Friday, December 21, 2012

Not-So-Secret Tips for a Happy Ski Vacation

As any parent knows, expectations run high this time of year for young and old alike.  With so many tasks to juggle, I'm hoping this list of tips will help make your ski vacation be just that: a true vacation from the everyday, with time to truly cherish some family moments.

Following your holiday festivities with Santa next week, many of you will be joining me for a week filled with all things Winter Fun: skiing and riding, skating, snowshoeing, dogsledding, sleigh rides, tubing, and of course, a little hot chocolate at the end of the day.

Here are a few dos and don'ts as you head to the resort next week:

Make sure that you make reservations for all the great activities you'd like to take part in.  Ski school,  canopy tours, babysitting, sleigh or dogsled rides and many other activities fill up over vacation week, so be sure to call the activities desk ahead of time to make sure you don't miss out.  (And don't forget your Spa reservations; you deserve it after all you've done to get the gifts under the tree and the family to the mountain!)  Lift tickets, rentals, and ski school reservations can also be made online ahead of time, which will give you more time when you're at the mountain to be on the snow.

Show up for first tracks.  There are some days when it's nice to linger over your morning pancakes and coffee, but vacation week is the time to get an early start.  You'll get a better parking spot, avoid lines for rentals, lessons, the lifts, and enjoy some fresh corduroy, or even perhaps some untouched powder tucked away in the woods.

Make use of those friendly red-coated Ambassadors you see in the parking lots and along the entrance to the lodge.  Need some help carrying all that gear AND managing the kids? They'll be happy to help. Wondering where to go for lessons?  They'll head you in the right direction.  At your mid-morning break, search them out: they'll be handing out steaming cups of hot cider to warm you up.

Ski on trails that you can't see from the lifts.  There seems to be a draw for people to ski on Bigger Ben and Range View, perhaps because you can see all the great snow you'll find as you speed over those trails on your way up the lifts.  But if you're looking to find a trail that's a bit less populated, do a little exploring.  Just to skier's left of Bigger Ben, In Between is a "hidden gem" that winds over the terrain cut to take advantage of the contours of the mountain.  Crawford's Blaze will also take you away from the masses along an undulating ride through the forest.

Ride on lifts you can't see from the base lodge.  When the Bethlehem and Zephyr lifts get busy at high times, usually between 10:00 and 2:00, enjoy some of the terrain you can access from the Rosebrook or West Mountain lifts.  The lines at these lifts are usually much shorter, and again, you can explore new trails that are less frequented than those that you can see from the lifts.

Break early for lunch. The base lodge will get busy at high noon with hungry skiers and riders looking to fill up on hearty soups and sandwiches, so buck the system and head in closer to 11:00 for lunch - you'll be ready for some chow by then, since you arrived for first tracks!  Then, when everyone else piles in for lunch, you can be back out on the trails.  For an elevated lunch, try Latitude 44, at the top of the Bethlehem Express Quad, for a quick sit-down lunch and stunning views of the Presidentials.

Relax and have fun.  Remember to enjoy each other's company, whether you're sharing a lift ride or just waiting in line to pay for that chocolatey brownie you'll share as a reward for a few good runs.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Fitting In Some Fun Shopping

Okay, I admit it: I'm a procrastinator when it comes to holiday shopping.  I don't shop on Black Friday and I certainly don't plan ahead and buy Christmas gifts in July.  The truth is, given the chance, I'd much rather be playing outside than spending the day indoors at the stores.  Luckily, there are some places where I can combine my love of skiing with a little shopping, like TreeTop Sports at Bretton Woods.

The top of my list includes my favorite winter gift: hats. Everyone could use another fun hat to add to their collection. They are easy give: you don't have to guess at sizing and they're easy to wrap and ship.  Last year I sent Skida hats to my family in Colorado.  Skida has a great story: they are made locally in Vermont by a skier and student, and the company donates hats to cancer patients as well as proceeds for Olympic racers.  Here's my friend Nicole and me with our Skida hats on for a Nordic ski day last spring:

For the kids, I love these Sesame Street character hats and mittens.  Perfect for my little Cookie Monsters!

