As this photo from Sunday River shows, you don’t need a lot of snow for good cross-country skiing. Right now, Stowe, Vt., has the snow in New England.
Recently, I've had two readers ask me the same simple question: "Where's the best cross-country skiing right now?" Given the frustrating and disappointing weather we've been having, it's a perfectly legitimate question.
Looking over the last eight years of this column, it's clear that January is often frustrating for cross-country skiers. But usually there's some snow. And surprisingly, even this year, there are many more options than you might guess if you just looked at bare ground out your window.
Because of the way weather patterns have set up this year, the western slopes of the Green Mountains in north-central Vermont have lucked out with at least some natural snow. On Dec. 29 a number of Vermont cross-country resorts got from 8 to 12 inches of snow. Since then, of course, they've had thaws and rain and refreezes and dustings of new snow. Each individual area is a different story.
Before we start, though, I thought I'd share, in its entirety, the snow report from Ole's Cross Country Ski Center (www.olesxc.com) in Warren, Vt. for Wednesday, Jan. 4: "Today's existential question: What is skiing? On Tuesday afternoon, the gung-ho gang from the Bill Koch League defined it as sliding around on an inch of snow atop frozen grass. If that is skiing, then Ole's is open. For more discriminating adults, however, the coverage remains insufficient to open the trails. That said, if you want to bring an old banger pair of skis and play around on the frozen grass (Pragelato, site of the 2006 Oympic cross-country events, literally means "frozen grass," so it can be done), you are more than welcome."
Blueberry Lake Cross Country, (www.blueberrylakeskivt.com) in Warren, Vt., is skiing on 30 kilometers of terrain with base depths from 2 to 5 inches. It's icy in spots.
Bolton Valley (www.boltonvalley.com) in Bolton, Vt., has 5 kilometers open on a 6- to 8-inch base.
Craftsbury Outdoor Center (www.craftsbury.com) in Craftsbury, Vt., has 3 kilometers tracked and an additional 20 groomed.
Grafton Ponds Recreation Center (www.graftonponds.com) in Grafton, Vt., is open on their 2-kilometer snowmaking loop.
Mountain Top Inn (www.mountaintopinn.com) in Chittenden, Vt., is open on their 2-kilometer snowmaking loop.
Smugglers Notch (www.smuggs.com ) in Jeffersonville, Vt., has 28 kilometers of trails groomed mostly-beginner trails with a 1- to 3-inch base.
So far, however, Stowe seems to have hit the jackpot on natural snow.
Stowe Nordic Center (www.stowe.com ) has received 21 inches of snow recently and is open with 15 kilometers of groomed trails.
Trapp Family Lodge (www.trappfamily.com ) is "living on the edge," according to Sam Von Trapp.
"We have actually been hanging in there pretty well, considering," he said. "Our snowmaking team has done great, these frigid days. Our groomers have been out shoveling as well. Yesterday we had icy conditions early, but then 2 inches of dense, sticky snow made an amazing difference.
"We will certainly be open this coming weekend. We are likely to have at least 35 to 40 kilometers groomed, with another 20 kilometers skiable. There is some snow forecast for Friday and Saturday, and lately we have been getting more than the forecast, with some lake effect snows from Champlain."
So, if you absolutely have to get out on your XC gear this weekend (I understand that feeling), Stowe, Vermont, is clearly your best bet.
Sadly, most cross country ski areas in New Hampshire are in "waiting for snow" mode. Several have been open only to have to close again.
The best bet for cross-country skiing in New Hampshire right now is Gunstock Nordic Center (www.gunstock.com) in Gilford, which also uses assets from its alpine snowmaking system to create at least 5 kilometers of cross-country skiing for the weekend. Tiny Granite Gorge (www.granitegorge.com) in Roxbury, N.H., (near Keene), also uses their alpine snowmaking system to create a 1-kilometer loop in "the basin" just off their slopes.
The only other game in New Hampshire right now is a 0.25-kilometer teaching loop at Great Glen Trails Outdoor Center (www.greatglentrails.com) in Pinkham Notch.
Black Mountain Of Maine (www.skiblackmountain.org) in Rumford has transported a pile of snow for a national competition this weekend. Once the racers are gone it may still be there.
Even the Nordic Heritage Sports Club (www.nordicheritagecenter.org) in Presque Isle, Maine, got hit with freezing rain this week and has bare spots on its trails
Probably the best bet in Maine for this weekend is 10th Mountain Ski Club (www.10thmtskiclub.org) in Fort Kent, but that's a long way for most of us to travel.
Believe it or not, Weston Ski Track (781-891-6575;www.SkiBoston.com) is open with a 1-kilometer snowmaking loop. So if you are heading to Boston for the weekend, you can swing by.
Trails Day postponed?
The lack of winter certainly changed my plans this weekend, as Winter Skills Day at the Hulbert Center in Fairless, Vt., was cancelled. My buddy David and I had been scheduled to teach a seminar on Lightweight Winter Camping.
I'm guessing that a lot of the activities planned for Winter Trails Day on Saturday have been cancelled or postponed until winter arrives.