December 23, 2011

On Dec. 11, I got to spend a day seeing the outdoors through fresh eyes. Not only was I having fun outdoors, I was also being reminded why getting outdoors and being active is so much fun, so rewarding and so enriching. It's a lesson we all need to re-learn once in awhile.

My friend Max is our lead tester for an www.EasternSlopes.com gear review we are doing on snowshoes for pre-schoolers. At age 3, Max is the kind of kid who wakes up at first light and runs to the window hoping to see snow outside (no, Max and I aren't related). His Mom, Kate, is the lead writer for this story, and she, Max and I went to Mount Sunapee in Newbury to "borrow" enough snow in this snowless winter for Max to try the five different pairs of snowshoes we had for him.

On this day, Max was testing the "Winter Walker 16" from L.L. Bean (www.llbean.com), the "Tyker" from MSR (www.cascadedesigns.com/msr), the "Youth 20" from Redfeather (www.redfeather.com), the "302 Freeze" from TSL (www.tsloutdoor.com) and the "Storm" from Tubbs (www.tubbssnowshoes.com). Since then we've added the "Sprout17" from Atlas (www.atlassnowshoe.com) and the "Junior" from Yukon Charlies (www.yukoncharlies.com).

Needless to say, on this first day of the test, Max threw himself into his work with great gusto. When you are testing outdoor gear, it's often really hard to tell the difference between work and play. Max, however, didn't seem to notice that he was doing something useful. He was just having fun.

Now I have to admit that I was just a little grumpy about the circumstances of that day. I wanted to be out snowshoeing on "real" snow on some lovely woodland trail, through a field, or up the side of a mountain. Could have done that, I suppose, but we'd have looked a little silly tromping around on snowshoes on bare ground.

Sunapee had plenty of snow thanks to a few nights of cold weather that had let them light up their snowmaking system. It was their opening day so we didn't want to get in the way of all the skiers and riders enjoying that snow, so we found a quiet patch of snow in the base area, far away from the hubbub. That flat patch of manmade snow at the base of a ski area was as good as a field for Max - he went running around so fast his Mom and I were hard pressed to keep up and take photographs.

One good, big "whale" left by a snowmaking gun served as a hill on which to test the traction of the various snowshoes. Max must have gone up and down it 50 times, smiling each time he reached the "summit," before turning around and heading down again.

And that, dear reader, was the lesson. Max's smile each time he went up that "hill" was real and genuine. He didn't look into the woods and wish there was more snow to play on. He didn't look up at the hill and notice that most of the trails were still bare and brown. He knew instinctively what I'd forgotten. Snow is snow. Wherever you happen to find it, whatever amount you happen to find, it's meant to be played on.

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

Message reinforced

A couple of days before Christmas, my 27-year-old twin sons, Evan and Justin (Evan accompanied by his charming girlfriend, Cathy), came bursting into the house near dinnertime (they were expected, at least) full of exuberance and energy. Seems that the three of them had spent the day cross-country skiing on man-made snow at Trapp Family Lodge (802-253-8511; www.trappfamily.com ) in Stowe, Vt.

While Trapp's has the largest snowmaking system of any cross-country ski area in New England, they've still suffered from too-warm weather, rain and all the other misery this December has sent us.

But Trapp's has a large field near the lodge that they've covered with snow and created a good loop to ski on. So all three of them took a skate-skiing lesson from one of the resident pros. Justin has skate-skied a couple of times, while Evan and Cathy never had.

To hear them talk and see the cell-phone videos they shot, it's clear that all three had a wonderful time.

Probably 99 percent of the cross-country skiers in New England were grumbling about the lack of snow. Instead of grumbling, they found a patch of snow and used it to full advantage, learning a skill that will help them have fun whenever and wherever there's snow to play on.

I wish I'd been with them instead of home cooking dinner.

Testers needed

By the way, the www.EasternSlopes.com kids snowshoe test is ongoing. If you know of any cooperative and eager pre-schoolers (toddlers to age 5) in the Concord area who might like to spend a couple of hours on snowshoes, please send me an email.

The parents who bring them will likely learn more about various snowshoes and bindings than they ever really wanted to know.

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