Animal hats with ear flaps have several benefits: in addition to keeping their ears covered, with a fun animal on their heads, imaginations run wild and Mom doesn't have to convince the little angels to keep them on.

For the skier in your life that needs a gorgeous sweater, I love the Core Sweater from Spyder.  Spyder offers sizing all the way down to 2T, so even the little guy can warm up with this one.  The Bitsy Virtue Fill Zip is cut slim enough to layer under a ski jacket, but the mid-weight fleece will keep her warm on extended laps on the bunny hill

You may, like me, also need to find some last minute stocking stuffers!  How about some ski socks from Darn Tough (another local company, and they also come in sizes for the little skiers),  or a Turtle Fur Totally Tubular that can be worn as a neck warmer, headscarf, or headband?

If you want the full luxury treatment, head to the Bogner shop at the Omni Mount Washington Hotel.  The Munich-based company, known for its high-end sports fashions, now offers a virtual clothing store where you can select custom clothing, gear and accessories electronically, and your order is mailed directly to you.

Still stuck for the perfect gift?  For the thrill-seeker on your list, I think a Canopy Tour gift certificate would make their Christmas morning!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Power of the Kid Posse

Do you ever feel like you need a little inspiration to get the kids motivated to ski?

Last Sunday, we were on our 5th ski day out of the last ten days, and it seemed like the kids were just going through the motions.  Timmy was more interested in making block towers with the door stops in the lodge, and Bridget lacked her usual bubbly enthusiasm for conquering the mountain. Outdoor Dad and I were thinking we might need to just cut our losses; we have said time and again that we want this to be FUN - if skiing isn't fun, because the kids are tired (skiing takes a LOT out of those little bodies) or just need a change of pace, then maybe we should just head home.

But then, by chance, we ran into one of Bridget's old friends, and we hopped on the lift with her and her Dad.  Suddenly, little girl laughter and jibber-jabber filled the air.  They hadn't seen each other in months, and now were ecstatic to have a skiing playmate.  Rejuvenated, Bridget and her friend filled the lift rides with giggles and stories, and took turns making up games to play on the runs down.  They had a contest to see how many turns they could make in one run.  They played follow the leader.  They tried skiing backwards on the flatter parts.  And they raced, again and again.  Soon, another skiing family arrived and we had a whole posse of kids, from ages 3 through 6, romping over the snow.  They     joked as only they could, shouting from one chairlift to another and giggling hysterically when one friend lost his ski when he got on the lift.  (Luckily his Dad grabbed it and everyone was safe.)  Lap after lap, they just got back in line each time they reached the bottom, barely noticing if the grown-ups were along for the ride or not.

It was great to see them just having fun (that's the point, right?) and not worrying about anything else.   No grown-ups cajoling them to hurry up, or slow down, or to make more turns.  It was an unusually warm day and no one was in danger of getting too cold.  The kids ski gang took on a life of its own, and while they were playing, unbeknownst to them, they were learning, too.  Their games were allowing them to practice all those things we want them to learn on the snow: keeping their weight forward, finding balance on skis, and avoiding collisions as other skiers act as moving targets down the mountain.  Bridget's friend's dad, who is a racing coach, even showed them how to do a tuck on the flat section of the bunny hill.

It was great to end the day with smiles on our faces, and I hope all our friends can join us again for another skiing adventure.  What do you do to make it fun for your kids?

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Getting Into the Flow State

Flow State is Warren Miller's latest ski flick.  His 63rd, to be exact.  As part of Bretton Woods' Homecoming Weekend, we joined a lodge full of enthusiasts for a viewing last night.  What is it about a Warren Miller show that keep even people like me, who don't watch many movies, coming back for more year after year?

