Back in October, I wrote up a tour description and sent it along to the CTA Tours Team, the group of volunteers responsible for populating the CTA calendar with ski tours throughout the state. I had a clear vision of the tour from my office on that fall day. The vision included bluebird skies, ample snow, and some birch trees that would provide a suitable background for our fun. We would follow some maintained trails, but we would also make our own, and we’d get in a lot of turns on the way down. Maybe we’d even have multiple trips up and down, energized for repeat runs by generous pillows of snow.
Short days and cold have been easy to come by so far this winter, but snow is another story. Determined not to cancel the tour I’d dreamed of, I headed out on a short research mission the day prior to the actual event. I decided to leave my climbing skins at home in order to see how my waxless skis would do on the thin cover. They performed poorly. The pattern under my feet was aged and worn, and when combined with hard-pack snow and ice, cool temps, and some car traffic on the unplowed road I was attempting to ski, I was sliding backward nearly as much as forward. I took my skis off, tossed them on my pack, and started hiking.
I continued hiking up into the campground at Underhill State Park, and then further to the group camping area before finally putting my feet back in my bindings. I followed some tracks through the sturdy looking log lean-tos provided for summer camping, continuing on to the start of the Underhill/W-B Trail. Quickly, I reached the first of many drainages. On this portion of the Underhill Trail, and I suspect on other sections of it, low snow means deep crossings. Fortunately, the recent cold created mostly frozen crossings. But the low snow meant I spent the next mile of the traverse simply climbing in and out of gullies. There wasn’t much skiing going on. At one point, I simply fell over, downhill, completely tangled in dead limbs and hobble bush. (Sidenote: I’m a fairly competent life-long skier, one who isn’t usually troubled by a few gullies, hobble bush, and the occasional downed tree.) I untangled myself, removing skis and poles to do so, then hiked up out of that last gully. From there, I managed to ski without incident to the intersection with the Tear Drop Trail, at which point I was certain we would not ski the Underhill Trail the following day. And we would not ski in the woods. The options were limited for taking folks I’d never skied with on a safe and fun tour.
Final Decision: We would skin part way up the Tear Drop Trail, a classic and beautiful old ski trail cut back in the 1930s by the CCC. With exposed rocks, moss, and small ice flows, there was no chance I would be skiing back down it. Then we’d simply ski down the very well traveled CCC road, the equivalent of a green circle at a ski area, but deeper in the woods, without any crowds, and untouched by groomers or snowmaking.
Outcome: It was far from my October vision. There were just 4 of us in the end, locals who didn’t mind a short drive for an equally short (and somewhat snowless) ski such as it was. But it was also just perfect, and is a short and varied tour many people can enjoy. At a friendly group pace, we spent just under 3 hours out on the trail, from the time we stepped out of our cars to the time we climbed back into them. The climb up the lower portion of the Tear Drop is steep in places and may test your skinning skills and stamina. The ski back down the CCC road is on a gentle grade that allows you enough speed to sneak in a few turns. As you descend the road gets a bit wider and allows for more turns, still on that gentle grade. For more information, the Tear Drop Trail is discussed at length in David Goodman’s “Best Backcountry Skiing in the Northeast,” and the Mount Mansfield Ski & Snowshoe Waterproof Trail Map identifies the route described here. Both are available at the CTA Store.