I'd say it was about 5 degrees (F) on Saturday when we clicked into our skis in the Sterling Valley area of Stowe, Vermont. Needless to say, it was not a day for dallying about. We selected a backcountry ski tour so that we'd keep moving and generate our own heat on this clear but cold day.
I had been eyeing a section of the Catamount Trail in Stowe ever since our summer hike up in the Upper Sterling Valley. The Mount Mansfield Ski & Snowshoe Waterproof Trail Map (you can buy it at the <link http: www.catamounttrail.org store external-link-new-window online>Catamount Trail Association online store) showed a couple of possible loops in the area between the Sterling Gorge and Edson Hill Manor nordic center. We wanted to investigate.
Our goal was to check out the Peek A View viewpoint, so we did a loop that included the Maple Run, Billings Road and Lauren's trails. Part of this land is protected by the <link http: www.stowelandtrust.org external-link-new-window>Stowe Land Trust, and the town had some good signage at nearly every intersection. The only one that wasn't marked was the intersection with Lauren's Trail on the way down from Peek A View.
The sun felt great as we climbed up and around to the Peek. Then, it felt downright balmy (maybe 15 degrees!) as we basked in the sun and enjoyed the view to the west from the Peek A View vantage point. The town had actually installed some swinging benches and a child's swing here. You could see half of the ski trails on Mt. Mansfield and also Camel's Hump. It's a very nice spot.
Two of the trails we skied were groomed: the bottom of Maple Run, which must double as a snowmobile trail (we didn't see any machines or their tracks, however), and the steep climb up Sterling Run. We got a good herringbone workout here.
But as we ducked into the shadow of the hill and descended down Lauren's Trail from the Peek, we had to break our own trail. There was about six inches of wind-packed snow in this area on top of an iced-over base of snow.
This tour offered moderate climbing and just a few downhill sections where we had enough speed to make some tele turns through the dry, wind-packed snow. But on a very cold day, it really was a good tour to do because you had to keep working and expending energy. With photo stops and a couple of breaks for snacks, we were out in the woods for about three hours.
I only got slightly cold at the end as we descended in the shadow of the hill. I put on my balaclava and my backpack included a down vest, sheepskin mittens and emergency items in case I needed them. I warmed up with a Bailey's and coffee drink in Stowe Village after the ski tour.
We'll come back to this area again sometime to try the Marston Trail and more of the Catamount Trail.