The Winter Adventure Guide
Just as you're thinking about hibernating forever, New England is at its outdoorsy best. We'll help you explore the most beautifully bracing months of the year, whether you're skating, dogsledding, or coaxing syrup from maples. Ditch the Snuggie and get out there!
By Matthew Reed Baker, Rachel Baker, Abby Bielagus, Stephen Jermanok, Tanya Pai, and Paige Williams
Plus, three great winter walks.
Including kite, coast, sweep, and more.
Plus, shoot the chute in Maine, and drive your own sleigh in Connecticut.
And four quick urban adventures
Historic bragging rights, of course.
And snowmobile Moosehead Lake.
And snowboard among champs.
Snowshoe for Your Supper
For an uncommonly sublime night, grab some friends and meet at the Inn at Round Barn Farm, which twice a month hosts a moonlight dinner hike for up to 20. Strap on snowshoes and a headlamp (unless, of course, thereâ€™s a full moon, which will pave the trails with shimmering diamonds) and follow your guides through gentle meadows and a quiet pine forest.
After walking for about 40 minutes, youâ€™ll arrive at a cabinâ€”your restaurant for the evening. Warm up at the bonfire or at the wood stove inside. For the next couple of hours youâ€™ll feast on Vermont cheese, bacon-wrapped scallops, beef bourguignon, and, for dessert, sâ€™mores. If youâ€™re smart, youâ€™ve asked one of the guides to bring along a bottle of wine for you. If youâ€™re brilliant, youâ€™ve booked a night (with Jacuzzi) back at the 12-room inn, which takes its name from the adjacent round barn, a century-old Shaker-style creation that is one of the last of its kind in New England.
As an overnighter at the inn, youâ€™ll breakfast on seasonal local foods. Work that off with another round of snowshoeing: The farm has 80 acres of marked trails.
Snowshoe dinner hike, $90 per person; 1661 E. Warren Rd., Waitsfield, VT, 802-496-2276, theroundbarn.com.
3 Great Walks (Close to Home)
Harold Parker State Forest,â€‚North Andover |â€‚Just 20 miles north of Boston youâ€™ll find 3,000 acres of hardwood forestâ€”and more than 35 miles of logging trails. Sights: glacier-formed rock outcroppings, scenic ponds, and the remains of an 18th-century sawmill. Homes surrounding the forest are said to have been part of the Underground Railroad. 305 Middleton Rd., North Andover, 508-686-3391.
Middlesex Fells Reservation,â€‚Medford |â€‚This 2,500-acre preserve has a little something for everyone, plus red foxes, deer, and coyotes. Guides from Friends of the Middlesex Fells Reservation lead hikes. And itâ€™s only a couple of Orange Line stops away. 781-662-2340, fells.org.
Mount Auburn Cemetery,â€‚Cambridge |â€‚You canâ€™t snowshoe here, but the historic cemeteryâ€”founded in 1831 and home to such famous Bostonians as Winslow Homer and Isabella Stewart Gardnerâ€”is one of the cityâ€™s loveliest walking areas all year long. The roads are kept plowed, and in winter itâ€™s easier to spot owls and other wildlife. 580 Mount Auburn St., Cambridge, 617-547-7105, mountauburn.org.
5 Fun Things to Do on Ice
Sweep | Wayland, MAâ€‚With the Vancouver Winter Olympics arriving this month, prepare for a new round of breathless (if uninformed) TV coverage of curling, in which a player slides a 44-pound granite â€śrockâ€ť toward a target while teammates guide it by furiously sweeping the ice. This ancient sport is more complex than you might think, as a visit to Wayland curling club Broomstones will show. Check out the college tournament on February 20, when Harvard, BU, and Northeastern are expected to compete. Try the sport yourself on March 7, with lessons at the Broomstones open house. Reserve a place, thoughâ€”curling fever will be at its peak. After the 2006 Turin Olympics, a similar event drew 1,000 people in one day. 138 Rice Rd., Wayland, 508-358-2412, broomstones.com.
Rip | Walpole, MAâ€‚Go ahead and root for Apolo Anton Ohno as he guns for more Olympic short-track speed-skating medals, but then get out and give his sport a whirl. At the Olympic-sized Iorio Arena in Walpole, the Bay State Speedskating Clubâ€™s introductory course teaches the beauty of the breakaway, and more. Just bring skates, a bike helmet, gloves, kneepads, and a long-sleeve shirt, and go for your own gold. 2130 Providence Hwy., Walpole, 508-660-2005, iorioarena.com.
