28 Ways to Have Fun This Winter
This year, why not resolve to make the best of the snow and ice? Here are 28 things to do (outside), from climbing a frozen waterfall and learning how to build a snow shelter to skiing and ice fishing.
"For the wolf-wind is wailing at the doorways,
And the snow drifts deep along the road,
And the ice gnomes are marching from their Norways,
And the great white cold walks abroad."
“The Hanover Winter Song” pretty well sums up a New Hampshire winter. You can leave it, as many do, or you can embrace it by playing in the snow, sliding on the ice, being a kid again and reveling in winter. Here’s how.
From dog sledding to snowball fights – read on for 28 fun things to do this winter.
1 Mush a dog team or sit back and enjoy the ride while a “dog puncher” guides your sled through silent woods under snow-covered peaks of the Presidential Range. At Muddy Paw Sled Dog Kennel in Jefferson you can meet the dogs, harness your team and even take a turn at mushing. Muddy Paw also offers rides at the Mountain View Grand, Bretton Woods Resort and elsewhere. Valley Snow Dogz can take you on 4.5- or 7-mile tours of Squam Lake with dazzling 360-degree views,or at twilight and by moonlight. Watch teams compete at the World Championship Sled Dog Derby in Laconia in early February.
2 Go fly a kite — on skis. Kite skiing lets you ski across frozen lakes and flat fields with the wind pulling you. Instead of carrying ski poles, your hands are busy holding onto strings of a kite, which you can manipulate to control speed and direction. Trust me, it’s not as easy as the experts make it look. Learn how, and find equipment at Hardwater Kiting in North Conway.
3 Walk on top of the snow. Great Glen Trails in Pinkham Notch has rental snowshoes and miles of groomed and backcountry trails to use them on. Snowshoeing is easy and it doesn’t even require lessons to walk on these big webbed feet (greatglentrails.com). At Bear Mountain Lodge, a Bethlehem B&B in a modern log cabin home, you can don snowshoes and a headlamp to join the innkeeper on a night snowshoe hike on their own trails. The guided hike, equipment and hot chocolate afterwards by the big fireplace are complimentary for guests. Modern snowshoes are metal-framed, but you can get the real thing — handmade wood-and-rawhide snowshoes — in Lancaster, from Coos Canoe & Snowshoe.
4 Gaze at stars. They seem closer in a clear winter sky, especially when you’re in the country and far from city lights. Bundle up in your warmest woollies and join a free Dark Sky Stargazing Night at the Margret & H.A. Rey Center in Waterville Valley. Or join a nighttime hike on snowshoes with a guide who’ll help you identify winter constellations. New Hampshire Astronomical Society volunteers share their telescopes and expertise with the public at the Skywatch, held the first Friday of each month at the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center in Concord. Watch the sky on January 3 and 4, when you might also be treated to a meteor shower.
5 Carve a few 8s and show off your flying camels at an ice skating rink. You’ll find outdoor skating (with a warming hut) at Schouler Park in front of the Victorian railway station in North Conway, at Occum Pond in Hanover, Puddle Dock Pond at Strawbery Banke Museum in Portsmouth, Dorrs Pond in Manchester’s North End and Robin Hood Park in Keene. Several White Mountain resorts have skating for their guests, most with skate rentals. Click here for more skating venues both indoor and outdoor.
6 Tap a tree, but be sure it’s a maple. Taps are inexpensive and you can use any bucket (cover bucket and tap with foil to keep snow out). Boil the sap down in the kitchen — it’s not true that it will peel off the wallpaper, but it is true that it takes about five gallons of sap to make a pint of syrup. Be careful when it gets low or it will be sugar before you can say “pancakes.” Join a New Hampshire Maple Experience tour in March at The Rocks Estate in Bethlehem and learn to identify maples, tap a tree, see a maple-cooking demo and see a working sugarhouse in operation.
7 Make soda-can ice cream. The recipe is easy: three tablespoons of chocolate syrup and a cup of milk, cream or half-and-half. Pour it into a soda can with the top removed (tip: cover the sharp edge of the can with masking tape) and push the can into a bowl of snow. Remove the can and sprinkle some rock salt into the hole. Replace the can and stir until it’s ice cream. You may need to add more snow.
