Re-thinking Winter




Skiing and skating are fine ways to make the most of the season, but this year, resolve to try something new. We offer here alternative ways to embrace the cold and cheer on the next snowstorm.Dog SleddingTake the road less traveled - a snowy trail through fields and woods, riding on a sled pulled by huskies and malamutes.Muddy Paw Sled Dog Kennel, in Jefferson, offers 1 1/2- and 3-hour dog sledding tours. New this season: a 50-mile overnight inn-supported tour - the longest sled ride in the Northeast.Tours include hands-on interaction with the dogs. Three-hour clinics allow the most adventurous guests to learn to be mushers and drive a team.The sled dogs at Muddy Paw - there are over 100 of them - are friendly and highly social. Most are rescues. Many are retired from racing; some have competed in Alaska's famous Iditarod race."The dogs get to do what they were bred to do," says Karen Tolin, who co-owns the kennel with Neil Beaulieu. "They live for it and need a job."Experienced mushers come from as far as Alaska to drive for Muddy Paw, but even small children will get a chance to try a command like "Hike!" - that's "giddy-up" in the language of dog sledding.Ski-OOrienteering has been called "the thinking sport." Ski orienteering is a hybrid that can give experienced cross-country skiers something new to think about.In staggered starts, participants navigate a pre-set course using map and compass, skiing between control points, punching a card or chip to prove they have been there. Competitors are timed; the fastest time on a given course is the winner. Events often include courses for different ages and experience levels. Standard skate-skiing equipment is used; a map holder is attached to the chest."It takes skiing to a whole new level - you're so focused on where you are, where you're going and how you'll get there," says Alex Jospe, a champion ski orienteer who maintains the New England Ski-O website, www.neskio.com."It's great for problem-solving types, figuring out how to get from one place to another by the best route," she says.Ski-O is a popular sport in lots of other countries blessed with abundant snow, but there are relatively few ski orienteers in the U.S., and events take place mainly in New England, New York and California."If you are a good skier, you can get good pretty fast since there are so few people in the U.S. who do it," says Jospe, who began ski orienteering in 2007 and has represented the U.S. in two world championships overseas.Ski-O participants bring their own skiing equipment, and register for a course and map for around $10. (A trail pass may cost an additional $15 or so.) Instruction for beginners is available and map holders can be rented.A two-day Ski-O event will be held at The Balsams Grand Resort in Colebrook on the weekend of February 12-13. Other events will be posted on the website.CurlingAn eccentric Scottish cousin to bocce, shuffleboard and bowling, the sport of curling has been called "chess on ice." Two teams of four players take turns sliding smooth, heavy stones - made of a type of granite mined only on the island of Ailsa Craig in Scotland - towards a circular target called the "house." Stones resting closest to the center score highest at the conclusion of each "end." The two "sweepers" who melt the pebbled ice with the kinetic friction of their brooms can influence the stone's path. But the release, and the amount of "curl" or spin, is where it begins."It's all about balance. There's a lot of strategy. It's fun to watch good curlers, the shots they make, the way they read the ice," says David Deane, a level-3 ice technician and the only person in New Hampshire certified to make curling ice.Deane works at the Nashua Country Club, keeping three sheets of ice mopped, pebbled and at a constant 24 degrees (slightly warmer than hockey ice). Though the game can be played informally on ponds, Nashua CC is the only place in New Hampshire to play on official curling ice. It has been a popular winter pastime there since 1928.Curling tournaments are called bonspiels. Many are themed events, with decorations, dressing up and special food and beverages. "Hawaiian" is a popular theme.Curling is a nice blend of competition and sociability, according to Deane, and growing more popular, thanks to the Olympics."It's come a long way from 'people never heard of it' to 'people are dying to try it,'" he says.Ice FishingA relatively inexpensive sport that can be great fun for all ages, ice fishing can happen almost anywhere in New Hampshire in winter."Very few bodies of water are closed to ice fishing," says Karina Walsh, coordinator for New Hampshire Fish and Game's "Let's Go