Over the past four years locals have gladed and mapped new backcountry ski zones across Vermont. From north to south, here are seven of our favorites.
Backcountry skiing is having a renaissance, and Vermont is at its epicenter. Since 2016, five sanctioned glade-cutting projects have been established on federal and state lands around the state. At these zones, you’ll find a wide array of skiing, from open glades to narrow chutes to stunning lines through old-growth forest cleared of hobblebush—it’s all there for skiers to explore.
Many of these glades are cut and maintained by dedicated volunteer chapters of the Catamount Trail Association. If you love these areas, consider volunteering for a workday next spring or fall. You can sign up at catamounttrail.org. Bring your work pants and a pair of gloves, and you’ll likely earn a cold local brew and some of the best beta a skier could ask for: the low-down on other hidden powder stashes.
Willoughby State Forest: The First Glades on Vermont State Land
In 2016 Willoughby State Forest became home to the first sanctioned ski glades created on state-owned land. Here you’ll find low-angle beech and birch glades on east-facing Bartlett Mountain and serious steeps on Mt. Hor—the steepest in the Northeast Kingdom
Backcountry Coalition’s managed zones. There, you can ski from the summit cone of through well-spaced fir and spruce. Both are accessed via the same skin track, which leaves from a parking lot off Route 5A at the south end of Lake Willoughby and joins a 12-kilometer network of groomed Nordic ski trails.
Closest Town: Westmore Managed by: Northeast Kingdom Backcountry Coalition (NEKBC). Vertical Drop: 640 feet on Bartlett Mountain; 820 feet on Mt. Hor. Difficulty: Beginner to expert; Après: Sugar Shack Poutine with hand-cut fries, cheddar cheese, gravy, chorizo, bacon and Vermont maple syrup at Burke Publick House in East Burke. Stay: For a drive-in backcountry cabin experience, book a night at the Green Mountain Club’s Wheeler Pond Camps ($75) in Barton and hunker down by the big woodstove. You’ll have the whole basin to yourself. For an affordable, heated room, book a bunk in the 16-person bunk room at Northwoods Stewardship Center ($150 per night for groups of up to five, $25 per night per person thereafter). Maps and Intel: nekbc.org
The Bolton Backcountry: The Backcountry Ski Area
Bolton’s backcountry offers everything from low-angle skiing through mellow stands of old-growth white and yellow birch to steep balsam fir glades and narrow chutes through cliff bands. Here, in addition to two backcountry cabins where you can book overnight stays and a new warming hut, you’ll find a 100-kilometer network of narrow, old-school, CCC-style backcountry trails and glades. You can even rent touring equipment at Bolton Valley Resort’s Nordic Center or take a touring lesson from expert guides such as Adam DesLauriers.
Closest Town: Bolton. Opened: 1920s; Managed by: Bolton Valley Ski Area and Friends of Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry. Vertical Drop: 1,700 feet with 1,500 acres of ski touring. Difficulty: Novice to Expert. Après: Grab a local beer and a wood-fired pizza at the James Moore Tavern in Bolton Valley Resort’s lodge. Stay: The Inn at Bolton Valley or Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe. Maps and Intel: boltonvalley.com.
Brandon Gap is home to the first sanctioned backcountry ski glades cut on federal land. There are now about 22 lines which run through a mix of birch glades and snow-laden conifers. With multiple peaks to choose from, you’ll find every kind of skiing here. Down the road is the trailhead for Chittenden Brook Hut, a two-mile skin in from the road. From the hut, you can ski about two miles to reach the top of the glades.
Closest Towns: Brandon and Rochester. Opened: 2016 Managed by: Rochester/Randolph Area Sports Trails Alliance (RASTA). Vertical Drop: 16,000 vertical feet of skiing (total). Difficulty: Intermediate to Expert. Après: Grab a beer at Red Clover Brewing Co. or French pastries at Café Provence in Brandon, or head to cozy Sandy’s Books and Bakery in Rochester. Stay: Chittenden Brook Hut at Chittenden Campground ($140 per night; vermonthuts.org). In the Works: RASTA has received preliminary approval from the U.S. Forest Service to establish gladed skiing on the two peaks (Corporation and Round Mountains) that form Chittenden Brook Bowl. “It’s likely that project will proceed next summer or the summer after,” says RASTA president Angus McCusker. Maps and Intel: rastavt.org.