The winning formula seems pretty simple: bring some world-class skiers and riders to the most exotic snow destinations on the planet, and let them show off their super-human alpine moves.  Throw in some epic powder, and a few grand-scale crashes just to show how fallible even the most experienced skiers and riders are.  Much of the footage, of course, is taken from helicopters, where the cameraman can take us along on this grand adventure with a close-up of the skier launching him or herself off the lip of a monumental couloir, then zoom out to see how very steep and high this terrain is.  I can feel the nervous anticipation before she takes off, and then the exhilaration of arcing those perfect turns all the way to the bottom.

The skiers and riders are Olympians and pioneers of the sport, the superstars of the snow world, but their stories make me feel, at least for a little while, like that dream skier life isn't so far from reality.  Each interview with an athlete tells us his or her story, and themes of  love of the mountains, love of snow, and love of being outside emerge again and again.  The camaraderie of the sport, the passion we all share, makes me feel as though those monumental runs down epic slopes aren't that far out of reach - I can certainly identify with that rush of adrenaline, that feeling of being "in the zone" when all the conditions are just perfect, when the sun is shining and the snow is soft and abundant, and all the pistons are firing at once to make for that idyllic run: heart pounding, breathing hard and legs burning, but thrilled at the rush of floating down the mountain.   The sentiment "everything else falls away when I'm skiing" is echoed time and again.

This year's film also showcased some young rippers, two 11-year old boys who convinced their parents to let them skip school on a powder day. Although my snow bunnies aren't quite old enough to stay out for a movie premier, I can appreciate the joy these boys felt at doing what they loved, and I was inspired by their passion. They weren't complaining that "there's nothing to do" and they weren't sitting in front of some kind of electronic screen.  Knowing from personal experience that sense of freedom skiing gives me, and seeing kids taking on that passion and making it their own, makes me so excited for the snow days ahead in my little rippers' futures.  

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

First Turns of the Season

What a wonderful surprise last week when my Facebook feed delivered the news that Bretton Woods would be opening nearly a week earlier than planned - giving us the chance to get on to the snow before the craziness of the holiday week began.  Knowing this would change our weekend plans, I decided that although we were pretty good about keeping all the ski stuff in one place over the summer, I had better make a list and take inventory to make sure all the gear was ready to go on Friday morning.

As I might have guessed, the little skiers had grown quite a bit in the last six months, and everything from snow pants and jackets to mittens to snow boots had suddenly shrunk.  Sleeves were too short and pants looked like capris.  However, I had done some research on sizing and had ordered new snowsuits for the kids, and they were very excited to find some snow to test out their new outfits.  Timmy, who's three, generally falls true to size in a 3T in most brands, but 5-year old Bridget is petite for her age, so I often have to buy a size down for her in pants.  Timmy got a one-piece snowsuit, but for Bridget we went with 4T snow pants and an xxs girls' jacket.

Just in case you're still making that gear list, here's a start:

  • skis
  • boots
  • poles (for adults)
  • helmets
  • mittens
  • ski socks
  • polypro long underwear
  • goggles
  • fleece tops and bottoms
  • ski jacket
  • ski pants
  • snow boots
  • hats
  • neck gaiters
On a relatively warm November weekend when there isn't natural snow on the ground, the snow boots aren't crucial for getting to the lodge, but now is the time to make sure those snow boots will fit when that first snow day hits us by surprise.  

After a stop at the season pass office for new pictures for Bridget and Timmy, we stopped at the Bretton Woods rental shop to check out boot and ski sizing for them.  (For an in-depth look at boot sizing, look here.)  Both kids had gone up TWO sizes, so I was glad we checked the fit.  Erin, the rental shop manager, suggested we stay on their current-length skis for the first few days, until the kids get their ski legs back and those "pizza" and "french fry" stances come back to them once more.

Thanks to some great new snow gun addtions on Range View, this trail from the top of the Zephyr Quad was the first to open this year.  Unlike recent season-openers, where often the Learning Center was the only terrain open, I was again pleasantly surprised to be able to make the first turns of the year on a longer run.  That personal revelation was tempered a bit, however, when I realized that this would also be the first run available to my eager little learning skiers.  I was pretty confident that Bridget would make it down just fine, after a strong finish last season, but Timmy had just started getting a little adventurous on the Learning Center last year, and  I knew both Range View's pitch and length would be a challenge for him.

