The snow may be gone in the valleys, but these intrepid skiers found what they were looking for on the wooded hillside trails at Trapp Family Lodge.
Active Outdoors people in New England generally recognize six distinct seasons of the year: Winter, mud, black fly, summer, fall, and almost winter. Spring has a good PR firm and may be fine in other parts of the country, but the reality up here is less appealing.
For me, Winter is the best. I'll bet it's that way for a lot of you, too. Almost winter and mud season are tough, the former because you tend to hold your breath waiting for winter, the latter because your beloved winter has ended. This year, almost winter lasted from late October until late February, and mud season hit hard in early March -- talk about a nightmare scenario for winter lovers.
I think a lot people are probably in the same frame of mind, wanting at least one more taste of winter before they have let go and face a new reality. Fortunately, there's still some winter to be found and enjoyed in New England. You just have to pick the right spots. I'm writing this on Thursday, March 15, and here's how it is right now.
First of all, let's be clear that some places still have good cross-country skiing. You want to look for high-altitude XC areas that have a lot of wooded, north-facing slopes in their trail system. Be aware, though that trail counts are falling fast, and many areas either are closed or will close at the end of the day on Sunday. But just because an area is closed doesn't mean you can't find some snow
left to ski on.
I was just up in Jackson, N.H., last weekend, and Jackson Ski Touring
(www.jacksonxc.org) still had a lot of snow in some places, though it was rapidly disappearing in others. Today's report says they are still skiing on 84 kilometers of trails, including 19.3 kilometers in the Ellis River Corridor, 12.6 kilometers in the East Pasture Area, 17.1 kilometers in the Prospect Farm/Wildcat Valley Trail system, and 33.5 kilometers of ungroomed backcountry trails on the White Mountain National Forest. The Village Area in Jackson itself is down to just 2 kilometers open, and the Upper Village Area/Wave area is closed.
Bear Notch Ski Touring
(www.bearnotchskitouring.com), tucked into a shadowy valley off Route 302 in Bartlett, N.H., still has a lot of snow and is skiing on 60 km groomed for both classic and skate. They'll be open through this weekend for sure.
Trapp Family Lodge
(www.TrappFamily.com) is still skiing on 25 to 30 kilometers as of this morning. I've happily skied there when the rest of the world looked bare and brown, so I'd bet they'll be open for at least another week. They've got that big Trapp to Bolton race next weekend, though it's pretty clear that some of it will involve running on muddy trails, not skiing.
Craftsbury Outdoor Center
(www.craftsbury.com) is still skiing, but only on their 2.5-kilometer snowmaking loop.
Over in the southern Adirondacks, Lapland Lake
(www.laplandlake.com) was reporting 44 kilometers open this morning with some thin and bare spots.
That's how Winter 2011-12 is faring now. Looking at the weather forecast, you know that it won't last. But you can still get in one last sweet taste if you hurry.
Ski resorts still have snow
I don't usually devote much space in this column to ski resorts, but this year, now that it's pretty clear we aren't going to get a real winter, all bets are off.
Even if you aren't an Alpine skier or snowboarder, ski hills can be lots of fun, especially when they've got the only snow around. A number of ski hills in southern New England are closed already or will be soon.
I've been known to take my Telemark skis and skins, cross-country skis, snowshoes or sleds to closed ski hills to enjoy the snow that's inevitably left behind once the lifts stop turning. Just be polite and ask permission if you see anyone around. Some areas will let you play; others won't. Remember to be smart and safe. There's not going to be anyone to help you if you get hurt.
But hills that are still open still have deep snow. If you aren't a skier, my best advice is to get yourself to any nearby hill with your snowshoes . Again, just be polite, and stick to the sides of the trails; watch out for skiers and riders. Some places charge a nominal fee to use their snow with snowshoes; others don't.
If you really want to have a real last fling with winter, find a hill that's still offering snow tubing. You are going to get wet if the snow is slushy, but I guarantee you you'll smile through the whole experience. It's a whole lot better than grumbling about mud season.
Or you can get yourself to Pats Peak
(www.patspeak.com) in Henniker, N.H., and take a Snow Bike lesson. Last year, I took two friends, ages 77 and 75, snow biking, Neither had ever skied downhill or ridden a ski lift, and they had a total blast. It's easy, fun and safe, and I can't think of a better way to enjoy a last day on snow.