As I mentioned last time, finding a great place to ski in the east is not hard.
The problem is finding a great town near the great ski trails. Last time we
looked at Maine and New Hampshire. During our exploratory jaunt through the
east, we also had a chance to investigate Vermont and upstate New York. So lets
venture over the Connecticut River into Vermont.
Because of their proximity and similarities, Vermont and New Hampshire have
always had a friendly rivalry. 'Vermont is New Hampshire turned up side down'
or vice versa depending on your perspective. Each state has its benefits. New
Hampshire has bigger mountains, but Vermont is fortunate not to have an area
like the region from Manchester down to Nashua, which I refer to as suburban
Massachusetts. New Hampshire politics lean to the right, Vermont is a little
more to the left (but there are plenty of conservatives there too). When you
talk about skiing, there are a lot of similarities. So forgive me if I compare
a lot of places in Vermont to places in New Hampshire. In my book, that is a
While Linda and I were exploring the east this past summer/fall my Dad took
me on a trip over to Burke Mountain, Vermont for some mountain biking. Despite
growing up just over the New Hampshire border from Burke I had never skied or
biked here. In recent years, the Kingdom Trails Association has put a lot of
time and effort into these trails and turned a decent touring network into one
of the best all-season trail networks in the country. As my Dad and I mountain
biked, I was amazed at the variety of interesting terrain that they had. In
all they have 100 miles of trails that are used for hiking, biking and running
in the summer and skiing in the winter. In my mind I kept drawing comparisons
with Jackson, New Hampshire, which as I mentioned last time, is a favorite destination
But, just like Jackson is a tiny New England village, so is Burke. The same
can be said for many of the best places to ski in Vermont: Craftsbury and the
Woodstock/Quechee area also come to mind. Great places to live, but no jobs.
And in many cases, if you need to look for a job, you can't afford to live there
Middlebury would be the Vermont equivalent of Hanover, NH, but one size smaller.
Great college, great ski trails, great playground, but a little too small in
the job market.
Putney Vermont can lay claim to the title of 'Birthplace of modern US cross
country skiing.' As Dorcas Wonsavage wrote in a recent article published on
FasterSkier, 1952 Olympian John Caldwell basically started the U.S. Team from
his backyard in Putney. At the recent New England Bill Koch League (Kids Ski
League) Championships in Putney, a virtual who's who of American skiers were
on hand. Among the returning Olympians were Mike Gallagher, '64, '68 and '72,
Bob Gray '68 and '72, Charlie Kellogg, '68, Tim Caldwell, '72, '76, '80 and
'84, Terry Porter, '76, Leslie Bancroft Krichko, '80 and '88, Kristin Petty
Bills, '88, Leslie Thompson Hall and Dorcas DenHartog Wonsavage, '88, '92 and
'94, John Farra '92 and, of course, Bill Koch. You couldn't assemble a line-up
like that anywhere else in the country. This gains Putney a lot of points in
the XC Town ranking, but on my list Putney loses lots of points in the job opportunities
department. But such is the case with most places in this part of the country.
Vermont has one place that New Hampshire just can't match. That place is Burlington.
Burlington is known for being a great "small city" to live in. The
Burlington area has about 50,000 people in the city, with a total of 150,000
in the Chittenden County. The University of Vermont is centered here and for
my job criteria, it is constantly rated as one the
top Tech Career centers in New England. Home to IBM and others. Similar
to Portland, Maine but closer to the mountains and closer to a wealth of ski
For recreation opportunities, Burlington can hold its own with any town its
size or bigger. It is right on Lake Champlain, has a good network of biking
and running trails and a very active population of residents. The Green Mountains
are a little small for my taste (Mt Mansfield is the tallest at 4393' and only
four others are over 4000') but a couple days of hiking on the famed Long Trail
is enough to humble almost anyone.
For skiing, Burlington has many options within a half hour to an hour drive:
Trapps Family Lodge, Mt Mansfield, Sleepy Hollow, Craftsbury, Bolton Valley
to name a few. Closer to town you can ski at the Catamount Family Center in
Williston. Really the only thing that keeps Burlington from being perfect is
that there is no skiing directly in town. My vision of the perfect ski town
is one where you are always within 5 minutes of a trail. This makes squeezing
in a quick workout so much easier. I know I am being very picky, but that is
why I am searching the whole country. The Vermont solution to this would be
to live in Stowe, or Williston, near the skiing and commute into Burlington
for work. But you better already have some money stashed away if you are going
to live in Stowe.
Lets move on to New York. Any discussion of skiing in New York is going to
focus on Lake Placid. It still amazes me that Lake Placid hosted the Olympics
in 1980 (as well as 1932). If you want an idea of how the Olympics have grown
in the past 25 years, visit Lake Placid and all the venues, then go to Salt
Lake City and visit the 2002 venues. The Wasatch Front area of Utah is home
to 1.5 million people and it was bursting at the seams when hosting the Olympics
last year. The population of Lake Placid is about 4,000. Wow. Looking at the
present-day games, it is inconceivable that tiny Lake Placid could pull that
event off. But then again, Salt Lake was the biggest city ever to host a Winter
Olympics. Lillehammer, Norway is only about 20,000 people and they held a great
Anyway, Lake Placid. Though it is a small, tourism-driven town, Lake Placid
is still a popular training site for top skiers. Mt. Van Hovenberg has great
ski trails, and there are a number of other smaller trail networks in town.
The Adirondack mountains are great for hiking and running. Plenty of lakes and
rivers for playing. And the rollerskiing in the area is as good as anywhere.
The Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid has always been my favorite location
for a training camp. It is a great facility that has become underused by the
cross country ski community in recent years, with the focus on moving top athletes
to Park City. My first exposure to the top level of cross country skiing in
this country was an Eastern Elite Team Training Camp in Lake Placid in 1990.
I was 16 years old and I was able to train daily with guys like Todd Boonstra
and John Farra. It was a real eye-opener and I think that was the first time
I really understood what it meant to be a cross country ski racer. I was hooked.
But once again, jobs get in the way. Lake Placid and the surrounding area is
great for outdoor recreation and skiing, but I wouldn't move there without already
having a job.
There is also some very good skiing in western New York, at places like Salmon
Hills. They get a lot of lake effect snow, and can have great skiing even when
the rest of the east is bare. But I'll be honest, I've never skied there and
we didn't make it there on this road trip. So I can't offer any more info than
Now we were getting into crunch time. It was the end of August. We had spent
two months roaming the country and we had only a few weeks left to make a decision.
We were scheduled to fly back to Utah soon. Our plan was to attend a friends'
wedding in Maine on September 1, fly back to Utah, attend another friends' wedding
on Sept 28, then pack up our cars, and head off to our new and exciting home.
But we still hadn't decided where that home would be. We had been to many of
the best towns in the country, and still we did not have a winner. We had many
places that seemed very nice, but no place that jumped out and said "You
were meant to live here."
Were we asking too much by looking for the perfect XC Town? Quite possibly
yes. Williams College Ski Team coach Bud Fisher is spending a winter coaching
in Lillehammer, Norway and he wrote in recently to nominate Lillehammer for
XC Town Planet Earth. I think I would agree with him that Lillehammer is probably
the best ski town on the planet, and I had been hoping to find something almost
as good on this side of the Atlantic.
But despite the fact that no place was perfect, we did have some good candidates.
By this time we had narrowed the field to six potential towns. These are not
necessarily the best towns for skiing, but they were our favorites for skiers
who also need decent jobs. The following towns are listed from East to West.