My husband and I didn't want to project any of that hesitation on to our kids, so we headed up the Zephyr, knowing that this one run might take some time and that we might have to carry Timmy a bit more than we'd normally like to.  I was again reminded of that constant struggle between wanting to allow them to test their limits and trying not to put them into situations that are hard enough that they become frustrated and stop having fun.  

On the ride up, we talked about making a "pizza" or wedge to slow down, and making lots of arcing "snakeys" down the mountain.  But those first turns can be a little rusty, even for an adult.  Bridget started to whine and get frustrated, and I had to verbalize for her what I already knew: your mind has been thinking about getting back on skis for weeks, but your legs may have forgotten what to do.  We had to stop and slow down, and think about making those big arcs.  By the time we were about half way down the run, she had that grin back on her face and I knew she had her groove back.

Timmy, on the other hand, needed a lot more encouragement - it was a really long run for him.  Matt and I took turns skiing down with him in between our legs, and I think he did appreciate that sliding on snow feeling once again.  Near the bottom, Matt got him to ski towards him, asking Timmy to play "dinosaur," with his arms out in front to keep his weight forward and thinking about moving down the mountain.  I'm eager to see how he progresses this year when we can get on to the Learning Center where he's more comfortable, and get him in to some lessons, too.

Afterwards, the kids enjoyed a little time at the Kinderwoods Playground while Dad and I took turns taking a run of our own.  The sun was shining as I forced some muscle memory out of my quads and took some tentative turns on the forgiving snow.

Of course, we couldn't resist, as Timmy says, "a little lunch at Fabyans" on our first day back for the season.

We are so excited for the coming ski season, and I hope you'll join us on our adventures.  What big plans do you have for making this winter fun?

Monday, April 16, 2012

April Moose Fun

April vacation is upon us, and although the ski season seems a distant memory, we're still enjoying all Northern New Hampshire has to offer, especially with another heat wave in the forecast this week. 

After realizing that the bean-sprout children had shot up once again and that none of the clothes I'd saved from last summer were going to fit anymore, we piled into the car yesterday morning for a little bargain-hunting in nearby North Conway, home of some great outlets.  

Appropriately outfitted for the sun, we set out for some real outdoor fun.  Like a choose-your-own-adventure book, in this outdoor playground, often the hardest choice to make near Bretton Woods is which trail to stop and explore today.  Between North Conway and Bretton Woods in Bartlett is a spot that I had driven by many times but never stopped at: Diana's Baths.  Half a mile form the turn-off to Cathedral Ledge on West Side Road, it's an easy half mile walk to cascading falls, waterspouts, and granite basins along Lucy Brook.   Of course, half a mile with preschoolers and a 5-month old puppy is not necessarily fast, but I reminded myself to enjoy the fact that Timmy was revelling in rock collection and Bridget that was frequently found summiting boulders, and that it didn't matter how fast we made it to the falls, if at all.  But we did reach out destination, and although we just dipped out toes in the icy stream today, the shallow pools looked like the perfect place to head back this summer when we're really ready for a swim.

At the Omni Mount Washington Hotel, the next two weeks are April Family Fun Weeks, and I knew that the Resort would be hosting some fun indoors and out.  Although this evening's hunt for (stuffed) moose, complete with "hunting licenses" and "regulations" set out by the "warden" sounded like a ton of fun, it was set to happen after my little hunters' bedtime. 

But an afternoon stop at Omni Kids to color our own moose t-shirts was right up our alley.  I have to confess that although I could spend all day creating rock and stick huts in the woods, and I know that arts and crafts are a huge draw for kids, if someone else is setting up the opportunity to get creative with markers and fabric, I'm all for it.

