By Cherise Forbes
While winter has yet to officially begin, the season is already shaping up to be a busy one for nordic centers throughout Southern Vermont and the Berkshires. As social distancing measures continue, more and more people are flocking to outdoor activities that allow a blood-pumping workout, a healthy dose of fun, and a sense of adventure — and cross-country skiing certainly fits the bill.
“I think a lot more people will be looking at cross-country because it’s so diffused,” said Dana McNair, co-manager of Viking Nordic Center in Londonderry, Vt. “You don’t have to be anywhere near the crowds, and it’s so much easier to be socially distanced.”
A similar spike in outdoor recreation occurred this summer, with many retailers selling out of supplies including kayaks, canoes and mountain bikes. There’s been a “huge surge” in recreational visitors at various sites operated throughout the Berkshires by The Trustees of Reservations according to Matt Krumme, director of recreational enterprises for the organization, with many campsites booked solid this summer. Once the snow falls, Krumme anticipates an equally busy season for Notchview, which offers 17 kilometers of groomed skiing in Windsor, Mass.
“We’re anticipating a really strong season,” Krumme said. “We’ve already seen an enormous surge of people who want to stay close to home, but still get outside.”
While season pass sales typically begin in full force following Thanksgiving, many nordic centers began selling passes as early as September this year. Still, despite the singular context of 2020, the season’s success will again rely largely on weather conditions.
“As long as we get some decent snow, we expect to have a solid year,” said Prospect Mountain Association President Dave Newell, who has also seen season pass sales increase earlier than usual. “This is a refreshing outdoor recreation and it’s virus friendly.”
While cross-country skiing itself is relatively pandemic-safe, the logistics surrounding the sport have become a little more complicated. Service windows are a new addition at nearly all nordic centers in the region, and many rental protocols have been reconfigured to space patrons out both in terms of time and physical distance.
Now more than ever, the historically hyper-local nature of businesses like Wild Wings Ski Touring Center, in Peru, Vt., may help such protocols run smoothly.
“We’re pretty good at recognizing people and their cars, so they can just wave to us from afar,” said Tracy Black, Wild Wings co-owner, who has encouraged patrons to purchase season passes in the interest of limiting traffic. “Skiers can put their boots on in the car and then just go straight to the trails and have a great experience.”
While some indoor spaces like warming huts may be closed or limited, the change also presents new possibilities for outdoor picnicking and even old-school tailgating.
“When I first started working at Viking back in the day, we didn’t really have places for people to eat, so everybody tailgated,” McNair said. “It was cool because you could look out at the parking lot around lunchtime and people would be gathered around their truck beds or lawn chairs to eat.”
At Canterbury Farm, in Becket, Mass., heaters and fire pits have even been added to outdoor spaces to encourage distanced-yet-cozy gatherings of skiers, snowshoers and even ice skaters.
“We are excited about opening and getting people outdoors exercising in this beautiful and historic place,” said Linda Bacon, owner of Canterbury Farm. “This is a safe sport during a pandemic and, with our extensive and varied terrain, one can ski without feeling like they are in a crowd.”
“This might be the first year that cross-country skiing gets some props for not having lifts,” McNair concluded.
Explore for Yourself
204 Prospect Access, Woodford, Vt.
Owned and operated by a cooperative of local citizens, Prospect Mountain offers a little something for everyone. There are trails for all abilities — you can get your bearings on the flats, or get your blood pumping by ascending the peak — and Prospect’s terrain continues to be refined year after year. Woodford is often graced with good snow, though the team at Prospect is eyeing snowmaking as a long-term goal!
Don’t Miss: The grilled cheese — you won’t find a better one. With widened trails and great variety at Prospect, you may even enjoy the skiing enough to earn two!
986 Fred Snow Road, Becket, Mass.
Described by many as a “local gem,” Canterbury Farm is nestled in a stunning expanse of forest that has been carefully managed for more than 80 years — and it shows. With more than 200 acres of private land, visitors can enjoy cross country skiing, snowshoeing, and ice skating at Canterbury Farm while remaining safely distanced.
Don’t Miss: The opportunity to try something new. With Canterbury Farm’s knowledgeable staff and wide array of rentals, you can learn how to ski, try out snowshoeing, or take a twirl on the ice.
Wild Wings Ski & Yoga
246 Styles Lane, Peru, Vt.
Wild Wings offers a strong system of classic cross-country ski trails, as well as some newer skate trails, in Peru’s notorious snow pocket. There’s often snow to work with and, on top of that, the trails are expertly groomed and maintained. While Wild Wings is a favorite of local elite skiers, including Olympian and Peru native Sophie Caldwell, their trails can be enjoyed by both beginners and pros.
Don’t Miss: Your turn in the terrain park. Adolescent skiers and adults alike love the opportunity to test their skills with jumps and other challenges configured in the field across from the Wild Wings warming hut. Of course, shooting down Peregrine will also give you a thrill!
Route 9, Windsor, Mass.
Notchview is one of the largest nordic centers in Massachusetts, and it’s experienced grooming team ensures that every possible day on the trails can be savored. Despite a less-than-ideal winter in terms of snow last year, Notchview’s stewards managed to stay open for 100 days by prioritizing drainage, forest management and snow farming.
Don’t Miss: The family-friendly atmosphere. This year, Notchview hopes to cultivate a social-distanced community hub outside of its lodge, complete with waxing stations, food and shopping opportunities.
Viking Nordic Center
615 Little Pond Road, Londonderry, Vt.
Viking boasts a vast 30-kilometer trail system and, with four separate entrance points, it was easy to avoid the crowds before the era of social distancing. You can even get the place to yourself, with the night-course available for rent by groups or families. Does your partner prefer to snowshoe while you like to ski, or vice versa? It’s no problem at Viking, where both types of visitors can explore the terrain side by side.
Don’t Miss: A romantic night-ski along Viking’s lantern-lit trails. Visiting during the day? Plan a picnic atop the Troll’s Knoll trail, where you’ll find a stunning view of the West River — and maybe a few otters playing on the ice as well.
Cherise Forbes is an independent writer, photographer, and designer based out of Southern Vermont. She currently serves as Communications and Marketing Manager for The BOMA Project, a non-profit organization empowering women entrepreneurs affected by climate change.