8 Spend a weekend Nordic skiing at Dexter’s Inn, where 30km of marked trails (25 of them groomed) begin at the inn’s back door and wind through the 20-acre hilltop estate and into conservation land. Return for a hot chocolate by the fireplace before tucking into a dinner of jaeger schnitzel or shrimp Santorini and retiring to a comfortable room for the night. After breakfast you can ski right out the door again. You can ski out of Eagle Mountain House in Jackson onto the trails of Jackson Ski Touring Foundation, one of the East’s largest Nordic trail networks. In the southern part of the state, Windblown Cross Country in New Ipswich has 40km of trails through beautiful countryside.
9 Build a snowman. Use the traditional stacked snowball shape and finish with a hat and carrot nose, or indulge your inner Michelangelo by building a solid column that you can carve as a sculptor carves stone. Or free your inner Frank Lloyd Wright and create a building. Start with four big snowballs (the kind you use for snowman bodies) pushed together, carve the outer sides straight (or not) and add details. Make domes from giant snowballs and columns of stacked small snowballs smoothed straight.
10 Make candy in the snow by pouring hot maple syrup on fresh clean snow. You’ll need to boil the syrup to about 232 degrees (that’s the “soft ball” stage on your candy thermometer) first. Keep a little butter handy to add if it starts to boil over. Traditionalists eat this chewy treat with sour pickles to balance the sweetness, but pickles aren’t required.
11 Slide downhill in a tube — tubing parks aren’t just for kids. The longest tubing hill is at Gunstock in Gilford, whose four 1,068-foot lanes are served by a dedicated handle lift, so you ride uphill, too. The biggest tubing park is at Cranmore, with 10 lanes, and Loon Mountain in Lincoln has a chairlift for tubers and a separate area for younger children. Granite Gorge in Keene is the swinging-est, with a full-mountain sound system, double tubes for couples, night tubing and tubing parties and Cosmic Tubing parties on Saturday nights. Click here for more snow tubing parks and other non-skiing activities at resorts and parks around the state.
12 Ski up for waffles at The Waffle Cat, a repurposed snowcat at the base of Waterville Valley’s White Peaks Express Quad. This skier’s version of a food truck promises New England’s most authentic Belgian waffles, and they may be, but what skiers love most is that they are piping hot and taste divine. And you don’t need to take your skis off to enjoy them.
13 Build a snow house. Learn how with your kids at a weekend of Winter Family Explorations at the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Cardigan Lodge in Alexandria. Along with building a snow shelter, activities include animal tracking, snowshoe hikes, starlight walks, campfire stories and sledding. Find information here.
14 Catch a fish through a hole in the ice. You don’t need to own a bob house; rent one at AJ’s Bait & Tackle in Meredith, where you’ll find a complete selection of all the gear you’ll need, from power ice augers to underwater cameras. If you need lessons, New Hampshire Fish and Game offers an ice fishing course in its “Let’s Go Fishing” program. Stop to get a few tips — and photos — at the colorful village of brightly painted bob houses that decorate Meredith Bay.
15 Climb a frozen waterfall. You could be one of those climbers you’ve seen clinging to the frozen face of Frankenstein Cliff as you drive through Crawford Notch. It’s a lot like rock climbing, only colder. International Mountain Climbing School in North Conway or Northeast Mountaineering in Bartlett will teach you the ropes — or cables — and provide all the equipment so you can do it safely.
16 Take your dog skiing. For skijoring, you don’t need a team of huskies or even a big dog. Just slip on your Nordic skis and harness Rover or even Fifi for a lesson with skijoring experts at Gunstock’s Nordic Center. You can practice on Gunstock’s 15 km of trails. Once you get the feel of it, you can take on its high-elevation backcountry terrain. Bear Notch Ski Touring Center in Bartlett welcomes skiers and their four-footed friends on 70 km of trails, and several other Nordic ski centers have skijoring trails.
17 Make a snow angel or show your kids how. It’s easier for them to leave perfect snowy silhouettes because they have you to help them get up. With your help, their image isn’t damaged by the elbow, mitten and boot tracks you’ll almost certainly leave as you get up out of the snow. Choose a slight slope to make it even easier.
18 Ride a horse on snow-covered trails. Horseback riding is an all-season activity at Stables at Farm by the River in North Conway. Beginning and experienced riders can savor the mountain views from trails through the wide Mount Washington Valley.
19 Capture a snowflake on a piece of well-chilled black velvet or velour, then photograph it with a zoom or macro lens. Photojo makes a good macro that fits on cell phones. Or get creative with their cell phone fish-eye lens. Try to beat the odds and find two snowflakes alike.
