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Back at Bolton Nordic
by Bill Stine
Jan 4, 2013

Bolton Valley, located just north of I-89, about halfway between Montpelier and Burlington, VT, is best known as a family-oriented, downhill ski resort. They also have a Nordic Ski Center that claims 26 kilometers of groomed trails. It's not the groomed stuff that attracts me, though … but I'll bet you already figured that out. It's the 75 kilometers of ungroomed, backcountry trails that get my heart pumping!

Sandy & I have only been to the area a couple of times. Both visits were memorable for the exquisite backcountry experience. This year Dan Eliff and Ron Henry joined us for a third visit during our return trip from Craftsbury. (Dan spotted a moose on the drive up the mountain to the ski center.)

The base elevation at Bolton is the highest of any Nordic center in Vermont so it gets lots of snow. The 100 kilometers of trails traverse more than 1,100 acres of unfragmented forest making it one of the three largest Nordic trail systems in Vermont. The Catamount Trail runs through it and it connects to several other notable backcountry routes. The trails are maintained by a small army of volunteers.

But the place is not about the facts; it's about the skiing! There was lots of snow on the ground when we got there. And, at about 0ºF, it was pretty chilly when we left the touring center. That was no problem, though, because, following the Catamount Trail's path through the center, we warmed right up as we began the 700 ft climb up to Bryant Camp at 2,690 ft. Although it gets a bit tiring, the climb is not technically difficult. I remembered from previous occasions that the trail was signed one-way up but those signs were nowhere in evidence this visit. Nevertheless, I wouldn't recommend it as a down trail. Along the way, a trail named Cliff Hanger branched off to our left. We gave it a pass.

Bryant Caabin Near Top of Bolton System
Bryant Cabin Near Top of Bolton System

From Bryant Camp we followed Birch Loop and onto a trail called Heavenly Highway. By this point the stunted conifers were so heavily covered by fluffy white snow that they began to look like hoodoos. It was truly beautiful. The Heavenly Highway is mainly used by telemark skiers to reach the top of the downhill area. Since we were not equipped with telemark gear and, just maybe, a tiny bit tired, we turned around and followed the rest of Birch Loop, instead. This is a fairly easy trail through a snow-covered fairyland that eventually returned us to Bryant Camp. It was time for the main event, ski back to the base that we'd earned during our climb.

Heavy Snow Drapes Trees
Heavy Snow Drapes Trees on Heavenly Highway

Gardiner's Lane branches off Birch Loop just a few feet from the cabin and is the most popular return route to the ski center. The trail twists and turns with lots of short descents. Although it had obviously been used since the last snow, there was still tons of light, fluffy stuff to make for easy control on this steep down trail. You can take this trail fast or you can take it easy as we did. There is plenty of fun to be had either way with lots of little challenges you can use to hone your downhill skills. We eventually came out to the groomed, World Cup Trail and followed it back to the Nordic center. We'd only skied a little over seven kilometers but it felt like more!