty sure we were in for a short ski when we were down in the windy field, but up in the protected woods Johannes just wanted to go and go.
The trails are nicely laid out to traverse the hillside and you can actually ski all the way back into town, right to the Grafton Cheese shop. As we usually do with Johannes, we stayed on the lower trails, but I can recall from our skiing there years ago, the Little Bear and Big Bear trails were really fun. And if it’s a less windy day, maybe a tubing ride post ski.
Stop #19 part 1: Woodstock Inn & Resort Nordic Center | Woodstock, Vermont
Posted Date: March 6, 2022
It was a best family ski day of the year at #19 at Woodstock Inn & Resort Nordic Center. This journey to ski all the xc ski centers was starting to feel a touch drawn out, but the moment we got out of the car in Woodstock we knew everything was going to be AOK. The weather was perfect, the grooming was really-really good, and the big nordic center building was much appreciated (the bathrooms even had fancy soap!). Growing up I never really knew about Woodstock Nordic, but over the last couple years Helen and I had been hearing more and more talk that it was worth the drive down.
Woodstock Nordic is actually based in two separate spots on opposite sides of the village. The Mt Peg side is where the Nordic center building is located and it is run out of the country club. *There will be a second post for the Mt Tom trails*. The Nordic center doesn’t just occupy a small corner of the country club though - everything makes a full switch over from golf to cross country skiing, and the Woodstock Inn is really doing xc skiing right. There’s plenty of indoor and outdoor space, a ski shop and rental center, trail access through the building, and lots of pictures of Woodstock’s skiing history.
Helen and I were both on skate skis and our plan was to let Johannes catch a ride today with a homemade rope and handle from my sister (think water skiing with a skate skiing dad as your motor boat). From the ski center you can ski on trails up and down the valley - with 14 bridges that go back and forth over a Brook, which Johannes loved. You can also quickly cross the valley and head up into the hillside trails above. After a quick check that Johannes (and I) could handle the pull-rope, Helen headed up to check out the trail to the top of Mt Peg - while Johannes and I went off to see how far up the valley we could go.
We met back up an hour later, both with big grins on our faces. Helen’s report on her ski was a 10 out of 10, highly recommended! We skied back down the valley all together, excited to see what else Woodstock had on offer.
Stop #19 part 2: South Peak Mt Tom | Woodstock, Vermont
Posted Date: March 8, 2022
Stop #19 part two had Helen and Johannes dropping me off across town at the Billings Farm entrance to the Mt Tom trails for an exploratory ski, while they went into Woodstock village to find food, books, and dinosaur toys. Most everything I’d heard about Woodstock Inn was from people skiing the Mt Peg trails, so I really didn’t know what to expect as I got dropped off at Mt Tom. Down in town Johannes knew exactly what he was doing, and was quickly devouring an oversized turkey BLT, impressing passers by.
I soon learned that the Mt Tom trails are located on Vermont’s only National Park, Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller NHP. The park is a managed forest with old carriage roads that get groomed in the winter (Mt Tom has its own set of big grooming machines that live there). From the Billings Farm entrance the trails go up right away, but since it’s a carriage road the grade is reasonable - but it does go up and up, and up. There is another ski trailhead on Prosper Rd, on the other side of the trail system, that looks like it may be the easier and more popular starting spot.
After Helen had hit the Mt Peg summit, I felt obligated to reach the Mt Tom summit and when I did I was treated to probably the best view point I’ve ever reached on cross country skis. You’re high above Woodstock village (had I listened closely I might have heard Johannes roaring as he stomped down the sidewalk with his new dinosaurs) and you can see far off views of mountains and farms in every direction. 10 out of 10, highly recommended.
I had some more time to kill before meeting back up, so I skied around some high mountain meadows, a trail around “The Pogue” pond, and a fun twisty descent on the Pogue Brook Trail. The trails and the forest are very special and reminded of a mix between the Gatineau Park in Canada and Pisgah Forest in North Carolina. I finished with a descent back down the Mountain Rd trail (it’s multi-use, so there are walkers, but not on other trails) to meet Helen and made it quickly be known I wanted to do a long weekend in Woodstock next winter.
Stop #20: Strafford Nordic Center | Strafford, Vermont
Posted Date: March 11, 2022
It was a visit to the birthplace of our favorite chocolate milk for stop #20 at Strafford Nordic Center in Strafford, VT. Strafford Nordic is one of the newest xc centers in Vermont, in operation for about 10 years. The center had been operating out of the Strafford Organic Creamery farm (makers of the finest chocolate milk available, amongst other things), but since the onset of Covid was forced to move down the hill to the Tamarack Hill Farm.
