Viking Nordic Center: Classic Vermont Trails
The following article has been provided by Viking Nordic Center for exclusive use by xcskiworld.com. All rights reserved. All photos: Viking Nordic Center.
If you are drawn to cross country skiing by the image of gliding over rolling terrain, but don't like scary downhills or steep uphills; if you want to ski through the woods, not over a golf course, on a trail that feels like a trail rather than a four lane highway, then you'll appreciate the 35 kilometer trail system at Viking Nordic Center in Londonderry, Vermont.
When Viking Nordic was founded in 1970, the trails were cut wide enough for 2 diagonal skiers, using the rolling Vermont terrain to keep the trails interesting but attainable by all. The trail system has been prepped over the years to accommodate a skate lane along with a diagonal track and to allow skiing on as little as 6" of snow. The trails still feel old-fashioned and the attitude at Viking Nordic is friendly, not corporate.
The trails comes first
After snow conditions the heart of any positive ski experience rests with the trail system. Viking Nordic's is acknowledged as a great one. John Weisel in his book Cross Country Ski Vacations writes that Viking Nordic has "one of sweetest trail systems around". The system has 35 kilometers of trails groomed for both skate and classic skiing. And these are trails, not wide boulevards. Virtually all of the system is through mixed Vermont woodlands leading past beaver ponds and other natural features. The open fields have great views of the West River Valley. The trails are not pancake flat, even the easiest trails offer little rolls and easy, wide turns to keep things interesting. Nor is the system too hilly, so you can have a fun day, not an exhausting day. The major hills are built into the system so that there is always an easier way around. Viking Nordic is designed with many shorter loops on an inner trail system for those who want to stay close to the ski center, and longer loops on the outer trails for those who want to cover more distance.
To do the most with the snow it receives, Viking Nordic invested in extensive surface prep of its trail surface so as little as 6 inches of snow is a thick enough blanket to ski on. With 36 years of experience, the grooming staff at Viking Nordic knows how and when to groom each trail so that the tracks are good and the snow is conserved. With this surface prep, experience, attention to snow conservation, and their altitude being higher than many other centers in the area, Viking Nordic is usually one of the last centers to close in Southern Vermont.
Viking Nordic features 3 km of lighted trails, winding through the woods. One * mile stretch is lit by gas lanterns, making it very romantic, especially when it's snowing. Each year on a late January night, the center's lit trails host the largest kids' ski carnival in Vermont. If anyone has doubts about the future of USA cross country skiing, or that racing can be fun, they should come watch the kids having a blast. The lit trails are also used for parties, groups, and reunions. For a reasonable fee, a group gets private use of the trails for skiing or snowshoeing and the center's warming hut or clubhouse as a party house. The skiing and snowshoeing party theme has been growing in popularity each year.
Location and lodging
Viking Nordic is very close to 5 south-central Vermont alpine ski areas, making this an ideal area to vacation when part of group wants to snowboard or downhill ski. Viking Nordic is only a mile from Magic Mountain, 6 miles from Bromley, and 20 minutes from Stratton and Okemo. Folks in the Albany, Hartford, and Worcester areas find it an alternative to golf course skiing that's close enough to be an easy day trip. For those in New York City, Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC, it offers a shorter drive than to the big mid-Vermont resort areas and the Northeast Kingdom.
Visitors can stay trailside in the center's 1860's farmhouse, The Viking Guest House, or in one of the many lodgings offered within 5 miles. Links to local lodging are provided on Viking Nordic's web page. The Viking Guest House sleeps 9 in 4 bedrooms, has a fully equipped kitchen, living room with fireplace, dining room, and the convenience of skiing only steps away. Houseguests enjoy skating, sledding, night skiing, and stargazing from the center's big deck.
Viking Nordic was opened in 1970 as one of the first public cross country ski centers in the US. The center was founded by Stan and Lee Allaben, who in addition to creating Viking Nordic, were organizers of an early ski touring operators professional alliance, proprietors of 'Nordic Trader' (one of the first US-based mail order catalogs for cross country skiing supplies), and authors of several ski trail guidebooks. Lee Allaben was instrumental in establishing the group that became the Nordic branch of PSIA and in writing early teaching instruction manuals.
Viking Nordic's current management team, Dana and Malcolm McNair, have been at the center for over 20 years and the grooming staff have been taking care of the trails for a combined 36 years. Viking Nordic has learned to operate in both heavy and light snow winters, with both large and small crowds. The emphasis has always been on fun. "Whether you've spent your time here skiing with your 5 year old, snowshoeing at night, or out skating 20 km training for the Birkie, we want you to say 'that was fun!' when you're driving home from Viking Nordic. If you feel that way, we've succeeded" says manager Malcolm McNair.
Amenities and attitude
The prevailing atmosphere at Viking Nordic is fun and friendly -- this is not corporate skiing. The staff has experience and is willing to share it in an easy-going, relaxed manner. The cafe sells lunches and snacks including soup, sandwiches, and homemade cookies. They'll pack a lunch to eat out on the trail system and map out a destination for your picnic. Viking Nordic also recognizes that many cross country skiers like to bring their own lunch, so the center has a warming hut right at the trail head where families can gather for a mid-day break. If it's sunny, the huge deck located next to the warming hut is packed with people watching the action in the meadow where lessons are taught.
The trail mix makes Viking Nordic a good choice for families with kids. The easy short loops close to the center give kids frequent chances to take a break, yet are heavily wooded so that kids feel they've accomplished something more than just skiing around an open field. Kids' lessons are offered, and local youth ski team members offer on-snow kid sitting so that mom and dad can ski alone while the kids are skiing, snowshoeing, sledding, or just playing in the snow under supervision. Pulks for pulling kids too little to ski are available.
The ski shop offerings are practical, not just the latest and greatest racing gadgets. The skis, boots, poles and snowshoes for sale are based on products that the typical Viking Nordic skier really needs to make skiing more comfortable and enjoyable. A demo program allows skiers to try before they buy. The focus is on equipment that will help make you ski with more ease and confidence.
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