Oak Hill ski trails undergo improvements, aim to reopen in December

A partnership between the College, Friends of Oak Hill and the Hanover Improvement society will enhance the cross country and recreational ski trails for the first time since 2003.

by Catherine Chu | 1/24/23 9:53am

by Emil Liden / The Dartmouth

The Oak Hill-Storrs Pond Recreation Area plans to expand its trails for recreational and varsity cross-country skiing and is set to open to the public in December 2023, according to director of skiing and women’s Nordic head coach Cami Thompson Graves. The College is partnering with nonprofits Hanover Improvement Society and Friends of Oak Hill to widen pre-existing trails, add new routes and install lights, Graves said.

Graves said that Oak Hill’s ski trails have not been updated since the College hosted the NCAA championships for Nordic skiing in 2003, despite the changes in Nordic ski regulations in the last 20 years — including longer race tracks. She noted that the improvements will include a 1.5-km loop, meaning that the ski team will be able to practice on all the possible competition distances.

“We really haven’t done much upgrading but the sport has changed quite a bit since [2003],” Graves said. “For us to host races even like those at Dartmouth’s Winter Carnival [would] require us to widen the trails and upgrade them.”

The ski renovation project is split into two parts, according to Peter Milliken, a member of non-profit organization Friends of Oak Hill. The first portion entails snowmaking to increase the length of the skiing season, and the second involves installing lights so trail users can ski into the evening. 

“Hopefully, if our planning and permitting works out, we can start snowmaking in December of 2023 and open up some trails,” Milliken said. “For things such as a parking lot and lighting [on the trails], in addition to a place to stay to get out of the cold… hopefully those things will be done next year. This year, we just want to get on [the trails.]” 

Snowmaking, the first phase of the Oak Hill project, is critical to skiers. According to Outdoor Programs Office director Katie Colleran, the lack of snowfall this year has presented a barrier to skiing in the Upper Valley.

“We typically do our winter gear rental out of the [Dartmouth Outing Club] and we have cross country ski gear, sleds and shoes,” Colleran said. “The only thing we really need is snow.”

Snowmaking is also useful to competitive skiers, Graves added. 

“Man-made snow has been pretty widespread and is used at most alpine downhill ski areas, but it’s relatively new on cross-country ski trails,” Graves said. “But today, in order to guarantee snow, we really do need snowmaking.”

Colleran said that the College is also transferring much of the renovation process to Friends of Oak Hill, adding that the partnership is allowing greater possibilities than previous years.

“We are currently in a tradeoff position with Friends of Oak Hill,” Colleran said. “We are getting ready to pass it off to them since they’ll be running the operation next winter. We’re really excited to have snowmaking because that’s something we’ve wanted to do for a very, very long time but haven’t had the bandwidth to do.”

Colleran added that next year Friends of Oak Hill will take over the trail grooming that the College is currently in charge of, but the DOC will continue hosting rentals.  

According to Lou Bregou, the chair of the board at Ford Sayre Ski School, the division of responsibilities and land between the College, Hanover Improvement Society and Ford Sayre has extended the timeline of the project. Bregou said that the  project has been a topic of conversation for the past years, but  was slowed due to COVID-19. 

“[Ford Sayre] is like a stakeholder, like Dartmouth College,” Bregou said. “... Getting all the groups of people to agree with this plan was difficult but so was getting the permit for snowmaking and water usage.”

Nonetheless, Bregou said he is optimistic about the future of the ski trails at Oak Hill, particularly for Big Green student-athletes who currently must drive 45 minutes to their training courses.

“[This project] allows them to work openly and host races like the NCAA, which is a game changer,” Bregou said.”

According to an announcement from the College, Dartmouth expects to host the NCAA skiing championship in 2025. 

According to Milliken, the Oak Hill renovations are aimed to benefit the Dartmouth community in addition to the entirety of the Upper Valley. Milliken added that these renovations can help students ski immediately after school,  and the lighting will help adults ski after work. 

“I hope that the Dartmouth community, and especially the students who have not skied before use this option and come to Oak Hill to learn how to ski,” Milliken said. “After all, if you come to Dartmouth, everyone should ski.” 

Jaya Sharma contributed reporting.