When it comes to skate skiing, I'm sure glad that I had years of experience as an instructor of first-time alpine skiers. Why? Because long before I tried skating, I had already mastered climbing up hills quickly — with skis on — using a herringbone.
After I did a snowplow demonstration or chased down a wayward student, I would head uphill to regroup with the class — stepping from ski to ski in a wide "V." I put these hard-earned skating skills to work today as we explored Blueberry Lake Cross-Country Center in East Warren, Vermont — near Waitsfield in the Mad River Valley.
The Skimeister and I first climbed up into a couple of lovely meadows with great views of the mountains and scattered farms. It was quite a bit of climbing, but trail number 10 was interspersed with ups and downs and turns to keep things interesting. And the longer downhills were fast enough to get your heart pounding! It was a fun place to ski.
The snow coverage was quite good except for some wet areas between meadows and also coming out of Upper Trail 6, where you had to be sure you skied straight over a small bridge of snow.
We skied around the meadows about one and a half times and then entered the woods. Here I came to realize just how narrow the ski trail was (their groomer is six feet wide so in the woods amidst the many trees, that's what you get). We selected the hardest trail in the network, Upper Trail 6. It climbed steeply through the forest and I had to keep my steps short so as to keep my skis on the groomed section. It's no fun to trip on the loose snow when you are chugging up a hill.
Well, as one would guess, what goes up also comes down. I was in a mega-super-snowplow as we zipped down the narrow, turny trail. Again with not a lot of room to work with, I found it helped to get my knees close together to increase the angle on my skinny skis against the snow. Friction is my friend.
The Skimeister skidded around corners in super-fast parallel turns. (Show-off.)
It was very pretty up on this hilly woods trail, but the Skimeister remarked that it was one of the craziest nordic trails he had ever been on. But apparently he liked it because he went on to try two similar short loops (trails 7 & 8) before meeting me back at the cross-country ski center. I had done my climbing for the day.
We skied on the scenic, but more difficult side of the trail network. According to the managers, the east side of Plunkton Road offers a significantly more mellow experience that puts beginners and intermediates at ease. We noted that there were a lot of dogs entering and exiting those trails with their owners. Well-behaved pooches are allowed on the trails.
Blueberry Lake is also a bit quirky. For example, you pass signs that are hand-written on sheets of metal and a rusting old stove that sits next to the woodpile as you head out from the modest ski center.
The nordic center was opened in 1993 by a former dairy farmer. At 80 years old, he still maintains the trails and skis 10km a day.
All in all, Blueberry Lake offers a scenic, affordable, no-frills cross-country skiing experience in the lovely Mad River Valley. And the town of Waitsfield offers great après-ski opportunities. We enjoyed a light lunch at the Green Cup in Waitsfield Village. It's two doors down from the covered bridge.
This relatively new café offers fresh and inventive breakfast and lunch options, mouth-watering baked goods (a NY Times food writer raves about their coconut cake) and also dinner a couple of nights a week.
It's a cozy little place where you can also get a good cup of coffee of espresso. A couple of shops nearby make this historic area of Waitsfield a nice place to stop when skiing at Sugarbush, Mad River Glen or the area's cross-country skiing centers.
Blueberry Lake Cross-Country Center
- Plunkton Road, East Warren, Vermont
- Elevation of approximately 1,300 feet
- 11 trails/30K for groomed for classic skiing, skating
- Snowshoeing as well
- Ski and snowshoe rental, as well as pulk rentals so you can ski with toddlers in tow
- Open daily
- FYI - Blueberry Lake is down the road a ways. No lake at the nordic center!