Monday, January 31, 2011

A Dog Sled Adventure

If you’ve ever read Call of the Wild or watched the grueling Iditarod, you might have, like me, visions of dog sledding being an epic journey through frozen tundra, relying solely on your survival skills and the cunning of your faithful dog team.

Alas, my 20-minute ride with a musher from the Muddy Paw Sled Dog Kennel around the grounds of the Omni Mount Washington Resort was not exactly a brutal test of endurance. But we did get to enjoy the company of some energetic furry friends, one of which that actually did participate in the Iditarod.
After a check- in at the Activities Desk at the Omni Mount Washington Hotel, we drove down to the Dog Sled area, near the Bretton Arms Inn. There were four or five teams there, and they all looked anxious to get running. Since you have to be at least three years old to ride, Bridget and I would be hopping in the sled while Matt and Timothy took pictures.

Even though Bridget is enamored with dogs in general, I wasn’t sure if she would suddenly become tentative in the face of so many dogs - some a bit more energetic than our 11-year-old Lab. But she didn’t hesitate to approach them and begin petting their ears.
Chris, our musher, first introduced us to all the dogs. He clearly cared for the dogs, and shared a story or some history for each one, including one of the two lead dogs, named Quebec, which had lead in the Iditarod and won! The Muddy Paw Sled Dog Kennel is based in Jefferson, NH, and many of the dogs are “rescue” or “second chance” dogs, meaning that they’re either past their prime for racing or just in need of a home. The front three pairs were all Alaskan Huskies, and the two wheel dogs were Siberian Huskies, and Chris loved to give Spike a hard time for the tendency of his belly to bulge out a bit from his harness. They were especially friendly and eager for Bridget to pet them. In the sled, we cozied up in a warm blanket and got ready for the ride. The dogs knew it was time to get running and all of them, including the other teams who were not going out yet, started barking excitedly – it was impossible not to feel their pure enthusiasm for running through the snow. As we toured the Resort grounds from a dog’s eye view, Chris gave us some more background on the dogs and the commands he uses to guide them. It was amazing to see how well they all worked together, even though some were in training. Chris encouraged them as they pulled us up a little hill and Bridget and I laughed as we barreled down the other side. When they got going fast, Bridget announced happily, “Mommy, my eyes are cold!”

Although the dogs surely know the route they follow for this short excursion, it was a moment of new perspective in putting myself and my daughter in the hands (paws?!) of the dogs… the musher has a snow brake, and they followed his every command, but what a treat to allow the dogs to carry us along.

Bridget didn’t say much as she took it all in, but the grin on her face told me the dogs were pure bliss to her. Following the ride, Chris had us thank each dog and tell them what a good job they had done. Bridget gave them each a hug. I have a feeling this won’t be our last experience with dog sledding!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Kinderwoods Playground at Bretton Woods

With two kids down and out with colds this past weekend, we had to stay inside and rest, with the hopes that they’ll recover and we’ll be back outdoors soon. Plans were cancelled and Outdoor Mom was a bit frustrated stuck inside, but as I've learned, sometimes the kids need something besides what I had originally planned, and I've got to be flexible and creative. Indoors, Bridget practiced making ski wedges for a little muscle memory and Timothy even got into the spirit, asking to put on a ski to scoot around on the carpet.

In the meantime, I wanted to share some pictures of Bridget and Timothy at the Kinderwoods Playground at the base of Bretton Woods. With short attention spans, it’s great to have another choice for the little monkeys to climb and explore. You know Bretton Woods had kids and parents in mind when they created this spot for when they need a break from skiing or a fun diversion when you’re on kid duty while using the Family Interchangeable Ticket.

Like a winter version of a traditional playground, there’s a climbing structure with swings, slides, tunnels and a climbing wall, all with a soft snow landing. Bridget giggles as she calls to her brother from one end of the tunnel to the other; Timothy squeals with delight as he hurls himself down the slide and then points and grunts to be picked up and placed on the top of the slide again.

But unlike the traditional playground, there are some ski area features that make this a huge draw for the kids. A mini zipline transports Bridget through the air just like the adult version of the Canopy Tour up on the mountain. A gondola provides the base for the imaginations to run as we climb in and pretend to soar up the mountain and wave to everyone outside. And a toddler sled carousel takes the small ones for a circular amusement park ride.

I had to pry the kids away from the playground the afternoon I took these pictures, but I knew that naps were due and that if we left with smiles still on their faces, they's be excited to come back for more another day.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Forecast is Outdoor Fun

The forecast for this weekend looks a bit chilly, but with the right gear, we should be able to play in the snow comfortably.

