By Angelo Lynn
The new backcountry hut recently built at Chittenden Brook campground on the east side of Brandon Gap is more than a story about a few hikers and backcountry skiers wanting a comfortable shelter in which to camp. It’s a story about a new kind of tourism that could boost the area’s economy.
The trend is a boom in outdoor recreation, one that embraces backcountry skiing, through hiking, point-to-point mountain biking and any number of ways visitors and locals can embrace a backcountry adventure. It’s not so much a movement away from traditional ski resorts, as it is a new way to use the backcountry for a group of recreationalists who are looking for lower-priced activities that have a lower-impact on the environment — while also avoiding the resort mega-crowds.
Another hut is expected to be built within the next year at South Pond in Chittenden, bringing the number of point-to-point hikes along this section of trail to six. The plan is to build huts along the spine of the Greens, similar to the European hut system (but on a smaller scale) that draws tourists from all over the world.
The greater Middlebury-Brandon-Rochester area is ideal for this type of tourism. The terrain of the Green Mountains in this area is well-suited for lower-angle backcountry skiing in areas like Brandon Gap, where R.A.S.T.A. (Rochester Area Sports Trail Alliance) has already established a well-known network of ski trails that attract hundreds of skiers on a given winter weekend. That same terrain is ideal for point-to-point mountain bike trails, such as are within the Moosalamoo National Recreation Area (east of Lake Dunmore in the towns of Goshen and Ripton, but also Salisbury, Leicester and the edges of Middlebury, Forest Dale and Brandon.) Mountain biking along Chandler Ridge in the Moosalamoo is already a must-ride in the state (unique in its length and varieties of terrain it traverses) with more trails in the works.
Add these backcountry attractions to the Rikert Nordic Center in Ripton and the Middlebury College Snow Bowl at the top of Middlelbury Gap and this area could become a destination for a hardy breed of tourism. The movement is already underway.
The next step is for local businesses to embrace the opportunity.
Angelo Lynn is the editor and publisher of the Addison Independent, a sister publication of the Mountain Times.