Kite | Lake Champlain, VTâ€‚Kitesurfing isnâ€™t just for summertime Cape Codâ€”with the help of a good winter wind, you can snowkite powdery meadows and frozen lakes. To experience this sport at its best, check out its annual powwow, Kitestorm, February 20â€“21 on Lake Champlain. Come with skis or a snowboard, boots, and a helmet, and instructors will hitch you to a kite and get you sailing. If you canâ€™t make it that weekend, Stormboarding, one of the countryâ€™s longest-running certified snowkiting schools, can hook you up with lessons and gear. Beginner packages start at $455; 802-578-6120, stormboarding.com.
Coast | Lake Morey, VTâ€‚Merge cross-country skiing with ice skating and youâ€™ve got the centuries-old Scandinavian sport of Nordic skating. Using special blades, skaters can travel great distances on rivers and lakes much faster than they would in cross-country skiing. Nordic Skater runs three-hour workshops, mostly on the four-mile trail at Lake Morey, the longest groomed ice-skating corridor in the U.S. Tour, instruction, and gear: $30. The sight of bald eagles and peregrine falcons: gratis. Location by arrangement and weather conditions; 802-649-3939, nordicskating.org.
Fish | Lake Champlain, VTâ€‚February and March are the big months for hooking landlocked salmon, northern pike, and lake trout, and now you can dangle a line without losing a limb to numbness or having your eyelashes frost over. In todayâ€™s heated huts anglers can watch the Pats game while monitoring their poles. Rent a shanty from Bronzeback guide Gil Gagner for $90, or for $200 heâ€™ll take you out himself, all gear included. 2934 U.S. Rte. 7, Highgate Springs, VT, 802-868-4459, bronzebackguideservice.com.
Beachcomb for Treasure
Summertime is for seashells, but an off-season shoreline yields rewards, too: serenity, for one, plus interesting marine bits turned up by winter storms. On this 11-mile-long barrier island 40 miles northeast of Boston, and at the beautiful Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, beachcombers can find mermaid purses, sea glass, wave-carved wood, and man-made flotsam such as lobster traps and old rope. Veteran beachcombers especially love the unusually large clam and mussel shells. Plum Island fan and beachcombing author Deacon Ritterbush keeps her favorite pieces of lavender, blue, and white sea glass in a shell she found here. â€śThe thing I like most about beachcombing on Plum Island is the peacefulness,â€ť she says. â€śHalf the treasure you find is spiritual; the other half is pocket treasure.â€ť
Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, 6 Plum Island Tpke., Newburyport, 978-465-5753, fws.gov/northeast/parkerriver.
Shoot the Chute
Name a national championship that will let you compete with zero experience. Stumped? Consider the two-man team from Tennessee that once placed second at the 2005 U.S. National Toboggan Championships without ever having seen snow. February marks the 20th anniversary of the contest, which draws 400-plus entrants to the legendary Camden Snow Bowl on the Maine coast. Awards go not only to the fastest but also to the best costume, the oldest team, and more. You donâ€™t have to be a player, though: Rent a toboggan and ride down Ragged Mountain on the two-foot-wide, 400-foot-long track (bring your own and itâ€™s free). And enjoy the viewâ€”the mountain shows off the rocky harbor of Camden.
U.S. National Toboggan Championships, 2/5â€“2/7; 20 Barnestown Rd., Camden, ME, 207-236-3438, camdensnowbowl.com.
Drive Your Own Sleigh
Okay, back-sleigh driverâ€”you take the reins. John Allegra will give you the horse, the sleigh, and the know-how to drive your own sled. His training course consists of five one-hour classes ($75 each) that teach everything from harnessing the horse to steering and controlling the carriage. For the first couple of lessons you and Allegra will stay close to the farm (which is home, incidentally, to the Horse-Drawn Carriage and Sleigh Museum of New England), but once cleared for takeoff youâ€™ll have more than 500 acres to roam. Donâ€™t have room on your calendar for five trips to Connecticut this winter? Pencil in one visit to the farm, reserve a ride with Allegra on any of his 60 horse-drawn vehicles, and get a lesson as he drives. Heâ€™ll also come to you: For an extra fee (depending on location), Allegra will haul horses and carriages as far north as Maine and as far south as Maryland.
Entrance at 69 Town Rd., Colchester, CT, 860-680-5149, allegrafarm.com.
Have a Five-Dog Night
In a cool twist on camping, Mahoosuc Guide Service has turned the pleasures of dogsledding into overnight and weekend outings to pristine locations such as Maineâ€™s North Woods and Umbagog Lake, near the New Hampshire border. Guides cook a campfire lunch and teach students how to work the dogs. Afterward, thereâ€™s the option to snowshoe or ski. Come nightfall, campers sleep in a fir-floored tent with canvas walls and a wood stove. Think silent night, unless the rare wolf happens to howl.
