December 2, 2011

When I tried to explore the man-made snow at Trapp Family Lodge, I found two feet of fresh snow instead.

This on again/off again snow season we've been suffering with since the end of October is driving some people nuts, me among them. No one suffers more from the vagaries of "almost winter" than cross-country ski fanatics. This year, it's been too warm for most places to even make snow.

Now, lots of folks got out on XC skis after the October snow storm. I was too busy snowshoeing to put on my cross-country ski gear, but I heard stories. Depending on where you were, the snow was heavy or light, very deep or hardly more than a dusting. Of course it all went away quickly, leaving everyone who loves to ski hungering for more.

Just before Thanksgiving we got snow again, anywhere from a dusting to a foot or more depending on where you were. Even more people got out on cross-country skis in fields, golf courses, orchards and anywhere else that was smooth enough to let them ski on the available snow.

I've heard rumors of one Active Outdoors family that went out and cut their Christmas tree on skis, but I haven't been able to confirm that. I hope it's true -- that would be a truly wonderful family experience.

One of my spies in Maine told me, "I took a few laps around my orchard in Cumberland, and it was great skiing. I am sure there were plenty of other skiers out."

Cumberland, right near the coast, isn't usually noted for its early season snows.

The pre-Thanksgiving snow allowed several cross-country ski resorts to open officially . (I'm sure there were a lot of skiers making tracks on trails at "closed" areas as well.)

Away up in the Crown Of Maine (otherwise known as Aroostook County or just "The County,") Bigrock Ski area (www.bigrockmaine.com) in Mars Hill opened for Thanksgiving weekend to great local excitement. Their website doesn't say whether or not they managed to stay open, but you can bet that they and the nearby 10th Mountain Ski Center (www.10thmtskiclub.org) in Fort Kent and the Nordic Heritage Ski Center (www.nordicheritagecenter.org) in Presque Isle are going to be among the first cross-country areas in New England to offer snow.

In northern New Hampshire, Great Glen Trails (www.greatglentrails. com) in Pinkham Notch, N.H., also opened on Thanksgiving weekend on 13 inches of natural snow which allowed them to open 16 km of groomed trails. Sadly, even at their high altitude (they are on the flanks of Mount Washington at the base of the Auto Road) the snowpack couldn't survive the warm temperatures that followed. They closed on the Sunday after Thanksgiving and probably won't reopen until it snows again.

In Vermont, Craftsbury Outdoor Center (www.craftsbury.com) also opened over Thanksgiving but had to close again. As of Dec. 1, they were promising to promised to fire up their new snowmaking system as the weather cools, possibly in hopes of opening for the weekend. Certainly this is one of the areas likely to have skiing sooner rather than later.

The other cross-country area in Vermont that's bound to offer cross country skiing early is Trapp Family Lodge (www.trappfamily.com) in Stowe. I have it on very good authority that they are going to fire up their snowmaking system very soon, perhaps as early as tonight Dec. 2. And, since Trapp's is by far the largest cross-country snowmaking system in New England (5 km plus), its likely they'll offer more and better skiing than anywhere else.

Strictly hearsay

Keep your fingers crossed -- winter has to get here to stay eventually.

I just wrote about the Trapp Family Lodge snowmaking system sounding as if I knew about it from first-hand experience. I don't, and here's why: Every time I plan an early-season ski sojourn to Trapp's to see their snowmaking system in action, all the snow they've made gets buried under a couple of feet of natural snow just before I arrive. At least once, I could barely make it up the hill to the lodge because it was snowing so hard. I have never seen a single flake of their man-made snow except as it melts in the spring.

It's been rather a nice problem to have, actually.

Now that I think of it, the same thing has happened to me at Great Glen Trails (in October one year!) and at Weston Ski Tracks (www.skiboston.com) just outside of Boston one November. As a matter of fact, I've never cross-country skied on man-made snow, that I know of. I've tried at least four times, and every time it has snowed.

Hmmm . . .

Maybe all of you cross-country ski fanatics who just can't wait should pay me to plan a visit to your favorite resort early in the season. I wonder if it only works at areas which have invested in snowmaking? Given nature's apparent sense of humor, I wouldn't be surprised.

I could definitely be onto something here. More investigation needed. There's a little snow in the forecast as I write this. Maybe I should give Trapp's a call and plan a visit. Maybe I can turn that little snow into a lot.

More XC snowmaking

Mountain Top Inn (www.mountaintopinn.com) in Chittenden, Vt., also has a 1.5 Km snowmaking loop. They are planning to open in mid-December.

Speaking of Mountain Top Inn, every year they host the annual Paintball Biathlon, which is one of the greatest kid-friendly outdoor events I've ever witnessed. This year's event is scheduled for Jan. 21 and 22, 2012. Then on Feb. 6, they have a free Kids Ski Day, which is a great opportunity to introduce kids to XC. Check it out.

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