In the winter of 2014 we enjoyed the gift of snow that just kept on giving…
allowing for great cross country skiing into early Spring. March 22 that year was no exception. In celebration of this late season fluff, my husband, Lance, my high school aged son Robert, and I enjoyed a fun cross country ski adventure that day in Ripton.
We parked our car in Ripton center next to the town offices, and took the bus, complete with skis, to the Robert Frost Interpretive Trail stop. (This is the Snow Bowl Shuttle, part of the regional public bus service that travels all the way from the campus of Middlebury College to the Middlebury Snow Bowl, the college operated downhill ski area). Once off the bus, instead of turning right into the Robert Frost Interpretive Trail, a wonderful outing in its own right, we slung our skis over our shoulders and walked a short distance to Frost Road, which is on the north side of Route 125, or on the left when traveling eastward on Route 125. While Frost Road used to be a “top secret” way into the Robert Frost Cabin, it is now well marked. The road hadn’t been cleared of snow that day, and we had an easy 15 minute ski in from Route 125 (Frost Road is often plowed and has limited parking at its end. Although slightly longer, the more guaranteed ski route is from Rikert Nordic Center).
We arrived at the Homer Noble Farm, owned by Frost during his many years of teaching at the Breadloaf Writers’ conference, of which he was a founder. This beautiful open area affords grand views of the near-by meadows and surrounding hills that comprise “Robert Frost Country”. A short uphill ski between stone walls and under hardwood trees brought us to the simple little cabin where Frost spent 23 summers. After my recitation of some Robert Frost poetry (my family never escapes without this at this beautiful place) we headed north into a lovely Red Pine forest. A little over a mile of swishing through this forest, we reached the Catamount Trail. There we headed left/north down a short, steep stretch made exciting by the day’s deep snow, and our need to get out of the way when my husband Lance thundered downhill somewhat out of control. At the bottom of the hill we reached the old Wagon Wheel Road, which morphs into a cross country ski trail in the winter, and turn right to cross the Middle Branch of the Middlebury River. A barely recognizable left-hand turn brought us onto a narrow, wooded trail marked with blue and green flagging in the trees. This trail is part of Ripton’s privately owned and managed cross country ski network. (This unique network of trails exists through the graces of private landowners, who allow cross country skiers to pass through their land and maintain this network with the help of Ripton resident, trail advocate and skier Andy McIntosh and a few volunteers. Andy is also the Catamount Trail section chief or maintainer of Section 16 through the Town of Ripton.)
The blue and green trail traverses hardwood and evergreen forests through old fields and stone walls 3.4 miles total between Wagon Wheel Road and the tiny center of Ripton village with its genuine Ripton Country Store and post office, Chipman Inn, Ripton Community House, historic homes, church and town offices. The first section of this trail rises high above the Middle Branch river, through a deep spruce and fir forest. We glimpsed down to the river and ski accompanied by its rushing sound. The trail emerged from the woods at one point skirting through a private apple orchard, and continued onward in beautiful and remote woodlands, passing one of Ripton’s largest White Pine trees looming impressively overhead. This behemoth makes the perfect stopping point for a picnic lunch in the snow. We fashioned snow couches and ate while basking in the atmosphere of this special place.
As we crossed two north/south roads, Peddler Bridge Road and Natural Turnpike, the ski trail became more rolling, climbing and descending a few moderate hills. We began to see more homes and skied through several fields. The last stretch before reaching Ripton center is a short, downhill woodland romp, which comes after a couple solar tracking panels and a private vineyard. After the happy first views of the village of Ripton from the woods above, we began descending steeper through a sugar bush owned by the Chipman Inn. Although the last very steep pitch directly behind the Chipman Inn has a good run out onto their flat west lawn, we take off our skis in order to avoid an undignified arrival in town. Sadly, we didn’t have time to stop at the Chipman Inn’s pub that day, complete with Robert Frost’s snowshoes over the hearth, so we put our skis back on for the short distance back to our car. We saved the pub for another day – but “knowing how way leads on to way……”
If you go:
- Make sure you research the Snow Bowl Shuttle bus schedules (http://actr-vt.org/) and parking in Ripton. Parking is usually not a problem, and you can always ask the Chipman Inn for permission to park in their lot.
- If your schedule allows, take the bus all the way to Rikert Nordic Center (http://www.rikertnordic.com/). The ski is only 1 to 2 miles longer for a 6 to 7 mile total cross country adventure into Ripton. If you ski at Rikert, make sure to ask if a trail pass is needed. Rikert often allows skiers just passing through to ski for less or for free.
- If parking at Rikert Nordic Center, make sure to let Rikert know the color, model and plate number of your car, and that you’ll be skiing beyond the limits of the nordic center trails and possibly picking up your car after hours.
- The Chipman Inn (http://chipmaninn.com/) is a great place to stop, but check with the inn in advance to see if their pub will be open upon your return. It’s a family run inn, and they may not always have someone available to serve.
- The blue and green flagged trail between Ripton and Rikert Nordic Center offers intermediate XC skiing, but consists of ungroomed, backcountry skiing. Avoid walking or snowshoeing in the skier-made tracks, and know that conditions can be unpredictable with thinner snow cover underneath evergreens. The blue and green trail (and other the trails in Ripton), exist with the permission of private landowners and result from the sweat equity of volunteer trail maintainers. Always stay on the trail and respect landowner signs and private property. For specific questions about the blue and green trail and other trails in Ripton, you can contact Andy McIntosh through the Catamount Trail Association.