Long weekends: The Manchester Falcon

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
News for Adventurous Travelers, February 1997

Long weekends: The Manchester Falcon

On the prowl with Vermont's birds of prey
By Rebecca Gray

The allure of Manchester, Vermont, has traditionally been its snow, its scenery, and its New England serenity. Visitors arrive by the Volvo load to strap on their backcountry equipment and glide into the woods or to unload their parabolics or snowboard and head down the slopes at Stratton Mountain. All is relatively tranquil here, unruffled.

Provided you ignore the state's newly resident meat-eating birds. Two years ago, Manchester's elegant and historic Equinox Hotel opened the British School of Falconry, using a curriculum and some instructors imported from the long-established falconry program at its sister resort, The Gleneagles Hotel in Scotland.

Housed in a renovated cow barn on the hotel's 1,100 acres, the Equinox's falconry school is now home to 12 Harris hawks, aloof raptors with four-foot wingspans, as well as to a Russian steppe eagle and an African lanner falcon, all bred in captivity. In a 45-minute introductory lesson ($65), a professional falconer presents a mini-history of this 4,000-year-old sport, once the sole province of Chinese royalty, explaining such esoterica as why the leather glove is worn on the left hand (the right hand traditionally was reserved for wielding a sword) and why you don't need a falcon (any raptor will do). Then you learn how to carry the hawk perched on your glove, leather jesses loosely tied to its feet and threaded through your fingers. When you release the jesses, the hawk flies to a wooden perch, returning when you raise your gloved fist toward it.

Completing the introductory lesson qualifies you for the two-and-a-half hour Hawk Walk ($130), during which you'll learn the proper techniques of hawk handling and free-flying along the rugged, heavily wooded trails of Equinox Mountain. (The birds in these lessons do not hunt.) If you become completely engrossed by the birds and the sport, you can sign up for a four-day course ($1,000-$1,460), at the end of which you'll be on your way to becoming a licensed falconer, which involves an apprenticeship period as well as various federal and state examinations. Call 802-362-4780 for information and class reservations.

To fill the hours between falconry classes, the Equinox Hotel's Ski Touring Center (802-362-4700) has 35 kilometers of groomed cross-country trails ($10) and can arrange guided, full-day backcountry tours ($80). Twenty miles down Route 11, the Viking Ski Touring Centre has 40 kilometers of trails, offering expansive views of Vermont's famous Green Mountains (802-824-3933). Even Stratton Mountain Resort has begun offering guided snowshoe, backcountry, and moonlit ski tours, in addition to its regular downhill attractions. Call 802-297-2200 for prices.

Doubles at the Equinox are $169 per night; call 800-362-4747 for reservations. The hotel is located in Manchester Village, about a mile from the center of Manchester itself. The surrounding area is also packed with more than 70 bed-and-breakfasts and inns; for information or reservations, call the chamber of commerce, Manchester in the Mountains, at 802-362-2100. The Dorset, Vermont's oldest continuously running inn, is six miles north of town (doubles, including breakfast and dinner, $170-$190; 802-867-5500).

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