Page 1 of 1
Posted: Wed Dec 17, 2008 9:21 am
Somehow I've managed to go this long without a write-up about Craftsbury.
Craftsbury is one of the best places for cross-country skiing in New England, with a large network of well-designed trails, a snow-rich climate, attractive scenery, and dedicated staff.
None of that, however, is new. What is new is that Craftsbury might be getting even better, with new owners who are reorganizing the Craftsbury Outdoor Center as a non-profit.
The purchasers are Dick Dreissigacker and his wife Judy Geer, who live in Morristown, Vermont and have a second home in Craftsbury. Dick Dreissigacker, a 1972 Olympic rower, co-founded (together with his brother) the Concept2 company, which makes indoor rowing machines. I met, and skied with, Judy when she used to be the section chief for the Stowe/Morristown section of the Catamount Trail. I assume that these folks are related to Ethan Dreissigacker, who is very competitive these days in youth biathlon.
The current management staff are being retained. So far, the most prominent change is that prices have been cut. Trail passes are now $10 ($5 for students and senior citizens). Season passes are $50 for an adult, $25 for students and seniors, $100 for a family. Another change is a closer relationship between the Craftsbury Outdoor Center and the Craftsbury Nordic Ski Club.
The non-profit structure follows the successful model of the Jackson (New Hampshire) Ski Touring Foundation.
Getting back to all the good things I said, above, about Craftsbury. These are not new, but, for people who don't live/ski in New England, it may be news to you.
The Craftsbury Outdoor Center is located in the rural town of Craftsbury. It's a bit more remote (and trickier to find) than most cross-country centers in Vermont. By comparison, the Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe is about 15 miles from the interstate, but Craftsbury is 35-40 miles from an interstate highway. The town of Craftsbury is not exactly jam-packed with motels, having only a handful of lodging/dining options. The Craftsbury Outdoor Center itself offers basic lodging that includes 3 meals. (The facilities were once a boarding school, the Cutler Academy.) The new owners may, in the future, offer additional, more upscale, lodging in a trailside renovated farmhouse that was part of their purchase deal.
The terrain in Craftsbury is skier-friendly rolling hills, avoiding the "one big hill" problem that plagues mountainside areas such as Stowe. Closest to the ski touring center, a little twisty maze of trails winds up and down and around and around. The further-flung - but well-marked - trails traverse a diverse landscape of forests, meadows, lakes, and settled areas. (I'm not sure if the total trail system is really the claimed 85 km - I'm suspicious that there may be some double-counting of overlapping trail routes - but it's big enough.) The longest trail, and my favorite, the 17 km, appropriately named "Grand Tour", seems less like a trail, and more like skiing across the countryside to the next village, as perhaps in Norway. There is also a trail that connects to another touring center, the Highland Lodge in the neighboring town of Greensboro (I think that, for a modest fee, the Craftsbury folks will drop you off at the Highland Lodge so you can ski it one-way.) Also, Craftsbury is situated along Vermont's statewide Catamount Trail.
The biggest event on Craftsbury's calendar is the annual Craftsbury Marathon (now the "TD Banknorth Craftsbury Marathon"), part of the American Ski Marathon Series, with the 29th edition to take place on January 31, 2009. There are 50 km and 25 km classic races, and, new for 2009, a relay team event. There is also a non-competitive 25 km tour with premium food offerings.
Here's an example of what's good about Craftsbury
Posted: Wed Dec 17, 2008 10:05 am
Here's a story about the staff at Craftsbury from approximately 1990. I was on a ski trip, staying in central Vermont (not at Craftsbury). As luck would have it, the weather turned to rain. I called around to see if conditions were any better at cross-country centers in northern Vermont. Trapp's said that it wasn't worth my while to travel there. The folks at Craftsbury said that they weren't charging for skiing, given their conditions that day, but added "we're all going over to Lake Willoughby," where, some 20 miles east of Craftsbury, they found a snow pocket. They had brought over their grooming equipment and set tracks in the state forest there. I took down the directions over the phone, and it was undoubtedly the best skiing that day anywhere in Vermont (well, except perhaps at Prospect Mountain, which always reports excellent conditions). Anyway, it shows that the Craftsbury folks were more interested in skiing than in making a quick buck.
