On Sept. 23 Ben Rose, 26, stood beside a white pine tree in Warren, Vt., hammer in hand. As co-blazer of the Catamount Trail, a cross-country ski route that covers the length of Vermont, Rose was about to nail the trail's first marker to that pine. Standing next to him was Steve Bushey, 26, who helped Rose blaze the trail.
"This is a historic day," Rose told a group of ski enthusiasts. If that sounds a bit grandiose, he can be forgiven, for he had a right to be proud. Rose and Bushey had spent nearly three years realizing their private dream, to make Catamount the longest Nordic trail in the Northeast. The 300-member Catamount Trail Association has now marked 45 miles of the trail with blazes incorporating the association's logo, a cat's pawprint. When the trail is completed in the early 1990s, Bushey and Rose expect it to run 280 miles and connect 21 ski-touring centers along the backbone of the Green Mountains. Meanwhile, skiers can navigate parts of the route using a map produced by Bushey and Rose.
"The trail offers something for every level of cross-country skier," says Bushey. "There's easy terrain, difficult terrain. You can do short tours or ski from inn to inn, breakfast to bed. Catamount Trail represents the quintessential Vermont style of skiing."
Bushey and Rose know their subject. Bushey, a native of Williston, Vt., has been cross-country skiing, hiking and camping since he was eight. "I began winter camping and mountaineering with our outing club at Champlain Valley Union High School," he says. He and Rose met there in 1974. "Steve taught me orienteering with a map and compass," says Rose, "and we did a lot of winter outings together."
After graduation in 1977, Bushey enrolled at the University of Vermont (major: geography), while Rose went to Yale (major: sociology). They stayed in touch, however, and during vacations continued roughing it together in New England, Colorado and eastern Canada.
In 1981, while participating in a Vancouver-to-Vermont bicycle trip, the pair began wondering how to bring the pleasure of day-to-day sports and travel closer to home. Bushey had the answer: Why not ski the length of Vermont? "I looked at maps and guidebooks and saw a definite geographic pattern for a route along the Green Mountains," he says, "one that would link a number of existing cross-country trails and ski-touring centers."
During a camping trip in August '82, he presented his idea to Rose and Paul Jarris, 27, a friend from college. Both were enthusiastic. That September, Bushey entered the master's program in geography at Carleton University in Ottawa. He decided to do his thesis on the trail. "It was a way of researching the best route for the trip," he says. "But more than that, from the beginning I had always envisioned the route as a permanent thing. The thesis became my feasibility review."
On Feb. 29, 1984 the trio of Bushey, Rose and Jarris set out on skis from Rowe, Mass., near the Vermont border. Bushey had arranged lodging at 14 inns along the route. "Before the trip," says Rose, "none of us had associated Jacuzzis and fine dining with the outdoor experience. We discovered we liked that stuff."
When the trip ended three weeks later, Bushey and Rose kept moving, forming the Catamount Trail Association (P.O. Box 897, Burlington, Vt. 05402), a nonprofit organization of dues-paying volunteers whose function is to develop linkages between existing parts of the route and to maintain the trail overall. This fall, with Northern Cartographic, Inc., Burlington-based mapmakers, they produced a detailed map of the trail, showing inns and services along its skiable sections. To date, those include 20-mile stretches through Craftsbury, Stowe and South Lincoln, a 15-mile stretch near Camel's Hump in north central Vermont and shorter sections in the Waitsfield Valley, Mount Tabor and Stratton areas.
"In Canada and Scandinavia," says Bushey, "the concept of interconnected trail networks and inn-to-inn skiing has been around for years. U.S. trail developers could learn a lesson from them."