Ripton's Rikert Nordic Center Welcomes Wintertime Athletes
Words and photos courtesy of Seven Days
Riptons Rikert Nordic Center Welcomes Wintertime Athletes
By Kristen Ravin
It's no secret that Vermont is a hot spot for cold-weather sports. According to a National Ski Areas Association report, 23 of the 470 ski areas operating in the United States during the 2019-20 season were in the Green Mountain State. This winter, open-air activities are likely to be even more popular as Americans practice physical distancing. For Vermonters looking to get in on the action, Rikert Nordic Center in Ripton is a remote and picturesque destination for dashing through the snow by ski, snowshoe or fat bike.
Located on the Middlebury Bread Loaf School of English campus, the Middlebury College-owned terrain has attracted cross-country skiers and racers since the 1930s, Rikert general manager Michael Hussey said by phone. By the early 1980s, the center was known as the Carroll & Jane Rikert Nordic Center. When Hussey came on board in 2011, the name was shortened to Rikert Nordic Center.
More than 55 kilometers of groomed trails await visitors for the upcoming season, which runs December through March. Though all athletes are welcome on any route, narrow trails are generally used for snowshoeing and fat biking, while wider pathways are groomed for cross-country skiing. No matter their mode of travel, guests are rewarded with stunning vistas of the Green Mountain National Forest.
Reviewers on Tripadvisor note the center's well-groomed rural pathways and fresh mountain air. Wrote one visitor in 2019: "The terrain is varied. There are woody hills and open flat fields. The conditions were amazing on all trails we skied."
Another bonus, particularly for poetry fans: Late American writer Robert Frost's summer cabin is on the trail system. Though folks can't enter the building, "they can ski up and look in the windows and have lunch outside," Hussey said.
Guests do have access to the Ian Burgin Memorial Lodge, a four-sided backcountry shelter built in honor of a Middlebury College alum who died in a car accident several years ago. This lodge is open to the public during the day for guests to warm their hands by the woodstove and admire the scenery from the porch.
To ensure that no athlete is left out in the cold, Rikert offers adaptive rental equipment for individuals with disabilities. Those seeking adaptive gear should contact the center with their needs; Rikert will work with Vermont Adaptive Ski & Sports to provide the right apparatus.
All visitors should do a little homework at rikertnordic.com before showing up. In keeping with state guidelines for ski areas, Rikert is taking measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Some adjustments include required online booking, contactless rental reservations, and grab-and-go food options in place of usual fare such as hot soup. "This is state- and college-mandated contact-tracing stuff," Hussey said, "so we aren't going to let anybody in the driveway that doesn't have their reservation."
Additionally, the main lodge will be open for bathroom use only, so come prepared with snacks and weather-appropriate clothing. Fortunately, "the culture of Nordic skiing is very much [based] out of the car, using your car as your base lodge," Hussey pointed out. "The Nordic culture will absorb that, I think, very well."
Hussey estimates that Rikert receives approximately 15,000 skiers per season, and he expects that number to grow this year as folks embrace outdoor recreation as a safer alternative to indoor activities.
In 2013, Rikert installed snowmaking equipment on five kilometers of trail. In addition to the typical daytrippers from Vermont and the surrounding region, the human-made powder has attracted seasoned skiers looking to train or race, Hussey said. "So there's a split between the competitive component, the recreational local skier and the recreational destination skier," he added.
There is no overnight lodging on-site, but Rikert's website includes a list of area rooming options for those visiting with a quarantine plan or Vermonters looking to staycation. Book a room at Blueberry Hill Inn in Goshen, and you can ski there from the center. The Chipman and Waybury inns are also nearby.
New to winter sports? Rikert's Nordic Ski School offers group and individual lessons for beginner, intermediate and experienced skiers. Be sure to preregister online.
The outdoor activities offered at Rikert are fairly easy to pick up, Hussey said, so beginners should feel excited, not intimidated. Plus, he noted, "There's really no more beautiful place to be in the wintertime than out in the woods enjoying the environment."
About the series
This series, a partnership between Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing and Seven Days, will run weekly through mid-October, presenting curated excursions in every corner of Vermont. The idea is to highlight the state's restaurants, retailers, attractions and outdoor adventures so Vermonters and visitors alike can plan safe, local trips and discover new corners of the state. Happy traveling, and stay safe.