Sat 21 Feb 2009
Posted: Sat Feb 21, 2009 9:29 pm
First time skiing at Craftsbury since the change in management. Everything is still the same, including the excellent trail grooming. Only difference is that they lowered the trail fee (now $10).
Also a good place to stay ... and eat
Posted: Fri Feb 04, 2011 11:13 pm
I'm up in Craftsbury with a group of 6 people for a 3-day weekend. This is my first time staying on the premises. The accommodations aren't fancy, but it's really nice to go downstairs and find corduroy running right up to the building. Also, even though we haven't spent a lot of time socializing with the other inmates, there's something nice about staying somewhere where everyone is there for cross-country skiing.
The food is pretty good, too. The lodging plan includes 3 meals per day - and some of us are getting bag lunches tomorrow so we can go out on an all-day tour without returning to the dining hall for lunch. The meals are served cafeteria-style, but the quality is above average for a cafeteria. They have an interesting mix of earthy-crunchy (Vermont stereotype) vegetarian and traditional comfort food. For example, last night's dinner included both roast beef and a tempeh dish. For lunch today, there was something involving seitan and also BBQ pork.
Lodging reservations taken a year in advance
Posted: Mon Dec 12, 2011 5:33 pm
While noticing Craftsbury's early opening this season (on manmade snow), I also noticed on their Web site that they are now taking lodging reservations, a year in advance, for the 2012-2013 season!
I'm sure they aren't totally booked for the upcoming 2011-2012 season, but, I guess if you wanted to stay there for Christmas or President's Day, you probably have to plan ahead. Especially if you want to rent one of the small number of private cabins or multi-bedroom suites.
In fact, today was the first today to make reservations for 2012-2013 if you were a first-time customer. If you were a repeat customer (i.e., if you already had your reservation for this current/upcoming season) then you had a head start: you could have made your year-in-advance reservation 4 days ago.
2011-2012 expansion to include former Highland Lodge trails
Posted: Wed Dec 14, 2011 5:09 pm
(I posted this in another topic, but I'm including it here in the Craftsbury topic for future reference:)
When the Highland Lodge closed, Craftsbury stepped in to maintain and groom a portion of the Highland Lodge network, and to staff the former Highland Lodge touring center on weekends and holidays. The details have not yet been fully clarified, and it also remains to be seen who buys the property formerly owned by the Highland Lodge, but it looks like a good bet that there will still be groomed skiing in Greensboro.
With the addition of the Highland Lodge trails, Craftsbury will almost certainly have the largest groomed trail network in Vermont, and possibly the largest in New England.
Craftsbury keeps getting better than ever
Posted: Sun Dec 14, 2014 2:44 pm
It's been a while since I updated this. The season's pass, which I just got, is still $50. (To quote a skit from Saturday Night Live: how low are our prices? They are 'Sofa King' low ...)
I don't think I mentioned their snowmaking, which has been in place for at least a few years. Their snowmaking equipment is only near the touring center, but then they spread the snow around to other trails.
This year they are operating in their new, expanded touring center, which also has a fitness center (they moved the equipment that used to be in the basement of their overnight accommodations). And restrooms. And showers.
Craftsbury is now the de facto operator of the former Highland Lodge trails, so, with the combined trails, they probably have the largest network of groomed trails in Vermont, if not all of New England. It's hard to get an exact total, because the trail map gives the lengths for loops, which overlap.
The connecting trail to the Highland Lodge trails is groomed once a week, snow permitting. They have a free shuttle, so that you don't have to spot cars. So you can do a 20 km one-way tour. (Tip: it's a lot more downhill if you start at the Highland Lodge.)
The one thing I'm still waiting for - because they announced it last year - is the development of a new trailhead + pub + community center in Craftsbury Village in what used to be the Craftsbury Inn. It's about 7 km from the touring center (which would make it about 13 km from the Highland Lodge). Right now you can stop at one of the two "general stores" in the village, but the new facility would be a welcome addition.
Article about Craftsbury in Stowe Reporter, 8 Jan 2015
Posted: Thu Jan 08, 2015 1:26 pm
Ex-Olympians find a winning formula
By Andrew Nemethy
Thursday, January 8, 2015
Dick Dreissigacker and Judy Geer have devoted much of their life to an esoteric world of racing sculls and shells, strokes and oars. They never figured they’d end up being philanthropists, let alone overseeing one of Vermont’s most iconoclastic and best-known outdoor centers.
