Active outdoors: Big snowstorm brings new adventures

  • Imagine taking your first-ever cross-country ski lesson from a former Olympian. You can at Great Glen Trails in Pinkham Notch where Sue Wemyss teaches. BELOW: Nordic skiers at Great Glen Trails on Jan. 2 found plenty of snow tracked for both skate and classic skiing. Tim Jones/ EasternSlopes.com

  • Tim Jones / EasternSlopes.com

For the Monitor
Friday, January 06, 2017

After the “Winter That Wasn’t” of 2015-16, it was great to see everyone out and enjoying the snow during the all-important Christmas-New Year holiday. Snow is good for the northern economy and it’s even better for the folks who get out to enjoy living and get some fresh air and exercise.

Now downhill skiers and riders did pretty well last ski season. Most Alpine areas were able to open most of their terrain for most of the season on man-made snow. If you wanted to ski, you could, even if it sometimes meant dodging raindrops. The people who suffered in the 15-16 non-winter were cross-country and backcountry skiers and snowshoers. They never caught a break all season.

That’s perhaps why it’s been so difficult to decide what to do with each day this year. Early on, there was no question: downhill skiing on mostly man-made snow. But, since the Dec. 30 storm dropped 15 inches of snow in my backyard (and up to two feet elsewhere in New England), I’ve seen lots of folks out cross-country skiing and snowshoeing and they are all smiling. The long, snowless nightmare appears to be over!

Ever since the big snowstorm, each day has been calling out for a slightly different activity. New Year’s Day was perfect for putting on backcountry skis and exploring untracked powder. On New Years Day, you could still find untracked if you went looking. By Monday, it was time to put on skate or classic cross-country gear and go roaming on a groomed trail system, and so it went. Each day calling for something different. Even the rain which damped things on Tuesday (when most people had to go back to work or school anyway) just made for perfect spring snow conditions on a warm Wednesday.

So ask yourself ... Did you have some free time over the holidays? Can you make some free time in the days ahead? If so, how did you use that time? Did you let the special conditions that each day brought draw you into a new adventure? For your sake, I hope so. Life isn’t a spectator sport. Get out and enjoy!

Stark’s Hill

I’ve been doing most of my cross-country skiing, both classic and skate, at a little local gem called Starks Hill in Fryeburg, Maine. It’s only about 10 minutes from my home which makes it a no-brainer for me. But it’s the kind of place worth seeking out as alternative to more familiar haunts if you are the kind of person who likes to explore.

Stark’s Hill is primarily a training area for the Fryeburg Academy Nordic Ski Team. The trails are perfectly maintained for skate skiing by the good folks who run Weston Farms in the summer. I haven’t seen any tracks for classic skiing yet, but some of their steeper trails are a real workout on There’s no formal trail fee, though donations are strongly encouraged (and only fair, since grooming costs money). They also ask you not to ski in the later afternoon when the team is training.

Stark’s Hill used to be an alpine ski area with a T-bar lift in the early 1970s! I can’t wait to explore it all.

Great Glen Trails

With so many cross-country ski areas in my neighborhood, it’s hard to decide where to go. But on a sunny, blue-sky day with no wind, Great Glen Trails in Pinkham Notch is an obvious contender. I ended up there two days into the new year and enjoyed truly awesome snow conditions. While this was technically a holiday, there wasn’t anything like a crowd – though there was a waiting list for the snowcoach tours up the Mount Washington Auto Road and a goodly number of families enjoying the snow tubing hill

As I walked out the door to put on my skis, I saw a middle-aged couple starting the New Year right by taking what was obviously their first-ever cross country ski lesson. They were having a great time. Not surprising, since their teacher was former Olympian (Sarajevo, 1984) Sue Wemyss. Imagine starting out with that kind of expertise giving you pointers?

This early in the season, cross-country skiing is a real workout and by the time my circuitous route brought me to the Great Angel Warming Cabin at lunchtime, I was ready to relax a bit and enjoy the outstanding view and lunch. By the most direct route, the cabin is 3.2 kilometers. I didn’t take that direct route either going or coming.

Out on the trail I’d been passed (like I was standing still) by several skate skiers who all looked to be roughly seven feet tall and weigh 135 pounds ... They were obviously from a different planet. But they weren’t having any more fun than I was. That’s the beauty of cross country skiing, you can approach it at whatever fitness and ability level you are get whatever level of workout you want.

Find a Nordic celebration, ladies

If you happen to be female, a whole lot of organizations seem intent on getting you on cross-country skis this winter. And January 14 seems to be THE day to do it.

So far, I’ve seen offerings on that day from Great Glen Trails, Waterville Valley Adventure Center, and from the Catamount Trails Association at Trapp Family Lodge.

What are you waiting for? If you can’t make one of these events, get out to your nearest XC ski center and enjoy the snow!