Packages start at $265 per person; 1513 Bear River Rd., Newry, ME, 207-824-2073, mahoosuc.com.
Sail Boston Harbor
Hard-core Hub sailors know the best time to hit the harbor is in winter, when the prevailing winds blow at a steady 10 to 15 knots and recreational traffic is at a minimum. The Boston Sailing Center launches its fleet of J-24s every Saturday afternoon from November through March, when teams compete in the Frostbite Racing Series. If youâ€™ve got sailing experience and want to try the sport for a day, pay $40 and the center will put you on a team. Just remember to wear warmer clothes than you think youâ€™ll need, and to say, â€śAye, aye, captain.â€ť
The Riverboat at Lewis Wharf, Boston, 617-227-4198, bostonsailingcenter.com.
Quick Urban Adventures
When you don’t have time for a trek.
Downhill Skiing:â€‚Blue Hills Reservation | The longtime ski scene for Bostonians, Blue Hills has 60 acres of carvable terrain and four lifts serving all levels of runs, from the Green Monster bunny slope to the halfpipe-heavy freestyle terrain park. With day passes starting at $18, this oneâ€™s an easy out. 4001 Washington St., Canton, 781-828-5070, ski-bluehills.com.
Skating: Larz Anderson Park | College-sports fanatics can get a thrill from skating on the same rink where the BC Eagles sometimes practice. For the nonfanatical, thereâ€™s free parking, a heated pavilion, lessons for beginners, and the allure of an afternoon of fun for the price of a submarine sandwich. Tickets $7, skate rentals $5; 23 Newton St., Brookline, 617-739-7518, brooklinema.gov.
Sledding: Arnold Arboretum | Set your sights on the summit of Peters Hill, the arboretumâ€™s tallest rise at 240 feet above street level. (Insiderâ€™s tip: Take the back entrance, off Mendum Street in Roslindale, for an easier trek to the top.) 2. Pause to admire the Boston skyline. 3. Whiz your way to the bottom. 125 Arborway, Jamaica Plain, 617-524-1718, arboretum.harvard.edu.
Cross-Country Skiing:â€‚Weston Ski Track | With nine miles of trails, this local favorite promises great al fresco exercise for all types of skiers (and snowshoers), just 15 minutes outside the city and accessible via the Green Line. Night owls will appreciate the two-kilometer loop, illuminated by a newly upgraded lighting system. Hit the track on Tuesday evenings for weekly races sponsored by the Cambridge Sports Union. 200 Park Rd., Weston, 781-891-6575, skiboston.com.
Five Reasons to Love the Appalachian Mountain Club
Historic bragging rights
The nationâ€™s oldest recreation and conservation group was founded here in Boston in 1876 by an MIT physicist named Edward Pickering, who invited fellow brainiacs and outdoors enthusiasts to join him in exploring the White Mountains. Today the club, which focuses on conservation and education throughout New England, is headquartered on Beacon Hill and has more than 100,000 members in 12 chapters, from Maine to Washington, DC.
In 1888 the club built the first of eight communal huts along the Appalachian Trail, and trekkers have been overnighting in the White Mountain National Forest ever since. Based on similar dwellings in the Alps, the popular huts hold from 36 to 90 people at a time, and in summer the overnight fee includes dinner and breakfast. Three huts are open in winter: Lonesome Lake, Zealand Falls, and Carter Notch. Guests cook their own food. Snowshoe the six-mile Zealand Hut trek, or go with a guide. As you walk, the naturalists will tell you all about wintertime birds and other life in the hardwood forests; at night, youâ€™ll bunk by the warmth of a wood stove. Upcoming trips include the family-friendly Carter Notch Hut climb (leaving from Pinkham Notch on February 15) and the 1.6-mile Lonesome Lake walk through Franconia Notch State Park (February 23). Reservations required.
The AMCâ€™s sporting camp-to-camp network in Maineâ€™s North Woods is a new variation of its hut-to-hut system in the Whites. With the camps spaced seven to 10 miles apart, adventurers can snowshoe, cross-country ski, or dogsled from one to the next, creating the perfect adventure. Each of the staffed camps offers lodging and meals, and the circa-1873 Little Lyford Lodge and Cabins even has a sauna. The AMC runs two- and four-night guided trips in February and early March, or you can opt to do the trail network on your own through the end of March. For families with children, the AMC recommends the tame 8.7-mile route around Shaw Mountain, which has stunning views. Add moose, beaver, fox, and the priceless sound of that laughing loon echoing across the lonely expanse, and you have one sweet American safari. Reservations required. For guided tours, two-night, all- inclusive rates start at $343 for adult AMC members and $387 for adult nonmembers.
