Active outdoors: Five things to do between Thanksgiving and Christmas

  • Christmas Holly. On a pre-Christmas hike one year, we found this American Holly tree looking like it was decorated for the season. Tim Jones EasternSlopes.com photo

For the Monitor
Sunday, November 27, 2016

It’s easy to get caught up in the holiday rush, but there’s plenty to do outdoors before Christmas comes. Retailers will hate me for saying it but, no, I’m not talking about participating in the mass hysteria that is “Black Friday,” or “Cyber Monday.” I’m talking about genuine fun things that will get you outdoors, burn a few more Thanksgiving excess calories and improve your life before the real holiday stress sets in.

It’s snowing hard in parts of New England as I write this, but that still doesn’t mean you can count on natural snow to play on. If we get it, great! You can then add cross country skiing to the list. But this list is based on “sure-things,” not wishes.

Go Skiing

By the time you read this, Sunday River in Maine will be open, as will Bretton Woods, Loon, Okemo and a host of others. In fact, by the time you read this, most of the major resorts in Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine will be turning their lifts. Even Jiminy Peak in Mass. has gotten 20 inches of snow on the summit in the past couple of days.

Now, opening-weekend skiing is not a sport for the faint of heart, especially when it comes on the long Thanksgiving weekend. There’s a lot of pent-up demand and that means a lot of skiers and snowboarders on limited terrain. It can get a bit frenzied.

But here’s something to keep in mind. Once that initial burst of energy is spent, everything quiets right down until the actual Christmas-New Year Holiday begins. If you can get away mid-week, you can have the place to yourself. Even the three weekends between Thanksgiving and Christmas usually aren’t that busy – too many people think other things are more important (sad for them).

My favorite excuse for going skiing between Thanksgiving and Christmas is “Santa Sunday” at Sunday River . There’s something about seeing 250-plus Santas on skis and snowboards that gives me a smile that lasts until Christmas. Santa Sunday is Dec. 4 this year.

Here’s another tip: this is a great time to take a ski lesson. First, not many people are savvy enough to start the season with a lesson, so you are likely to get a private lesson for the price of a group. Second, taking a lesson now gives you a whole season to practice what you’ve learned. Too many people say they want to practice before they take a lesson, but, in reality, all they are practicing is making the same mistakes over and over again.

If you’ve never skied before, a number of areas are offering amazing packages this season. For a set price you get a specific number of lessons and, when it’s all over, your own pair of skis to keep. You’d often pay more for the skis than you do for the package.

Try Roller skiing

Chances are that sometime in recent weeks, you’ve seen someone with ski poles rolling along a roadside on what looks like oversized rollerblades. Those are roller skis and they are a blast. It’s what you do when you are a fanatic cross-country skier and you don’t have any snow to play on.

Some rollers skis have tiny wheels and work best on smooth roads and paved recreation trails. Those aren’t the best choice for New England. Neither are the ones without brakes.

If you don’t have roller skis, and still want to try it (warning, it’s both great exercise and fun) contact the good folks at Nordic Skater in Norwich, VT. Not only will they help you select the right roller skis for you, they’ll rent you the entire package for two weeks so you can try it before you buy.

Take A Hike

These early days of winter are wonderful for hiking. On many New England trails, what was a green, leafy tunnel in spring and summer is now an amble though expansive vistas.

It doesn’t have to be a long hike. In fact, with these shorter days you probably don’t want to plan anything too ambitious. Fund a trail that’s near your house and get out for a walk. That’s all.

Just remember that winter is fast approaching and the weather can turn on a dime, so go prepared with some extra stuff in case trouble comes to find you.

Cut a Christmas Tree

While you could, I suppose, go to a Christmas tree farm, cut a tree and support a local farmer (good thing!), The way to make a real Active Outdoors adventure of it is to go the White or Green Mountain National Forest, get a $5 permit and find and cut a wild tree. It’s a great excuse for a day in the woods

Go Stargazing

In case you hadn’t noticed, it gets dark early these days. That means you can get in a couple of hours of stargazing and still get to bed on time. So much of the tradition of celebrations at this time of year is bound up in what we see happening in the sky. It’s kind of humbling and very relaxing to get out into an open field away from city lights and just look. To get an idea of what you can see when, go to stardate.org/nightsky.

I’m no big fan of “smart” phones, but I will tell you that the first app ever put on my phone was one that lets you point at a shining object in the night sky and tell what it is. Way cool! It’s the only app I’ve truly enjoyed using.

Just remember that it gets cold quickly once the sun sets. So bundle up before you head out.

Life isn’t a spectator sport. Get out and enjoy!

Water Safety

We think of water safety as a “summer” concern, but that’s not always true. A woman drowned recently in Bow Lake. The way I hear the story, her hat had blown off on a blustery day, she took her kayak to try to rescue it. She was wearing a PFD, but in water that’s close to freezing, your survival time is measured in minutes.

It’s still fun to go paddling at this time of year – if the weather is cooperating and you are prepared.

The flip side of water safety at this time of year is using common sense when ice starts to form. Every year, people drown when they venture out on to too-thin ice, often to try to rescue a pet that has broken through. Don’t go out on the ice (or let your dog run free) unless you checked it yourself and are sure it’s safe.

(Tim Jones is the Executive Editor of the online magazine EasternSlopes.com and writes about outdoor sports and travel. Email: timjones@easternslopes.com)