But passion sometimes leads to strange and wonderful places, and that is where they are today.
The pair are elite rowers who competed in the Olympics, married in 1985 and settled down in Morrisville, where Dreissigacker and his brother Peter founded the highly successful business Concept 2 in 1976.
The company makes high-tech carbon-fiber oars and blades whose revolutionary design now dominate the world of competitive rowing. Their ergonomic rowing machines created a new fitness and training category and spawned a new world of indoor rowing competition.
But the athletic couple — Geer was the sixth employee to join Concept 2 — found that, once they had kids, the realm of water in its frozen form took on an increasing role in their lives. Their three children, Hannah, Emily and Ethan, took to Nordic skiing and grew up training and racing in the programs on the extensive trails at the Craftsbury Outdoor Center.
Dreissigacker, who went to Brown, and Geer, a Dartmouth grad, also were guest coaches at sculling camps on Lake Hosmer, and Craftsbury became an integral part of a family life often focused on athletics and the Vermont outdoors. As Geer says, expressing her fondness for Craftsbury, “it was incredibly wonderful, the things our kids had growing up.”
But in about 2005, that all seemed in flux. The outdoor center’s founder, Russell Spring, looked for an exit strategy after three decades overseeing the extensive operations.
“We wanted to see it continue,” says Geer. “Russell was getting older, so we began a conversation with the Springs about it, visiting the future together.”
As she puts it, “we came to pretty much a shared vision,” and in 2008, Dreissigacker and Geer bought the Craftsbury Outdoor Center, lock, stock and unique Vermont vibe: Trails and snow-groomers, docks and cabins, touring center and ramshackle old farmhouse office, rustic weatherbeaten dorms (which once hosted boarding students in a previous life as Cutler Academy), dining hall, and lakeside frontage on Lake Hosmer and around 130 acres, all surrounded by the renowned vistas of the town of Craftsbury’s rolling farmlands and forests.
‘A wonderful crew’
Despite being 2 twisting dirt-road miles off the asphalt in far northeastern Vermont, in its nearly four decades Craftsbury developed passionate fans who cherish its unvarnished edges and reputation as a place run by athletes for outdoor enthusiasts of all ages and stripes.
Ski director John Broadhead, Pepa Miloucheva, the competitive ski director, and runner and trail grooming wizard Keith Woodard are just a few of the well-known names in Nordic ski circles associated with Craftsbury.
“We have a wonderful crew,” says Geer, “people who think it’s fun to wake up in the middle of the night and make snow.”
When Dreissigacker and Geer bought the outdoor center, it wasn’t really as a new business venture, though 50 to 60 people work full- and part-time there.
“We had the concept of a nonprofit, and we were in a place where we could make that happen,” says Geer. “We did it because Craftsbury has been this wonderful place for our family.”
It has been a handful, admits Dreissigacker, who laughs as he says, “What did I get myself into?” But six years into their tenure, their philanthropic ideas continue to percolate not only at the center but through the community.
With its helter-skelter layout, rough-hewn sheds, old farm equipment and grooming gear scattered around, Craftsbury will never be mistaken for a glitzy resort — and that is its quintessential Vermont charm. Hearty home-cooked food, simple accommodations and unpretentious atmosphere are married to a fanatical focus on trail grooming and providing high-level instruction and training in a classic rural setting, whether it’s running, sculling, biathlon or skiing.
Thanks to its Northeast Kingdom snow-belt location, Craftsbury is blessed with reliable snow to cover some of the nicest trails in New England. When the natural stuff falls short, Craftsbury spreads snow the old-fashioned way, shoveling and trucking it onto the trails from a giant stockpile created by snow machines. Towering 20 feet or more high, the stockpiled mountain of snow has become a trademark challenge for young skiers to struggle up and survive on a steep run down — just the kind of fun that Dreissigacker and Geer wanted to see continue.
Access and opportunity
In a way, the couple are following an old tradition, a modern-day version of the 19th-century Vermont industrialists and entrepreneurs who gave back to their communities gifts of elegant libraries or opera houses. But their gift is about access and opportunity and preservation as much as bricks and mortar, though there’s that too, symbolized by a new touring center costing about $1 million that opened around Thanksgiving. It is just part of the transformation they are undertaking in the region.