Earlier this week, it was snowing lightly at home, but nothing that would keep us indoors, so I took Timothy in the Chariot for a cross-country ski. When we arrived at the Bretton Woods Nordic Center, I was amazed at how windy and snowy it was. With Mount Washington looking over our shoulders, Bretton Woods seems to have its own private weather system. In the open areas of golf course that surround the Nordic Center, the wind can definitely pick up speed. But I knew that once we got into the woods, we’d be sheltered.

Preparing for a cold day cross-country skiing with the kids takes a little preparation: for me, I need to wear breathable layers, knowing that it may be cold at the start, but that I’ll warm up once I start moving. I often wear my down coat over whatever I will wear skiing, and take it off just before I head down the trail. It’s also easy to stash an extra layer or spare gloves in the Chariot.

For the baby that stays in the Chariot, my husband and I found some tricks to keep the kids warm. Since the Chariot is enclosed, it is pretty sheltered from the elements, but baby’s not working up a sweat like Mommy, so I take a few extra measures. Before leaving the house, I fill a Nalgene bottle with hot water and put a big wool or fleece sock around it for insulation. Into the Chariot it goes by baby’s feet for an extra heat source. Then I wrap up the baby in a down jacket or sleeping bag. LL Bean and Chariot also make buntings specifically designed for wrapping around baby when it’s cold, but we found the down jacket or sleeping bag work just fine.

When the kids are a little older, they may need some snacks and water in the Chariot with them. Parents know that food can be a great thing to occupy the kids, but I always struggle with trying to get Bridget to keep her mittens on. If mittens do come off for a snack, be sure to check on your little one’s hands from time to time to make sure they are warm enough. Bridget also went through a phase where she always wanted to take her boots off, and we had some very cold toes one day!

The headwind and blowing snow was a bit daunting a few days ago – as I started to pull Timothy across the bridge near the Nordic Center, I wondered for a moment if this really was a good idea. But once I got over the golf course and onto Turnpike, it was a different world. The evergreens were covered in fluffy snow, a safe harbor from the tempest. I could barely see Timothy’s face with the down coat up around him and snow on top of the Chariot cover, but he rode quietly and at some point drifted off to sleep.

If you can get out for a night without the kids, this Saturday you might want to try the Moonlight Ski and Snowshoe tour followed by hot chocolate by the fire!

Monday, January 17, 2011

New Stickney Glades: Worth It

Smiles seem to have been the fashion this past weekend at Bretton Woods. Even on a busy long weekend, staff, skiers and riders alike seemed to be relishing the perfect conditions on the slopes. Myself included.

After an amazing week of snow, I was excited to be able to explore the new Stickney Backcountry Glades for the first time. Our friends Chris and Lollie and their two boys were visiting for some playing in the snow, and after a day of adult frolic while the kids were in lessons and the nursery, we took Sunday to trade off on Base Lodge duty.

Mount Stickney is on the eastern end of the alpine area. From the top of the Rosebrook Express Quad chairlift, I headed down the Two Miles Home trail, past the entrances to Black Forest and Enchanted Bear, to a traverse up to the right. It’s easy to miss the entrance – it’s a wide groomed trail, but there’s no immediate sign. Up a bit there’s a sign announcing your entrance to the Stickney Backcountry Glades, with all the usual warnings that come with skiing the woods. And yes, you should heed those warnings. It is advanced terrain and you should be prepared to encounter trees and rocks that you need to maneuver around.

The traverse to the new trails is a bit of a hike… but so worth it. I was glad to see that there were snowboarders making the trek up to the glades as well as skiers. For my first run I chose to go as far as the ski area boundary, making sure I didn’t go past the boundary signs – I didn’t want to find myself down some drainage that didn’t lead back to the Resort! I was amazed at how much snow was out there – even with a handful of tracks from previous skiers, the snow was deep and powdery, four days after the big storm. I relished the burn I felt in my quads as I made turn after turn, looking ahead to pick my path through the trees.

The glades cross over Mountain Road, the cross-country ski trail that winds from the top of the mountain to the Nordic Center, and then make another drop through the trees before a traverse back to Two Miles Home. There were a few open streams on the traverse back, but it kept things interesting as I cruised back. Once back on Two Miles Home, I could duck back into the Rosebrook Canyon Glades and hit Inferno or Snowmaker’s Gully. I did the loop from the base, up the Bethlehem Express Quad, up the Rosebrook Express Quad, and over to the Stickney Glades three times before I had to check back in with the kids in the Lodge.

One of my favorite things about skiing at Bretton Woods is the ability to find uncrowded terrain, even on the busiest of weekends. There was a wait at the Bethlehem Express Quad at times this weekend, but I skied right on to the Rosebrook Express Quad all day and usually had whatever trail I was on to myself. People new to the Resort often just ski what they see under the lifts, but there really is so much to explore beyond the obvious runs.

There’s a mountain biking trail at Kingdom Trails in East Burke, Vermont, called Worth It. It’s a long climb to the top of a wonderful, winding descent. It reminded me of today’s endeavor. A bit of work to get there, but the “whoo-hooooos” I heard echoing through the woods reminded me: it was SO worth it.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Snow Day!

