My neighbor asked me why I was smiling and whistling as I shoveled out from this last snowstorm. Actually I wasn't as happy as I might have seemed. We only got a foot of snow and I would have been twice as happy with two feet. But that wasn't what I told her. Instead, I said, "Do the math ... "

Some years, snow falls and sticks around in early or mid-December. But most years, it's the end of December or even early January before we get enough snow to play on. And most years, except on the highest mountains, snow is gone by the end of March. Some years, it lasts until mid-April, others, like last year, it's gone much earlier.

So that means, in the best of years, we might get really lucky and get four full months of snow. That's just one-third of the year. But most years, we only get three months of snow and some years less than that.

The truth is, real winter is precious, and it's a crime to waste even a moment of it dreaming of something you get much more of anyway. That's why I have little patience for the people who start whining when it snows in March (and none at all for the whiners in January and February). It's supposed to snow in New England in the winter! And March is still winter. So is early April in a good year.

When there's still snow, late March and early April are the very best time to get out on cross-country skis and snowshoes. It's usually warm, you don't have to worry about frostbite, the days are longer, so you can take your time.


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You might have to time your outing depending on the temperature and the sunshine level of any given day. Snowshoeing is usually best early in the morning while the snow is still firm, skiing is usually more fun after things soften up a little. Why not do both? Get up early and hike out on snowshoes to watch the sun rise. Then come back in for a late breakfast and pop on your skis.

My advice: Hold onto winter just as long as you can. Savor every wonderful white moment of it. Then, when spring does come, let go of winter gracefully and prepare to enjoy what the warmer weather offers. Life isn't a spectator sport. Get out and enjoy!

Where to XC right now!

Lots of cross-country ski areas -- especially those connected with a resort or lodging property are suddenly offering mouth-watering, ski-and-stay packages in late March. This last snowstorm just fueled that fire. But still, most XC areas will shut down after Easter, even if they have snow, so these next few days are your best chance to enjoy the last of a wonderful winter.

Every XC area I check had good base depths (that's heavy, compacted snow that's very slow to melt) and at least 8 inches of fresh snow on top. Conditions are epic! Don't you wish it would last until June?

Stump Sprouts XC Ski Center in Hawley, Mass., has base depths of 10 to 20 inches and 10 inches of new snow.

Windblown Cross Country in New Ipswich, N.H., has 40 km open with 8- to 15-inch base depths and 14 inches of new snow.

Trapp Family Lodge (802-253-8511) in Stowe, Vt., has 65 km open and 18 inches of new snow.

My sweetheart, Marilyn, and I are headed for the Mount Washington Valley for a couple of days. Yes, we'll be doing some Alpine skiing at Sunday River, Black Mountain and Wildcat, but we'll also have our cross-country skis along. Here's why:

Bear Notch Ski Touring has 65 km of trails open with 45 km classic groomed and 50 km skate groomed. Base depth: 14 to 21 inches. They got 11 inches of snow this week.

Bretton Woods Nordic has 100 km open with 35km classic groomed and 50k skate groomed. Base depth: 4 to12 inches with 8 inches of new snow.

Great Glen Trails Outdoor Center in Pinkham Notch, N.H., has 45 km open with 20 km classic groomed and 20 km skate groomed. Base depth: 9 to 17 inches with 16 inches of new snow.

Jackson Ski Touring Foundation has 142 km open with 51 km classic groomed and 50 km skate groomed. Base depth: 2 to 28 inches with 8 to 12 inches of new snow.

Mount Washington Valley Ski Touring has 45 km open with 25 km classic groomed and 20 km skate groomed. Base depth: 4 to 12 inches with 12 inches of new snow.

Tim Jones is the executive editor of the online magazine EasternSlopes.com and writes about outdoor sports and travel. Email: Timjones@easternslopes.com