Keep your ear to the ground, or snow, among backcountry skiing enthusiasts and you’ll hear news of growing momentum with new backcountry zones, the unveiling of a new Vermont backcountry hut system, and growing grassroots support in communities around the state from the Northeast Kingdom to Rochester and the Dutch Hill area of southern Vermont.
On Saturday, Nov. 4 at 6 p.m., Rochester will play host to the 5th Annual Vermont Backcountry Forum & Celebration, co-hosted by the Catamount Trail Association, its Vermont Backcountry Alliance, and the Rochester/Randolph Area Sports Trail Alliance (RASTA), a chapter of the CTA. In its fifth year, the annual event takes a new all-day format this year, including opportunities for trail work, the CTA’s annual meeting, a backcountry gear swap, and an evening celebration held at the Pierce Hall Community Center in Rochester Village.
The forum, presented by partners Voile and Outdoor Research, two outdoor gear and clothing brands, and supported by dozens of local partners and businesses, is free and open to the public, though proceeds from a raffle will benefit backcountry projects and programs in Vermont, like those led by CTA, VTBC and RASTA. In addition to being a fun celebration of ski culture, the forum is a great way to learn about the latest developments in backcountry skiing in Vermont.
The annual forum is hosted in the backyard of RASTA, a volunteer nonprofit group that builds mountain bike trails and develops backcountry ski zones in and around Rochester, Brandon Gap, Braintree and Randolph. RASTA volunteers work with staff at the US Forest Service Green Mountain National Forest (GMNF) and the CTA to develop these projects.
In a first-of-its kind example, RASTA opened backcountry skiing terrain over the past several winters on public national forest land and land owned by the New England Forestry Foundation (NEFF). RASTA volunteers have put in more than 1,000 hours of work, and the GMNF hired local contractor and professional trail builder Hardy Avery to do some of the trail clearing. The result is five backcountry skiing zones offering a combined 20,000 vertical feet for wooded backcountry skiing, plus established trails for uphill traffic. The NEFF property even includes a remote cabin that RASTA has restored to sleep eight and provide a space, complete with new woodstove and stove pipe, for skiers to warm up by the fire or spend the night.
Backcountry huts like this one are gaining in popularity, and attendees at the annual forum will also hear an update on backcountry cabin projects around the state. Vermont Huts Association, a newly incorporated nonprofit, has a multi-phase strategy to establish a network of huts for overnight accommodations for backcountry skiers and snowshoers that can also be used by mountain bikers and hikers in the non-winter months.
In addition to RASTA, there are several other CTA chapters, such as the Dutch Hill Association of Skiers and Hikers (DHASH) in Readsboro, a group that is opening backcountry skiing terrain in southwestern Vermont. The Northeast Kingdom Backcountry Coalition is bringing three new backcountry skiing zones to life, including wooded glades and trails in the Mt. Hor and Bartlett areas of the Willoughby State Forest. Though this parcel is on state land, the concept is modeled after the success in RASTA’s project on national forest land. Plus, two additional zones are being developed in the Northeast Kingdom on private land near Kirby Mountain and in East Haven.
Each CTA chapter is focused on developing local backcountry skiing and riding zones on primarily public land, while also promoting the longterm conservation of these areas. CTA and the VTBC are also working closely with the State of Vermont to help update land management strategies to better accommodate backcountry skiing and snowboarding on Vermont state lands near Lake Willoughby, Camel’s Hump and Mount Mansfield, among other areas. This coming season, these groups will be promoting a new set of Vermont backcountry ethics and distributing the “Vermont Backcountry Handbook,” a resource for groups pursuing their own backcountry projects in the state.
The schedule for the day, plus more trail work the following day, is below. More details are available at http://catamounttrail.org/events/ vtbc-forum/.
Schedule for Saturday Nov. 3:
8 - 9:30 a.m. Backcountry ski/ snowboard swap gear drop-off 9:30 a.m. Coffee and doughnuts with Catamount Trail Association
10:30 a.m. Catamountain Trail Annual Meeting
9 a.m.- 4 p.m. Backcountry volunteer work at the Long Trail trailhead at Brandon Gap
5 p.m. Backcountry Ski/Board Swap and Vendor Village on the Rochester Park, across from Pierce Hall
6 p.m. Forum doors open at Pierce Hall Community Center in Rochester with potluck dinner and cash bar 7 p.m. Backcountry project updates from Catamount Trail Association, Vermont Backcountry Alliance, Vermont Huts Association, Rochester/ Randolph Area Sports Trial Alliance, and more
8 p.m. Raffle
Schedule for Sunday, Nov. 4:
9 a.m. - 4 p.m. Volunteer Trail Work, at the Long Trail trailhead at Brandon Gap