Club members like to balance their environmental activism with outdoor recreation, particularly hiking and backpacking. Thereâ€™s also cross-country skiing, whitewater and flatwater canoeing and kayaking, sea kayaking, sailing, rock climbing, and cycling. The AMCâ€™s 2,700 volunteers lead roughly 7,000 trips and activities each year. Example: The club teaches its introductory ice-climbing course February 26â€“28 at the legendary Frankenstein Cliff in New Hampshireâ€™s Crawford Notch State Park. In no time at all, youâ€™ll be scampering like Spiderman up frozen waterfalls.
For years the club has been buying up camps and property, including 37,000 acres in the 100-Mile Wilderness region, which is almost sacred land for hikers. This last leg of the Appalachian Trail is a region of seemingly endless forest, mountains, lakes, and too many ponds to count. â€śThe ponds here are the most beautiful, remote bodies of water you can possibly imagine,â€ť says AMC executive director Andy Falender. Last November, the AMC expanded its territory and sporting camps by more than 29,000 acres, broadening recreation opportunities for all New Englanders. The purchase â€śwas the missing piece,â€ť Falender says. â€śWith adjoining land owned by the state and the Nature Conservancy, [the purchase] preserves a 63-mile corridor for outdoor lovers and wildlife.â€ť
For more information on the AMC, go to outdoors.org. For reservations, call 603-466-2727.
Scandinavians of yore hitched up their reindeer and skied at the ends of the reins for transportation, an activity that has, like so much else, become an actual winter sport. Skijoring competitions feature horses, dogs, and even mules that pull skiers through courses. Forget about competing, though: If your regular ski routine needs some, um, bark, Peace Pups Dog Sledding will teach you how to hitch up your BFF and swoosh the country miles. (If your poodle isnâ€™t exactly thrilled about the idea, borrow a Peace Pups husky for an extra $25.) Once youâ€™re ready to go out on your own, Bethel Inn Resort in Bethel, Maine, has a skijoring loop.
239 Cross Rd., Lake Elmore, VT, 802-888-7733, peacepupsdogsledding.com; 21 Broad St., Bethel, ME, 800-654-0125, bethelinn.com.
And for Classic Cross-Country Try…
Grafton Pondsâ€‚Grafton, VT | Grafton Ponds is one of the few cross-country ski centers in New England that make snow, meaning the trail is always primed. And with almost 20 miles to traverse, thereâ€™s plenty to explore. Make it up to Big Bear Shelter, atop the ridge, and your reward is a cup of hot chocolate and views of picturesque Grafton Village. 783 Townshend Rd., Grafton, VT, 802-843-2400, graftonponds.com.
Jackson Ski Touring Foundationâ€‚Jackson, NH | The largest cross-country skiing network in the Northeast has nearly 100 miles of trails for all levels. The easy Ellis River Trail borders a brook, while the Wildcat Valley Trail pitches steeply down the back of Wildcat Mountain, to the town of Jackson. If youâ€™re up for it, take the Groomed Trail Challenge on February 21, when cross-country aficionados try to ski as much of the network as possible in an 11-hour day. 153 Main St., Jackson, NH, 603-383-9355, jacksonxc.org.
Blueberry Hill Innâ€‚Goshen, VT | This classic Vermont inn and Nordic ski center lies 12 miles outside of Middlebury and deep within the Moosalamoo National Recreation Area. The 40-plus miles of groomed runs include the highest (Romance, elevation 3,000 feet) and what some consider the most scenic (Hogback) trails in the state. 1307 Goshen Ripton Rd., Goshen, VT, 802-247-6735, blueberryhillinn.com.
Snowmobile Moosehead Lake
Seriously, chocolate and silk teddies are so overâ€”hereâ€™s a new way to rev things up. The Cozy Moose at Moosehead Lake, home of some of New Englandâ€™s finest snowmobiling action, offers popular â€śSled and Bedâ€ť couplesâ€™ packages that include lodging, sled rentals, and base apparel (bib overalls, boots, gloves, full-face helmets). The three-night, two-day packages range from $1,325 (for an efficiency suite) to $1,825 (for a cedar-log cabin with fireplace, decks, Jacuzzi tub, and satellite TV). Longtime owners Heather and Ron Davis recommend arriving on Sunday and taking a Monday snowmobile tour with guide Mike Witham, whoâ€™s been buzzing the backcountry long enough to know exactly where to find bobcats, owls, coyotes, eagles, hares, and, if youâ€™re really lucky, the holy grail: moose.
