It is not a secret to snowshoe enthusiasts that some of the best snowshoeing trails can be those that were previously designed for downhill skiing.
The expansive trails that lead up and down mountains can provide the perfect venue for winter hikers to climb to the top of some of the long forgotten peaks, while also affording them instant gratification by allowing them to merely turn around and look down the vast trail they have climbed so they can view an expansive natural landscape that has begun its retransformation back into its natural state.
With this in mind I finally made the 20-minute drive on Route 9 west to the town of Wilmington, long known as the quant village that welcomes skiers to the Mount Snow region. However, on this day I was not interested in taking the road most traveled, but instead I set my goals on the exploration of the long closed Hogback Mountain ski area, a place that served as the locals’ place to play up until 1984 when it closed its lifts for good.
However, despite the ski area being no longer in existence, that did not stop the many local townspeople from forging a plan to reclaim the land for other uses, including the maintaining of a large number of trails that can be shoed in the winter and hiked in the summer.
The trail I choose on this windy March day was one that would afford me a better view then the one that can be gazed upon from the parking lot, which sits in its own right on a magnificent vista known as the 100-mile view.
I was not interested in the watered down version, as I heard that after just 30 minutes of climbing, I could reach the base of an old fire tower that would allow me to climb above the trees and gaze upon a much more expansive version.
The climb to the 2,418-foot peak of Mount Olga is neither steep nor technical, as the initial trails are well-groomed by snowmobile tracks.
There is absolutely no one on the trails on the morning I make my climb, all that exists are the crunch of my shoes climbing the hard packed snow and the sound of the wind whipping through the trees, a wind that provides more comfort then struggle as my blood begins to flow into my frozen toes and fingers.
As the climb gets steeper I pass by old dilapidated shacks that once served as the lift houses, as well as the bones of several rusty lifts that have sat untouched for over 30 years. One such shack, which has benches inside, serves as a perfect spot to sit for a moment out of the wind. However, the rest period is not long, as I know that as is the case with many snowshoe enthusiasts, our time on the trails is not unlimited.
After a few more bends in the trail, I come upon my destination, a 75-foot watch tower that sits at the top of Olga Mountain and stretches far above the tree line, even exceeding the cell phone tower that has also been conveniently placed at the mountain’s peak.
The climb to the top in the 30 mph winds is a bit sketchy, but the land’s maintainers have made sure that the steps and railings are solid, making the climb stable and well worth the effort.
As I gaze down upon the panoramic view that is afforded me, I can see why local organizers fought so hard to keep this land publicly owned, it affords those who dare to make the venture, with one of the best views southern Vermont has to offer, one that is not only expansive miles wise, but also encompasses the most natural forest one can possibly see from a place that is but an hour round trip off the busy Route 9 highway.