So after a quick stop at Morsels for a Gummy-on-a-stick treat, Bridget and Timmy (made themselves comfortable) grabbed some fabric markers and a moose t-shirt.  With the typical patience of a two-year old, Timmy approached his moose art with bold strikes of color, without so much as a thought of coloring in the lines, and declared "I'm done" just five minutes later.  satisfied with his masterpiece, he found his way over to the other toys. 

Bridget, in contrast, made sure to get her hands on a brown marker for her moose and a red marker for the roof of The Mount Washington Hotel in the background.  Eager to show off her new found spelling skills, she also wrote her name right on the front of her t-shirt next to her moose.

After completing their works of moose art, we headed upstairs and out onto the verandah that wraps around the Hotel.  The cushion-filled wicker seats along the walk were too much for them to resist, and they sampled several along the way.  Hopefully Mom and Dad will be back again soon to perhaps enjoy a beverage on the verandah in the not-so-distant future!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Season's End

It's hard to believe the ski season is over.  Even after that week of 70-degree weather in mid-March, I still kept thinking that we had more time.  But despite the relatively early thaw this year, I think I feel that way every year: I anxiously anticipate the first ski day all fall, and when it finally comes, it seems like I've got so much wonderful time ahead of me to play in the snow.  Then the holidays come, then February vacation, and next thing you know the days start to get longer and warmer.  

Bridget and I went on a girls-only mission to Bretton Woods for the final day of the season.  It seemed that lately Dad was the one who had been taking her skiing, and I was eager to see how her skiing had progressed and have some one-on-one time with her. 
We met up with our friend Susan for a run, and Bridget followed me down Bretton's Wood with big arcing turns.  I stopped every once in a while to see if she wanted to take a break, but no, she was ready to cruise on.  I was happy to see that as she turned, she was using her weight to begin to carve turns, rather than just relying on the power-wedge to slow her down.

On Sawyer's Swoop, Bridget watched as some of the older kids scooted across some bare spots where the trail had narrowed, and decided that looked like fun.  She took off ahead of me, and before I could say a word, she headed full-speed, straight for the grassy section.  Her skis flew off and she landed superman-style across the water-drenched grass.  I think she was more suprised than anything else and quickly got up and I helped her put her skis back on.  Before I could click back into my bindings, she was already skiing off down the trail. I'm guessing this is only the beginning of that independent side showing through.

After a few runs, we enjoyed a hot dog on the deck in honor of Bretton Woods Beach Party as we watched the big kids hurl themsleves through the air and onto the Acrobag.  Bridget was intrigued, but I think because it resembled a bouncy-house to her.   She wasn't quite ready to aspire to big air, but she's got her eye on bigger skiing conquests.  "Mommy, when I get big, like five years old, can I ski from the top of the mountain all by myself?" 

"We'll see how we do next year, I promise, Bridget."

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Snow is Beautiful at Bretton Woods

I fear that a lack of snow in everyone's backyard may be keeping some people away from enjoying Winter in Bretton Woods. But I'm here to let everyone know that the Snow is Beautiful in Bretton Woods.

I got a call from my friend Keith the Snowmaker (a.k.a. The Snow Miser) on Monday afternoon. He wanted to let me know that they'd gotten nearly a foot of snow and that Tuesday was going to be one of the best days of the year.

Indeed it was. My favorite trail that day was the top of Fabyan's Express, where the groomers had left the headwall untouched and I finally got to put my new fat tele skis to use, my heart racing as I powered through soft bumps of boot-high wind-driven powder. Strong winds had come from the West in the last storm, so the skier's right side of trails like Agassiz and Dave's Drop were loaded with the snow that had accumulated there.

Last Sunday I got to take our 5- month old Labrador Retriever on her inaugural cross-country ski on the Bretton Woods Nordic dog trails. Sebosis was named after one of our favorite cross-country trails at Bretton Woods. A friend was visiting with her Lab as well, and Sebosis followed her lead, ecstatic to run full tilt over the snow. But, like
I do when I take the kids out for a ski, I didn't want to overdo it on her first day. So after a run up Lower Honeymoon and back with the dogs, we dropped them off in the car and headed back out.

