Rikert Nordic Center: How to Get Started If You’re New to Cross-Country Skiing

snowy trail in woods

Do you want to ski, but aren’t so sure about going down steep mountains? Cross-country, or Nordic skiing, is a great alternative to traditional downhill skiing if you want to enjoy the snow and be active in a calmer, quieter way. Rikert Nordic Center is located about 20 minutes from Swift House Inn in Ripton, and is a wonderful place to try cross-country skiing. They have over 55 kilometers of trails to explore, and traversing through the snowy woods is a magical experience.

Here’s are some tips for Nordic skiing at Rikert as a total beginner:

1. Check the Weather Forecast and Snow Conditions

It’s important to pick a nice day with good snow for your visit to Rikert. This was technically my second time Nordic skiing, but the first time barely counts because the conditions were so bad that day. This time, I visited the day after a huge snow storm hit Vermont. It was a beautiful sunny day with lots of fresh snow. The conditions make all the difference, so set yourself up for success by choosing the right day.

2. Admire Middlebury College’s Beautiful Bread Loaf Campus

Rikert is located on Middlebury College property at the Bread Loaf Campus, home to the Bread Loaf School of English, which offers elite master’s programs and is also used for writers’ conferences and Middlebury College events. You won’t accidentally drive past Rikert; the bright yellow buildings make that impossible.

Photo from Middlebury College website.

3. Buy Your Trail Pass and Rent Some Skis

If you’re a beginner, you probably don’t have your own skis. When you go inside to purchase a trail pass, say that you need to rent skis as well and a member of the very friendly staff will help you find the right size boot and ski. I was surprised at how simple and comfortable it was to put on the boots compared to downhill skis. It is a quick and easy process, so you’ll be able to hit the trails soon after arriving.

4. Grab a Trail Map and Hit the Woods!

There are over 34 miles of trails at Rikert. If you want to know where you’re going, you should definitely pack a trail map. It’s also fun to just wander about, as long as you’re not in a rush to get back! The trails are very interconnected, so it’s not too hard find your way back to a familiar spot if you get a little lost.

I had some trouble getting into a rhythm, but the process of moving forward was pretty simple. Slightly downward slopes and flat areas were easiest, and it helped to use an exaggerated running form to pick up speed (though I probably looked silly doing it). It also took a bit of trial and error to figure out how to stop and turn. I suggest doing a few laps around the large field by the parking lot before going into the woods.

While I felt awkward at first, it was fun to try and figure out how to Nordic ski on my own. However, I probably would have caught on more quickly and learned proper form with an actual lesson. Luckily, Rikert offers lesson packages at their Ski School. You can take a private or group lesson, and the cost includes a trail pass for the day. If you want to start off on the right foot, take a lesson. If you’re okay with floundering around for a while (like me), just wing it! I do think I will take a lesson next time in order to correct whatever bad form I adopted in my initial attempts.

5. Refuel and Warm Up at So-Full Sisters Food Truck

You’ll definitely be hungry after a few hours on the trails. It’s a serious workout! Parked right outside the main building is a bright purple food truck called So-Full Sisters. The food truck just came to Rikert this year and is run by twin sisters Leah and Rachel Klatzker. They have the perfect refreshments for warming up after skiing. Try out their waffle bowls if you want something sweet. I opted for the vegetarian chili served in a cornbread bowl and the “maple whip” coffee. It was delicious!

food truck in the snow

Nordic skiing was a lot of fun, despite not knowing what I was doing! It is an accessible winter activity for those who aren’t looking for the adrenaline rush of downhill skiing but want to get outside in the snow and get a good workout at the same time. While you don’t need to take a lesson to learn how to cross-country ski, it will help start you off with good form. The best part of all really is the amazing beauty of the woods and being surrounded by tall, snow-covered pine trees. Pay Rikert a visit while you’re in Vermont to experience this winter wonderland.

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