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Sunday, November 25, 2012

Still waiting for snow to blanket New England

Tim Jones

Winter sports enthusiasts are an optimistic lot. Everyone, it seems, is ready to put the dark, dismal winter of 2011-12
behind them and look forward to better, snowier days in the future. Hopefully, the very near future. We’ve had our first tiny tastes of snow and it was sweet indeed.

Over much of New England, when snow did come, it came late and left early. Remember the 80-degree weather at the end of March that whisked away the last remnants just when we should have been enjoying long, bright days on the deepest snow of the year? Yup, I’d like to forget that, too. ...

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Winter sports enthusiasts are an optimistic lot. Everyone, it seems, is ready to put the dark, dismal winter of 2011-12
behind them and look forward to better, snowier days in the future. Hopefully, the very near future. We’ve had our first tiny tastes of snow and it was sweet indeed.

Over much of New England, when snow did come, it came late and left early. Remember the 80-degree weather at the end of March that whisked away the last remnants just when we should have been enjoying long, bright days on the deepest snow of the year? Yup, I’d like to forget that, too.

The long-range weather predictions aren’t much help. One forecast is predicting deeper-than-average snowfalls in the northeast. But even they are saying the mid-Atlantic is going to get more snow than New England, which will have more “mixed rain and snow systems.” Yuck, we had enough of that last year.

Once the snow actually does start to fall (and, hopefully, stay around), there are two good web resources to help you pinpoint where the snow is deepest and most fun. One, which can be found at noaa.gov/nerfc/graphics/snowmaps/sd1_today.jpg is a colored map that, sadly, is all gray and dreary as I write this. More intriguing is the interactive map at nohrsc.noaa.gov/interactive/html/map.html. With this one you can set it to show either snow depth or water content (to see where the powder is), and you can zoom in for a closer look at any particular area that interests you. Sadly, even West Virginia, which got a lot of snow from the recent storms, is now largely bare ground.

I think I speak for all of New England’s nordic and backcountry alpine skiers, snowshoers, nordic skaters, mushers, winter campers, sledders, snowtubers and snowmobilers in saying I hope it snows soon. Life isn’t a spectator sport. Get out and enjoy.

Gearing up for another
non-winter experience

Gift-giving season is coming and just in case we get a repeat of last year’s non-winter, this seems like a good time to discuss what you really need to get out and enjoy a marginal winter.

You absolutely need a waterproof outer layer that keeps you dry in a 34-degree downpour. Cold rain is much harder to deal with than snow, and presents much more danger of hypothermia. If you want to be warm, comfortable and safe, and still get outdoors in bad weather, you need a bombproof hooded jacket and pants. Oh and by the way, good raingear is just as useful for snow (if and when that falls) and for keeping the inevitable winter winds at bay.

You can spend a fortune on raingear, but I’ve been pleased with house-brand gear from L.L. Bean, EMS, REI and with the jackets from Red Ledge (www.redledge.com). For $200 (less if you watch the sales) you can get a good jacket with a hood, and a pair of waterproof pants that’ll keep you going outdoors in less-than-pleasant weather.

Waterproof, insulated hiking boots were another necessity last winter. You didn’t need the warmth of “pac” boots, but you did need the ankle support of a hiking boot on rocky, often icy trails. Fit is always the primary consideration with boots, so it’s hard to make specific recommendations. Most of last winter, I used a pair of mid-weight waterproof leather/Gore-Tex boots from Irish Setter (www.irishsetter.com) that fit me like they were custom-made for my feet. Lowa, L.L. Bean, Kamik and Columbia also make quality insulated, waterproof lightweight hikers that I’ve either used or seen perform well.

Hiking poles of some sort are even more useful in winter than they are in summer.

Finally, you simply couldn’t get outdoors (even in your own driveway) last winter without traction aids of some sort. There are lots on the market, but my recommendation is to go for maximum versatility and ease of use.

For the past several years I’ve been using Microspikes ($45), from Kahtoola (www.kahtoola.com), which have a heavy-duty polymer rubber harness that’s easy to put on over your boots and grips tightly. Hardened chains with 103⁄8-inch steel spikes provide phenomenal traction on all but very steep ice (where you need crampons, ice axe and self-arrest skills to travel safely).

Last winter, I tested the similar Trail Crampons ($60) from Hillsound (www.hillsound.com). The spikes are slightly longer and the spike attachment is more rigid than the Kahtoolas and they worked extremely well. YakTrax has also brought out a similar product called the XTR Extreme ($60) which also worked well.

Honestly, any of the three
will get you out and moving when you’d otherwise be stuck at home.

Stalking the elusive
Christmas tree permit

Both the White and Green Mountain National Forests have a wonderful program which allows anyone to cut a Christmas tree almost anywhere in the forest. You pay $5 for a tag and then roam the woods until you find the perfect spruce or balsam fir.

It’s a truly great outdoors adventure for the whole family, and a great excuse to get outdoors at a beautiful time of year when the woods seem to be holding their breath, waiting for snow.

There’s only one fly in the ointment: Getting the permit. They sure don’t make it easy. Last year, Marilyn and I eagerly drove north on a cool and windy Saturday morning, stopped for breakfast on the way and arrived at the forest headquarters at 9 a.m., only to find they aren’t open on weekends or holidays – just Monday-Friday 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. All we found was a locked door.

So, can you get a permit other than at one of the forest offices during regular business hours? I honestly don’t know. An online search didn’t answer that question, and phone calls to both the Green Mountain Forest at 802-747-6700, and the White Mountain National Forest at 603-536-6100 reached only unhelpful answering machines.

I’m still digging. Stay tuned for answers – if I can find them.

Tim Jones can be reached at
timjones@easternslopes.com.