My husband had suggested we try another of my favorite trails, Nancy Barton. My friend Nicole was visiting from central Vermont, and she was amazed at Bretton Wood's snow cover. She commented, "The trails are so nicely groomed and wide here." And cruising along the river among the snow-frosted evergreens, I was once again reminded how lucky I am to have this playground in my backyard.

I'm sorry to say that for the first time since it's inception, my husband won't be racing the Bretton Woods Nordic Marathon.
I had hoped to participate this year as well- they offer a half-marathon option for those of us who might want a shorter distance, but plans will take us away for the weekend. I do urge any of you out there who are looking for a great Nordic challenge to give it a try. Proceeds from the event go to the New England Ski Museum, and as my husband reminded me, it's really the best deal around for your race entry fee. You get a custom Swix ski hat with the race logo, a bounty of amazing food served for lunch at the Omni Mount Wasington Hotel, and a swag bag of all kinds of really great goodies that you'll actually use. And of course there's the Swix Sale going on all weekend at the Nordic Center, where I found absolute steals on these clothing and gear. Who doesn't love Swix hats?! And if you prefer skating over classic-style skiing, why not try the Mount Washington Cup race this Sunday?

In the meantime, I've chosen another fun goal for racing at Bretton Woods: the WinterWild Championship on March 17. WinterWild is a series held a different mountains, where racers start at the base of the mountain, ski or run to the summit and then back down. You can use trail running shoes, alpine, telemark, or Nordic skis, or even a snowboard.

So whether you're up for a little racing challenge or you just want to enjoy some cruising on Beautiful Snow at Bretton Woods, I urge you to remember that it is full-on Winter in Bretton Woods. Come enjoy it while you can.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

New Adventures in Nordic

As a parent who's eager for my kids to enjoy the outdoors as much as I do, I have found that it's a challenge sometimes to find that balance between healthy encouragement and overbearing pressure.  I want my kids to love to ski.  Part of that is selfish: I want to go skiing myself, and know that the likelihood of my being able to sneak in a few adult runs is greatly increased if we're all at the ski area together.  And I hope that in creating a lifestyle with my kids that includes skiing, that someday they'll be ripping down the slope alongside me, ahead of me, or even without me.  And perhaps on the less selfish side, I want to share that love of skiing with my son and daughter because I know how fun and rewarding a day on the slopes or trails can be for them.  I want them to feel that pride in mastering a new skill and that euphoria that comes from gracefully gliding down the mountain.

But I also know that sometimes my pre-schoolers have a different agenda than me. Sometimes they just aren't interested in being out there. And although I do want to teach them that sometimes you've got to do things that aren't your first choice,  what I really want to avoid is them feeling like skiing is a chore.  So our number one rule has been to KEEP IT FUN.  This can be frustrating when we've made the effort to come to the ski area, only for the little angel to decide that she's done after one run, but I know I can't force it.  Gently suggest, encourage, and model a positive attitude, yes; but forcing it is going to leave everyone unhappy.

To my pleasant surprise, when we asked Bridget what she wanted to do on Saturday, she said she wanted to go cross-country skiing.  After a weekend stuck inside with the stomach bug, we were all eager to soak in some sun and fresh air.  It's hard to believe that it's already the third weekend in January and we we just going to the Bretton Woods Nordic Center for the first time of the season.

This was one of those times when Matt and I decided it would be best to approach our outing with a low-key attitude.  We wanted to give the kids a chance to try out a little cross-country skiing, but we had no delusions of grandeur about a long trek through the forest.  This was going to be a friendly warm-up for the season, a chance to see how the kids would take to it after 6 months away, and to say hello to friends at the Nordic Center.  Matt and I dressed for a slow pace, rather than an aerobic workout.

Bridget took to the track as if she'd never been away. We strapped her into her skis and she just scooted on down the trail.  We tried using poles at first, but after a while she passed them off to me.  I think she found the poles more of a hindrance than a help.We just went out over the bridge and back a few times, and then she heard a cup of hot chocolate calling her name...