Braintree Mountain Forest: The Quiet Touring Destination
If you want to find a long tour in the woods that culminates in untouched powder runs, Braintree Mountain may be for you. “It’s a stunning network of cross country and Nordic touring trails that lead to some great ski runs,” says RASTA volunteer and Braintree local Zac Freeman. Set on 1,547 acres of undeveloped land, it’s about an hour’s tour to get to the
base of the steep stuff.
Closest Town: Braintree. Opened: 2014; Managed by: RASTA. Vertical Drop: 1,500 feet with 1,547 acres of touring. Difficulty: Novice to Intermediate. Après: Grab a beer at Bent Hill Brewery in Braintree and catch live music from local bands on weekends in the Upstairs Gallery at Chandler Music Hall in Randolph. Stay: Make it a day trip. In the Works: This spring, look out for the new OutdoorHub, RASTA’s timberfame base in downtown Randolph, with a gear shop, 3D maps of the mountain biking and backcountry ski trails in the area, a bar, coin-operated showers and garden with food trucks. Maps and Intel: rastavt.org.
Ascutney: The Sprawling Playground
Since the 469-acre Mt. Ascutney ski area shuttered in 2010, a band of local volunteers called Ascutney Outdoors has revitalized the old trails—trimming back vegetation and re-establishing 50 acres of hardwood and red pine glades between the steep, winding former ski trails (think a smaller Mad River Glen) on the upper two thirds of the mountain. And starting this January, backcountry skiers can hitch a 1,800-foot ride to steeper terrain on the new Dopplemeyer T-Bar.
Closest Town: Brownsville. Opened: 2015; Managed by: Ascutney Outdoors. Vertical Drop: 1,443 feet. Difficulty: Novice to expert. Après: Brownsville Butcher and Pantry. Stay: Free off-season camping in the lean-tos at Mount Ascutney State Park. In the Works: No new glades, but more work to restore the existing ski trails. Maps and Intel: For trail information, head to the Ascutney Outdoors Center and Main Trailhead at the base of the former ski area. ascutneyoutdoors.org
For some old-fashioned tree skiing on mostly moderately pitched terrain, head to 83-acre Dutch Hill in Readsboro. Dutch Hill was operated as a ski area until 1985 and has since been resurrected as a touring destination by some dedicated local volunteers.
Closest Town: Readsboro. Managed by: Dutch Hill Alliance of Skiers and Hikers (DHASH) since 2017. Vertical Drop: 570 feet; Difficulty: Novice to Intermediate; Après: Bright Ideas Brewing in North Adams, Mass.; Stay: The Readsboro Inn ($50 per night). In the Works: DHASH has submitted a permit application to establish new, steeper glades with 750 feet of vertical drop in the vicinity of the old Christiana Trail. The National Forest Land was never part of the original ski area but can be accessed via Dutch Hill. Maps and Intel: dhash4vt.org
Dover Town Forest: Dover
Starting this winter, skiers and riders have access to six new gently gladed backcountry ski and snowboard zones between Mount Snow and Haystack Mountain, thanks to a new Catamount Trail Association chapter, Southern Vermont Trails Association.
The goal, says president Steve Petrik, is to create 800 acres of backcountry skiing and 100 miles of mountain bike trails on a mix of Green Mountain National Forest and town-owned land over the next eight to ten years.
This year, skiers have access to about 100 acres of new backcountry skiing and five miles of winter-use trails in six zones across two properties.
Closest Town: Dover. Opened: 2019 Managed by: Southern Vermont Trails Association; Vertical Drop: 1,400 feet at Dover and 300 feet at Horace Hill. Difficulty: Novice to expert. Après: TC’s Restaurant and Tavern, owned and operated by the family of five-time Olympic snowboarder and gold medalist Kelly Clark. Stay: The Grey Ghost Inn (Rooms start at $104). In the Works: The Ridge, a proposed 200-acre remote series of three backcountry ski zones near Mount Snow’s Carinthia; a 200-acre zone in old-growth forest called Bulls Bowl and a mellow touring zone with three tours in Dover called Copper Hill, with the latter two projects slated to open in 2023-2024. Maps and Intel: sovta.org
Featured Photo: Shem Roos