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Skating, saunas and sausages - Sleepy Hollow is more than just a snow job

A new legend of Sleepy Hollow is being created in the town of Huntington. So far, there have been no reports of headless cross-country skiers -- just increasing numbers of happy winter sports fans waxing poetic about the pleasures of this reborn resort.

The Sleepy Hollow Inn, Ski, and Bike Center is a family affair. The enthusiastic general manager is a 25-year-old Olympic ski hopeful by the name of Eli Enman. His father David, 55, works as handyman, trail chief and breakfast cook when he is not at his Williston store, The Book Keeper. Mother Sandy, 53, takes time from her seven-person accounting firm, Enman and Associates, to keep Sleepy Hollow's finances in good shape. Sister Molly, 28, provides long-distance moral support from her job as a running coach in Redlands, California, and helps out whenever she visits.

Since the Enman family is hooked on outdoor recreation, they came up with a plan five years ago to start a related business. "We've always been fairly active," Eli states. "I don't know where the idea actually came from, but it was a family decision to open a cross-country ski area." They looked at parcels of land and came across the bankrupt 877-acre Sherman Hollow site in Huntington, which had been in operation from the late '70s to 1993. The run-down property soon became theirs.

"We originally had intended to just be a cross-country ski area," Enman says. "But when we sat down and tried to do a business plan, we came to the realization that a ski area is just a three-month operation." To help balance the books, they looked at what else could be done with the place. With David's skills as a carpenter, the old lodge was soon remodeled into an eight-room bed-and-breakfast business. Mountain biking fills out the summer and fall months. The Enmans also provide lunch and dinner on the premises for business meetings and social events such as weddings -- occasionally with the help of an outside chef.

Now in its third season of operation, Sleepy Hollow provides winter activists a wide range of outlets. It offers more than 30 kilometers (about 20 miles) of trails groomed for both classic- and skating-style Nordic skiing; a separate network of snowshoe trails; a two-kilometer, lighted loop for night skiing four evenings a week; a full schedule of races run throughout the season, including a nostalgic wooden ski race, and ice skating available on the pond.

Sleepy Hollow isn't the only cross-country ski area in Chittenden County. Williston's Catamount Family Center and the Bolton Valley Nordic Center also cater to Nordicniks. But like snowflakes, no two centers are alike. One thing that sets Sleepy Hollow apart is good grooming. Because Eli is a racer and needs consistently groomed trails, the Enmans have invested in the Mercedes of snow-smoothing machines: the German-made "Pisten Bully." These are the big red "snow rototillers" most downhill resorts use to insure a solid base and even surfaces. Buff-ing out the natural snow helps it last longer and makes both the uphills and downhills easier to navigate.

Another unique feature at Sleepy Hollow is the Butternut Cabin -- a remote spot where hearty campers can get away from it all, even the lodge. High on a ridge overlooking Camel's Hump, the modern building has two amenities that make spending the night out in the wilderness seem less primitive -- a wood stove and an outhouse. "In the peak of the winter it rents out every weekend," Eli says. "Already five parties have called to try and book it for New Year's Eve."

They're likely to have a lot more fun, too, since Sleepy Hollow installed a wood-heated sauna. It's a natural fit, given the Scandinavian origins of cross-country skiing. This winter, day-skiing clients will have access to the hot spot for a small additional fee. There's no shower, though, but you can always roll in the snow. This summer Sleepy Hollow was the site of a Finnish-flavored wedding. The highlight of the event was the evening sauna for all.

Day-skiing clients at Sleepy Hollow are mostly local. "We're definitely a family place," remarks Enman. The Hollow also attracts many area school ski teams, and is the home base for Champlain Valley Union High School's racers. Guests at the eight-room inn, which is booked solid almost every weekend, may be visitors to Huntington or Richmond residents, or New England vacationers coming in to ski for a weekend or a week.

The Enmans take the breakfast part of their "B&B" seriously, too. A typical family-style breakfast involves Vermont-milled whole-wheat blueberry pancakes served with a fresh fruit salad and bacon, or cinnamon French toast served with a fresh fruit plate and sausage links. David's used bookshop provides a never-ending supply of reading materials, and if guests can't finish what they've started, he's happy to sell them the book.

While last year's snowfall was inconsistent, particularly for "valley dwellers," Sleepy Hollow was open for skiing straight through from December 21st until March 2nd. Since the area sits at an elevation of approximately 1000 feet, just off the spine of the Green Mountains, folks there often see more of the white stuff than those in town.

The trail map reveals an interesting mix of influences. There is the nod to Washington Irving's tale that inspired the resort's name -- and "Icabod's Revenge" is a twisty expert trail. A modern epic is honored in the names of the trails that serve snowshoers in the winter and single-track mountain-bike riders in the summer. You'd have to be from another planet not to get the references in trail names such as "Millennium Falcon," "R2D2" and "Death Star." Finally, the family gets its due to "Sandy's Slide," "Dave's Dive," "Molly's Meadow" and "Eli's Escape."

For those who call Vermont winters too dark, too cold and too long, Eli Enman has some words of wisdom: "Get outside and enjoy the outdoors. For some people winter is a depressing time, but if you're a cross-country skier, you know it's the best time of the year."

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