The Tamarack Hill Farm is an equestrian center in the summer, and mostly empty in the winter months - so, it actually works out quite well to run operations from there in terms of parking and buildings. The owner of the farm actually checked us in and as we started to get ready to ski, asked if we wanted a burger (beef from his own cattle). Of course I said yes. So, Helen and Johannes went over for the ritual pre-ski inspection of the grooming machines as I waited for our burger and chatted it up with our host and a few other skiers. I was informed that operations being moved to Tamarack meant we were starting our ski from the low point of the whole trail system, and to be ready for some climbing.
I shared my burger with Johannesaurus-Rex and Helen and we took off to try and ski up the hill to the Strafford Dairy Farm (we had been hyping up the whole chocolate milk angle). The struggle was real, and the open field climbing and long lines of sight proved too much. Johannes was soon laying down on the trail and it was obvious that continuing up was going to be too much for him. He and Helen headed back down to mess around down by the Tamarack Farm and I made a quick summit push to get up to the Dairy.
I got up to the fields around the dairy (it was indeed a bit more climbing up) - and there it was, a working dairy farm. Not a glamorous gentleman’s farm - just a top of the hill, messy, hard working Vermont Farm, that makes yummy stuff. Not sure what to say about the kid challenging terrain, but I do definitely want to come back and see more of these trails.
Stop #21: Timber Creek Cross Country | West Dover, Vermont
Posted Date: March 15, 2022
It was a brothers in-law ski day for stop #21 at Timber Creek Cross Country in West Dover, VT. We had originally planned to ski Timber Creek on our southern swing trip back in February, but had run out of time and energy to make it happen then. So, that meant a 6 hour driving day for a single ski spot. Knowing that was going to be a no-go for Helen and Johannes, I recruited my “always game to go skiing” brother in-law Eric to hop along for the ride, ski, and roadside bbq.
This unique winter had given us yet another near complete melt, directly followed by another snow storm. We took off driving not knowing what to expect for conditions. We also didn’t know what to expect because before taking on this project neither of us had ever heard of Timber Creek! Kind of embarrassing for a couple life long Vermonters. In fact only a couple people who I’d mentioned it to did, but they did all have good things to say.
Arriving at Timber Creek has you pulling into a townhouse community by the same name and parking at the community sports center (all of which is directly across Route 100 from Mount Snow). Eric and I checked in and got ready to ski - as we did the folks working told us several times the skate skiing wouldn’t be good and the coverage was really thin. We headed into the dense network of pine forested trails unsure.
10 minutes in and we were both chuckling, the trails were super fun, the snow was perfect, and the skating was great. We ended up skiing for a long time, hit some jumps, restocked the wood fire at the warming hut, and worked up a good appetite. We got to talk to the owner a bit before leaving, and learned about some of Timber Creek’s history - it’s been running since 1984. We told him how good the conditions were despite the warning and he told us to come back when it’s good (which must be REALLY good). Hungry as could be, we made a b-line for a roadside bbq place I knew, even though it added some time to our day of driving. The drive back included talk of skiing, skiing with kids, ski racing, and ski equipment.
Stop #22: Kingdom Trails Nordic Adventure Center & Dashney Nordic Center | East Burke, Vermont
Posted Date: March 22, 2022
Our winter that would never say quit…finally said quit for stop #22 at Kingdom Trails in East Burke, VT. A final mega warm-up over 2 days meant we were too late to ski the beautiful Kingdom Trails cross country skiing on Darling Hill. I recruited my brother in-law and nephew, Eric and Oliver, to go up and at least check it out. And Eric had the idea to go see if any snow could be found over at Burke Mountain nordic trails at the Dashney Nordic Center - which is close by and maybe a touch higher and more wooded.
Kingdom Trails should need no introduction for anyone who mountain bikes - being the premier trail system in the northeast (85 miles of trails!!). They host about 12k of ski trails up on Darling Hill, which is a long, open ridge line, with amazing views in all directions. Since they are primarily a bike trail system they also groom 31 miles of fat bike trails in the winter as well. The fields were fully brown up on Darling Hill, but we stepped in to check out the Village Sport Shop trailside shop where they do rentals for skiers and fat bikers.