Three goals underlie the nonprofit, Geer explains: To foster lifelong sports and healthy lifestyles, protect natural resources, and use and teach sustainable practices.
Using a foundation they created as the financial vehicle, Dreissigacker and Geer have bought important properties to ensure continuation of the extensive center trail system, including the former Windridge tennis camp, turning it into a summer camp more focused on rural and ecological values. A number of new family cabins are planned to replace one of the old dorm buildings.
And when nearby Highland Lodge, an iconic inn in the Kingdom, closed along with its trail system, Craftsbury took over grooming and added those scenic trails to a system that now tallies around 115 kilometers.
Eight solar trackers and many smaller panels, which can provide up to 80 percent of the center’s power, attest to the new green focus. Dreissigacker proudly notes the new touring center was built using local Vermont wood, it has composting toilets, and a wood-fired boiler now provides heat for much of the complex.
The couple’s vision extends beyond the center itself. They are now collaborating with others to reopen the Craftsbury Inn in the village, a structure that will become the Craftsbury Public House and offer community gathering space, a pub, and another ski trailhead.
Dreissigacker, tall and lean and now 67, says their ideas for Craftsbury were inspired by the European model for cross country, where “skiing is like a public park” that everyone can use. Geer adds that they also wanted to ensure a place where “New England athletes could stay at home and train.”
Going the nonprofit route is a novel and uncommercial approach that has set Craftsbury apart from other notable touring centers.
While a yearly adult membership at Craftsbury is a mere $50 and an adult day ski pass is $10 ($5 for students and seniors), at the Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe a single day pass is $25 and a season pass $250. Most other big Nordic centers, such as Jackson and Bretton Woods in New Hampshire, are now $19 to $21 for a day trail fee.
For Geer and Dreissigacker, it has never been about the money or the cost — though Dreissigacker says the center is self-sustaining.
“To be able to sort of combine all this with our passions, the rowing and the skiing and the renewable energy, to put all that together and to benefit people — it’s a good feeling,” says Geer.
Posted: Wed Jan 14, 2015 3:36 am
This past weekend at Craftsbury was an interesting (if not exactly a typical weekend) example of the varied culture of cross-country skiing:
I was in Craftsbury with the Ski For Light (blind and visually-impaired) group.
Also staying in the same little lodge on Friday night was the Harvard ski team.
On Saturday, there was a high school race, and also a sort of novelty "triathlon" event of skiing, running, and snowshoeing.
And, on Saturday evening, also staying in the same little lodge was a group of 4 backcountry skiers who were 40 miles into their 300-mile tour across the state of Vermont.
Re: Craftsbury, VT
Posted: Thu Aug 20, 2015 1:30 am
who is very competitive these days in youth biathlon.
Highland Lodge trails
Posted: Wed Mar 21, 2018 5:12 am
A couple of days ago I skied at the Highland Lodge trails - in Greensboro, Vermont - operated by the Craftsbury Outdoor Center. As I posted in December 2011, this used to be a separate cross-country area, but the hotel that used to maintain the trails went out of business and Craftsbury swooped in and took them over. Now the hotel has reopened under new management, but the trails are still being run by Craftsbury, which is just as well. Craftsbury has better grooming equipment, and they upgraded the trail signage. The touring center is staffed only on weekends, and I think the grooming is probably also limited to weekends. Going there on Monday, which is a weekday, there was an honor system payment box for the trail fee.
The Highland Lodge trail network is smaller than the main Craftsbury network, maybe 30 km, if that, but at higher elevation (approximately 1500-2000'). The perimeter loop, about 20 km, has lots of ups and downs, and occasional views of mountains to the west, north, and east (if you ski the loop clockwise, which seems to be the better direction), and of the nearby Caspian Lake (which is not the largest lake in the world) to the south.
As I posted in the past, one of the best reasons to ski at the Highland Lodge trails is so that you can do a 20 km, mostly downhill, point-to-point tour from Highland Lodge to the Craftsbury Outdoor Center, using the shuttle in the morning to get to the Highland Lodge trailhead. But the Highland Lodge trail network is worth skiing for its own sake. Less crowded than Craftsbury. In the past, that was not much of a boast, given how uncrowded Craftsbury itself was, but, as Craftsbury has taken on a busier and busier race schedule, that is now a legitimate comparative advantage.