Edie & Warner Shedd, EasternSlopes.com
March 15, 2010

Thanks, at least in part, to The Sound of Music, everyone in this part of the world – and a lot of the rest of the world, too – knows about the Trapp family. And, it happens that the Trapp Family Lodge is in Stowe, Vermont, which is less than an hour’s drive from us. The family, their lodge, and things such as their network of cross country ski trails have assumed iconic status. When a very good friend told us how much fun she had cross country skiing there, it planted an idea in our heads.

We – and Warner in particular – used to do some cross country skiing in the woods around our home, but it became tough slogging for us, since we constantly had to break trail, usually in soft, deep snow. The idea of groomed trails appealed, except that Edie was too afraid that she’d fall and break a bone. Skiing was not the only option, though: what about snowshoes, particularly with poles?

At one time, Warner did a ton of snowshoeing while working as a forester. These were with old wooden-frame shoes with varnished rawhide webbing. He always used the long, narrow variety with a substantial upturn on the front, variously known as Alaska or pickerel snowshoes. They served him very well, but there was no denying that the all-leather harnesses were often a royal pain. Going up a steep grade, for example, the heel strap would stretch as his foot slipped backwards. Then, as his foot shifted forward going downhill, the loosened heel strap would frequently come off, necessitating a halt to tighten everything up again! Fast forward a great many years, and we purchased modern, aluminum frame snowshoes with plastic decking. These performed admirably except for one thing; despite a distinct improvement in the harnesses, they were still a pain to put on and take off. Edie, in particular had great difficulty in properly adjusting her harnesses each time, and the snowshoes gradually languished in our storage shed.

A new era had dawned, however, as we read about the ease of using the latest versions of snowshoe harnesses. Well, we thought, why not head for Trapp Family Lodge, where snowshoe rentals are available, and try the new wonders on groomed trails? And so, on a beautiful sunny morning, we found ourselves en route. On the way, we were treated to some gorgeous views of Mount Mansfield, Vermont’s highest peak. With its upper reaches gleaming a brilliant, white, Mansfield was in its most resplendent finery.

We chose to arrive at mid-morning on a weekday, on the theory that the trails were likely to be less crowded then. When we pulled into the parking lot by the Trapp Outdoor Center, our theory was proven correct, for it was only half full. Inside the Center, we were directed downstairs to the area where rental snowshoes and skis were available. A young lady greeted us, and we told her what we were looking for. She proved to be not only extremely friendly and helpful, but also knowledgeable and professional. In short order she outfitted us with Tubbs Venture 25 snowshoes equipped with React bindings. Along with these went Rossignol ski poles for Edie and Leki poles for Warner. Then she showed us how to work the bindings, which proved to be a revelation. All we needed to do was push a foot all the way forward in the binding, pull on two straps on the top of the boot, flip a little plastic lever on each to lock the straps, and then put a strap around the heel and fasten it tightly. This can be done almost as fast as you can read this paragraph!

We then inquired about relatively flat trails that we could navigate easily, and were directed to go out on the Fox Track Trail, then back on the Sugar Road Trail. An excellent map was also provided for our guidance. With that, we went outside and put on the snowshoes. They went on as easily as they had in the shop, and we set forth. After about a hundred yards, the heel strap slipped off on Warner’s right boot. This was likely due to the fact that he was wearing “Bean boots”. The heel area of these is soft, which meant that the heel strap simply needed to be tightened an extra notch; a firmer boot, like Edie’s, would make it a little easier to use the snowshoe bindings. After that one glitch, though, the harnesses were perfectly secure.

This trail was in the open for the first two or three hundred yards, then entered the woods – a pretty area of maples and birches. Occasionally someone on skis came up from behind and passed us, or we met skiers heading back toward the Visitor Center. The groomed trail was about 14 feet wide, so there was plenty of room for us without interfering in any way with the skiers. The terrain was quite flat, with only occasional small rises or descents. This made the walking easy and pleasant, and we took our time in order to enjoy the scenery and the experience…perfect for beginners! The land sloped downhill to our left, and we could catch occasional glimpses of skiers – and a fellow snowshoer – below us on the Sugar Road.

Along the trail we encountered something that we had never seen before – skiers towing tiny sleds that contained a baby or very young child, snugly enclosed in its own little cabin. Why, we asked each other, hadn’t someone thought of such a clever arrangement when our children were little? Apparently, it’s not just snowshoes that have improved!

When we reached the junction of the Sugar Road, it was perfect timing for turning around; unaccustomed to snowshoes, Edie was beginning to feel a little leg strain, and didn’t want to push too hard at this early stage in our adventures. As we turned back along the Sugar Road, the reason for the name became obvious: here there were some larger sugar maples, and these were hung with buckets to collect the sap for making that delectable golden syrup. Near one of them was a bench and a sign that read “Maria Plaza.” This, we realized, was the spot where Maria, the matriarch of the von Trapp family, used to come during her later years to enjoy the peace, quiet, and beauty of nature. That inspired us to stop for a few moments to do the same.

As we emerged from the woods and approached the Visitor Center, we could see that the parking lot had filled up greatly in the short while that we had been absent. Already there were many more skiers headed out, and we were glad we’d decided to come mid-morning on a weekday. One of the advantages of being retired; we can do what we want when we want! While there was no conflict with the skiers, it was certainly easier to snowshoe the trails when we didn’t have to be concerned about getting in their way.

The snowshoes and poles had performed admirably. The Tubbs Venture 25s are small snowshoes, making them easy to walk in and ideal for a groomed trail. One particularly nice feature of these snowshoes (and larger models, as well) is a set of toothed metal grippers on the underside, which keeps the snowshoes from slipping in all sorts of going. Warner, remembering all too well the days of slipping and sliding on steep slopes with the old-fashioned snowshoes, thought that these were an enormous improvement! If you’re thinking about getting snowshoes for yourself, you might want to read EasternSlopes.com’s snowshoe test.

It’s difficult to tell how far we traveled; maybe we should get pedometers! However, the round trip on the two trails probably amounted to something like three-quarters of a mile. As it turned out, Edie was wise to limit the distance on this first outing with snowshoes; that night she developed a cramp on the inside of one thigh – the product, no doubt, of walking a bit differently while wearing the unfamiliar snowshoes. Lesson learned…don’t push too much too soon while you’re getting back into shape, or trying something new!

After returning the snowshoes, we decide that we deserved a little treat, so we took ourselves off to the Trapp’s Tea House. There we enjoyed some excellent coffee, delicious roast beef sandwiches, and very friendly service. Warner ended up by sinning greatly: he simply couldn’t resist a piece of the wonderful Black Forest cake! It was nice to learn that the food at the Trapp Family Lodge lives up to everything else we encountered there.

Looking back on the trip, we agreed that snowshoes on a groomed trail are an excellent way to get out and enjoy the winter scenery. This can be as easy or as physically challenging as you wish, depending on the trail(s). Going to the Trapp Family Lodge, or some place that rents snowshoes and can show you how to use them, is a great way to see how it will work for you. It also led us to think about snowshoeing off-trail near our home. We’re going to look into the possibility of replacing the present bindings on our own snowshoes with a set of the React bindings, or simply getting new ’shoes. Then, with the much greater ease of putting them on and taking them off , we’ll be a lot more apt to get out and exercise in the winter woods. It’s amazing how, after only a couple of little trips, we’re starting to see all sorts of possibilities for both exercise and fun, even in the winter!

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