Friday, February 1, 2008
Pursuit of perfection: cross-country skiing in Carlisle
Carlisle isn't a destination town. We don't have a restaurant, art museum or cinema to draw
This winter, the snowiest in years, the Ski Touring Center is doing well, according to Stuart Johnstone, its operator for 20 years. "But the crowds haven't been huge," he points out, "because the storms this year have come on Sundays and Mondays, and not just before the weekend." When it snows on a Thursday in Boston, skiers will flock to Carlisle on the weekend, he notes. This year the season opened in early December, compared with last winter when it started on Valentine's Day.
On a quiet Friday morning, marked by a brilliant blue sky and below-freezing temperatures, Johnstone and two of his assistants, Joanne and Charlie Forsberg of Carlisle, gathered around the wood stove in the cavernous Hart Barn to talk about this superb facility. Somewhere out on the trails eight French-speaking women from Belmont were snowshoeing. The Westford High School cross-country ski team would arrive after school for their weekly practice.
Simply perfect skiing
The natural beauty of the ski area within Great Brook Farm State Park is unmatched — ten miles of groomed trails weave in and around woods, ponds and streams, and when nature cooperates, skiing is simply perfect. Johnstone keeps the trails meticulously groomed, setting the tracks and moving snow from deep in the woods onto the trails when necessary. "The skiers have exclusive use of these trails," says Johnstone." That's what they're paying for." Snowshoers have their own trails and hikers and horseback riders use ungroomed trails elsewhere in the park.
Like Mark and Tamma Duffy who operate Great Brook Farm within the state park, Johnstone has a lease agreement with the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation. The state owns the barn and the trails, and Johnstone owns the grooming and rental equipment. A Carlisle native now living in Concord, he graduated from CCHS in 1982 and was a member of the cross-country ski team. In 1988 he took over management of the Great Brook Ski Touring Center from his father, Dusty, who operated it in the early '80s.
Coach Dusty Johnstone
As if on cue, a back door in the ski barn opens and in strides Dusty Johnstone, Stuart's dad,
Races are held on Tuesday afternoons among six competing area high schools — CCHS, Acton-Boxborough, Lincoln Sudbury, Nashoba Regional, Westford and Wayland. The racing season is coming to a close, and the last event at Great Brook is scheduled for February 5.
Night skiing hugely popular
"The kids love skiing here," says Dusty, "rather than on a golf course," referring to the facility in Weston. The coach is especially delighted with the "new kids, the freshman girls, who have fallen in love with the sport." He reports with delight on a CCHS ski team party that was held at Great Brook the previous night, "when 24 kids skied on the Lantern Loop. Many of those kids had never seen kerosene lamps before!"
Night skiing is hugely popular with all cross-country skiers and is available on Tuesday and Thursday nights, from sunset until 9 p.m Under a full moon that sets the snow sparkling like diamonds, this is Carlisle at its most beautiful.
The Forsbergs enjoy their weekly stint in the Hart Barn, and much prefer it when it's busy. Charlie handles equipment rentals -- traditional and/or skating skis, poles, boots and showshoes. Meanwhile Joanne manages the desk, dispenses hot chocolate and candy bars, and Carlisle friendliness. "People come from all over," she says. "During Christmas vacation, we had people from California, Virginia and all over New England." But surprisingly, Carlisleans are underrepresented at the ski touring center, according to Joanne. "People in Carlisle don't realize how wonderful it is," she concludes.
Rentals for the kiddies
The Forsbergs point out the four rental pulks, ski sleds for small children. The pulk is attached to the parent-skier's waist, the little one is well protected inside the covered sled and, according to Joanne, "usually the kids go right to sleep."
The ski touring center will be open until March 20, which means that the trails will be groomed until then. In the off-season Stuart Johnstone writes and sells guide books on New England bicycle trails; Bike Paths of Massachusetts and Bike Paths of Connecticut are in their third edition in addition to an earlier series on mountain biking in New England (www.activepublications.net).
Many weeks of superlative local skiing remain on the calendar this winter at the town's beautiful but underappreciated (by Carlisleans) area. If you haven't skied or snowshoed close to home under the best possible conditions, it's time to enjoy and support Carlisle's outdoor treasure — call ahead (1-978-369-7486) for conditions. If you take the toddler at nap time and rent a ski sled, you're sure of a peaceful and enjoyable time on the trails.
About Great Brook Ski
Open daily, conditions permitting
Monday, Wed., Fri., 10 to 5
Tuesdays, Thursdays, 10 to 9
Weekends, holidays, 9 to 5
Trail fees $10 weekday/evenings
Ages 7-12, 65+ $7
Rentals (skis, boots, poles) $13
Ages 12 or under, 65+ $8
© 2008 The Carlisle Mosquito