Timothy, our two year-old, was more interested in hanging out in the Nordic Center than anything else.  We checked out the new trail maps that have a picture of my friend Bob and me pulling Bridget in the Chariot when she was a baby.  We said hello to Peter, the Nordic Center Director, and to instructor Audrey at the desk.  And of course we enjoyed some hot chocolate.

Later, Bridget and I went out for another short jaunt while Matt took Timmy to see Pete and the Nordic trail groomer.  Timmy loved the "snow tractor" and I'm sure would have jumped right in if we let him.  I showed Bridget how they lower the track setters to create two troughs side-by-side for us to classic ski in.

And then before anyone got too tired or too hungry, we headed home.  The kids protested leaving at first, but we knew that it was time to get some lunch and that nap time would soon follow for Timmy, and we wanted to go while there were still smiles on their faces.

So after a low-key cross country experience on Saturday, we had a little bit more at stake on Sunday.  Our friends at the Nansen Ski Club were hosting the Nansen-Milan Winter Festival at the Milan Hill State Park, including adult and kids' cross country ski races.

We arrived for Matt to compete in the 14k classic race, and the kids and I went for a dog sled ride while he jumped right in to a race as his first real day back on Nordic skis for the season.  I had hoped to try the 5k citizen's race, but the kids were cold and whiny and I feared we'd be heading home sooner than later.  But then Bridget saw her friends donning race bibs for the kids' race and suddenly, she was all about the kids' race.  I should never underestimate the power of a costume to up the allure an activity!

So while Timmy napped in the warm car, Bridget gathered  with the other kids at the starting line.

Having never done this before, I was afraid the distance might be too long for her.  I assured her that she should just do her best, but could turn around at any time. She lined up with about 8 or 10 other kids, most of them not much older than her, and then headed up the hill.  Under the guise of photography, I walked next her as she cruised along.

I was reminded that "race" can mean something very different for a four year-old.  She didn't seem particularly concerned that there were some kids that were much faster than her, or that she was ahead of some.  She was just relishing that moment of trying her best.  And after telling her that she was the fastest four year-old. she beamed with pride.  She had won her race.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Thank Goodness for the Snow Miser

I'm pretty sure there are two kinds of people in this world: those who love snow, and those who don't. Lucky for me, since I live in Northern New Hampshire, I count myself among those who check multiple weather outlets looking to see which forecast is going to offer me hope for the highest totals, whose stomach is filled with giddy butterflies at the prospect of a big Nor'Easter, and who jumps up out of bed in the morning to look out the window and check for snowfall like a kid hoping school will be cancelled so I can romp in the powder all day long.

But as everyone knows, Mother Nature has been a fickle friend this winter. We had some beautiful snow for major holidays this season: Halloween's storm seemed a bit premature, but offered inspiration for those of us hoping for a short brown season; Thanksgiving brought another few inches as we geared up for the opening of the ski areas, and we did in fact have that white Christmas we'd been dreaming of. But in the interim, we've had major warm spells, rain, ice, and freezing cold. Unfortunately the cold and the precipitation seem to be on opposite schedules. What we really need is for the cold and the water to get together.

Enter a skier and rider's best friend on a winter like this: The Snowmaker. Like a matchmaker for those natural elements that haven't been playing nicely together, he or she orchestrates a rendezvous of just the right amount of air pressure and water depending on the temperature at a given point on the mountain to create a wonderful chemistry between those elements that results in nothing less than piles and piles of snow for us to ski on from November to April.

Bretton Woods' Head Maker of Snow is Keith Huntoon, a.k.a. the Snow Miser. You know, the guy who causes objects to burst into snowflakes with a touch, from that stop-motion animation movie The Year Without Santa Claus?

I'm Mister Snow
I'm Mister Icicle
I'm Mister Ten Below
Friends call me Snow Miser
What ever I touch
Turns to snow in my clutch
I'm too much!...