As I dropped Bridget off for preschool this morning, I got a text from my husband: “You should take Timothy to the Bretton Woods nursery and ski some fresh snow this morning after his nap.” Well, okay! After all, if we live in the mountains, why not take advantage of the skiing and fresh powder?!?

Although this coastal storm was not supposed to bring as much snow for us as Southern New Hampshire, we have already exceeded the high end of the snow total estimates, and it is still coming down hard. I'll bet we're close to a foot of new snow by now.

By the time I dropped Timothy off at the nursery and booted up, I only had 90 minutes to ski, so I decided to try the trails on West Mountain, where the ride back up the mountain is quick and there are numerous choices for tree skiing. But as I headed down Aggasiz, I realized I didn’t even need to get into the glades to find a bounty of untracked powder. There were plenty of other people out enjoying the snow this morning with me, but the snow was coming down so hard that with every run, our tracks were covered again with fresh snow.

Waumbeck, Starr King, Little Tuck's and Wild West Glade were delightful. The West Mountain lift operator commented every time I hopped on that judging from the grin on my face, the conditions must be superb.

Don’t let this wonderful weather pass you by… do whatever you can to make it outside today. Ski, snowshoe, sled, or just take a walk around the block. Bundle up and feel the snow on your nose. Make a snow man. Then come in for some hot cocoa and sit by the fire. Enjoy!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Family Interchangeable Ticket

Sometimes the logistics of finding a way for both Mom and Dad to get out and take some ski runs can be difficult. If you’ve got a baby who needs to be with Mom or Dad, or the kids just don’t feel like skiing that day, but both adults want to ski, it seems like it might be a waste of money to buy a lift ticket for each adult, since you won’t be skiing at the same time. For this dilemma, Bretton Woods offers the Family Interchangeable Ticket.

For the price of one regular adult lift ticket, the Family Interchangeable Ticket gives each parent a ticket of their own, but the tickets have the same bar code, so that only one ticket can be used at any given time.

When Bridget was a baby, we frequently took advantage of this opportunity. Unlike the generally easy-going younger brother, Bridget was a “high-need” baby and didn’t really enjoy exploring the Babes in the Woods Nursery until she was a bit older. So Matt and I would take turns getting outside while the other parent would hang out in the Base Lodge.

These days, the trade-offs are little more complicated, as we try to accommodate Bridget with some time on the bunny hill as well as giving Matt and me time to take a few runs, and still caring for Timothy, who's just learning to walk. Lately, though, Bridget has taken an extreme liking to the brownies at Lucy Crawford’s Food Court, so while she indulges in a treat after skiing, Matt or I can usually make it up the Bethlehem Express and Rosebrook in the time it takes her to savor the snack.

I also love that the Bretton Woods Base Lodge is such a comfortable place to be when I do have to take my turn inside with the kids. If we hang out on the main floor, Kathryn, Lance or Skip at the Guest Services Desk always says hi to the kids and gives us the latest on what’s going on at the Resort.

Upstairs, there’s a warm fire to sit by and we can watch everyone skiing from the picture windows – or out on the upstairs deck when it’s a bit milder. There’s carpeting on all the floors and Jason and his crew keep everything so clean that I’m not worried about Timothy crawling around for a while.

There are often other families with young children hanging out in the base lodge. A few weeks ago, Bridget made friends with two other little girls, and they chased each other around the second floor, squealing with delight, for so long that they were all ready for naps by the end of the morning.

Now that Mom and Dad can both ski for the price of one, the only question is: who gets to go first? If it’s a powder day, this could be quite a debate. Have fun making that decision!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Making Tracks with Timothy and the Moose

Now that January has arrived, it’s time to get into a routine and settle in to the fun of winter. Bridget is back to preschool in the mornings and it’s a great time for Timothy and me to explore the outdoors together. I have found that I’m much better at making time for the things I love (rather than just getting sucked into the vortex of laundry and grocery shopping) when I set a goal for myself. So here’s my short-term goal for this ski season: I plan on competing in the Mount Washington Cup Nordic race at Bretton Woods this March. It’s “only” a 10-kilometer race – a short distance in the world of Nordic racing, but as a beginner racer I think finishing is an attainable goal for me.

Yesterday was the first day of what I hope will become routine for me: after dropping Bridget off at school, Timothy and I headed to Bretton Woods for some cross-country skiing. I was hoping that Timothy would be able to get his morning nap while I cruised around, but I wasn’t sure how it would go if he fell asleep in the car and I then had to transfer him to the Chariot. The lull of the skiing pod did its magic, though – he had been asleep in the car for 30 minutes by the time I had everything set up, and he fell back asleep by the time I was over the Ammonoosuc River bridge.

