Active Outdoors: New England’s split winter creates opportunities to get outside

  • Once you’ve reached the top of the hill, the fast and fun part begins. TIM JONES / For the Monitor

  • Competitors in a Skimo or Rando race must make it to the top before they can slide down. TIM JONES / For the Monitor

  • Once you’ve reached the top of the hill, the fast and fun part begins. TIM JONES / For the Monitor

For the Monitor
Published: 1/20/2019 9:38:33 PM

There’s almost always a significant difference in what a “New England Winter” looks like depending on where in New England you happen to live. Usually, there’s more snow and deeper cold “Up North,” than you get in the “Deep South” which is generally thought of as anywhere south of the Massachusetts border with New Hampshire and Vermont.

But such a generalization fails to take into account local conditions. New England doesn’t divide neatly. The deciding factor in what kind of winter you get is often elevation. It’s often (but not always) snowier and colder in the Berkshires and Litchfield Hills than along the coast of New Hampshire and southern Maine.

This year, the differential has been huge. “Up North” where I live by choice, has lots of snow this winter. (Yay!) There’s more than two feet of settled snow in my yard at the moment. And it’s been pretty cold. As a result, the skiing has been fabulous if you dressed right for the wind and cold.

But you only need to go about 30 miles south from here to find bare ground. Even well north of the Mass border there’s barely a hint of snow.

This kind of split winter creates opportunities. If you love snowsports but live in the “Deep South”, all you have to do is drive a little north to find your heart’s desire. Likewise, if you are a passionate bare-ground hiker or biker, that option is available to you as well.

Of course all that can change in a heartbeat. The most recent storm turned all of New England white. My advice: have your skis or snowshoes handy, but also have your hiking boots, traction aids and mountain bike ready to go at a moment’s notice. That way you can make the most of whatever kind of “New England Winter” you are given. Life isn’t a spectator sport. Get out and enjoy!

Races to the top

Some people just love competition. They are inspired and motivated by it. I’ll freely admit, I’m not one of them. The only person I want to compete with in the outdoors is myself. But I certainly don’t begrudge anyone else their chance to see how they measure up against others.

There are lots of ways now to compete at active outdoor sports. Among the latest are Skimo (short for ski mountaineering) and Rando (short for randonee) races that have suddenly popped up all over the winter landscape.

Basically, you power yourself to the top of a hill sometimes on skis, sometimes by any by any means you choose (there are typically different categories for skis, snowboards, snowshoes and just plain running). Then you slide down on skis or a snowboard. Fastest time in each category wins.

If that sounds like fun to you, there are many options around. One place to start is the Northeast Rando Race series, (nerandorace.blogspot.com) which are sanctioned by the United States Ski Mountaineering Association (ussma.org), which maintains a list of races that can be searched by region.

Another great resource is Ski The Whites (skithewhites.com), which runs night races at Black Mountain in Jackson (blackmt.com), Shawnee Peak (shawneepeak.com) and Sunday River (sundayriver.com).

The most challenging and impressive of all the ski-only races is, up and down Mount Washington in the “Otto Rhode” Challenge on January 26. Competitors ski or split board as high as conditions will allow on the Mount Washington Auto Road (Otto Rhode – get it?) and slide back down. This is a fundraiser for the Granite Backcountry Alliance (granitebackcountryalliance.org), which is opening new skiable glades across the White Mountains

The Road To Ruin Race

I don’t usually pay much attention to ski races, but this one sounds like fun.

On Feb. 2, Magic Mountain in Londonderry, Vt. is hosting the “Road to Ruin” a flat-out race top-to-bottom on double-back diamond trials with no gates. The race trails (Witch and Blackline – two of the steepest and bumpiest in the east) will be open only to the competitors during the event. Nothing fancy: a “mass-start” by category, first across the finish line wins. There are no style points.

There will be several race “heats” of groups by age and gender, with the winners of each heat going on to a final championship downhill run to determine who takes home the $1,000 top prize along with second ($350) and third ($150).

If I were 50 years younger, I might be interested in competing. Maybe not.

The best thing about a race like this is it concentrates competitors and spectators on one part of the mountain, leaving the rest of this wonderful hill free to enjoy without crowds. Magic has some of the best terrain in southern Vermont and none of the glitz-and-glam of its larger neighbors. It’s always worth a road trip.




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