Keith very graciously took some time away from his creation of white gold to speak with me about what goes in to making skiing and riding possible when the natural stuff doesn't fall.

Keith has been at this game of helping Mother Nature along for 32 years, and he has seen everything she could possibly throw at us. I like to think of snow as a guarantee here, but he reminded me that this is, after all, New England, and nothing is a sure bet. "Sure, last year we had plenty of snow. But a few years ago we couldn't even ride snow machines until February."

"We spend a lot of time watching the weather," he said. They've got thermometers all over the mountain, since the temperature, wind, and pressure can vary so much depending on elevation. The Weather Bug, located at the Latitude 44 mid-mountain restaurant, tracks wind speed and humidity. "28 or 29 degrees Fahrenheit is what I'm looking for. At 32 it's too warm to make snow," because the process of making the snow creates some heat in itself.

The relative humidity is a key factor in determining the ability to make snow. The "wet bulb" temperature as described on How Stuff Works, is "a function of the dry bulb temperature and the relative humidity, the amount of water vapor in the air. Liquid or solid water cools itself by evaporating some water as water vapor. This releases heat, and so lowers the energy level in the water. When there is more water vapor in the atmosphere, water or snow can't evaporate as much because the air is already saturated with water to a high degree. Consequently, water cools more slowly when the humidity is high, and more quickly when the humidity is low.

In addition to the temperature and humidity factors, snow makers use air compressors to force air and water together. Early in the season, they blow wetter snow as a base, so that when it freezes up it'll have some holding power through the winter. For that they use more water in thegun and less air. Because the air compressors that power the snow guns only have a finite amount of pressure to be used at any given time, when they use less air, they out can put more guns.

Bretton Woods uses two kinds of snow guns: tower guns and land guns. Tower guns can only take 100 cubic feet per minute (cfm), so they don’twork in higher temps as well, and if it is windy, the snow direction isn’t aseasy to control. 25 new Ratnik landguns the resort purchased this season compliment 25 new guns from last year.

The snow makers also have to be strategic about where they decide to blow snow. They usually start making piles or "whales" of snow on the run that is most easily accessible from the chairlift. (The whales then get smoothed out by the groomers, but that's another post...) They also want to open terrain that is skiable for most skiers and riders, so in addition to a blue or green trail, they'll also be sure to build up a base on the bunny hill, so brand new skiers like my little ones can get out onto the slopes right away. From there, they try to open up terrain that will begin to disperse skiers and riders onto separate trails and lifts, so that we're not all on top of each other. At Bretton Woods, they start with trails beneath the Bethlehem Express Quad, then down to the Rosebrook Quad, over to the Fabyan's Express Triple, the Zephyr Quad, and finally they are making their way over to West Mountain.

In addition to all of the complicated and precise science and engineering that goes in to enabling our skiing habit, there's also a lot of hard hours of work in tough conditions. Although we love soft snow to ski on, most people don't really want to ski under the snow guns, so they do their best to blow most of the snow at night, which means there are guys out there in the coldest, darkest hours lugging guns and hoses around the mountain on snow machines and on foot, while we're all snuggled up at home dreaming of plush corduroy. (By the way, skiing under the guns may be a little cold, but there's often some very fun snow to ski on in there!)

I especially noticed the need for snow making this season when I realized that as we were starting two year-old Timmy onto the slopes in earnest, there wasn't any snow under the magic carpets. So although I would have probably had him spend more time on the very gentle slope off those moving sidewalks, we had to graduate right away to learning how to get on and off the lift and the longer run of the bunny hill. (I think he actually preferred this, being the second child whose main goal in life is often keeping up with his older sister.)

So be sure to thank a snow maker the next time you are at your favorite ski area. They work long hours to make following our passion of skiing possible. They spend all summer getting all the systems in place, but there's only a small window of time to actually get that snow through the pipes, and in winters like this, the ski industry depends on that snow.

And remember that there are two kind of people in the world? Well, guess what Keith’s wife, my friend Jenn’s, license plate reads? HEATMZR