The Ice Man Cometh

No bad weather – just bad clothing. That’s the adage that any respectable outdoorsperson obeys in northern New England. This weekend was no exception as extreme cold enveloped Mount Washington Valley. However, with proper preparation – and proper clothing – there was no reason not to get out there and enjoy the crisp conditions and blue skies greeting President’s Weekend visitors to local ski areas.

First, a list of must haves for extreme cold weather activities.

–        Layers are key – polypropylene and fleece are a must have. No cotton. Not even a little. Ski socks, long underwear top and bottom, fleece pants, fleece turtleneck. Waterproof/wind proof outerwear. Get the picture? You can always take layers off, but if you don’t pack them, you risk being colder than you have to be.

–        Cover your face and head – Goggles. This is not a time to wear sunglasses. Neck gators. Balaclava. Helmet. Leave the cotton scarves at home.  Conventional wisdom is that you lose 50% of your body heat through your head – so cover your noggin and keep cozy.

–        Hand and foot warmers – The best insurance $2 can buy. Feeling flush? Invest in electronic boot warmers or the newest craze – electronic socks. I still go for the $2 disposable warmers. Buy a case at a big box retailer early in the season and use them liberally.

–        Keep your gear warm and dry – if you are stuffing your feet into boots left in your car overnight, you will never recover. Haul your gear inside each night, dry it out and your toes will thank you the next day.

The best advice for extremely cold weather? Be flexible. Be prepared to change your plans to ensure a good time is had by all. Today it was -28 (air temp) at 7am. It was a great day to sleep in, have a 2nd cup of coffee and hang out at the condo until 11am when temps broke zero.

Flexibility may include changing what you do and where. Nordic skiing is a great choice on a cold day. It keeps you out of the wind and off the lifts, and if you choose trails that wind through the woods, you’ll be even more protected from the elements. Conditions Saturday at Bretton Woods Nordic Center were brisk and brilliant as we glided through the Dark Forest trail. Snowshoeing is another great alternative to get your heart rate up and your blood pumping. Bretton Woods reported brisk snowshoeing rentals this weekend, as families considered alternate activities given the temperatures. Bear Notch Ski Touring is also known for its well protected trails in the woods.

But if downhill skiing is on your agenda no matter what, don’t let the weatherman scare you away. Dress appropriately and gear up, then take these steps to ensure a safe and fun day on the slopes:

–        Consider lower elevation mountains. Cranmore, King Pine and Black Mountain are less exposed than their higher elevation counterparts. This also means their lifts are less likely to be impacted by wind.

–        Stick to lower and mid-mountain lifts. Determined to ski the bigger mountains?  Check out the wind direction and find out which lifts are more sheltered. Today at Attitash, a helpful staff member suggested their Abenaki Quad. Its lift line is surrounded by trees and its sunny exposure makes you (almost) feel the warmth of the sun on your face on the ride uphill.

–        Take frequent breaks. This isn’t the day to see how many runs you can make. If you start feeling cold, come inside before it gets unbearable. Besides, it’s a good excuse to socialize over a hot drink or warm meal. Ptarmigan’s Pub at Attitash had a warm friendly crowd mid-afternoon, a great spot to enjoy an Irish coffee.

–        Be realistic. Are you a first chair to last chair kind of skier? Give yourself a break. Start later in the day, enjoy a leisurely lunch, and head out for the day earlier than usual. You still can claim bragging rights.

–        Enjoy the benefits of being a hardy New Englander. Let those western skiers keep the warm temps and blue skies. Cold weather means shorter lift lines, less crowded parking lots, lots of seats in the lodge, and the sweet, sweet squeak of well below freezing snow beneath your feet. Less skier traffic means conditions stay in better shape later in the day. Attitash was still showing corduroy conditions on certain trails at mid-day thanks to some late lift openings.  Find the silver lining!

Just can’t bring yourself to ski in extreme cold? As they say in New England, if you don’t like the weather, wait a minute. Before you know it, mid-winter cold will be replaced by March sunshine, and this mid-February cold-snap will be a distant memory.

Kathy Bennett



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