Active Outdoors: Crust and ice means it's time for trail crampons


Snow, rain, warm, cold, ice, more snow, more warm, more rain, more cold, more ice ... welcome to the "wonderful" world of the January thaw.

The ice on my driveway is thick enough for safe ice fishing, and I don't doubt we'll see ice out there until sometime in May. But the snow cover in the woods around my house is less than 10 inches deep, compact and crusted, nowhere near what I want to see. Bah, humbug!

Personally, I wish winter would set in with a good snowstorm on Nov. 15 and not let go until April 15 -- but that's just wishful thinking. Silly me.

Anyway, it's been a tough week for winter lovers. Many of the Winter Trails Day events scheduled for Jan. 11 were canceled or postponed by ice and rain. Some were rescheduled for the next day, but others are still to be enjoyed. For example, Notchview Reservation in Windsor, ( has rescheduled its event (free lessons and snowshoe use; half-price trail fee for everyone) until Feb. 1.

Not everyone has been badly hurt. Downhill skiers will hardly notice the thaw. The Alpine ski resorts used the cold snap before the thaw to their advantage, made a lot of snow and are doing fine. Marilyn and I were at Mount Sunapee (603-763-2356; in Newbury, N.H., on Sunday (right after a rainstorm) and we found plenty of snow, nicely groomed.

They'll be in great shape for the big MLK long weekend, and likely for President's Week as well. As usual, they'll run out of skiers this spring before they run out of snow. For most areas, this January thaw is nothing more than an annoying blip -- a couple of rainy days cutting into their business. For snow lovers, though, it is a bit disconcerting to ski on groomed ribbons of white snaking though largely snowless woods in January.

Cross-country skiers are getting by, too, although they may have to travel a bit to find snow. Snow compacted by grooming machines is surprisingly durable, and with the top couple of inches groomed, makes for good skiing on both classic and skate skis. All of the major cross-country ski areas in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and upstate New York are open on some of if not all of their trail systems. But, as you would early or late in the season, call ahead or check online for a snow report before you head out.

For those of us who also like to snowshoe and backcountry ski, however, the last week has been a bit of a rough go. A few days ago, I was out near the Hulbert Center in Fairlee, Vt., scouting terrain for the "Advanced Snowshoe Techniques" clinic David Shedd and I will teach at the Winter Doe Camp ( on March 1.

I found a wonderful playground of flowing brooks, steep hillsides, fallen trees and all the other manageable challenges that make off-trail snowshoeing so interesting and so much fun. The class will likely be a total fun-fest.

The only thing missing was snow. Instead of exploring on snowshoes or sliding snowshoes (which is what I really wanted to do), I was using MICROspikes on regular hiking boots. Though I was wearing gaiters, I didn't really need them. I couldn't find more than a few inches of crusted snow anywhere.

Being out in the woods was, as always, just lovely. But I must admit the whole adventure wasn't as much fun as it would have been on "real" snow.

Don't make the mistake of yearning for spring yet, though. There's likely a lot of winter left. There's even some snow in the forecast for the next few days. Life isn't a spectator sport. Get out and enjoy!

Grafton Ponds Winter Carnival

If you're looking for something to do on Saturday, Feb. 8, 2014, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., the Grafton Ponds Outdoor Center (802-843-2400; in Grafton, Vt., will be holding its second annual Grafton Winter Carnival. For $12 you get snow tubing, cross country ski trail access, snowshoe trail access and ice skating. A bonfire at the base will warm hearts and hands. Horse-drawn sleigh rides are extra, but since they aren't active, who cares?

Grafton Ponds Outdoor Center offers 15 kilometers of Nordic skiing (with snowmaking on five kilometers), 10k of snowshoeing, a Biathlon course and a 600-foot snow tubing hill It's conveniently located between Route 7 and I-91 in southern Vermont for easy access.

Tim Jones is the executive editor of the online magazine and writes about outdoor sports and travel. Email:


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