As I approached a winter campsite deep in the woods, it was impossible not to notice the thick scent of balsam fir. The group I was about to meet had collected piles of balsam bows the night before to make their beds. By the time I arrived, they’d taken down their “circus tent,” which they rig over their skis or tree poles they find in the woods. But the green carpet they rested their sleeping pads and sleeping bags on for the night still remained. The group of 14 had chosen to pack up in silence that morning. Some had skis on and were dispersing small piles balsam back into the woods. Others were organizing their packs. All were busy and I felt unproductive just standing there, so carried an armful of bows back into the woods to make myself feel useful.
This was the beginning of my late March morning ski with Kroka Expeditions. According to the Kroka website, their semester programs “combine wilderness adventure with conscious living to create a unique physical, social, and spiritual journey for young people.” From the short time I spent with this kind and thoughtful group of twelve students (ages 15-18) and two instructors, skiing a portion of the Trail between Bolton and Trapp Family Lodge, I found myself wanting very much to join in their extended and multi-faceted journey.
Soon all that was left at the campsite was tracks and footprints, and the group began to filter out of the woods and back to the CT. Everyone was using waxless metal-edged backcountry skis, and everyone (except me) was carrying a large backpack. I was the only one using skins. These folks had literally herringboned or sidestepped up the trail from the Winooski River to the flanks of Bolton Mountain the day before, with significant loads on their backs.
- One student was from a town just a few miles away, while others had traveled from California, Florida, and Pennsylvania to take part in this semester program.
- They each have jobs within the group (eg: food manager, navigator, etc.) and take turns at many of the other daily tasks.
- They have “feed bags” that they keep close at hand, either hitched right to the waist-belt on their packs, or stuffed in the large front pockets of their anoraks.
- That day I spotted folks eating Wasa bread, huge chunks of cheese, and jerky, almost as soon as they had left camp.
- Asked whether meat was a significant part of their diet on the trail, they noted that when they started, they had 6 vegetarians, but that the need (or craving) for calories and protein while winter camping had quickly cut that number in half. Hamburger apparently makes its way into many of their meals.
- Kroka skiers don’t stop all that often when skiing. They just keep skiing along at a pace most everyone can maintain, eating from their feedbacks, grabbing a drink, and carrying on conversations throughout.
- They were heading to Trapp Family lodge for a 3-day layover and food resupply. They’d arranged to exchange their labor for accommodations at Trapps for a few nights. Now that sounds like a welcome treat after more than a month on the trail!
- After spending more than 6 weeks on the trail, skiing from the Southern end of Vermont to the town of Hardwick in the northern part of the state, they will paddle canoes down the Lamoille, row south on Lake Champlain and the Champlain canal, and eventually bicycle back to the Kroka campus in Marlow, NH, arriving back at their starting point in late May.
Unfortunately, I needed to get back to some other work responsibilities. Before parting, we took some group photos, and I pulled out a box of chocolate chip cookie bars. I’ve baked quite a lot of treats for groups that are skiing or working on the Catamount Trail, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen as much enthusiasm or received as much gracious thanks for treats as I did that day.
And so, reluctantly, I removed my skins, said farewell, and headed back down towards the Bolton Nordic Center. As I skied, I thought how these six weeks on the Catamount Trail are just the beginning of their semester, and just the beginning of many memories and experiences that will stay with these students for years to come. I’ll look forward to catching up with Kroka on the trail again next winter.