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  • José da Silva

Course Spotlight: The Tormondsen Family Racecourse

Picture from the "stadium" area of this weekend's course, looking out over the wilderness and Bread Loaf Mountain.

There’s a lot that could be focused on regarding the Rikert Nordic Center and The Tormondsen Family Racecourse, which will host the Middle Carnival tomorrow and Saturday. It’s close to campus, like Dartmouth, and 10 years ago there were significant utility upgrades to the course: 5k of snowmaking – especially notable right now, after the warm weather and rain preluding this weekend – and upgraded trails. The aspect that makes the course to be skied this weekend so singular, though, is the landscape it’s set into. The trails are encompassed by the Breadloaf Wilderness, which itself is enveloped by the Green Mountain National Forest – the landscape evoked by rural poet Robert Frost.

“For me, the best part of the place is where it is,” said Andrew Johnson, head coach of

Middlebury’s Nordic squad. “It’s a beautiful and broad expanse of creeks, mountains, forest, all just 20 minutes from our main campus in Middlebury.”

Looking over the stadium area of the course this weekend, the horizon will be filled first by a stand of pine and birch trees, past which are a series of rolling peaks. Bread Loaf Mountain, after which the wilderness is named, is the tallest of the bunch, elevating just over 3,800 feet.

In addition to the section of trails the EISA will ski this weekend, another 35k of trails, for Nordic skiing, snowshoeing, hiking, and mountain biking, weave their way through the Breadloaf Wilderness, the largest wilderness inside the Green Mountain National Forest. Contained within this expansive protected environment, designated in 1984, are the headwaters for the both the White River and the New Haven River. Gazing down the sightlines this weekend, though, it will be a strain to conceive that the Green Mountains weren’t always so green.

In the antebellum era, Vermont’s economy relied so heavily on the timber industry that by the late 1800s, 80 percent of Vermont’s landscape was denuded of its trees. Though remnants of logging remain visible to a discerning eye, the wildernesses and forests of Vermont, notably the wilderness the EISA is set in this weekend, have almost completely rebounded since logging peaked in 1889. The Breadloaf Wilderness now includes more than 24,000 acres of thriving forest.

Middlebury College itself recently contributed to the preservation of the verdant landscape enjoyed by its faculty, staff, and students – skiers and non-skiers alike. Spearheaded by conservation philanthropist and Middlebury College alumnus Louis Bacon, an endowment for the Bread Loaf Campus, a subsection of the wilderness roughly 2,000 acres in range, was established in 2014. According to a newsroom post on the Middlebury College website, “The Moore Charitable Foundation, Mr. Bacon’s private foundation, and the College have established the Bread Loaf Preservation Fund, which will preserve and maintain the Bread Loaf campus and the surrounding forests and fields while also supporting educational programming and recreational activities.”

The skein of trails that twist through the restored forest also run past the old cabin of literary legend Robert Frost. The poet first moved to Vermont from New Hampshire at the age of 44, trading the White Mountains for the Green. He was the owner of five farms in the state, and his summer cabin lay within what is now the Breadloaf Wilderness. He stayed there while instructing at the school he cofounded, the Bread Loaf School of English.

The trails this weekend cut through the living Vermont's history of conservation and literature. That which so inspired the uncompromising poetry of country living produced by Frost, the forest and the trees, have only grown wilder since the state’s poet laureate died, and they're still engaged in active rebounding from a history of clearcutting and over-logging.

It’s an ideal place to ski, outfitted as it is with modern resources while also placed in a setting that feels truly natural and remote; such locations are some of the great benefits of pursuing a sport like skiing, as opposed to one played inside a more literal “stadium.” Between race weekends, trails vary in their routes and their pitches and their obstacles, but also in their scenery.

We saw at Dartmouth (and UVM, and St. Mike’s) that the variation seemed to benefit the home team. Though it’s tough to improve on his last weekend, expect Peter Wolter to ski fast and finish at or near the top. He’s on the back of first- and second-place performances at the Dartmouth Carnival, and it seems likely that the skier of the week will have another top performance, racing through a familiar course, up and down known hills, and around practiced curves.

Rain today has postponed tomorrow's start time, so the day opens tomorrow at 1pm for the women’s classic 5k. Check back in tomorrow afternoon for a recap of the day’s races, and if you’re making the journey to the Rikert Nordic Center, keep the setting in mind!


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