Heading over to Dashney Nordic Center, Eric mentioned they had skied there earlier in the winter and the folks working had said they were part of the reciprocal program, even though they’re not on the list. Mud season greeted us as we drove in, and I was highly skeptical we were going to find any “ski flavored activity”. Eric is definitely a glass half full kind of guy when it comes to snow and skiing, and even after a quick out and back in one direction that led to a brown field, he kept exploring and found us a loop with just enough snow to have a fun, funny ski.
At 60 degrees, even the ice was pretty edge-able - and after an unsure first 5 minutes following Eric, Oliver and I got into it and we had a blast hooting and hollering as we slid, scraped, and hopped around the trails. It was a surprisingly memorable ski in the end, and I can only imagine it will be one of those weird adventures that Oliver will remember for years to come.
Stop #23 part 1: Craftsbury Outdoor Center | Craftsbury, Vermont
Posted Date: March 24, 2022
The series grand finale, stop #23, was always destined to be Craftsbury Outdoor Center in Craftsbury, VT. In part because it’s the flagship of Vermont cross country ski centers, and in part because we had reservations for a jumbo family ski trip staying in the trailside cabins for the third weekend in March. Despite the final mega warm-up that had pretty much killed ski conditions everywhere else, we knew (hoped?) there would still be plenty of skiing to be had at Craftsbury thanks to the snow farming and making they do, and the magic of their groomers.
By jumbo family ski trip I mean Helen, Johannes and I, Helen’s parents, my sister and brother in law and niece and nephew, my mom, and her crew of friends. We headed up with Helen’s parents and stopped for lunch on the green in Craftsbury. It was bleak in terms of snow in the village, but we just knew it would still be ok at the ski center because, well, Craftsbury. We got over to the ski center and Johannes met up with his partner in crime, my niece Daisy, and they were off and (ski) running.
It was nearly 60 degrees and sunny, and although the skiing was a bit wetter than I would find ideal it was 100% amazing for them. At these temperatures they were able to stay outside with skis on their feet for most of it for about 3 hours (with many snacks). Adults of different groups would come through, check on the kiddos, head out for another ski loop, while Johannes and Daisy skied bigger downhills by themselves than they had all winter. They also practiced their first biathlon, and got to know the Craftsbury podium.
We all settled into our cabins (an experience I can’t recommend enough) and then headed over to the famous Craftsbury dining hall for our first meal of the weekend. We hashed out some loose plans for the weekend over a big dinner and some overly tall glasses of chocolate milk. After dinner Johannes chatted with the groomers for one last time this season, and got to share a seat with Daisy in the biggest PistenBully World groomer yet. Part 2 to come…
Stop #23 part 2: Craftsbury Outdoor Center | Craftsbury, Vermont
Posted Date: March 27, 2022
The grand finale long weekend of family skiing rolled on at Craftsbury Outdoor Center. Warm weather changed over to wet weather and alternative activities were pulled into the fold to keep the kids from burning down the cabins. Some Covid protocols were still in place at Craftsbury, so the big indoor spaces of the lodge and fitness center couldn’t be used. Helen and her mom took Johannes and Daisy over to the Fairbanks Museum https://www.fairbanksmuseum.org/ in St. Johnsbury for a look at all things science - but mainly dinosaurs.
As the rain fell I couldn’t help but feel a little bummed out that it wasn’t better weather and ski conditions. Craftsbury has something like 105km of ski trails and has trails and terrain that really let you feel like you are covering ground over hill and dale. I had been excited to take my end of season ski fitness and go out on trails like Wylie Hill, the Common and Village Trails, Dante’s Loop, and all the terrain at Highland Lodge. I finally got myself out onto the man-made snow trails for a ski and quickly remembered how great it was to just be there and be able to ski, and by the time the kids were all back together I was jazzed up for a cabin dance party.
The weekend was filled with skiing, good food, and fun times - but it was also plenty tiring for parents, and so some serious help from our friends on the Disney channel was definitely needed to occupy some quiet time. We did get back out for some more good skiing after the rain - the groomers once again had done their magic. Oliver joined in for pretend biathlon day 2, Eric experimented with kid pulling feats of strength on skis, and grandparents were seen enjoying some afternoon skiing.
This adventure to ski all of Vermont’s reciprocal pass cross country ski centers in one winter has been a proper rollercoaster. I’ll be the first to say it was a bigger undertaking than I had anticipated, but I will also say there were some great ski days, surprising adventures, and lasting memories.
For all of the Tour De Hollenbach stops, follow my Instagram account at @jakehollenbach
- Jake Hollenbach,
Skirack Nordic Specialist
Click here to learn more about Jake.