In my previous post I talked about what a great tool our Chariot has been for getting into the great outdoors, even with little ones. We have two Chariots that we purchased from Littleton Bike and Fitness – we bought the Cougar 1 when Bridget was born. She was such a handful that we had no intention of needing a Chariot that seats two. But, the maternal instinct kicked in and now we have the Cougar 2 as well. If you’re in the market, the two-seater can easily be adjusted so that one child can sit in the middle.

After lugging two children around this past weekend, going back to towing just one kid yesterday seemed like a breeze. Matt usually does the honors when it comes to skiing with both of them, and this year I’m looking at towing Timothy as a great training tool. I’m more comfortable freestyle, or skate, cross-country skiing, and because I’m smoother, I think the ride for him is smoother as well when I skate.

To ease into the workout, I headed across the golf course to B&M and up to the yurt. B&M is a long, gradual uphill, and I soon found my breathing and skiing rhythm. Even after the warm spell at the end of last week, the snow is still abundant and Pete the groomer has done an amazing job at keeping the trails in shape. At the intersection of B&M and Tim Nash, I noticed recent moose tracks in the snow – a nice reminder that even with all the amenities at our fingertips at the Nordic Center, we really are right in the heart of the White Mountain National Forest.

Coming back down Sebosis, I found myself snowplowing a bit more than usual to slow my pace around the corners with the weight of the Chariot behind me. I’ve found that being a downhill skier is a great advantage when it comes to negotiating tight turns on the downhill cross-country trails. And then more moose tracks, all the way down the lower half of Sebosis and onto Perimeter along the golf course. I wonder if he was headed towards the outdoor pool at the Omni Mount Washington Hotel.l?

The snow along the golf course was heavenly, and I considered taking another loop, but I had also decided that it was better not to overdo it. Exhausting myself would not make for very easy parenting for the rest of the day.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

New Year’s Eve Nordic

My New Year’s Eve celebration took place on the Bretton Woods Nordic trails, a little bit earlier than most. When the kids often are ready to greet the day at 5:00am, bedtime comes early for the Outdoor Mom, whether I like it or not!

So how do we all get out to enjoy some cross-county skiing with a three- and one-year old? Bretton Woods Nordic rents pulks, an enclosed sled that an adult can tow behind them while skiing. But our favorite piece of equipment the past few years has been our Chariot. This high-tech stroller is basically a pod with wheels that pop off so that you can attach skis to pull the kids Nordic skiing or a bike attachment to tow the kids behind your bike. When the kids were infants, we used the baby sling attachment to cradle them safely in the Chariot until Bridget and then Timothy could hold their heads up on their own. This equipment has been an invaluable investment in our health and sanity. When Bridget was a baby, it was often the only way we could get her to nap. It has enabled us to get outside with the kids and get quite a workout in the process. It has meant that Matt and I don’t have to take turns getting outside.

Pulling the Chariot around the Bretton Woods trails is always an attention-getter. We often get comments like, “whish I could ride in style like that!” and “Wow, that’s got to be quite a workout!” Since Matt is a much faster Nordic skier than me, I often joke that having him tow the kids is the only way I can keep up with him. He jokes back that towing the kids is the only way I’ll let him have a beer when we get home.

Yesterday we met out friends who also have a Chariot, Phoebe and Dave, and their two boys. Finding friends to share the trials and tribulations of feeding your outdoor habit with kids in tow makes it all the more fun - for the kids and the adults.

This ski season has brought a new dimension to the use of the Chariot – our preschooler now want to have the option of getting out and taking part in the skiing. We are obviously excited to see that Bridget wants in on the fun, but this has forced another change in our approach and expectations. Now we need to summon up the patience to schuss slowly along as Bridget learns her way through the forest. But hopefully the payback will be an independent skier in just a few years.

Bridget’s feet are still too small to wear cross-country boots, so we got her some strap-on kid’s skis from Madshus that adjust to her snow boots and have an unattached heel to simulate the feel of cross-country skiing. So we pull the kids for awhile, then let her get out and ski a bit, then back in the Chariot when she tires. The gear compartment in the back of the Chariot is big enough to stow snacks and diapers and to stick the skis in the top when not in use.

Bridget and the boys especially enjoyed cruising down the gentle slope of the Sebosis trail. Having two other kids to follow is a great motivator for Bridget. She sees that getting down the trail is totally possible, and that if you fall, you just get yourself back up and keep going. Bridget’s boots don’t hold her up like her stiff downhill boots, so this will be great for her to learn balance on the skis. She shuffled along with a big grin on her face.

Now that the Christmas rush is over, I’m looking forward to pulling Timothy on the Nordic trails while Bridget is at preschool in the mornings. With any luck, we’ll be able to combine morning nap time with a chance for Mom to get outside!

Thanks to Dave for this great picture!