451 Moosehead Lake Rd., Greenville, ME, 207-695-0242, mooseheadcabins.com.
Weather-Watch on Mount Washington
Mount Washington, as the saying goes, makes its own weather. In summer, a quarter-million tourists visit the 6,288-foot summit for the gale-force winds and subfreezing temps as much as for the view, but winter is when New Englandâ€™s tallest mountainâ€”with a top recorded surface wind speed of 231 mph and wind-chill readings of minus-50 degreesâ€”truly earns its formidable reputation. Observatory staffers are so proud of being the â€śhome of the worldâ€™s worst weather,â€ť theyâ€™ve trademarked the phrase. Even better, theyâ€™ve been sharing the experience for 17 years.
The observatory hosts overnight weather-watching trips through the end of March. Up to nine people pile into a snow tractor for the 90-minute ride to the summit. All visitors get a tour of the 78-year-old observatory and learn how three storm tracks and the mountainâ€™s steepness combine to create the notorious conditions. Then specialized lectures and workshops begin, led by guest instructorsâ€”perhaps meteorologists, ecologists, or artistsâ€”on topics such as weather basics, mountaineering, and outdoor photography. Participants spend time outside experiencing the elements for themselves, then retreat indoors for hot drinks and a meal. They bed down for the night in common-area observatory bunks and wake early enough to watch the sun rise. Then thereâ€™s another workshop and lunch before everyone heads back down in the snow tractor. Youâ€™ll come home with a story about New England weather conditions that put Siberia and Antarctica to shame.
$459 per person for members/$499 nonmembers, inclusive; trips begin at the base of the Mount Washington Auto Road, Pinkham Notch, NH; 800-706-0432 x225, mountwashington.org.
Sugar Some Maples
Around early March, the maples start to thaw, and at the Austrian-style Trapp Family Lodgeâ€”well, we wonâ€™t annoy you by singing, â€śThe hills are alive with the sound of sap.â€ť The von Trapps, of The Sound of Music fame, make their maple sugar the old-fashioned way: They pick up the sap in buckets via horse-drawn sleigh and deliver it to the sugarhouse, where they boil off the water to create Vermontâ€™s â€śliquid gold.â€ť The lodgeâ€™s 1,200 taps produce 300 gallons each season through late April. Get in on the fun on Saturdays in March, at the traditional Sugar-on-Snow party, where they make a sort of maple taffy of hot syrup and snow and serve it with doughnuts and dill pickles. For the full experience, book a weekend at the 96-room lodge, which dates to 1950 and is convenient to the skiing at Stowe Mountain Resort (but also offers plenty to do on site, thanks to spectacular grounds and recently expanded cross-country trails).
700 Trapp Hill Rd., Stowe, VT, 800-826-7000, trappfamily.com.
Snowboard Among Champs
Donâ€™t worry if you couldnâ€™t snag those coveted halfpipe and snowboard cross tickets at Whistlerâ€”2006 Olympic medalists Shaun White, Hannah Teter, and Lindsey Jacobellis are headed back east for the 28th U.S. Open Snowboarding Championships at Stratton Mountain Resort in March. White is scheduled to perform his signature 1080s (three full rotations) on the new Olympic-sized superpipe (22-foot walls) and advanced terrain park, which moved this year to the Sunriser Supertrail at the Sun Bowl.
Cheer them on, dude, but donâ€™t just be a spectator. Thereâ€™s a reason why Ski magazine consistently votes Stratton the East Coastâ€™s best terrain park. Stratton put snowboarding on the mapâ€”itâ€™s where Jake Burton inaugurated the sport and where a young Jacobellis took up boarding after her familyâ€™s vacation house caught fire, burning all the ski equipment.
Little rippers can test their freestyle skills on Burtonâ€™s Parkway, a kid-friendly area. One step up is Tyrolienne, featuring neophyte tabletops to catch air, and wider, lower rails for grinding. Master Tyrolienne and itâ€™s on to Beeline. Easy-style it (check out the jumps first) or youâ€™ll be doing some serious face-plants. Or follow Jacobellisâ€™s lead and sweep along the banked turns and rollers on the Byrnefide boardercross course.
U.S. Open Snowboarding Championships, 3/15â€“3/22; 5 Village Lodge Rd., Stratton Mountain, VT, 800-787-2886, stratton.com.
Source URL: http://www.bostonmagazine.com/2010/01/february-2010-the-winter-adventure-guide/