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Active Outdoors: When will the snow come?



For the Monitor
Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Well, hasn’t this been a wild couple of weeks? Hope you came through it all unscathed.

We’ve seen record-breaking warmth for the past two months, and since my last column ran, I’ve emptied almost 11 inches of water from my backyard rain gauge. Winds have gusted to near hurricane force along the coast and in the hills. Trees have come down all over New England, knocking out power for hundreds of thousands of households.

Rivers have flooded and receded in at least the fourth or fifth (it may be more, I’m losing count) “hundred-year storm” we have experienced in the last decade, precisely what climate scientists have predicted, an ominous warning too many people seem determined to ignore. Major roads have washed out and are being repaired, and no one has really had time to even begin to assess the damage to hiking, mountain biking and cross-country ski trails.

In all of this chaos, you might have missed the fact that it snowed on Mount Washington. Twice. And there’s more snow in the forecast. Not a lot, but snow is snow.

I keep wondering what it would have looked like if all that rain that fell this past ten days had come in December with colder temperatures in the mix.

I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t mind seeing an early snowfall this winter that sticks around until early April. Life isn’t a spectator sport. Get out and enjoy!

Who’s on first?

As I write this, we are getting the last of the rain and warm temps for a while, a cold front is sweeping through and dropping the temperatures back to below average, which means nighttime temps in the 20s. You can bet that several ski hills will fire up their snowmaking systems this week. Though no one is saying anything quite yet, I’m betting someone will be turning lifts by the time you read this.

My money is on Sunday River. They have “snow fever” even worse than I do, only they have the ability to do something about it if the weather cooperates. They “tested” their snowmaking system on Sept. 29, the first chilly night of the season. Of course they could test their snowmaking system any time they please (including a 95-degree day in August) but it’s just more fun (and better publicity) if there’s some white to show off at the end of their test.

But more significantly, they actually turned on their system for a night on Oct. 17, blowing as much snow on T2 as they could. It was a futile effort since whatever snow they made has long since melted in the warm temps and washed away in the deluge, but it proved their hearts are in the right place. They have publicly committed to making snow whenever they can, and that means every night this week. That’s why I’m betting they’ll have the Locke Mountain Triple turning this weekend, and will be skiing at least from summit to mid-station if not top-to-bottom. My skis are ready, you’ll probably see me there.

Recognizing that a lot of people with bad cases of snow fever will go wherever there’s white early in the season, and then will drift away to other mountains when they finally have snow, Sunday River offers what they are calling the Kickstarter Pass, which gives you direct-to-lift access from Opening Day through Dec. 24. The price is $159 for adults, $129 for teens and $99 for juniors.

The others to watch for early openings (perhaps by the time you read this) are Killington and Okemo in Vermont and Bretton Woods in New Hampshire. I’d also take a peek to see what Whiteface, Wildcat and Sugarloaf are doing. I’d expect a double handful of areas in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont to be open for Thanksgiving weekend unless the too-warm weather returns.

Skiing for Thanksgiving: Gotta love it.

Of traction and balance

Snow’s coming – on the ski slopes and the hiking trails. That means traction aids to help you keep your footing on slippery trails and trekking poles to help you keep your balance if you do slip or stumble.

I use trekking poles all year. They always help you maintain your balance. I can’t even begin to count the numbers of times that trekking poles have allowed me catch myself and prevent a tumble that could have potentially resulted in injury. This is especially true when hiking downhill on mud, wet rocks, fallen leaves or snow or ice. My advice: get yourself a good pair of adjustable poles and use them. If you really don’t need them, you can always just carry them on your pack – but I think you’ll be surprised at how much more time they spend in your hands instead of on your pack.

If you are taking to the higher hills at this time of year, it’s always good to be prepared for snow or ice. It only takes a little to ice to turn footing treacherous. Traction aids come in three basic strengths. There are the “urban” models which are meant to go on shoes or running shoes to keep you safe on icy roads and sidewalks. There are crampons with long, sharp spiked points which are designed for steep ice and crusted snow. Don’t choose crampons unless you need them and are trained in how to use them. Finally there are “microspikes,” a now-generic term (derived from Kahtoola’s original microSPIKES) for underfoot chains with small points which attach to your boots with an elasticized harness. That’s what you want in your pack at this time of year.

(Tim Jones is the executive editor of the online magazine EasternSlopes.com and writes about outdoor sports and travel. Email him timjones@easternslopes.com.)