This copyrighted article appears in the Winter 2014−15 issue of Vermont Life magazine.
A snowy Saturday will come this winter when one of the toughest tables to reserve in all of Vermont’s dining establishments will be in a rustic little structure near Walden Mountain. The walls are particleboard. Ketchup and mustard come in color-coded plastic containers. The napkins are paper. There’s not a sommelier, sous chef or valet on staff. The menu can best be described as “1950s drive-in” — burgers and fries, cheesesteaks and hot dogs. Hit it early enough, and there’s plenty of homemade zucchini relish to be had.
Situated in the hills just west of Lyndonville, The Coles Pond Sledders Cook Shack sits smack-dab on a snowmobile trail. Location, of course, is key to its success. It’s open for just a few months of the year and fills its 16-seat capacity on those weekend days when it’s snowy and cold and an estimated 00 snowmobiles zip by on their way to Hardwick or to a nearby lookout that offers stunning views of New Hampshire’s Presidential Range.
“We get fathers and mothers, husbands and wives, boyfriends and girlfriends — entire families that stop in here for something to eat,” said George Peak of Walden, operator of the Cook Shack. “I like to think the food is part of the reason, but the reality is all those people come here to be part of something.”
A mix of adventure travel, outdoor exploration and social event, snowmobiling sees about 10 percent of Vermonters ride each winter, plus thousands more who come here from out of state to take part. Many businesses are along for the ride — hotels, gas stations, machine dealerships, clothing retailers, mechanics and restaurants — to the tune of an estimated $350 million a year generated for the state economy.
Yet, over little more than a decade, the number of participants has shown a steep decline. In the winter of 2002–2003, membership in the Vermont Association of Snow Travelers stood at about 45,000. By last year, the number had dropped to about 23,000, a plunge of almost 50 percent.
As a winter tradition in Vermont, snowmobiling, in historical terms, is relatively new, and holds a tenuous place in the state’s imagination. If Vermont recreation had a Mount Rushmore, snowmobiling would not be on it. Hunting, fishing, hiking, skiing, snowboarding, cycling — all for various reasons connect more directly to Vermont’s identity, even though snow machines have been on the landscape, starting as backwoods workhorses, since the 1930s. It wasn’t until the late 1950s, when factories started manufacturing smaller gas-powered engines, that the first modern-day snowmobiles began to take shape. In the cultural backdrop of the time, with the emphasis on muscle cars, drag racing and powerboats, snow machines were a natural fit as a new recreational pursuit, and a boom time began.
- 5 cups old-fashioned or quick- cooking oats
- ½ cup raw sunflower seeds
- ½ cup roughly chopped raw whole almonds
- ½ cup roughly chopped raw walnut pieces
- ½ cup unsweetened flaked coconut, optional
- ¼ cup raw sesame seeds, optional
- ½ cup honey (see note at end)
- 2 tablespoons canola oil
- 1 generous cup dried fruit such as raisins, golden raisins or sweetened cranberries
- Preheat oven to 375 F.
- Line a large rimmed baking sheet (jelly roll pan) or shallow roasting pan with parchment or a nonstick baking mat.
- In a large mixing bowl, stir together oats, sunflower seeds, almonds and walnuts, and coconut and sesame seeds, if using.
- In a small bowl, whisk together honey and oil. (If honey is not pourable, warm slightly in a microwave or on stovetop over low heat until liquefied.)
- Pour honey mixture over oats mixture and stir to distribute evenly.
- Spread granola in prepared sheet. Bake granola 12 to 15 minutes until dark golden brown, stirring once about 8 minutes into baking to prevent granola at edges of pan from getting too dark.
- Set pan on a rack and cool completely. Add dried fruit and store in an airtight container for up to 1 week.
- We upped the amount of honey from August First's recipe to allow for a bit of clumping in the final result.
- Photo by Ken Burris.