20 Hunt for driftwood and sea glass on the beach next to Fort Constitution in New Castle. The mouth of the Piscataqua River protects the beach somewhat from the full winter fury of the Atlantic, so treasures left by tides stay put longer. Winter is the best time, when you’ll see a sometimes-surprising assortment of flotsam, jetsam (you do know the difference, of course), remains of marine life and just plain junk. Sand dollars and the occasional exotic shell mix with colored glass and stones sea-burnished to a soft, velvety finish, and a lot of driftwood. The fantastic shapes of water-carved roots make good garden sculptures and the more prosaic driftwood burns in the fireplace with beautifully colored flames.
21 Have an old-fashioned snowball fight — soft snowballs only, please. If you’re worried about injury, then multi-purpose the helmets and goggles from your ski bag. Or laugh in the storm’s face as Portsmouth people did last year, when a January blizzard dropped two feet of snow on them. At the height of the storm they staged a 45-minute public snowball fight in Market Square before retiring to nearby bars to warm up. When the big snow comes this year, keep an eye on Facebook – last year the Portsmouth snowball fight event appeared the day before.
22 Dine on a mountaintop. You can grab a burger or a bowl of good chili at the summit stations of Gunstock, Cannon Mountain (they’re famous for the hot pretzels), Bretton Woods and some others, but at Cranmore’s Meister Hut in North Conway you can also enjoy fine dining in the evening. Reserve early for the Wine Dinners, four-course menus with wine pairings; ride to the summit on the high-speed express quad.
23 Spend a night with the world’s worst weather. It’s right here in New Hampshire, atop Mt. Washington, and you can experience it at its winter best on an overnight stay with the intrepid weather team at the Mount Washington Observatory. Ride up the mountain in a snowcat, feel the summit weather for yourself, have dinner with the weather station scientists and sleep at 6,288 feet above sea level. Meanwhile, you’ll learn about geology, landscape photography, mountaineering and weather. If you’re very lucky, you’ll see the sunset and sunrise from the top of New England. If overnight trips are booked, reserve a spot on a winter daytrip to the summit.
24 Track a moose with an AMC naturalist guide at Joe Dodge Lodge in Pinkham Notch. If your snowshoe hike doesn’t turn up moose tracks, you’ll certainly find — and learn how to identify — snowshoe hare, ermine, fisher, marten, grouse, red fox, coyote or mouse tracks in the snow. If you prefer skis, join an AMC natural history Nordic ski tour any Sunday morning at Great Glen Trails.
25 Fling yourself down a mountain. Perhaps skiing is the most obvious winter activity, but too many people shun it as dangerous, or just plain scary. Not so. You don’t need to have the nerves — or skill — of Bode Miller to have a wonderful day on a mountain. Begin with a lesson — every ski area offers them, with trained instructors who can quickly teach you how to ski safely and have fun. Our favorite place to take beginners is King Pine in Madison (although it also has one of the state’s steepest trails), where they can take short gentle trails from the pine-topped summit. There are ski areas with beginner terrain close by, wherever you are. SkiNH will help you find the nearest one.
26 Take your sweetie for a sleigh ride. Glide through snow-covered woods and across snowy meadows to the music of sleigh bells, in a replica 18th-century Vis-A-Vis sleigh complete with antique lamps. Or join a group on winter weekends for a sleigh ride social with a stop for hot cocoa around a bonfire under the pines at Charmingfare Farm in Candia. In the White Mountains, you can board a custom Austrian sleigh pulled by huge draft horses at Nestlenook Farm in Jackson or ride in a Victorian sleigh at Farm by the River.
27 Conquer a 4,000-footer or two at a winter climbing weekend in Crawford Notch with AMC guides and instructors. This is a challenging program for climbers with some winter experience, although you’ll learn a lot about safety, equipment and winter outdoor skills. If you’re new to the sport, join a Winter Hiking Skill Builder weekend at the Highland Center where you’ll make shorter climbs and learn about snow shelters, winter ecology and wildlife tracking along with basic winter hiking skills.
28 Harvest ice blocks from a frozen pond. Until modern refrigeration, food was kept chilled in icehouses filled with big ice blocks cut from ponds in midwinter and stored in straw. Try your hand at cutting and hauling ice with antique tools during the February Winter Carnival and Ice Harvesting Festival at Remick Country Doctor Museum and Farm in Tamworth. Or join volunteers at Muster Field Farm Museum in Sutton as they cut ice from Kezar Lake and haul it to the farm’s 1890 icehouse.