Early cold, snow spark demand for cross-country skiing, equipment

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WINDSOR — In the last few days of November, the trees and trails around Notchview, the Nordic ski area off Route 9, were covered in freshly fallen snow, and there was a 14-inch base calling out to cross-country skiers far and wide.

Many heard the call.

"It's just stunning," skier David Fradkin said on his way into the winter wilderness. "When you're on the trail, it's all around you."

Early November cold and snow have sparked an early demand for Nordic skiing — it's also known as cross-country — and equipment.

November snows have been somewhat inconsistent in the lower altitudes of Berkshire County, so Nordic skiing can be hit or miss in some spots, but Notchview is in the hill country, and when it's a winter rainstorm in Pittsfield, it's probably a snowstorm at Notchview.

"It's a different world up here," noted Andrea Caluori, engagement site manager for the Trustees of Reservations, which owns and operates Notchview. "For us, the season started early because we got a lot of snow. We're at a higher elevation and we tend to get quite a bit."

She said the early snow "caught us off guard a bit," but not by much. "We knew it was coming and what could happen. So, we got the groomers out and went to work."

The Berkshires saw a warmup over the weekend, which melted some of the base and caused crusting on the surface, but staffers are grooming the trails again. And while there is no significant new snow in the forecast in the coming days, persistent cold temperatures promise to preserve the 8-inch base that remains.

The trails at Notchview heading into the post-Thanksgiving holiday weekend were gorgeous, with the frozen white blanket covering the trees, trails and rooftops, and skiers eager to get into the woods.

"A lot of folks have been super-enthusiastic to be able to ski early and see the winter wonderland that's out here," Caluori said.

On a good weekend, Notchview will see about 300 skiers come through, she said. And if the temperatures stay below freezing, the trails should remain in top condition.

And for folks thinking about trying out a cross-country skiing run for the first time, Notchview rents skis, boots and poles.

Meanwhile, at Cantebury Farm in Becket, the snow was a little too wet for cross-country skiing, but folks have been out snowshoeing, said owner Linda Bacon.

Cantebury Farm is a bed-and-breakfast inn and a center for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, and it's at a lower elevation than Notchview, so its winter will typically begin slightly later.

"The snow is a little wet, and it's too warm for cross-country skiing," Bacon said. "But it looks wonderful. It's still a little early yet, but when colder weather and more snow come in, that will be our best advertisement."

The colder weather will also allow skating on the pond soon.

"Hopefully, sooner rather than later we'll be opening up again," Bacon said. "For now, we're working hard to clean up the trails and get things ready."

Retail shops have also noticed that Nordic skiers have started gearing up for the season a tad early.

"It had been a very good November," said Josh Chittenden, manager of Berkshire Outfitters in Adams. "The guys here are starting to call it Snowvember."

The shop has already seen dozens of athletes from local high school Nordic ski teams coming in for equipment.

"Nordic skiing is seeing a resurgence," Chittenden said. "One reason is that it's cheaper than Alpine (downhill) skiing. Your basic setup (boots, bindings, poles and skis) runs around $300 to $400. And a lot of trails around here you can use for free."

Jason Kahn, a sales associate at Arcadia Shop in Lenox and an avid cross-country skier, said there have been a few customers seeking Nordic ski gear, but in the lowlands, the snow is not quite ready.

"The snow is inconsistent right now," he said. "But it was a good start and it definitely brought people into the store. Around mid-December, depending on the weather, is when things usually get going."

But it's got to be snowing outside for people to start thinking about skiing.

"People just don't think about it if there's no snow on the ground," Kahn said. "And when it does snow, all of the trails around here open up for cross-country skiing."

For fans of downhill skiing, Jiminy Peak Mountain Resort in Hancock is already open weekends and soon intends to open all week. This weekend also will mark the opening of Ski Butternut in Great Barrington (Friday) and Catamount Ski Area in South Egremont (Saturday).

Bousquet Ski Area in Pittsfield plans to open in mid-December.

And many downhill ski areas also offer cross-country trails.

"It's a great way to fall in love with winter," Caluori said.

Scott Stafford can be reached at sstafford@berkshireeagle.com or 413-629-4517.


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