Tim Jones: Settling into winter

  • Tim Jones writes about ways to enjoy the winter months, from a trip to Mad River Glen to fatbiking into indoor pool sessions. Courtesy Tim Jones.

  • Head to Mad River Glen on Feb. 28 for a cheap lift ticket and a chance to celebrate this iconic ski area’s place in history. Tim Jones

  • Tim Jones writes about ways to enjoy the winter months, from a trip to Mad River Glen to fatbiking into indoor pool sessions. Courtesy Tim Jones.

For the Monitor
Published: 2/5/2020 11:14:22 PM

I’ve always thought that “Groundhog Day,” while harmless fun, is more than faintly ridiculous. Whether Marmota monax sees his (or her) shadow or not, we here in New England at least, are in for (at least) eight weeks of unpredictable weather that’s more likely to feel like winter than spring. Long before Groundhog Day became a tradition, Feb. 2 was called Candlemas Day and farmers wanted to still have half their wood and half their hay ready to tide themselves and their animals through until spring actually arrived. Maybe spring would arrive early, but they knew they couldn’t count on it.

Since spring arrives when it arrives, and sitting inside and wishing for it does no one any good, your best bet is to enjoy  winter so much you’ll be sorry to see it go.

I’m extremely fortunate in that my schedule pretty much allows me to take each day as it comes. If it’s a good day for alpine skiing, I go alpine skiing. If it’s a better day for cross-country skiing or snowshoeing, I do that. If the snow is just right for fat-tire biking, I’ll rent a bike and go riding. If the snow is crusty, I sometimes take out my Hammerhead sled and slide headlong down a hill. If there’s no snow at all (sadly, it happens), I might ride my regular mountain bike, or put on traction spikes (there’s always ice around) and go for a hike or dig out my Nordic skates if the ice is safe (it hasn’t been in many places this winter). Some days, I’ll stay in all day and read— but not many. Two days in a row like that and I’m prowling around like a caged animal.

Folks who only have weekends to play have to make the same decisions. They just have a smaller window of opportunity, which makes it all the more important to do what’s the most fun on any given day. But if you use each winter day to its best advantage, you’re probably going to miss winter when it’s suddenly gone.

In recent days I’ve gone alpine skiing at Cranmore Mountain, Bretton Woods, and Loon Mountain. Cranmore faces southwest and on a warm day following the last rainstorm, I enjoyed superb spring skiing in January. Sunshine, soft snow and no crowd — a really delightful taste of what’s to come. (the best skiing always begins around mid-February, usually lasts at least until the end of March.

Bretton Woods, on the other hand, lives in its own little snow pocket. The day following my “spring skiing” day at Cranmore, Bretton Woods had miles and miles of smooth corduroy with a dusting of fresh powder on top. Even without the fresh snow, the skiing would have been memorable. Bretton Woods has a brand new 8-passenger gondola this year, and the ride up on a cool, breezy morning is now very pleasant indeed.

What’s remarkable about the alpine skiing this year, is how good it has been. We’ve gotten a little more than average snowfall here in northern New England, but we’ve also had an extended January thaw and a couple of “rain events.” It really hasn’t hurt the skiing at all, at least on the trails with grooming and snowmaking. Skiing in the woods has been more challenging — I ventured off trail the other day, and promptly found a rock that put a pretty good gouge in the base of one of my skis.

Still, if you are looking out at your backyard and seeing little or no snow, fear not. The trails at your favorite ski hill are covered in white and have probably been groomed to smooth corduroy.

The cross country skiing has been amazingly good, too. For a while we had enough snow that you could go pretty much wherever you wanted, but the rain took away some of that flexibility. Lately, I’ve been sticking to the groomed cross country trails and, again, enjoying every minute of it.

In case you’ve forgotten, February and March are traditionally the two snowiest months in New England. No matter what the groundhog says, there’s still a good half of winter left. Life isn’t a spectator sport. Get out and enjoy!

Mad River madness

On Feb. 28, think about getting yourself to Mad River Glen for a day of celebrating this iconic area with the International Skiing History Association (ISHA) and Skiing History magazine.

In addition to getting a day of guided skiing (no snowboards allowed) on one of the finest ski hills in New England, you get a buffet lunch and a chance to show off any vintage ski duds you may have sitting in your closet.

If you pre-buy online (bit.ly/SkiHistory), the Lift Ticket & Lunch package is $64 (Mad River lift tickets are $92.)

There’s also an après-ski party with cash bar (The locals don’t call it “Bad Liver Glen” for no reason).

Seriously, if you’ve never skied Mad River, it’s absolutely a must-experience ski area. The ride up the single chair is like nothing else in New England (or the world for that matter) and coming down on all natural snow is an experience in itself.

It’s okay to think (a little) about spring

After skiing on a recent morning, I still had a little energy left. So I spent the evening at a kayak “pool session” in a YMCA a little over an hour from my house. Yes, it was indoors, in an 80-degree pool, but the skills I was practicing are ones I’ll need when the snow starts melting and flowing down our rivers.

If you’d like to try it out, start on the Appalachian Mountain Club activities database, select paddling and use “pool” as your key word. Right now there are about a dozen sessions scheduled for sea kayaks and whitewater kayaks in NH, MA and CT. Or you can just type “kayak pool sessions near me” into your browser.

If you are into rock climbing in the summer, indoor rock gyms are a great place to learn the basics and sharpen the skills you need for summer. Again, just search “indoor climbing near me” and you’ll find something. Ditto for indoor spinning classes if you are a bike rider.

It’s all fun and keeps you sharp until you can get outside . . .

Tim Jones writes about outdoor sports and travel. Email timjones603@gmail.com.

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