A Ski History Road Trip: Strafford XC Center Hosts VSSM Exhibit

  • Meredith Scott, right, director and curator of the Veront Ski and Snowboard Museum talks with Nordic Ski Olympian and VVSM Hall of Fame Inductee Bob Gray during the Kick and Glide ski event at the Strafford Nordic Center in Strafford, Vt.,  on Jan. 4, 2014.<br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

    Meredith Scott, right, director and curator of the Veront Ski and Snowboard Museum talks with Nordic Ski Olympian and VVSM Hall of Fame Inductee Bob Gray during the Kick and Glide ski event at the Strafford Nordic Center in Strafford, Vt., on Jan. 4, 2014.
    Valley News - Sarah Priestap Purchase photo reprints »

  • Jeremiah Linehan, instructor and co-owner gives a Nordic Skiing lesson at the Strafford Nordic Center in Strafford, VT,  on Jan. 4, 2014. The Strafford Nordic Center hosted a stop of the Vermont Ski and Snowboard Museum's kick and glide tour, offering a guided tour of the ski area, as well as an exhibit and other activities. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

    Jeremiah Linehan, instructor and co-owner gives a Nordic Skiing lesson at the Strafford Nordic Center in Strafford, VT, on Jan. 4, 2014. The Strafford Nordic Center hosted a stop of the Vermont Ski and Snowboard Museum's kick and glide tour, offering a guided tour of the ski area, as well as an exhibit and other activities.
    Valley News - Sarah Priestap Purchase photo reprints »

  • Meredith Scott, right, director and curator of the Veront Ski and Snowboard Museum talks with Nordic Ski Olympian and VVSM Hall of Fame Inductee Bob Gray during the Kick and Glide ski event at the Strafford Nordic Center in Strafford, Vt.,  on Jan. 4, 2014.<br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap
  • Jeremiah Linehan, instructor and co-owner gives a Nordic Skiing lesson at the Strafford Nordic Center in Strafford, VT,  on Jan. 4, 2014. The Strafford Nordic Center hosted a stop of the Vermont Ski and Snowboard Museum's kick and glide tour, offering a guided tour of the ski area, as well as an exhibit and other activities. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

Strafford — Gliding effortlessly over glistening fields and through snow-capped conifers, it’s easy to see why former Olympian and national champion Bob Gray continues to enjoy Nordic skiing well into his 70s. It’s a bit more difficult to explain, but Gray gave it his best shot during a tour of the Strafford Nordic Center on Saturday.

“To me, it’s like magic,” said Gray, a 74-year-old Newbury, Vt., resident who raced in the 1968 and ‘72 Winter Games and still competes internationally at the Masters level. “Once you get your mechanics down and the conditions (allow), you’re really just cruising along without a lot of effort, shifting from side to side. It’s like a massage for both your body and your mind. The trees are going by around you, and you just flow. It’s beautiful.”

Gray was at SNC to support a touring version of the Vermont Ski and Snow Museum’s new Kick & Glide exhibit, a presentation of maps, diagrams and timelines celebrating the history of cross country skiing in Vermont.

Portions of the display were set up in Strafford Nordic Center’s lobby to greet skiers, and Gray guided a tour of the trails on skis. Now in its third year operating on the grounds of Strafford Organic Creamery at Rockbottom Farm, SNC offers approximately 25 miles of 10-foot-wide, groomed trails through rollicking fields and woodlands.

It’s one of 29 operating cross-country ski facilities in Vermont, a state that produced some of the sport’s original U.S. luminaries. Putney, Vt., native and 1952 Olympian John Caldwell, a four-event competitor at Dartmouth College, went on to coach the U.S. ski team during three Olympics, including Gray’s team in 1968. Gray, also originally from Putney, competed in the 1972 Games as well and captured national titles in 15-kilometer and 50-kilometer races during his career. U.S. Ski Hall of Famer Bill Koch, of Brattleboro, Vt., was a four-time Olympian who won a silver medal in ‘76 and went on to promote the sport through youth programs and initiatives.

“Vermont has really led the way developing Nordic skiing, recreationally and athletically,” said Meredith Scott, director of the Stowe-based VSSM. “Guys like Bob Gray, Bill Koch and John Caldwell were really the first wave of international competitors that made the sport visible in America. From a recreational standpoint, Vermont pioneered the many of the first cross country ski areas (in the U.S).”

One of VSSM’s maps illustrates available Nordic facilities, one of the newest of which is the Stafford Nordic Center. There’s also a map highlighting nearly 50 “lost” cross-country destinations no longer officially operating, including grounds in Woodstock, Brownsville and Ascutney.

With a base elevation of 1,350 feet in the foothills west of Strafford Village, SNC often enjoys snow cover even when it may be lacking at lower elevations.

“You can have almost no snow on the ground in Hanover and Lebanon, or really anywhere (along the Connecticut River), and have lots of it here,” said Earl Ransom, who co-owns both Rockbottom Farm and SNC. “It’s the height of land in Strafford and gets up to just under 2,000 feet.”

With enough hilly sections to build speed — and get a good workout — SNC’s trails are mainly genteel, offering occasional views of Mount Moosilauke and other vistas. The grounds are a platform for a Nordic after-school program for elementary school students, a squad of middle schoolers from the Sharon Academy and a club team of South Royalton high school students. A separate section of the farm is open to biathlon training.

Saturday marked the second straight year VSSM has come to Strafford to showcase one of its exhibits, a welcome idea for SNC co-owner Jeremiah Linehan.

“Anything that helps build Nordic skiing and skiing in general, really, is something I’m all for,” said Linehan, a former Nordic combined athlete and World Cup special ski jumper. “It’s a mutual benefit.”

The Vermont Ski & Snowboard Museum will also display portions of its Kick & Glide exhibits Jan. 19 at Stowe’s Tour De Snow and at the Craftsbury Nordic Center on Feb. 1 as part of the Northeast Kingdom region’s 33rd annual cross country marathon race from Greensboro to Craftsbury.

Find out more about the non-profit Vermont Ski & Snowboard Museum at www.vtssm.com.

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.