My 3-year-old son was so eager to start cross-country skiing that a lack of ski boots wasn't going to slow him down. On our first day of deep snow last winter, I dug his skis and poles out of the garage. I was still searching for his boots when he slapped his tiny skis on the ground in our Coventry backyard. He balanced on them carefully, wearing just his shoes, poles clenched.
"Mama! I'm skiing!" he shouted as he shuffled off for the first time, his toes pushing the skis, which sliced an impressively balanced path through fresh powder.
We'd rented his gear — including the boots, which I located before long — from the Memphremagog Ski Touring Foundation. The Newport-based nonprofit makes Nordic skiing a simple, affordable option for winter entertainment in the Northeast Kingdom.
A $50 MSTF family membership grants the four of us unlimited ski trips on a network of neatly groomed paths in Orleans County. The child-size skis and boots cost just $35 to rent for the season.
Trails range from the flat and easy Newport City bike path, which hugs the shores of Lake Memphremagog, to the more challenging Mt. Hor loops in nearby Willoughby State Forest.
Peter Harris, who cofounded MSTF in 2003 with another Newport local, Robert Primeau, says the foundation "was essentially designed to create a local trail network and get equipment, so we could groom trails for cross-country skiers."
That trail network runs on volunteer power: Primeau has opened up his own wooded Derby land to skiers, and he and Harris manage much of the grooming themselves, with help from a couple other part-time enthusiasts.
More than 150 MSTF members take advantage of their efforts. "We have a pretty decent turnout," says Harris. "We've been pleasantly surprised."
For my family, it's just a short drive up the road to the MSTF parking lot adjacent to Primeau's land. The trails there make for a quick, manageable skiing session. On days when we seek more adventure, MSTF makes that pretty easy to come by, too. The foundation is part of the Vermont Ski Areas Association, so our membership allows us to ski for free, one day per season, at any cross-country skiing spot in Vermont. It's our go-to weekend outing once the snow hits and sticks. It motivates us to see other parts of the state we might ordinarily pass by.
Last year that deal brought us to the Craftsbury Outdoor Center, where we bundled our toddler daughter into our Chariot stroller, rigged with a special ski attachment. Our son started out on his rented skis.
We coached him on the hills — "Don't lean too far back, or forward! Bend your knees!" — and watched as he teetered down them. When he inevitably landed on his bottom, he laughed.
His stamina didn't last, though. When our son got tired, into the Chariot he went for a warm blanket and a snack break with his little sister. My husband and I pulled on, along the outdoor center's groomed paths and across the frozen stillness of Duck Pond.
Entranced by the comforting swish of skis on glinting snow, we didn't realize we'd worked our way onto the backcountry Catamount Trail system until we'd gone about four miles out of our way. We doubled back, motivated by hunger and impending darkness. By the time we returned to the parking lot, muscles aching, our son was ready for another ski.
"No way!" we said, settling into the car.
Cross-country skiing is as addictive as it is good for you. The next day, we loaded up our equipment and headed out again.