"If you don't like the weather in New England, wait a few minutes," Mark Twain once quipped. While he may never have experienced a winter quite this mild and storm-free, Twain's counsel has proved practical for generations of New Englanders, even if this year's non-winter-weather winter feels like the exception to his rule.
Minimal snowfall. Unseasonably warm temperatures. Winter aspirations stuck in the proverbial rut of this year's perpetual mud season: it's been a trying time for snowshoes, skis, sleds and skates. As we continue to endure the seemingly endless wait for the big storm, what's a cold weather sports enthusiast supposed to do?
The same thing we always do, of course. Get outdoors.
As with all our season-dependent outdoor recreations that are pursued in the fickle weather of the Northeast, if you wait for perfect conditions, you'll never get out there. In New England, we do our best with what we've got—and celebrate the outdoors in whatever weather is thrown our way.
Fortunately, the Valley has a plethora of outdoor options that can be enjoyed year-round, regardless of which season we find ourselves in. And the school year's winter break is the perfect time to enjoy them. Even this year.
Hit The Trail
Your cross-country skis, snowshoes, and winter running Yak Trax stabilizers may not serve much purpose on the trails this week, but that doesn't mean the woods aren't worth exploring. I recently ventured out on a trail run/hike/unintentional skate/nearly-accidental swim, and while conditions ranging from partially icy to partially muddy to partially frozen dirt presented the sort of challenge common during the shoulder seasons, I am pleased to report there was not a single black fly, tick or mosquito sighting. The weather and the conditions were just about perfect for vigorously wandering around.
Many of our nearby ridges and woodlands incorporate portions of the 114-mile Metacomet-Monadnock Trail, which white-blazes its way from the Bay State's southern border across the Valley to New Hampshire's Mount Monadnock (the world's second-most-climbed mountain). Along the way, the M-M Trail crosses over and joins up with the Robert Frost Trail. Named after the famed former Amherst resident, the 47-mile orange-blazed route runs through Hampshire and Franklin counties. Between these two established trails, there are exploratory options aplenty.
The M-M Trail is maintained by the Berkshires chapter of the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC). For more information, visit http://amcberkshire.org/mm-trail.
Winter Is for Skiing and Riding
With today's snowmaking and grooming capabilities, most ski resorts can provide adequate snow cover regardless of Mother Nature and Old Man Winter. Minimal snow, however, does make it harder to commit the time, money and energy needed to enjoy a day on the slopes.
Fortunately, if you're looking for a non-weather excuse to head into the mountains, you need not search any farther than southern Vermont, where, earlier this month, Magic Mountain officially became a cooperatively owned mountain resort.
This is extraordinary news given the unstable states of both our economy and our weather. A devoted community of skiers and riders have made the leap of faith to financially support a small independent ski area. It's a testament to how much Magic Mountain and independent skiing still matter, regardless of the industry's rising lift ticket prices and dwindling snowfall accumulations.
Hidden in the proverbial shadows of Stratton, Mount Snow and Okemo, Magic Mountain has, over the years, earned the reputation of a skier's ski mountain. There is no base village. There are no high-speed detachable chairs. But the terrain is steep (with Master Magician at 45 degrees), the glades are plentiful, and the bumps will test the sturdiest of leg muscles.
Like the rest of ski country New England, Magic's snow coverage is minimal this year. But with Wizard stretching out for 1.7 miles of top-to-bottom intermediate cruising, and Talisman tempting the experts among us, the mountain still offers a good taste of what so many regulars have come to adore.
"There are some who yearn for discovering something different, original and true," Magic Mountain's website reads. "It's why Magic not only endures but now offers skiers and riders a true alternative to today's crowded corporate resorts." Make the hour-and-a-half drive to Londonderry, Vt. to experience the magic yourself.
This holiday week's full-day adult tickets are under $60 (bizarrely remarkable for today's ski industry), the tubing park is open, and there will be live music après ski every day at the Black Line Brew Pub. Visit www.magicmtn.com for more information.
Outdoor Recreation Goes Indoors
Looking for something closer to home and not so weather-dependent? Central Rock Climbing Gym, on Route 9 in Hadley, may provide the perfect solution.
Offering options from non-technical bouldering to top-roping and leading, on walls from 10 to 40 feet tall, Central Rock serves all levels of climbers, from first-time beginners to just-back-from-Moab advanced. The staff will teach you to belay your climbing partner, or can belay you on your climb. And with lines of various difficulty protruding from an assortment of inverted walls, arches and steep slopes, your perfect climb awaits you no matter what your level.
For this February vacation week, Central Rock will be running a winter climbing camp from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday. "This camp," the brochure notes, "will focus on safe, fun climbing for those at any skill level. The climbing will be mixed with a number of activities focused on kinesthetic development, social skills, team building, and self-esteem."
And, as they do every week, Central Rock also offers yoga classes, a weight room and a wireless Internet connection for non-climbing (possibly parental) patrons.
Visit their website at www.centralrock.com/hadley for more information.
Head for the Highlands!
The savvy pentathlete knows that proper training takes time. With this winter's weather uncertain as to whether it wants to provide perfect conditions for running, biking, kayaking or skiing, there are passable conditions for all of the above— which provides the perfect circumstances for training for this year's first annual Berkshire Highlands Pentathlon, to be held in scenic Charlemont, Mass. on March 31.
The Berkshire Highlands Pentathlon combines the seemingly multi-seasonal outdoor disciplines of running, biking, kayaking, hiking and skiing into one gigantic day of adventure competition that gives a whole new meaning to the term "March Madness."
Starting and ending at the Berkshire East parking lot, the race meanders across Route 2 for a 4.7-mile run to Zoar Outdoor, there switching to a bike leg that will head up through Rowe to Monroe and back to the Deerfield River. Then it will transition to a 5-mile kayak through class I and class II whitewater and arrive back at Berkshire East for a run/hike/skin up the mountain and a ski right back down.
The race's participants may be extremely intrepid individuals or pentathlon teams of up to five people. Registration fees run from $80 to $350 depending on the team's size, with proceeds supporting the Franklin Land Trust and the Highlands Communities Initiative Program of the Trustees of Reservations. See www.berkshirehighlandsevents.com for more information.
"It may be a bit cold for road biking and kayaking and bit warm for skiing," note the pentathlon organizers at Berkshire East and Zoar Outdoor, "but where else can you do it all on the same day?" Answer: here in the Valley on March 31st, next week, or any and all days in between.
As long as the weather doesn't change.
More ideas for February break:
Creepy, Crawly Critters at the Springfield Science Museum
21 Edwards St., Springfield, (800) 625-7738
Feb. 20-24, 10 a.m-5 p.m.
Meet some of the creepy, crawly critters that live at the
Science Museum’s Live Animal Center.
Vacation Days at Arcadia
Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary
127 Combs Rd., Easthampton, (413) 584-3009
Feb. 21- Feb. 24, 9 a.m-3 p.m
Explore the natural world. Spend time outdoors searching for animal tracks and signs, watching birds and learning about winter adaptations.
Winter Farm Fun at Red Gate Farm in Buckland
4 Norman Rd. ,Buckland, (413) 625-9503
Feb. 21-Feb. 23, 9 a.m-3 p.m.
Help the farm care for the animals, go snowshoeing, and
play some great games.
The Ugly Duckling
Eric Carle Museum
125 W. Bay Rd.,Amherst, (413) 658-1126
Feb. 21-Feb. 24, with shows at 11 a.m, 1 p.m. and 3 p.m
Enjoy the Pioneer Valley Performing Arts School’s energetic re-telling of Hans Christian Anderson’s beloved tale “The Ugly Duckling.”