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The Adventure Skier: Canoe-Skiing in Vermont
Backcountry lines by canoe
By Brian Mohr | The Adventure Skier
Editors Note: This season, Ski The East is collaborating with local photographers and storytellers, Brian Mohr and Emily Johnson of EmberPhoto, to bring you a column titled “The Adventure Skier.” Brian and Emily will be showcasing their skiing adventures in the Northeast, and documenting off-piste powder treats, backyard shredding, and the occasional venture into the wilds of the Arctic, the Andes, and beyond. – Erme Catino
It was a year ago this week when we hopped into our trusty red canoes and set off to explore a handful of backcountry ski lines alongside one of our favorite Vermont rivers. With the main river course nearly ice-free, thanks to a February thaw, and with the snow pack "just deep enough" right down to the river; it was an adventure we couldn’t resist.
In years' past, we had set out canoe-skiing one day at a time, usually in late March. But a longer, overnight adventure was calling this time. On a cool, sunny morning, our friend Justin Beckwith, as well as my wife, Emily Johnson, and I set off clad in our ski gear, with some food and camping gear in tow, and a few distant mountainsides in view. We had ten miles of easygoing river water to look forward to, and countless options for skiing right back to our canoes.
"I've always wanted to do this," said Justin, who is a seasoned paddler and especially talented in big whitewater - conditions we would not be encountering on this trip. "It's just great to be on the river...wearing ski boots!"
Setting off with the first run of the day already in our sights.
Getting right to it after sniffing out a relatively open hardwood glade that extended over 1000’ above the river.
Back on the river, we passed a couple of small villages (and even stopped for ice cream), spotted plenty of bird life, and kept our distance from the big ice hanging along the shores.
Our sights are set on another run looming down river. Although we were just around the corner from home in Vermont, we felt as though we were much farther afield.
Just before dark, we lucked out by spotting a dry, flat camp on a gravel bar amid a landscape covered in ice and snow. A hot fire, a warm meal, and a good night’s sleep treated us well after another adventurous day in the mountains.
We packed up camp and floated downstream to a calm and ice-covered eddy, and lined up for the longest run of the trip. Spilling over 1200’ vertical right to the river, it was a beautiful hardwood glade that funneled into a stream gulley and then fanned out into some steep hemlocks that spilled to the water’s edge… I had been eyeing it for many years. It turned out to be one of the most memorable runs of the season. Justin took it right to the ice.
The take out. You’ve gotta love canoes. Heading home, it felt like we had been out for many days, far beyond the usual clutches of our Vermont habitat. It's hard to beat big adventure close to home.
We’d like to express a special thanks to Clearwater Sports of Waitsfield, VT for the last-minute loan of a good red canoe, as well as to the Northern Forest Canoe Trail (NFCT), for their willingness to assist.