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6 of the Best Places for Backcountry Skiing in Vermont

These days, we take time outside where we can get it. Although many resorts are closed or operating at a limited capacity, backcountry skiing is booming in the Green Mountains with new trails being opened up to the public each season. Some resorts have even begun work to expand uphill travel for skiers and riders wanting to earn their turns. Take a look at some of the backcountry areas below!

Bolton Valley Backcountry – Bolton, Vermont

bolton valley uphill skiing
Stopping midway up the Wilderness trail, a Bolton lift and Lake Champlain are visible in the distance behind a pair of AT skis

Tucked away just north of Bolton Valley’s Wilderness trails is the sweeping and enchanting Bolton Backcountry. The 100 km worth of Nordic and backcountry routes on the west-facing peak expand across the valley on both sides of the range and are host to regular powder dumps from lake-effect winter storms.
The lake not only provides the wilderness’s plentiful powder, but presents a picture-perfect backdrop while skinning. With multiple scenic points such as Stowe Point and Ballroom Vista (both accessible via Heaven’s Highway trail from the top of the Wilderness Peak), Bolton Valley Backcountry is a sublime hike when wanting to watch the sun set behind the Adirondack Mountains in NY.

A group of skiers arrive near the top of the wilderness trail as the sun sets and before ducking into the woods of Heaven’s Gate trail

Be sure to reserve your backcountry day tickets in advance which cost $17 for weekdays and $25 for weekends and provide access to all Nordic, backcountry, and uphill terrain on the mountain.

Brandon Gap Backcountry Recreation Area – Goshen, Vermont

Brandon Gap, VT

This backcountry zone has got it all. The Brandon Gap Backcountry Recreation Area is a Rochester and Randolph Area Sports Trail Alliance (RASTA) site with a myriad of technical features, boulders and cliffs to send off of, and two jaw-dropping bowls to drop into.

The Bear Brook Bowl trailhead can be found off of VT Route 73 and provides a skin trail leading to the ridge of the mountain with several offshoots available for varied descents. The 1,300 ft. of vertical drop in Bear Brook Bowl is ripe with natural features and narrow glades perfect for adrenaline seekers and freestyle fanatics.

The more moderate No-Name backcountry zone is also filled with exciting lines that are accessed from the Bear Brook trailhead or the Long Trail Parking lot atop the Brandon Gap road. With 22 lines and more being cut each year, the Brandon Gap is ideal for experienced or intermediate skiers wanting to challenge themselves and adventure into more demanding terrain.

Ascutney Trails & Outdoor Center – Brownsville, Vermont

The former Ascutney Ski Resort as seen from the air. Credits: Jared C. Benedict

Formerly Mount Ascutney Ski Area, the Ascutney Trails & Outdoor Center of the West Windsor Town Forest offers an impressive 50 acres of hardwood glades dispersed between the mountain’s previously maintained trails. The skiable terrain of the Ascutney Center is divided into three levels, creeping up to the peak’s highest point at 3,144 ft.

The lower trails are accessible via a Dopplemeyer T-Bar as well as the mountain’s primary skin track that snakes its way up from the center’s lodge. The lower sections serve as a perfect place to gently introduce new backcountry skiers to the sport. With a slow and winding uphill, lower Ascutney is ideal for learning the ropes, taking a party lap with friends, or even a few runs before work.

A secondary level of higher-elevation terrain is available for those wanting to increase their vertical and perhaps explore the popular Thunder and Fleet trails on the eastern side of the mountain. These trails, along with the parallel glades, are only accessible by hiking the uphill track but allow multiple exit points that return skiers to the skin track itself upon descent.

The highest section of the mountain is a densely wooded patch of forest regrowth that should only be explored on the deepest powder days and reserved for more experienced skiers. Regardless of skill level, Ascutney Outdoors is an exceptional example of community restoration offering skiers the chance to enjoy the backcountry at their own pace and earning their turns with some gorgeous terrain.

Little Jay – Stowe, Vermont

Skiers transition their skis for descent into thin cover atop Little Jay

To get away from the crowded lift lines of Stowe Resort without missing out on the valley’s unmatched skiing, the Little Jay backcountry area off of VT Route 242 is a powder hog’s dream. The smaller of the two backcountry bowls, (Big and Little Jay) Little Jay is a mixed-terrain, long descent zone receiving an average of 184” of snow each year.

On a clear day, the ascent into the notch can feel like stepping into a wonderland. The ski track starts off cutting through thick, moderate incline woods before opening up along the saddle and increasing steepness towards the top.

Stowe peaks are the highest in the state and the summit of this backcountry terrain is no exception. The upper fourth of the mountain has patches of spruce that collect piles of powder, protected from strong winds. This switchback braided trail is rewarding for those who don’t mind putting in a bit of work for deep, secret stashes of powder to cut through on their phat skis.

The Birthday Bowls – Smuggler’s Notch / Stowe Mountain, Vermont

View From the top of the second Birthday Bowl looking across the notch on a snowy day

Backcountry escapades can happen anywhere, even at the top of a ski lift. For a quick hike with a sensational payoff, the Birthday Bowls at Smuggler’s Notch deliver. Nestled in between Smuggler’s Notch and Stowe ski area, the Birthday Bowls provide a short (less than 10 minute) hike into more untouched terrain than is found anywhere on the resort.

Discover the trailhead when riding the Sensation Quad or Sterling Chair on Smuggler’s Spruce Peak and follow the path behind the lift’s Bullwheel. The trail briefly passes Sterling Pond, which is also accessible from the Stowe side of the mountain, before continuing to a narrow boot and skin track that follows the ridgeline.

The trail drops into multiple bowls with the longest lines found deepest into the trail. Once you’ve dropped, you’ll find narrow pitches followed by open and bouncy glades towards the bottom that pour out onto the summer road, Route 108.

From the base, it’s only a short leisurely ski along the road and a 5 minute walk back to the Spruce Peak lifts.

For the Sightseer: Norske Trail – Hancock, Vermont

This backcountry ski route is conveniently located in the middle of the state, just outside of the historic town of Middlebury. The views continue when taking a tour of the Norske Trail gradually traversing the Middlebury College Snow Bowl and Breadloaf Wilderness area.

The winding path is full of steady ups and downs with longer vertical pitches found on the western side of the trail which is accessible about 2 miles into the wilderness. This well-traveled route is often frequented by photographers, birdwatchers, and lap-enthusiasts looking to beat their record. Take plenty of snacks, water, and a camera to fully experience the tranquil joy of these backcountry woods. The trailhead is well marked and visible from the Middlebury Snow Bowl entrance, just a 5 minute walk uphill

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