New Highs

Images of snowkiters catching air and then landing with a painful thud on the ice of Lake Champlain doesn’t exactly instill confidence in someone wanting to sample the sport. But Miller says that getting airborne is a conscious decision, whether you kitesurf in the winter or in the summer. Only folks with the requisite skills to land themselves properly on ground or on water should try to take the leap. The real thrill, Miller says, is in zipping across the lake on your skis or snowboard as you learn to put smooth and steady power in your kite.

NOT FAR FROM WHERE MILLER IS TEACHING students on Lake Champlain, Steve Luhr is manufacturing his own unique product, the Hammerhead sled. This is not your grandmother’s Flexible Flyer with heavy wood and steel gliders. The Hammerhead boasts a lightweight aluminum frame mounted on skis; you lie down on the mesh fabric and steer the sled from the front, maneuvering it away from obstacles like uprooted trees (or other sledders). To slow down, you can either drag your foot or make turns like you would on skis.

“It’s the Ferrari of sleds,” boasts Luhr, who first conceived of the product in 2002 and has shipped more than 4,000 of them to date.

“There’s nothing like it on the market,” agrees Eric Davis of Umiak Outdoor Outfitters in Stowe; he guides sledders up to the top of Smugglers’ Notch in winter. “It’s the one sled that’s durable, handles really well, and is light enough to carry uphill,” he adds.

Vermont roads that are closed in winter — like the mountain pass that connects the Stowe Ski Resort to the town of Jeffersonville through Smugglers’ Notch, or Lincoln Gap Road, which crosses the spine of the Green Mountains — have become popular venues for extreme sledding on the Hammerhead and other models. Mountain-bike trails throughout New England, known for their twisting routes up and down hills, are also ideally suited to the sport. Luhr’s bigger vision is to bring back local ski areas that went under and transform them into sledding terrain parks.

“We all know how to sled, so there’s no long-term learning curve. Let’s just go outside and have a blast,” says Luhr.

The same way Luhr has taken the childhood sport of sledding beyond the local golf course, Vermont’s David Goodman has taken skiing beyond traditional ski areas. The author of Best Backcountry Skiing in the Northeast, Goodman has spent the past 25 years writing about skiing far away from the crowds on backcountry terrain. Personal favorites for Goodman include the first ski trails cut by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930s down Vermont’s tallest peak, Mount Mansfield. When Stowe Ski Area was introduced on the other side of the mountain, many of these gems were forgotten — until Goodman and others brought them back to life. “The CCC trails remain the gold standard. They have the most character, and I love the history,” says Goodman.

Skiers come to the backcountry for the solitude and to test their skills; at ski resorts, after all, you have to wake up early to claim your own pocket of coveted powder, but the backcountry offers far better accessibility to deep snow.

Recently Goodman has seen a growing legion of snowboarders on the trails, too. They have the choice of simply snowshoeing up and snowboarding back down, or “splitboarding” with specially designed snowboards that have been cut in half lengthwise. Boarders attach skins to the bottom of the halves to help them cross-country ski up the hill. At the top, they simply snap the board together with bindings and head back down.

Teardrop, which snakes down Mount Mansfield, is a typical backcountry New England ski trail, featuring glimpses of the mountains as it twists and turns on its narrow path. Around every bend is another surprise, whether it’s a sudden vista or an abrupt change of course.

Whether that induces the kind of adrenaline rush I got from swinging from a rope through a tree canopy is a question every adventure-seeker has to answer on his own. But one thing is for certain: In their own thrilling ways, all of these sports offer an opportunity to see New England from a different — and relatively unexplored — vantage point.