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Active Outdoors

Active Outdoors: Shoulder season safety tips

In some ways, it would be really nice if someone could flip a switch and “start” winter. But then again, we’d probably all fight over when to start winter and when to shut it off. (My vote would be for Nov. 1 to May 1 ... but I’d be willing to compromise to Nov. 15 to April 15.)

These shoulder seasons – when we are waiting for winter to really take hold (or, conversely, to really let go) – present some particularly interesting challenges for Active Outdoors enthusiasts. Winter means cold, snow and ice, but in the shoulder season, depending on where you are, you may encounter all, some or none.

While we have had some genuine cold and even some snow in places so far this season, there’s heavy rain in the forecast as I write this and we can’t claim that winter has really arrived. That said, anyone who had planned to climb Mount Washington last weekend probably had to change their plans. On Sunday, according to the data kept by the Mount Washington Observatory (, the high temperature for the day was minus-6, the low temp was minus-15, the wind averaged 85 mph throughout the day, and the highest gust was 126 mph. Bet that felt like winter. Weather like that is a good reminder that, if you head away from a road at this time of year, you have to be prepared for anything you might encounter – and be prepared to change plans if things get bad.

Last winter was slow in arriving,

too (at least by my standards), and I had two good “reminders” of how important it is to be prepared for the unexpected. I’ll keep both in mind as I wait for winter this year.

The day after Christmas, I was out climbing Mount Monadnock in southwestern New Hampshire to break in a brand new pair of mountaineering boots. The lower section of the trail I was climbing had a light dusting of snow on it, but the footing was good. Only once the trail started to climb did it become a solid sheet of ice. Fortunately, I had traction aids in my pack (along with extra clothing, a headlamp and an emergency kit) and was able to safely continue my hike. Without them, I’d have had to turn around. Traveling alone means you have to be extra cautious.

My second adventure came in late January on a backcountry ski trek in the Adirondacks. It had been below zero for three nights running and my companions and I decided to avoid a rocky trail section by skiing across a frozen pond. All went well until I broke through and ended up pretty wet on a 14-degree morning. Spare clothes from our backpacks let me get dry and warm enough to ski back to safety fairly comfortably, but it could have been a lot worse. I’ve since purchased several small dry bags to carry spare long underwear, socks and liner gloves, and to keep my spare clothes dry. Even wearing Gore-Tex, if you fall into water (though the ice ... crossing a stream ...) when it’s cold, you are going to get wet, and you need to get dry clothes on for safety.

Just as a reminder, go to the Hike Safe website ( and brush up on the essentials. Before you head out into the wilds (even to cut a Christmas tree from one of the national forests), you need to consider where you are going, who you are going with and what you need to stay comfortable and get back safely. It’s true all year, but especially now, when winter is lurking nearby and could start any time. Life isn’t a spectator sport. Get out and enjoy!

So ... how’s the skiing?

I’m grumpy. Ski areas are open and I want to be on the slopes, but just can’t manage it quite yet. But one of my vast network of spies was at Bretton Woods (1-877-873-0626, two days before Thanksgiving, and here’s what he had to say:

“Bretton Woods had surprisingly good cover on nine trails: Ben, Big Ben, Bigger Ben, Bretton Wood, Rosebrook Meadow, Lower In Between, Upper In Between, Range View, and Crawford’s Blaze.

“There were no crowds (and very few people under the age of 60!). Everyone seemed to be having a splendid time on slopes no one imagined would be open before Thanksgiving. Depending on the weather, more terrain may be open Wednesday.

“The lodge was easy to navigate – no crowds at all. The food line, when it existed at all, moved swiftly. Ditto for the lift lines. Average wait for both: three seconds, maximum. Overall a day to give thanks for as the holiday approaches.”

Sounds wonderful. Wish I’d been there.

Mark your calendar

The weekend after Thanksgiving (including “Black Friday”) is typically a busy one at any New England ski resort that happens to be open. Lots of people use the holiday to get out and make their first turns. Since we usually don’t have a lot of snow, that means lots of bodies on limited terrain.

My advice? Wait until mid-week and play hooky for a day.

But if you can’t get away mid-week, the weekends between Thanksgiving and Christmas are typically great for skiing as most people are “too busy” to get away.

If you are looking for a place to go, Dec. 15 (a Sunday) is the first of two Cares & Shares Days at Mount Sunapee (603-763-2356, in Newbury. To help stock the local food pantries for the holidays, any skier or rider who brings five non-perishable food items to the ticket window can ski or ride all day for only $35. That weekend is also Demo Days with Bob Skinner’s Ski & Sport, when you can try skis from seven companies and snowboards from four.

Here’s the deal

Act fast on this one if you want to ski Sugarbush (800-537-8427, in Warren, Vt., on a weekend or holiday (normally $73) for under $50. Through Nov. 30, Sugarbush is selling Quad Pack: Four Fully Transferable, Unrestricted Lift Tickets for $199. Quad Packs must be purchased by an individual skier or rider, and only that individual is eligible to redeem Quad Pack tickets from the ticket window, though anyone can use the tickets. One or multiple tickets (valid only the day issued) may be picked up at a time. There is a limit of two Quad Packs per individual.

(Tim Jones can be reached at

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