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Middlebury Trailrunner: Romance Mountain

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Posted on January 25, 2010 | Blog Category:
By Jeff Byers



As promised, I am posting occasional ski tours over the winter. I have been an avid cross-country skier even longer than a runner – in fact I started running in the first place to stay in shape for skiing, feeding my delusions that I was a nordic racer. Some of my ski tours are within the confines of ski touring areas, while some are along less manicured routes. Today’s post is the former. There are two fabulous ski touring areas in the mountains above Middlebury, and the Romance Mountain route is part of one of them, the Blueberry Hill Ski Touring Center in Goshen. A previous post on their summer race, the Goshen Gallop, described some of the same trails, albeit under very different conditions. Blueberry Hill does charge a trail fee for use of the ski touring area, but it is well worth it for well maintained trails, gorgeous winter scenery, and includes homemade soup for lunch in the touring center lodge.

Since I knew the trails would be well groomed, I chose my skate skis for a little extra speed, but the well-set tracks would have been great for classic style skiing as well. This tour starts heading behind the Inn and follows the road to the south. After about 3/4 of a mile, follow the trail with a sharp turn back to the left, where it climbs for a few minutes, before taking the next right. After a few minutes of continued gradual climbing, this short section tops out in an open meadow with the best views of the day – the view towards the main ridge of the Green Mts. from the side of Hogback Mt.

hogback view

Hogback Mt. view

After a short descent, the trail joins a forest service road which continues to climb gradually along the south side of Romance Mt. One of the trails heading off to the left has had a sign reading “Ned Gillette’s Dip” for many years, so while slurping my soup at the end of the ski, I asked the owner, Tony Clark, about the significance of the sign. Ned Gillette was one of the world’s most accomplished adventurers, a close friend of Tony’s, and a frequent skier at Blueberry Hill. Ned was senselessly killed in a robbery while trekking in the Karakoram in 1998. Apparently, during one running of the American Ski Marathon, a 50 Km race formerly held at the area, Ned broke both skis simultaneously at the dip in the trail with the aforementioned sign. Probably the only time I ever finished ahead of him in a race…. Shortly after this point, the forest service road dead ends, and the ski trail begins its serious ascent, marked by an ominous rusty yellow gate.

Rusty yellow gate

Rusty yellow gate

Over the course of the next mile, the trail climbs close to 1000 vertical feet. Just keep telling yourself how much fun the descent will be. The trail winds upwards through young hardwood forest (probably lumbered in the not too distant past) with so many false summits that when you reach the top, you almost expect a sign saying “just kidding”. When I finally topped out, I could tell from a few patches of yellow snow that I was not the first person to be relieved at reaching the high point! The trail reaches about 2700 ft elevation, and this could be the highest groomed cross country ski trail in Vt.

The Rare Green Mountain Clipperbush

The Rare Green Mountain Clipperbush

As you might guess, the descent is fast, with several sharp turns, but in good enough condition that you can push it without fear of getting upended by rough spots, other than the occasional sitzmark. Snowplowing is a horrible waste of potential energy! After about 5 min of this more technical section, the trail settles in to a more gradual descent, making for fun fast skiing. The second trail merging from the left will take you back to the ski touring center. You can tell you have missed it, if you hit another forest service road, necessitating just a few minutes of backtracking. After a short, fast final descent to the touring center, I was enjoying the day too much to call it quits, so I added on a short section below the touring center. Cross the meadow below the touring center and follow the obvious trail heading into the woods. From here on, the trail is pretty flat and fun cruising. Take the left turn onto the “Beginner Loop”, and this brings you back after a few fast miles, albeit with a few road crossings. The full loop was about 11 miles, and took me about 2 hours with a few stops to catch my breath and take pictures.

blueberry hill 2

Doc1_001

Jeff Byers is a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at Middlebury College. He also writes the Middlebury Trailrunner blog. We'll be periodically highlighting posts from his blog, but for more recommendations for trailrunning and cross country skiing in the county, head to his Web site.

This entry was originally posted on Jan. 17, 2010.

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