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THE CATAMOUNT TRAIL CELEBRATES 40TH ANNIVERSARY

CTABoltonTrappsTour

The Catamount Trail is a winter ski route that runs the length of Vermont which was created by three young men looking for their next big adventure. In a tent on a rainy evening in August 1982 one of them said, “Let’s ski from Massachusetts to Quebec!” During the following years they got to work developing the trip and an organization. In March of 1984 Steve Bushy, Ben Rose, Paul Jarris, and for part of the time Jim Painter, strapped on their skis and went for a ski… a really long ski end-to-end from the southern border of Vermont to the northern border!

The first crossing of Vermont’s Catamount Trail in 1984

It took more than 25 years to become a contiguous trail and now 40 years old, the Catamount Trail is comprised of 31 sections, including roughly 265 different landowners, 12 municipalities, the state of Vermont, and the Federal government.  It is estimated that annually 12,000 people on cross country skis or snowshoes use some part of the 300-mile Catamount Trail.

This winter, the Catamount Trail’s founders, Steve Bushey, Ben Rose, and Paul Jarris, will be skiing all 31 sections of the trail during a 35-day period beginning on February 8th and ending on March 14th. Steve, Ben, and Paul will be joined by friends and supporters along the way as they celebrate the Catamount Trail’s 40th birthday. The Trapp Family Lodge will host a banquet fundraiser on March 3.

In late January, the Vermont Ski and Snowboard Museum hosted a program in Stowe, VT to discuss the history and 40th anniversary of the Catamount Trail. Ben Rose and Paul Jarris spoke while David Goodman author of Best Backcountry Skiing in the Northeast emceed the evening.

The Catamount Trail is a great cultural resource for the state of Vermont and the cross country ski community. The organization (Catamount Trail Association or CTA) started with a newsletter about the first planned “Trans-Vermont Ski Tour” as it was originally named and the organization continues to thrive with sponsorship, 2,500 members, and programming for backcountry aficionados and youngsters across the state to engage them with the outdoors and cross country skiing. Ben Rose commented, “We produced a newsletter and people began sending money, so we thought we had better publish a second issue.” They then initiated paperwork to develop a nonprofit organization, which the Vermont Secretary of State signed the night before they embarked on the original tour.

 CTA Tours for the public

While the CTA has permission to cross privately owned lands (60% of the trail) with the cooperation of the landowners, continued access depends upon continued good relations between skiers and landowners. The remaining 40% of the Trail crosses various types of public land that are accessible and provide a wide range of exciting landscapes to explore. The non-private land parcels of the Trail are owned by municipal governments, the state of Vermont managed by the Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation, and there are also thousands of acres of Green Mountain National Forest. Part of the trail is at XC ski areas in Vermont including (south to north) Mountain Top Resort, Blueberry Hill, Rikert Nordic Center, Bolton Valley Nordic Center, Trapp Family Lodge, Edson Hill Resort, Craftsbury Outdoor Center, and Hazen’s Notch.

Forty years ago, the trail originators developed the concept when they were in college and decades later Paul Jarris was a Vermont Commissioner of Health and worked with the March of Dimes, Ben Rose is currently the Vermont Disaster Mitigation Chief, and Steve Bushey owns Map Adventures, a cartography company that outlines outdoor outings in New England states, northern California, and New Mexico.

 Torey Brooks on a 2023 Catamount Trail thru-ski negotiating a stream

Looking back at the first trek, planning such an adventure was one thing and doing it was another. They traveled mostly backcountry routes and worked with maps and local guides to make their way on skis across the state. But it wasn’t easy in many parts of the state and in one instance even the local guide had to admit that he was lost. One of the results that grew from the original Catamount Trail endeavor is the land conservation and stewardship aspect that was associated with getting permission from all the landowners. Nowadays, the trail organization helps with wildlife corridors, drainage issues on the trail, developing backcountry responsibility, and collaborates with communities and other active clubs that use the land in other seasons.

 

As the evening at the Museum waned, the guys reminisced about the gear that they used back in 1984 and they responded to questions from the audience. In closing, Ben Rose commented “It will survive” when referring to the impact of climate change on the vaunted ski trail across Vermont. Matt Williams, CTA executive director said, “The Catamount Trail acts as a platform to connect communities and provide long term protection to the environment while expanding access for more people to get outdoors on the winter landscape.”

When asked about his thoughts about the upcoming trek, Paul Jarris stated “It’s going to be fun,” informing the listeners at the museum that there’s rarely snow in Virginia where he now lives so he has prepared by roller skiing on pavement with a protective helmet, mouthguard, and a padded vest. Ben Rose commented. “With all the disasters in Vermont in recent years, I’ve accumulated enough paid leave for this trip.” He followed up with “the trail connects us to the Vermont landscape – it’s poetry for humans to realize their potential and it has made me an optimist for life.” It appeared that they were ready to cross Vermont on skis again.

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