There are few things that Stan Choiniere and Lee Whiting enjoy more than tearing through the snowy Central Vermont landscape on snowmobiles. As members of the Chester Snowmobile Club, as well as the Vermont Association of Snow Travelers, or VAST, the two friends relish the chill air of winter, when snow blankets the rolling hills of south-central Vermont.
The pair gave me a glimpse into their wintry world on a February visit to the Okemo Valley Region of Vermont, which comprises the towns of Ludlow, Cavendish, Plymouth, Mount Holly, Shrewsbury, Chester, Weston, Londonderry, Grafton, Weathersfield and Andover.
Groomed snowmobile trails wind through the region as well as the entire state, linking with trail systems in other states and even into Canada. But these trails don’t just magically appear. Rather, the work required to maintain the trail system fall largely to individual clubs. The Chester Snowmobile Club alone maintains some 60 miles of local trails. It’s work that goes on year-round, as the trails need to be cleared of fallen trees, brush and other vegetation during the warmer months. Once the snow falls, the trails must be groomed every night. To that end, the club has purchased two expensive grooming machines—no small expense!
On my ride with Lee and Stan, we traveled through woods and fields before arriving at a former chair lift station at the top of Glebe Mountain that had been transformed into a cozy cabin, complete with a beer keg weathervane. The destination offers a great view of the countryside extending east into New Hampshire.
After descending Glebe Mountain, we entered Mollie Beattie State Forest and stopped at a former ranger’s cabin built in the 1930’s by the depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps. The cabin now serves as a warming hut maintained by the Grafton Outing Club. Waiting to welcome us were fellow snowmobilers Dick Jewett and Ivor Stevens, who had built a roaring fire and had hot dogs, chips, and smores ready to cook. It’s funny how you can work up such an appetite just riding around in the woods.