There are two things that the Craftsbury Nordic Center in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom does exceptionally well: 1) maintain an absolutely stunning cross-country skiing trail network and 2) prepare incredibly delicious, healthy food from local producers. And really, what else do you need on a cross-country ski trip? Except maybe a handful of your besties to share in the fun.
My girlfriends and I took off for two days of cross-country skiing and an overnight at the Craftsbury Outdoor Center, which offers simple lodging in some of the most beautiful terrain in Vermont. Despite being only 45 minutes north of Stowe, the Northeast Kingdom has a completely different vibe. Some refer to it as the “real Vermont,” as it’s distance from major metropolitan areas has preserved an image of life here that feels authentic. The landscape is completely unmarred by development, lending to the feeling of tranquility. If you’ve ever opened a magazine and been awed by a photo taken in Vermont, chances are it was taken in the Kingdom.
Ok, back to the skiing…and the food.
Craftsbury Nordic Center Trail Network
The Center maintains 85 km of trails on 320 acres that meander through little villages, rolling meadows, deep woods, over Lake Hosmer, and even through a little summer camp. Well known for the marathon that is held every February, Craftsbury attracts competitive skiers from all over the country who come to train and race. Many of the main trails are groomed with the Center’s PistenBully, which means wide lanes and a firm track. In addition to making for great skiing, those wide trails also proved conducive to lots of chit-chat, as two or three people can easily ski side-by-side. This may not be super important to those competitive racers, but it was essential for four friends on a weekend getaway.
We managed to fit three nice, long skis into our weekend. The first afternoon we headed out Ruthie’s Run and around Max’s Pond Trail, all nice intermediate terrain that brought us to Charlie’s Cabin where fresh cookies, tea and a warm fire made for a perfect break. From the cabin, we skied over Big Hosmer Lake, skirting through a summer camp that sits on the shore. The next morning, conditions were perfect for a skate ski, so we headed out to explore in another direction ending up on the Wylie Hill trail. A bit steep in places, Wylie hill led to the Grand Tour trails and eventually to the Craftsbury Inn. We didn’t make it quite that far, but plan to try that route another day (probably on classic skis though). After lunch back at the Center, we switched back to our classic skis for a mellow tour around some of the Race Loop and interior trails.
We did not have a trail map with us, but it would probably have been helpful. The trails are well marked, but the system is extensive. We had no problem getting a little lost, but if you are time constrained or with kids, having a map on hand would be a good idea.
Oh, the food! I had heard that the food was outstanding, but it still blew away my expectations. Served family style in a big dining hall, the Center offers three full meals a day as part of your room rate. Each and every one of us had seconds at every meal (ok, maybe even thirds) and at least two of us left the dining hall with a napkin full of the homemade croutons. The entrees included mac n’ cheese with butternut squash, stir-fried veggies, old fashioned meatloaf, and a beautiful salad bar all made with locally-sourced and organic ingredients. And the breakfast! Scrambled eggs with salmon, maple sausage, yogurt, fresh fruit and a good, dark cup of coffee. Just what we needed to fuel up for a day on the trails.
After dinner, we returned to the common area with a nice bottle of wine and desserts to go, which was a lovely way to end the evening. The Center does not sell beer or wine in the dining hall, but you are welcome to bring your own.
A side note for parents. We were sans kids this trip, but even a picky eater would find plenty of great options at every meal. There were a lot of kids around, sipping local, organic chocolate milk and devouring the food. There is nothing like a day in the woods to build up an appetite!
Lodging and Massage
The lodging at the Outdoor Center is very simple, but completely comfortable and clean. We stayed at the Tamarack Lodge, which had two twin beds to a room and a shared bath. There are also cabins and rooms with private baths, as well as apartment style accommodations. The lodges have common areas with kitchens and couches where you can relax between skiing and meals.
There is a sauna in the basement of the main lodge, which is open to all guests. It was heavenly to get warmed right to the bone before crawling into bed that first night.
I managed to sneak in a massage with the Center’s on-staff therapist. She expertly worked sore muscles into submission with just the right mix of therapy and relaxation. With rates starting at $40 for a half hour, it’s a reasonable splurge.
I had been looking forward to a weekend away with the girls, and probably would have had a great time anywhere, but was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the Craftsbury Outdoor Center. Amazing food, stunning trails and a well-timed massage made for a cross-country ski weekend trifecta!