Before Mountain Ops: The Nordic Barn and Nordic Skiing

Before Mountain Ops: The Nordic Barn and Nordic Skiing

By: Dave Hatoff Comments: 0

We love human powered skiing here at Mountain Ops.  But for those of you who don’t know, we used to be called “The Nordic Barn” and originally specialized in Nordic equipment. 

Since 1995, owner Don Allen has always backed Nordic skiing locally, not just by carrying the  cross country equipment, but by being involved in supporting community cross country skiing events, like the Stowe Derby.  He actually used to go out and groom a lot of the trails behind the shop that were part of the course.  He also used to maintain and cut a lot of Topnotch cross county network, which when combined with Trapps and Stowe Mountain Resort cross country trails, make for still the one of the largest cross-country networks in the entire country.  Quite impressive for a ski community and town most known for its alpine ski prowess. 

Back in the day, the Nordic Barn was buzzing with cross country skiers, many of them renting skis and looking for lessons.  Lamoille Guides, which is the official name of the business here, used to be consistently busy giving out cross country lessons, particularly during peak periods like Christmas and President’s weeks, where back then, people actually stayed for an entire week for their vacation time.  The snowpack back then was much more reliable for a long and healthy cross-country season where getting out for a skinny ski was usually accessible right our shops back door. Hit the Stowe Rec Path which is conveniently located in the rear of our parking lot and it was off you go.  From there you could connect with Mansfield touring center and Trapps networks. 

A lot of that original cross-country lure came from the Trapp Family Lodge, who always had a national and worldly reputation for featuring world class cross-country trails.  Straight from Austria along with "The Sound of Music", you were transported back in time where the ritual of skiing was just part of your day of getting through the mountains- either for transportation to pick up a loaf of bread or to visit friends for dinner.  Many of the first backcountry trails were cut by Johannes back in the day, like the Trapps to Bolton trail which is one of the classic day tours you can do from Stowe.  This trail not only connected the two ski areas by skis, but also opened up a whole new avenue which paved the way for the first backcountry ski trails that were cut around here like the Steeple, Roundtop, and Michigan Valley just to name a few.

Today’s backcountry skiing drew it roots directly from cross country skiing, which morphed from cross country skis to touring skis with fish scales and metal edges.  Paired with leather boot, you could begin to explore off the beaten paths of the cross-county center, get into to open fields and rolling terrain, and make some low angle wiggle turns, either dropping the knee if you were an accomplished skier, or making alpine turns and trying to stay centered on the skis.   Low angle woods were also coming into play, logging roads, steep driveways, really anything that you find with a pitch to it so you could get a little speed going and make some turns.  From there light BC equipment started morphing into telemark bindings and the whole backcountry and exploratory scene was taking off underground by select skiers looking for adventure and untracked snow. 

Cross country skiing today in Stowe continues to thrive, as we saw this past Sunday with the annual running of Stowe Derby.   Although we are now challenged by numerous rain events and thaw cycles from global warming, we do the best with Mother Nature gives us to make it happen.  Although the course was shortened this year due to conditions, its still a great event for competitors and spectators alike.

Toll Road Derby turns on X/C skis this past Sunday can be scary at times!

The Stowe Derby is always a party on skis.

The beauty of cross country is it’s the type of skiing application that does not require a whole lot of snow needed in order to do it and have some fun.  2-3” on top of dirt or grass is all you really need to get started. And many times, during the course of a winter, the times that alpine skiing is not so good up on the big hill, the cross-country skiing can be fantastic. Again, you don’t need much to feel the kick and a glide, a schuss or a herringbone up a small climb.  The beauty of cross-country skiing is that it can be done anywhere whether you live in the mountains, suburbs or city.  With a little fresh snow, your yard, local park, golf course, athletic field, rec path or even street can become your personal playground.

No don’t me wrong, I am you’re A-typical cross country skiing hack.  I classic ski from time to time, but my form is pretty rudimentary and I am not the most efficient skier.  What I can do best is have a lot fun and improve quickly due to my lesser skills.   Even though I come from a strong telemark background, (I thought I would be a natural at the sport, boy was I wrong!) every time I approach a steep downhill, I immediately tense up. I learned very quickly that you are basically skiing in sneakers that don’t have a whole lot of support and getting your skis sideways is a big no no.  My kids simply have no fear and can just pint their skis downhill and just go for glory.  I have had some simply horrifying runs back down from Trapps Cabin which is pretty steep by X/C standards and have had some absolute yard sales. But its all in the name of fun.  No rules, no racing, just usually me, my kids or a significant other headed outside for some fresh air, freedom and that elusive feeling of just being out in the woods away from people, listening to your skis and opening up your senses and smells to nature. 

So get out there and discover or rediscover what skinny skis are all about.  Its nice change of pace from the regular ski routine, and will give you a much-needed appreciation on what balanced and staying centered really means on toothpick skis. One kick and glide, fall or hack at a time.

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