Fishing!" program.This may be stating the obvious, but in our native cold temperatures a small miracle occurs. Liquid water becomes solid ice, at least near the surface. Fish from the middle of a lake without a boat!Fish with a buddy, test the ice, don't stand together in large groups, don't build a fire and beware of the wind and currents. Ice should be at least 4-6 inches thick to support a few well-dispersed people. (More information about ice safety is available on the N.H. Fish and Game website, www.wildlife.state.nh.us.)Drill a hole, drop a line. Depending on location, species that may take the bait include cusk, lake trout, salmon, rainbow and brown trout, smallmouth and largemouth bass, panfish like yellow perch, bluegill and crappie. In salt water, on rivers that feed into Great Bay, smelt are the fish to look for in late winter.New Hampshire Fish and Game offers free fishing classes year-round throughout the state, focusing on ice fishing in winter. Time in the classroom is followed by fishing time, either in an all-day lesson or consecutive meetings, with gear provided.Even More "Other" Winter SportsICE BOATING: Ice boats are strictly wind-powered, but in good conditions on clear ice they can zip along at up to 10 times the wind speed. Many "hardwater sailors" build their own boats. Kit materials include a hull, crosspiece, runners and a sail, and can cost $1,800; a new boat can cost $6,000. The New England Ice Yachting Association website, www.neiya.us, posts schedules for regattas and events, locations, ice conditions and newsletters.SKIJORING: In olden days in Scandinavia, skijoring (or ski driving) was a way to travel on skis in winter towed behind a horse, reindeer or dogs. The North East Ski Joring Association, based in New London, organizes equestrian skijoring events and demonstrations. In skijoring competitions, horse and rider pull a skier through a series of gates and jumps. A skijoring clinic is scheduled for January 16 at the Myhre Equine Complex in Rochester. Races are set for the New London Winter Carnival Jan. 29 -30, and the Newport Winter Carnival, Feb. 12. For more information visit www.nesja.com.WINTER HIKING: The Appalachian Mountain Club organizes winter hiking trips for all skill levels, some with snowshoes, some without. Locations include trails in the White Mountains, on Mount Monadnock and more. Search the AMC activities listings at www.outdoors.org/recreation/activities.SKI BIKING: A bike with skis or mini-snowboards instead of wheels can be an easy-to-learn, low-impact downhill alternative. Kits are available online to convert mountain bikes to ski bikes for around $250. A new ski bike can cost $2,500. To learn more visit www.ski-bike.org.CREATIVE SLEDDING: Something about winter inspires invention. There are many ways to descend a snow-covered hill other than on a Flexible Flyer. Snow-shovel racing is for speed freaks. (Helmet recommended.) Originally a stunt by a comedian on German TV, wok racing (on bobsled runs) has a World Championship now. YouTube hosts videos of kayakers hitting the slopes in their boats, steering with paddles. The whole family can enjoy canoe sledding - and the whole family is needed to haul the canoe to the top of the hill.Next Steps...CURLING: Nashua Country Club, 25 Fairway St., Nashua, has three sheets of ice open daily in season for members. Merrimack Valley Curling Club reserves ice on Sundays. Nashua CC also hosts a day of curling on a pond, free and open to the public, with a cookout, sometime in January or February, depending on conditions. Call (603) 888-0121. Visit www.nashuacountryclub.com. Learn more about the sport at the United States Curling Association, online at www.curlingrocks.net.DOG SLEDDING: Muddy Paw Sled Dog Kennel offers tours from their home kennel in Jefferson, as well as from the Mount Washington Resort in Bretton Woods and The Rocks Estate in Bethelem. A 1 1/2-hour tour is $245 per 8-dog sled, with a weight limit of 325 lbs. For couples who wish to ride together but who are over the weight limit, a larger dog team costs $295.Visit www.dogslednh.com or call (603) 545-4533.ICE FISHING: The New Hampshire Fish and Game Department offers free ice fishing classes in various locations throughout the state. Visit www.wildlife.state.nh.us and click on the Let's Go Fishing page, or call (603) 271-3212.SKI ORIENTEERING: The New England Ski Orienteering website posts regional schedules and helpful links at www.neskio.com. More questions? Contact Alex Jospe at acjospe@gmail.com.More photos can be seen in the slideshow below. Check out a video of the women's curling team at the Nashua Country Club
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