Everybody's calling this the winter that won't quit. I think they're deluding themselves. Here, in New England at least, March is always winter. People who hope for something different are simply being unrealistic.
It's tough to get out and enjoy the outdoors when the weather isn't to your liking. In the heat and humidity of July and August, I make the best of it, getting up before the sun rises for a hike or a bike ride, swimming and kayaking in the evenings as the sun sets, until late August brings decent weather again.
But there's no need to worry about that just yet. I have been having so much fun in the snow lately, alone or with my sweetheart, Marilyn, that I hope this winter never ends. Here are some ideas to get you out and enjoying winter. Life isn't a spectator sport. Get out and enjoy!
In search of the elusive hippypotamoose
If you are reading this in print, chances are good you have a cross-country ski area within a short drive. And, this year, there's a good chance it has plenty of snow. How long has it been since you went out and explored the groomed trails on skinny skis?
Looking for something to do alone on the last Saturday in February, I decided to check out the trails at Pine Hill Ski Club (pinehillskiclub.com) in New London, N.H. This is a private club, run entirely by volunteers, but anyone is welcome to use the trails. The price of membership and the "donations" from non-members ($12 for an all-day trail pass) pays for trail maintenance and grooming.
By this February's standards, it was a warm afternoon (highs near freezing), some of the trails were recently groomed and the others were all skiable. They groom for classic skis only, most of the trails aren't wide enough for skate skiing. I kicked along at my own pace, stopped several times to enjoy the views, and managed to explore a little more than half of their trail system. There's just enough terrain here for a good day of skiing.
Out in the woods, I encountered the whimsical "Hippypotamoose," waiting to delight passers-by. It's definitely worth seeing (an overlook nearby also has an amazing view of Mount Kearsarge), but I'm not going to tell you where, exactly, it hides. You'll have to go exploring and find it for yourself (take the whole family!)
Two nights in a tipi
Marilyn and I got to spend two nights sleeping out at the VOGA Winter Doe Camp (voga.org/winter_doe_camp.htm) at the Hulbert Center in Fairlee, Vt., where my buddy, David, and I were teaching two classes. The first night, Feb 28, it was 5 below zero when we went to bed and somewhere around 11 or 12 below when we got up. With zero-degree-sleeping bags, it was an interesting challenge. But we all followed the principles we were teaching the next day and spent a comfortable night.
I broke a cardinal rule of winter camping, didn't eat enough calories at dinner, and woke up chilly in the middle of the night. Not a problem. Put on a lightweight down sweater, threw a couple of handwarmers into the foot of my bag, ate a big handful of nuts and raisins to fuel the internal furnace, drank some warm water, went right back to sleep, and slept warm until morning. Marilyn slept warm and comfy all night.
The next night, Marilyn was joined in our big tipi by three of the four women, who had taken the class, while I slept in a smaller tent nearby. The temperature never dropped below 20 that night, and the only problem any of us experienced is one sleeper complained of being too warm. It was, by the way, her first night in a tent, ever! Talk about a wonderful start to camping -- she'll never be afraid of camping in the spring, summer or fall!
Ladies, my advice here, is to get yourself on the mailing list for the upcoming Doe Camps. Seeing so many women trying new things outdoors and having so much fun doing it was simply inspiring.
Skiing Brrrrke and Brrretton Woods
From Doe Camp, we moved up to the Comfort Inn in St. Johnsbury, Vt., (vermontvacationland.com) for two nights to take advantage of the incredible ski-and-stay packages they offer with Burke Mountain (skiburke.com) in East Burke, Vt., (25 minutes away), Cannon Mountain (cannonmt.com) in Franconia, N.H. (35 minutes), Bretton Woods (brettonwoods.com) in Bretton Woods, N.H. (45 minutes away) and Jay Peak (jaypeakresort.com) in Jay, Vt. (1 hour). I like having four mountains to choose from, and the prices (starting at $155 for a huge room, access to the pool, hot tub and health club, two adult lift tickets and a hot breakfast included).
It was 15 below zero when we left the hotel; 10 below at the base of the mountain (see why we call it "Brrrrke"?), but we dressed warm, the sun was out and there wasn't any wind until early afternoon. Burke has a number of trails that twist and turn through quiet woodlands and we explored most of them.
The cold seemed to keep most other people away. We only had to share the slopes with some local school kids. Riding up the mid-Burke Express, we got to watch some future Michaela Shiffrins (the Olympic slalom gold medalist trains at Burke) practicing. This is a great mountain with big plans for the future. My advice: Ski it now while it's still quiet and undiscovered.
On our way home on Tuesday morning, we swung by Brrrretton Woods (4 below zero). It was too cold to ski the woods (especially alone -- which is never a good idea), But, again, we dressed for the temps, found nearly empty slopes with perfectly groomed snow and skied until our legs gave out. The cold simply wasn't a factor -- except that it kept others indoors. Bretton Woods is a truly great "cruiser's mountain" and we had it almost all to ourselves. I think we had to wait once for two chairs to load before we could get on. Another perfect winter day.
We'll have to save Cannon and Jay Peak for another visit.