Get your winter on—outside
Apoplectic weather forecasts, high fuel bills, frozen pipes, and that bane of New England existence: the “wintry mix.” Yes, it’s pretty to watch as snow softly falls on farms and fields. But after a few weeks of slippery roads and blocked driveways, a certain winter weariness sets in.
That’s the wrong attitude.
You can’t fight the weather, and complaining about it won’t make it go away, as Jen Cherosnick, owner of Sportsmen’s, an outdoor-equipment store in Bantam, points out, “We live in an area that is beautiful in all seasons. Thriving in it means learning to enjoy it.”
I learned about winter immersion many years ago when I began a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail, living, walking, and sleeping outside—in January. In recent winters, I’ve made it a habit to be outside every day, no matter the conditions. Here’s the lowdown: Snow is fun. The right warm clothes make all the difference. And the combination of exercise, invigorating cold, and the beauty of a winter wonderland is a recipe for instant attitude adjustment.
Litchfield County has an abundance of winter opportunities: White Memorial Foundation, Bantam Lake, ski areas, the Appalachian Trail, and more. To help you thrive in winter, we’ve selected some activities—from adrenaline-pumping sports to soul-soothing walks in the woods.
Start with the classics: skiing and snowboarding. Litchfield has three ski areas to choose from—Mohawk Mountain, Ski Sundown, and Woodbury—along with close-by ski areas just over the border in nearby Berkshire County: Catamount (with the steepest slope in the Berkshires), Ski Butternut (with tubing for little kids), and Otis Ridge (a tiny, family-friendly area for beginners). If you’re a beginner, splurge on a lesson; an experienced instructor can shorten the learning curve and reduce the fear factor. If you have the luxury of making your own schedule, ski on weekdays. You can ski multiple runs without crossing another skier’s tracks.
If sliding downhill in constant negotiation with gravity doesn’t strike you as fun, try cross-country skiing. It’s slower, less frightening, and more vigorous exercise—with no lift lines and less expense. Golf courses are good places to learn the basics: the diagonal stride (for forward motion) and getting up from a fall (inevitable). Woodbury Ski Area has six kilometers of cross-country trails (and equipment rentals). For a little more challenge, head for the county’s favorite cross-country destination: White Memorial Foundation in Litchfield. The state’s largest natural sanctuary, with 4,000 acres of uplands and wetlands, has 35 miles of trails suitable for hiking, bird-watching, snow-shoeing, and cross-country skiing.
If you’ve ever wondered what it might be like to fly across a snowy mountain, you can watch ski jumping up close and personal at Salisbury Winter Sports Association’s annual Jumpfest, February 12 to 14, in Salisbury. There’s also a Friday-night chili cook-off, human-dogsled races, ice carving, bonfires, and an annual “snowball” dance. SWSA also hosts the junior national ski-jumping competition February 23 to 27, 2016
Back on firm, if slippery, ground, ice skating is another classic winter sport. There’s something bracing about skating in the great outdoors. Bantam Lake, on the Bantam-Morris town line, is an “awesome skating lake,” says Cherosnick, the sports-store owner. “It’s the biggest natural lake in Connecticut, and you can skate the whole thing—although you’ll have to share it with ice fishermen, iceboats, and snow-shoers.”
Looking for some wheeled thrills? Fat bikes are a new way to access the backcountry. Also known as wide-tire bikes, fat bikes have over-sized tires and wider forks that chew up unstable terrain. They’ve been used for winter trail riding and racing in sub-arctic Alaska on the Iditarod Trail, so a Connecticut winter should be a ride in the park. You can put a fat bike through its paces at White Memorial Foundation and Bantam Lake.
If you’re happier with your feet solidly on the ground, winter hiking is possible, even with three or four inches of snow. You’ll need warm, ankle-high boots and gaiters to keep the snow out. In slick conditions, wear instep crampons or “creepers” (mini-spikes that strap onto the soles of your boots), and use ski poles for balance. The Appalachian Trail runs up the western edge of the northern two-thirds of the county, and the well-marked path is easy to follow, even in snow.
When the snow gets too deep for walking, try snowshoeing. Lucinda Vermeulen, proprietor of Kenver, Ltd., an outfitter in South Egremont, Massachusetts, near the Appalachian Trail in Salisbury, explains: “Today’s snowshoes are lightweight and flexible for a close-to-just-plain-walking experience. The binding technology allows for easy adjusting and releasing in the cold. Add a pair of Nordic poles and your workout increases along with your stability and speed. Your everyday snow boots work just fine.”
Children’s snowshoes run about $40 to $70 a pair; adults’ range from $100 to $250. If you want to try before you buy, Sportsmen’s, in Bantam, offers guided winter snowshoeing (as well as hiking), and rents snowshoes for $20 a day.
Don’t forget to reward yourself after your adventure. Have a pile of dry wood ready, light a fire, and warm up with some classic winter fare: grilled cheese, onion soup, a hearty winter stew, and hot chocolate—with marshmallows.
“There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.” It’s a saying I learned in Iceland, and it was well worth taking it home to the Berkshires. Jen Cherosnick, owner of Sportsmen’s, an outfitter in Bantam, adds some cogent advice: “Hats and socks. You can’t have fun if you’re cold.”
Θ Wear layers so you can adjust your clothing if you get hot from exertion or cold from standing still.
Θ Synthetics are your friends. So is wool. But avoid cotton. Search-and-rescue workers call it “dead man’s clothing” because it holds moisture close to your skin.
Θ Wear a hat. Much of your body heat is lost through your head.
Θ Wear gloves and a neck gaiter (not a scarf, especially if you are doing anything fast and active like sledding, snow-mobiling, skiing, fat-biking, or tubing).
Θ Take chemical toe and hand warmers just in case: breaking open a packet provides emergency warmth for several hours.
Θ Staying hydrated is one of the commandments of winter hiking. You might not be aware of thirst in cold weather, but start the day with a hot drink in an insulated water bottle. And bring snacks.
Θ If you’ll be driving on side roads to get to a favorite hiking spot, be sure your car is snow-ready: Four wheel or all-wheel drive are the gold standard, but snow tires with studs will help a front-wheel drive. Keep a shovel, battery charge cables, a bucket of road salt or sand, and extra warm clothing in your car, and stay aware of where cell phone coverage is and isn’t available.