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Active Outdoors

Active Outdoors: Vignettes from a perfect February

  • Hard to believe there was this little snow on February 4! We spent the night in one of the two cozy Barn Cabins at Merck Forest in Rupert, Vermont. It was snowing the next morning and it's been snowing since. (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)

    Hard to believe there was this little snow on February 4! We spent the night in one of the two cozy Barn Cabins at Merck Forest in Rupert, Vermont. It was snowing the next morning and it's been snowing since. (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)

  • In the NE Winter Wild Race series , you have to climb up the the hill befor you can go down it. Compititos can run, snowshoe, ski or snowboard. Here, some of the "competitors" seem relieved as they reach the summit and look forward to the downhill. (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)

    In the NE Winter Wild Race series , you have to climb up the the hill befor you can go down it. Compititos can run, snowshoe, ski or snowboard. Here, some of the "competitors" seem relieved as they reach the summit and look forward to the downhill. (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)

  • First tracks on a powder morning at Magic Mountain in Londonderry Vermont—one of the Top 10 best hills you've probably never skied. (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)

    First tracks on a powder morning at Magic Mountain in Londonderry Vermont—one of the Top 10 best hills you've probably never skied. (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)

  • Hard to believe there was this little snow on February 4! We spent the night in one of the two cozy Barn Cabins at Merck Forest in Rupert, Vermont. It was snowing the next morning and it's been snowing since. (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)
  • In the NE Winter Wild Race series , you have to climb up the the hill befor you can go down it. Compititos can run, snowshoe, ski or snowboard. Here, some of the "competitors" seem relieved as they reach the summit and look forward to the downhill. (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)
  • First tracks on a powder morning at Magic Mountain in Londonderry Vermont—one of the Top 10 best hills you've probably never skied. (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)

Finally! A real New England winter with a-l-m-o-s-t enough snow! Keep it coming!

With all this snow, it’s hard to find time for all the fun. But every couple of days in February I decided that “life isn’t a spectator sport” and managed to “get out and enjoy!” Hope you did, too. If you didn’t, I hope these ideas inspire you.

Stratton skiing, cabin overnight

On Feb. 4, my buddy David and I spent the day testing next year’s ski gear at Stratton Mountain (stratton.com) for EasternSlopes.com. Conditions were excellent on the groomed trails, and we hammered run after run.

That night we stayed in one of the two Barn Cabins at Merck Forest (merckforest.org) in Rupert, Vt., about 45 minutes away. After all the hustle and bustle, we were looking forward to a quiet evening. The two Barn Cabins are less than half a mile from the parking lot, but a world away in winter. We hiked in on a couple of inches of old snow. No snowshoes, no traction aids.

We reached the cabins just as the light was fading. Once inside, we lit a fire in the woodstove, spread out our pads and sleeping bags on the platform bunks, settled in, ate a great dinner and climbed into our sleeping bags early. There’s really no better way to totally relax and recharge than to spend a night in a cabin away from everything.

The next morning, it was snowing hard and we packed out through 3 or 4 inches of fresh, light snow. It’s been snowing ever since, it seems.

Magic at Magic

After a second day of testing skis in fast-falling powder at Stratton, we drove to the Upper Pass Lodge (upperpasslodge.com), a warm, inviting and very affordable old-style ski lodge located just steps from the slopes at Magic Mountain (magicmtn.com ) in Londonderry, Vt. The rooms were comfortable and the fireplace in the common room was just what we wanted. Dinner and breakfast at the restaurant were reasonably priced, featured local products and were delicious. Great find.

Magic is the best-kept secret in southern Vermont – in the top 10 list of eastern ski hills you’ve probably never skied. Magic is the place where instructors and ski patrollers from Mount Snow, Stratton, Bromley and Okemo go to play on their days off. The trails twist and wind down the mountain and they have a boundary-to-boundary open policy. The intermediate trails are pure fun and Magic has more steeps than the rest of the nearby areas combine. This is a real skier’s mountain, not surprising since it’s owned by skier-shareholders, much like Mad River Glen.

And we hit it with more than a foot of fresh snow! Magic is only open Thursday through Sunday (unless it’s a holiday week or a powder morning). It had been closed the day before and our morning was truly epic. If you haven’t skied Magic, by all means give it a try – especially if there’s a lot of snow. Guarantee you’ll come away smiling.

Super Sunapee

A few days later, my sweetheart, Marilyn, and I took a ride up to Mount Sunapee (mtsunapee.com) in Newbury on a bitter cold morning with a rising wind. The parking lot was crowded, but only because of the state high school championship races that day. The rest of the mountain was nearly empty, the corduroy was firm and fast, and we had a wonderful day of skiing. Sunapee can get pretty busy on weekends, but midweek it’s a quiet hill with fast lifts, interesting trails, great views and wonderful snow.

Skinning up Pats Peak

I’m not a competitor, but I enjoy watching others compete if I can be active while doing it. When the NE Winter Wild race series (newinterwild.com) came to Pats Peak (patspeak.com), I put on backcountry skis and skinned up the race course to take photos for EasternSlopes.com.

What a great event! It started before sunrise, competitors made two loops up and down the mountain, and were finished before the lifts started turning. I saw kids as young as 6 or 7 out racing (school kids enter free), and some folks who made me look young. Everyone got a great workout. The next three races are March 1 at Mount Sunapee, March 8 at Black Mountain, and March 15 at Bretton Woods. Go and watch (or compete … it looked like fun).

Powder on “Pantswetter”

Some friends own land with a small cabin and a network of informal cross-country ski and snowshoe trails, and a group of us gathered this past weekend for a barbecue and to play in all the fresh snow.

After lunch, a bunch of us skied a loop that climbs a ridge, follows the ridgeline for awhile and then plunges down a steep hill with two sharp turns. The owners have dubbed this “Pantswetter Hill.”

I went last, slid down the first plunge, confidently turned into the hill to slow my speed and promptly fell when a branch hidden under the snow grabbed my left ski and stopped it. I got myself up, dusted off and re-launched only to fall again in a deep drift at the bottom of a gully. This time, I lost a pole and had to take off a ski and dig to find it in all the powder. Haven’t had that much pure fun on skis in a long time!

Mittens for c-c-c-cold

I don’t usually recommend specific products, but one of the reasons Marilyn and I so thoroughly enjoy cold weather is the mittens we use: Alti Mitts from Outdoor Research (outdoorresearch.com). We both get cold hands, she worse than me.

This is an insulated mitten inside an insulated mitten shell, and we wear them with silk-weight liner gloves. With other “warm” mittens, she uses hand warmers whenever it’s below 40 degrees; with these, she’s good down to 10 without hand warmers and way below zero with. I haven’t yet needed hand warmers even at 10 below. They are a bit bulky, but that’s the price you pay for warmth.

Speaking of price, you’re probably in for sticker shock. But Outdoor Research guarantees its products for life. I’ve had another pair of their mittens for more than 10 years and they are still going strong. You’ll find they’re worth every penny if you play outdoors in the cold.

(Tim Jones can be reached at timjones@easternslopes.com.)

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