Blueberries, sledding and backcountry skiing

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READSBORO — It's not just the backcountry skiers who will appreciate the volunteer work now underway at the former Dutch Hill Ski Area.

The wide-open swath that's being mowed at the former beginner slope will be a treat for sledders when the snows arrive, and the blueberries that wil grow there next summer will be enjoyed by the area's wildlife.

The volunteer work is being coordinated by the Dutch Hill Alliance of Skiers and Hikers (DHASH), a chapter of the Catamount Trail Association.

The former ski area is now part of the Green Mountain National Forest, and is managed by the U.S. Forest Service. DHASH, working with the approval and oversight of the Forest Service, mows the ski slope known as Meadow once every three years. Blueberries bounce right back after mowing, but young trees and woody hardhack are suppressed.

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Sledders have enjoyed using the hill ever since the ski area went out of business in the mid 1980s, but over the years, the forest had reclaimed most of the formerly wide-open slope. The work by DHASH, starting in 2017, has stopped that forest encroachment, greatly improving conditions for sledding as well as for skiing.

In addition to Meadow, DHASH has also re-opened some of the intermediate and advanced ski slopes for backcountry skiing. Some of the easier ski slopes, plus an old logging road to the mountain's summit make nice terrain for adventurous cross-country skiers as well.

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Backcountry skiing isn't like resort skiing. There are no lifts. You have to climb the mountain under your own power. (Snowmobiles are not allowed in this portion of the National Forest, except on one designated cross-mountain trail.) The "opened" slopes are still dotted with trees.

There is no grooming, and no ski patrol to rescue you if you get hurt or lost. Most backcountry skiers and snowboarders use "skins," removable strips attached to the bottom of their skis that allow them to climb uphill without sliding backwards. Special bindings that allow the heel to lift for the uphill climb, but that can then be locked down, let skiers descend using regular downhill skiing techniques.

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Skiers who want to give the sport a try this winter will find Dutch Hill a great place to begin, since there are slopes suitable for all ability levels. But they shouldn't expect to find a rental shop or ski school or refreshment stand. This section of the National Forest is for do-it-yourself recreation, open to the public, free for everyone.

DHASH suggests learning about backcountry skiing etiquette before coming out, so that everybody on the mountain has a good time. For example, they said, when traveling uphill, either use the dedicated uptrack or stay well over to the side of the ski slope.

The former Dutch Hill, which opened in 1945 along with many other small areas during a post-World War II surge in interest in the sport, had a rope tow, T-Bar and J-Bar but no chair lifts. The lift equipment has been removed.

More information is available on the DHASH web page, dhash4vt.org, and on the Catamount Trail Association site, catamounttrail.org.


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