Backcountry Forum Attracts More than 200 to Pierce Hall


Communities / Nov. 12, 2015 12:39pm EST

Martha Slater
By Martha Slater

The third annual Backcountry Forum co-sponsored by the Rochester Area Sports Trail Alliance, the Catamount Trail Association, and the Vermont Backcountry Alliance, on Thursday, Nov. 5 at Pierce Hall in Rochester was the most successful yet, with over 200 attendees packing the hall.

“There were people there from the Northeast Kingdom, Windham County, Mount Ascutney—all over the state,” said RASTA’s Dan McKinley. “It’s gotten bigger each year, and the level of attendance and involvement is a great demonstration of how popular backcountry skiing is in Vermont.

“Each year, we try to focus on another aspect of backcountry skiing,” he added. “Last year, we talked about developing new backcountry ski zones, and this year, we discussed the potential for backcountry huts in Vermont. RASTA is interested in developing our own backcountry hut opportunities, such as a yurt for RASTA members to use. It could be used as a warming hut or as a place to stay overnight.”

Brian Mohr, one of the volunteer co-founders off the Vermont Backcountry Alliance, gave a presentation on the different types of hut systems around the country to show what was possible.

“We have a few here and there in Vermont, but our state is not known for having great backcountry hut options,” he said. “Those are two systems that exist in the northeast that are good models for us to consider. They cater more to crosscountry or Nordic backcountry skiers, than downhill backcountry skiers.”

“What we’ve got is just a few single cabins and huts and very few of them have much in the way of amenities, so there’s a lot of interest in potentially having more backcountry huts and cabins that would enable backcountry skiers and snowboarders to do multi-day ski tours through the backcountry.

“Thus far, we do have a huts working group that has started to connect and we’re trying to build discussion around the subject, while involving key land managers, and other individuals and organizations that have experience with huts. There are some things already happening that give us reason to be exited about the future, but we are still very much at the beginning.”

Mohr noted the pending release of a Vermont backcountry handbook which is intended to be a comprehensive resource for communities. The first edition, which will be out after the holidays, will be a PDF document that is printable online and will include information about how to start a local group, pursue land conservation, etc.

RASTA President Angus McCusker and Holly Knox of the Forest Service also gave an update on the recently approved project at Brandon Gap, and Zach Freeman reported on the project at the Braintree Mountain Forest, where glade work was done over the past two years. Work is now underway there to create a kiosk, as well as a parking area that will be kept plowed all winter, so the area can be accessible.

“It was really exciting to see how everything has grown over the past few years and how much progress we’re making with a project that can be enjoyed by both locals and visitors,” McCusker said.

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