Unwinding

O ur cross-country skis glide through an icy patch of snow with a zip, through powder with a hush. It’s our first trip in years to Winding Trails Cross Country Ski Center in Farmington. Connecticut doesn’t get enough snow for the Center to open often. This particular Tuesday in February is only their eighth day of business this winter. Last winter, the woman at the registration window estimates, they were open for barely more than a week. The last really great skiing season she recalls was back in 2013-14.

This afternoon, though, the snow is spectacular. It fell the day before—more than a foot of powder groomed into 20 kilometers of narrow tracks on the 350-acre property, with a three-mile loop around the perimeter for more challenging and elegant skate skiing. My husband and I swish up the first gentle hill in snow as smooth and slippery as silk.

One of the Center’s main arteries, aptly named Main Street, is a wide road through the woods that opens up at a broad power line, where hills roll across the property. At this juncture, a click-click-click draws our attention to a pine tree at trail’s edge, where we spot a tall pileated woodpecker with a showy red crest bobbing and tapping at the trunk. Our gawking draws other skiers near to look. Then we turn back into the woods, where less-traveled trails wind and undulate among tall, silent trees brocaded with snow.

We find a rhythm—pushing off and gliding, the tips of our poles softly chucking, the occasional hollow slap of ski on snowpack punctuating our progress. When something breaks our pace—a sharp turn, an untracked downhill requiring concentration and the subtle shifting of feet—we accomplish what’s required, then smooth to a stop and listen. There’s something about the woods in winter. It’s easy to understand why poets take to the subject. Even here, not so far from a town, there are moments of utter silence and, as far as the eye can see, a two-toned composition of dark brown verticals softened with white.

We spend our first hour or so on the green trails—the easiest ones—because we haven’t skied much these past few winters, then graduate to the blue. The most challenging black trails we’ll save for another day. Even beginners can enjoy Winding Trails, where the flattest, straightest routes still afford a chance to explore deep into the property. It’s easy to lose your bearings out here on the narrow, wandering trails, especially under a sunless sky, but good signage and a sturdy, easy-to-read trail map we’ve pocketed keep us on track.
One of the joys of skiing cross-country is being outside without feeling cold. Even with temperatures in the low 30s, we ski comfortably for two and a half hours, until a faint band of mauve low in the overcast sky signals the end of the afternoon. Pre-pandemic, a fire would have been burning in the deep lodge fireplace, and the indoor snack bar would’ve been doing a brisk business in hot chocolate and French fries. This year, an outdoor concession window has limited hours, and the building is closed to guests. Après-ski, we relax instead with snacks from home and the warmth of the car heater on the 45-minute drive home.

Winding Trails is the only cross-country ski area in the state with groomed trails and ski rentals. Trail passes run $14 for adults, $8 for children and $10 for seniors, and rentals are available ($17 adults, $12 children) for those who don’t have their own skis, boots and poles. You can also take a one-hour ski lesson ($15-$30).

Winding Trails also boasts sledding on a 150-foot hill, skating on eight-acre Walton Pond and snowshoeing in another neck of the woods. Passes for all these activities are $7 for adults and $5 for children. Snowshoes ($12/$10), ice skates ($5) and snow tubes ($6) are all available to rent. Due to COVID-19, all passes must be purchased online in advance.

Not surprisingly, with the limited annual snowfall, winter activities are just one piece of a much larger, membership-based recreation program at Winding Trails that includes summer day camps, low and high ropes courses, a climbing tower and zipline, camping and pretty much any other summer outdoor activity you can think of, all with an eye on “conservation and stewardship of the natural woodlands and waterways that allow outdoor programming, character development, and other activities that strengthen the lives of those we serve,” the website says.

We’re certainly strengthened in body and spirit by our snowy afternoon in the woods. Maybe it’s even developed our character. No doubt we have a better attitude about winter as we drive home in the day’s last light. In fact, we’re hoping for more snow.

Winding Trails
50 Winding Trails Dr, Farmington (map)
Daily 9am-5pm, conditions permitting, through mid-March
(860) 677-8458 | ski@windingtrails.org
www.windingtrails.org

Written and photographed by Kathy Leonard Czepiel.

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About Kathy Leonard Czepiel

View all posts by Kathy Leonard Czepiel
Kathy Leonard Czepiel is Daily Nutmeg's associate editor. She's also a fiction writer, writing teacher and book club troubleshooter. Her perfect New Haven day would involve lots of sunshine, a West Rock hike, a concert on the green and a coffee milkshake.

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