By Evan Johnson
Volunteers maintain glades at the Brandon Gap, Saturday, Nov. 4.
By Evan Johnson
Backcountry skiers and other off-piste enthusiasts came out in force for the fifth annual Vermont Backcountry Forum on Saturday, Nov. 4 in Rochester.
Presented by the Rochester Area Sport Trails Alliance (RASTA), the Catamount Trail Association (CTA) and the Vermont Huts Association, the annual event was an opportunity to celebrate local developments in human-powered skiing and to chart the course for the coming year. While the event started in 2013 as a potluck-style dinner with cash bar and raffle, this year’s forum was expanded to an entire Saturday, complete with gear swap, glade cutting work, and meetings throughout the day.
The day started bright and early in the Long Trail parking lot in the Brandon Gap, where a group of about 50 split into crews that headed into the woods to work on the backcountry skiing glades. Recent windstorms had brought down many trees, which needed to be removed. Since 2015, volunteers have maintained a total of 20,000 vertical feet of skiable terrain. Once popular among those who knew how to navigate the woods, thanks to recent mapping and a new trailhead kiosk, the glades saw increased traffic when the snow was deep enough. Data logged on Feb. 18, 2017, saw 171 skier visits to the Gap, total local sales of nearly $200,000, and a total of nearly $30,000 in federal, state and local taxes collected.
The Brandon Gap was also the site of search and rescue exercises with the Vermont State Police, Killington Search and Rescue, Vermont Fish & Wildlife, U.S. Forest Service, local fire departments and RASTA participating.
RASTA will be hosting tours of the these glades this winter on Jan. 27 and Feb. 24, weather permitting.
Expansion of backcountry skiing was a major topic of discussion at the evening forum in the Pierce Hall Community Center. In recent months, RASTA has explored adding backcountry skiing in two local areas, one on Route 100 across the road from the Forest Service Ranger Station and a second in the area near Chittenden Brook. The area near the Ranger Station is no longer being considered due to concerns on elevation, RASTA’s plans for the Chittenden Brook glades are advancing. The area is part of the Robinson Integrated Resource Project, a 60,000-acre parcel of land spanning the towns of Rochester, Hancock, Chittenden, Stockbridge Pittsfield, Goshen, Granville, Braintree and Bethel. The Robinson project includes a variety of proposed management activities to achieve multiple resource goals, and desired future conditions as provided by the 2006 Green Mountain National Forest Land and Resource Management Plan. A decision from the Forest Service is expected in the spring.
Other areas of development for backcountry skiing around the state include the former Dutch Hill Ski Area, Mount Ascutney, the Willoughby State Forest and the area near Jay Peak in northern Vermont.
R.J. Thompson of the Vermont Huts Association reported the Association is working with Green Mountain National Forest to build and operate its first hut under a special use permit. The sidecountry hut, designed by students with Yestermorrow Design/Build School in Waitsfield, will be available for year-round use on a reservation basis.
The hut will sleep 10 people, will have no electricity and will be heated by propane. So far, the Association has raised just over $24,000 of a $60,000 projected budget.
The project is under analysis by the Forest Service with a decision expected in early 2018.