Active Outdoors: Winter snow right on schedule

  • A little snow in the air and a lot of snow on the Paradigm trail at Sunday River in Newry, Maine. What a way to start a ski season! Tim Jones / EasternSlopes.com

  • Sue Wemyss, the Ski School Director at Great Glen Trails, gets an early start to her ski season on "fast grass." It's snowed more since this photo was taken! Great Glen photo

  • This is how it looked on Dec. 6 at Bretton Woods Nordic – and they’ve had more snow since. Bretton Woods

For the Monitor
Sunday, December 11, 2016

Looking out of my office window in the Mount Washington Valley, there’s about four inches of fresh, light powder snow covering everything. Not nearly enough to ski or snowshoe (unless you are truly a fanatic) but it appears that winter is arriving more or less on schedule this year. That’s wonderful news after last year’s abysmal “winter that wasn’t.”

I’ve already had my first taste of real winter. My son Justin and I recently spent six days in a remote hunting cabin on Anticosti Island (3,000 square miles, 250 people, 160,000 whitetail deer) off the mouth of the St. Lawrence River in Quebec. We went to bed one night with snowflakes in the air and the wind clawing at our cozy cabin, and awoke the next morning to find a general foot of snow everywhere and drifts thigh deep in places. This was my fourth trip to Anticosti (Justin’s first) and I intend to go back again as soon as I can. Beautiful, beautiful spot, amazing experience to be surrounded by so many deer. If you want more information about this incredible place, just contact me.

With any luck, you’ve now had your first taste of snow and are excited about it. With a little more luck, we’ll have lots of snow to enjoy from now until the end of April. Life isn’t a spectator sport. Get out and enjoy!

Sunday River Start

All of the major resorts in Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine are already open, as are the big guns in Maine and in the Adirondacks of New York. This weekend and next should see a number of mid-sized resorts turning their lifts. That’s a lot of skiing to be enjoyed before the crowds show up for Christmas week. With the holiday rush already on, most people are “too busy” to ski. Sad for them.

In this day of super-sized snowmaking systems, one or two cold nights will allow a ski area to cover a trail and get open. In recent years, I’ve discovered that, even in the earliest of early seasons, the snow is almost always better than you expected it to be – even if your expectations are pretty high.

Like most ski areas, Sunday River Resort in Newry, Maine got a little-later-than-usual start, but they are sure catching up in a hurry. My buddy David and I drove up there this morning to start our 2016-17 ski season.

We quickly discovered there were advantages to waiting until some of the pent-up demand had been satisfied. The first turns of the new season are always magical, and if you’ve got the mountain almost to yourself, it’s even better. Sunday River had two of its eight mountain peaks open: Barker and Aurora. As we drove up, it was clear that Barker was seeing the most action with some trails closed off for race training. So we headed for Aurora, which was accessed by riding the “Chondola” up to North Peak. You can choose whether to ride in an open chair or an enclosed gondola cabin – with the snowmaking guns hammering the slopes. We chose a gondola and arrived dry and warm.

From there, it was a nice drop down the blue-square Paradigm to the Aurora chair. Essentially, Paradigm was functioning as a “taxi” trail to get you from one lift to another, which meant it was getting very little traffic. The snow was creamy, smooth and wonderful for first turns, and the best run for a hesitant skier would have been Borealis to Audra to Lights Out back to the top of Paradigm.

Once up to the Aurora summit, we took a few runs on the blue-square Northern Lights and a couple on the black-diamond Airglow. Again the snow was creamy and smooth, no ice anywhere. One edge of the trail was mostly ungroomed, those who wanted more challenge could find it there. I was perfectly content with smooth.

We saw maybe 20 or 25 other people on the slopes. Only on the very steepest sections did the snow show any sign of wear and tear, conditions were still good when we had to quit at noon. Generally the snow held up much better than my legs did.

To get down we skied the easier Borealis to Audra to Lights Out back to the top of the Chondola, where we had to ride down. The lower slopes were a maze of hoses and blasting snow guns. This was probably the last day you’ll have to do that. With all the snowmaking going on, and colder weather settling in, you’ll certainly have top-to-bottom skiing and some easier terrain available by the time you read this.

Unless you are a superstar athlete, you don’t need a lot of trails to make a first day on snow. What you do need is some great snow and some space to play. Sunday River delivered.

XC this weekend?

Yes, Virginia, you can go cross country skiing this weekend (and next)! A random check of a number of cross country areas shows that enough will be open to keep eager nordic skiers happy.

In my neighborhood, Bear Notch Ski Touring posted this delightful snow report early in the week:

“Received four inches of powder yesterday! We need 6-8 inches of snow to be able to groom out some trails for skiing. We have been working on prepping the fields this morning. For the eager skier there is some fast grass out there. The forecast looks promising ... Stay tuned!”

With more snow in the forecast, Great Glen Trails and Jackson XC should both have some skiing this weekend.

Bretton Woods Nordic

Bretton Woods is already well open with 10 trails totally 17 km groomed for skate skiing (not enough snow to set classic tracks yet).

Over in Vermont, Rikert Nordic Center is open as is Trapp Family Nordic. Both areas make snow and, with all this cold, they should be good to go for the rest of the season.

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