This article was written by Lenny Crisostomo, Database Manager, and previously appeared in the Winter 2017 Long Trail News.
After an excellent season last winter, the Brandon Gap Backcountry Recreation Area is again attracting backcountry skiers. The Rochester/Randolph Area Sports Trail Alliance (RASTA), a chapter of the Catamount Trail Association, began working in 2015 to create the area in cooperation with the U.S. Forest Service and the Vermont Backcountry Alliance.
The new recreation area has four backcountry zones: Goshen Mountain, Sunrise Bowl, No-Name, and Bear Brook, all in the Green Mountain National Forest and connected by the Long Trail. Nineteen gladed ski lines, totaling nearly twenty thousand vertical feet, have been cleared.
The Bear Brook and No-Name zones are accessed about a mile east of the Long Trail parking lot on Route 73 in Brandon Gap. Sunrise Bowl and Goshen Mountain are accessed directly from the Long Trail parking lot. Skiers and splitboarders need only follow a gentle stretch of the Long Trail south, just shy of a mile from the parking lot, to reach a skin track that zigzags across the ski lines in Sunrise Bowl before leading to the Goshen lines.
If you are unfamiliar with backcountry ski terms, you may be wondering what a skin track is. It’s a trail designated for uphill travel by backcountry skiers and spiltboarders. “Skins,” or pieces of textured fabric designed to provide both glide and traction, are attached to the bottom of skis and boards to help with climbing on snow.
RASTA’s skin tracts are skillfully positioned to pass through relatively gentle terrain. A wooden sign marks the entrance to each zone, and yellow RASTA tags and arrows mark the skin tracks. Terrain varies from steep narrow lines, typical of Goshen, to more mellow flowing lines with less vertical drop, typical of the Sunrise Bowl.
Unlike illegally cut glades, such as the infamous Big Jay scar on GMC-conserved land in the Northeast Kingdom, the Brandon Gap glades were well-planned and responsibly cut with consideration for ecology and wildlife. The Forest Service worked with partners, including the GMC, to develop the glades as part of a multi-use recreation plan on the National Forest.
RASTA called on volunteers to help cut the glades, so one beautiful fall day in 2016 my partner and I joined about fifty other volunteers to help clear a line in Sunrise Bowl. Gathered in a circle, holding loppers and saws, we listened as glade chief Karl Fjeld briefed us on our tasks for the day. Since most of the chainsaw work was done, we cleared brush, lopped it into manageable pieces, and scattered it away from the trail.
As we worked, anticipation showed in the eyes of the eager skiers and riders as they scanned slopes, visualizing how they would slash turns into untouched lines of deep powder, or jump from boulders to clear landings.
At the end of the day we crossed our fingers and did a snow dance, with hope that the coming winter would be better than the dismal season before. It worked! The winter of 2016-17 became one of the snowiest on record in much of northern New England. On April first (no kidding) my ski buddy, Alex, and I went to Brandon Gap and reaped the rewards from the lines my spouse and I had helped clear in the fall.
At least a foot of powder greeted us as we skinned the Long Trail to Sunrise Bowl and Goshen Mountain. We lapped the zone all day until the all the fresh powder had become memories of an April Fool’s Day well spent.