For backcountry skiers, making the most of the Northeast’s notoriously fickle winter requires a good bit of creativity, some rose-colored goggles, and a true quiver of terrain options. When the steeps, for instance, are coated with an unedgable crust—thanks to a recent rainfall and a 50-degree temperature drop—it’s probably worth spending the afternoon ripping your local farmer’s pastures or laying fresh tracks through low-angle hardwoods. If the powder is belly deep, aim for the steep creeks and conifer alleys of higher elevations. It’s that simple—sort of.
While the Northeast is ultimately a mecca for backcountry skiing, especially when it’s capped with a good snowpack, Vermont’s Green Mountains offers some of the most reliable snowfall and an incredible variety of backcountry tours. And if there’s one thing that characterizes backcountry skiing in Vermont more than any other, it’s access. Many favorite backcountry tours start right out the back doors of skiers’ homes, behind the local school or post office in town, or from some otherwise easy-to-get-to locale.
No doubt, you don’t need to travel far in Vermont to access your own personal quiver of terrain. Most of the best skiing, however, is not described in any guidebooks or found on any maps—you’re going to have to get out there and look for it. Spend time exploring, linking up features in the landscape and going back again and again until you have it figured out. If the terrain needs a bit of cleaning up or trimming, get organized with some local skiers, and secure permission to maintain a few ski lines. Coordinate with the newly formed VT Backcountry Skiers’ Alliance. Buy a local a beer, and pick their brain. Inquire at the local backcountry gear shop.
Meanwhile, there are quite a few backcountry tours that are on the maps and well worth checking off the list. And they are sure to inspire you to get out there and explore even more. Here’s a taste of some of Vermont’s best backcountry skiing:
Over the last several years, Vermont’s backcountry skiing and riding community rallied to permanently conserve 1200 acres of backcountry terrain in the heart of the Green Mountains, just twenty miles east of Burlington. Adjacent to the Bolton Valley ski resort, and intersected by Vermont’s Catamount Trail, a ski trail running the length of Vermont, the Bolton Valley backcountry offers something for everyone. There are endless options for exploring off-piste here, a network of well-maintained Nordic trails, a handful of moderately challenging down-mountain trail descents, and even a couple of rustic cabins to utilize for a lunch break or overnight winter adventure.
Stop in at the Bolton Valley Nordic Center for a backcountry pass and map of the most popular backcountry routes. When the snow is flying, you could easily spend many days exploring fresh lines in this zone.
A nice introductory tour, featuring a good mix of trail and open glade skiing, involves climbing up to Paradise Pass from the Nordic Center, dropping into the Cottonbrook drainage, and then working your way back, with a final descent via Devil’s Drop and the Bryant Trail.
Like the Bolton Valley area, the Trapp Family Lodge offers an incredible variety of backcountry skiing for all abilities—from all-day tours taking in steep creek and tree lines off the nearby Skytop Ridge, to gentle cruisers within Trapp’s own maple sugarbush or apple orchard. Located above the town of Stowe, Trapps is also just a stone’s throw from the legendary Stowe Alpine Resort on Mt. Mansfield and even closer to the historic Ranch Valley—the birthplace of backcountry skiing in Vermont.
Check in at the Outdoor Center at Trapps’ at for a good map and an access pass. There is some moderately challenging tree skiing just above the lodge in the birch glades surrounding the stone chapel. Farther afield, above Trapps’ Slayton Pasture Cabin, which is a great lunch and warming spot, several longer and steeper tree lines off of Round Top Mountain await. And if you’re willing to spend more than a half day touring, head for the longer descents off Skytop Ridge, which runs just west of the Trapps’ property, and where the north-facing Steeple Trail and woods drop into the Ranch Valley.
Trapps’ is a great area for skiing with a pair of moderately fat and waxless skis (like the Voile Chargers). Kick and glide with the waxless base along lower-angle approaches, and throw on the skins for ascending Round Top or climbing back up to SkyTop Ridge.
Trapp Lager Brewery – Located within the Trapp Family Lodge, stopping in after a tour or during your stay is an easy decision to settle that hungry stomach. And with 3, year round, brews and additional seasonal options there’s a pint for everyone.
Piecasso Pizzeria & Lounge – A locals’ favorite, Piecasso serves up some of the best pie you’ll find in Vermont, and given its abundance of beer and drink options, you’ll want to stay for the live music featured on Saturday nights. Located in Stowe, VT.
Nestled in the heart of central Vermont’s Green Mountain National Forest, the 25,000-acre Breadloaf Wilderness Area is a wilderness skier’s paradise. Wild, remote, and chock full of wildlife and history, the Breadloaf also features a concentration of some of Vermont’s highest mountains—and longest vertical drops.
Sean Linskey, who owns the Breadloaf Inn with his family in Granville, Vermont, has been watching the interest in backcountry skiing in the area grow in recent years. “It’s a very magical place, one that brings you back in time,” he says, referring to the countless remnants of abandoned farmsteads that once dotted the hillsides here. The newly formed Rochester Area Sports Trail Alliance (RASTA) is also promoting new backcountry skiing programs in the area, including a new backcountry yurt, and the management of new glades and ski lines. Skiers heading to the area are encouraged to join RASTA.
A stay at the Breadloaf Inn provides first-class access to classic Breadloaf backcountry, with terrain options for all abilities. All day tours from the Inn can access the highest peaks within the Breadloaf, along Vermont’s Presidential Range, and an abundance of skiing amid beautiful yellow birch glades.
The Green Mountain National Forest also maintains several parking and access trails into the Breadloaf from its borders. The Austin Brook Trailhead off Rt. 100 near Warren, VT, the Texas Falls access off Rt. 125 above Hancock, VT, and the Emily Proctor Trailhead off South Lincoln Rd in Lincoln, VT are several recommended access points.
Lodging & Guidance
Breadloaf Inn and Adventure Tours – Granville, VT
The Warren Store – The Warren Store is a central Vermont staple. The sandwiches may be the main attraction, but the quirky gifts and supreme selection of wine and beer make it worth browsing while your food is being prepared. Located in Warren, VT.
The Mad Taco – Whether you’re looking for killer tacos or gigantic burritos made with locally sourced ingredients, they have you covered, and at very reasonable prices. Don’t even think about skipping the breakfast sandwiches—they’re the perfect fuel for a long day lapping the skin track or any of the Mad River Valley’s legendary resorts. Located in Waitsfield, VT.