Thursday, January 31, 2013

Leaping into the Canopy

Who says kids are the only ones who can have fun romping in the trees?  Zip lines, sky bridges, rappels and a stunning blue-bird day made for an exhilarating day to play on the Bretton Woods Canopy Tour for Outdoor Mom and Dad.

Since our kids are nowhere near the 90-pound and 12-year-old minimum requirement of the tour, they instead got to enjoy a fun morning with other eager little skiers at Hobbits Ski and Snowboard School and the Ski and Snowplay Program.

At the Canopy Tour building just outside the Bretton Woods base lodge, we met Heather McKendry, Canopy Tour Director,  and guide Bobby Wisnouckas.  Despite the bitter cold snap we were in, they cheerfully geared us up with harnesses, gloves, and helmets for our winter thrill ride through the trees, and assured us that they'd be taking care of all the straps and buckles, ensuring all of the equipment was properly placed.
We wore Yaktrax over our boots for additional traction on ice and snow.

Outdoor Dad, Matt and one of our fellow zippers, Eric, all geared and ready to get on the lift.

Despite the odd feeling that I was missing something (my skis) on the chairlift ride up to the top of the Bethlehem Express Quad, I soon forgot about my usual routine at the ski area as we walked over to the deck of the Latitude 44 Restaurant to take in the crystal-clear view of Mt. Washington.  The thermometer there read -7 degrees, which wasn't taking into account the wind chill, but we were all dressed appropriately.  There is one benefit to super-cold days like this: not a cloud in the sky and the view of the surrounding Presidential Mountains is so vivid it feels as if you could reach out and touch them.

The tour included some great tidbits of cultural and ecological information about the area, including the fact that moose grow and then shed a new rack every year, and the health of a male's rack is an indicator of breeding appeal to female moose.

At "ground school" each of us got an opportunity to practice the skills we would need to zip safely.  We kept both hands on top of the cam that travels the length of the cable, and in the event that we needed to break before reaching the other side, Heather would make hand signals to slow and brake, and we would use one flat hand to apply a little pressure on the lower cable.  In the event that we didn't zip fast enough to make it to the other side, we could turn and face backwards to reign ourselves in.

I quickly gleaned one of the benefits of only having a maximum of six participants with our two guides: in this cold weather, no one wanted to stand around for very long.  Heather deftly clipped each of our safety carabiners from the line on the platform to the line on the zip and popped cams on and off seemingly from wrote memory.

Although I knew that this canopy tour has brought smiles to numerous people since it's inception in 2008, and that you don't need to have any special outdoor skills to join the tour, so our safety is all but guaranteed, I still felt a rush of adrenaline as I started off on my first zip.  Standing on a platform high in the air and just pushing myself off into thin air took a literal and figurative leap of faith.  I loved it.
The tour also included three thrilling rappels, from 9 to 65 feet in length.  Having done a little bit of rock climbing in my pre-kid days, I had some rappelling experience, but I could tell that this part of the tour was perhaps the biggest leap of faith for some of our fellow zippers.
I could really feel the wind rush by on this zip over the Deception Bowl trail,  830 feet long.  I had to really practice good zip form.  Although I don't consider myself especially petite, without the height of some of our male counterparts, I found that even with no breaking at all, I had to really tuck to keep enough speed to make it all the way to some of the landing platforms.

It occurred to me midway through the tour that all of the platforms were built around existing trees, and that it must have been a fun challenge to build this tour, using the existing trees and contours to give us this unique perspective on the mountain.  Heather told us about a stand of Hemlock we were zipping through that pre-dates the Civil War.  I felt humbled to be among them.

We all wore goggles to protect our eyes and face from the cold, but for the majority of the time, they remained resting on my helmet: I didn't want anything to obstruct my view of the trees and mountains from this unique treetop perspective.  One of my favorite zips was like a tunnel through the boughs.  The tall evergreens have to be trimmed back periodically to make way for the zip lines, and this particular one had grown back just enough to make me feel as if I was soaring through the branches like a bird, even if in reality I was quite safe from coming close to hitting anything.

The two sky bridges reminded me of one of my son's favorite features on on of his Thomas the Tank Engine movies: the Shake Shake Wobbly Bridge.  I know he's going to love this when he's old enough.

From this zip near the end of the course, we could see the ski trail Downspout in the background.  The moguls looked a bit "firm" (read:icy) in this cold weather, and I was glad for the change in activity this morning.

The final repel to terra firma took us 65 feet down.  Wheeee!

The final thrill of the morning was a slide down the Williwaw Racing Zip.  Two zips are set up side-by-side just west of the Learning Center Quad, and allowed Matt and I to indulge our competitive nature just a bit and test our speed against each other.  Just as we were about to jump off,  Heather whispered to me, "push yourself off the platform and tuck up really small."  I did just that, and although Matt just might have given me a head start, I beat him by a long shot.  What absolute fun.

The Bretton Woods Canopy Tour is open year-round, and in the winter, they offer  Zip and Ski packages, so you can make the most out of the rest of your day with more downhill thrills to top off your adventure.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Sliding on Bacon

Preparing for Bretton Woods' 40th Annual Geschmossel Classic Ski Race seemed to take a lot longer than the actual racing itself.  As any ski mom or dad knows, whether downhill or cross-country skiing, getting the gang ready for a ski day can be quite a production.  There are lunches to pack, mittens to find, and skis to load into the car.  And if you're headed to a Nordic race, you've got to wax your skis as well.

I must confess that I only know the very basics of cross-country ski waxing; I rely on Outdoor Dad to tackle most of our waxing.  There's a lot of science and technique involved, and the pros have "wax technicians" that just take care of this aspect of racing.  The general idea is that wax on the bottom of your skis helps you kick and glide on the snow, but you've got to match up the temperature and consistency of the snow with the right wax for your skis.

Bridget "waxing" her skis back in 2010

So on the morning of the race, as I gathered snacks and gear, Matt worked on waxing up his skis.  As he prepped his skis, Timmy was "helping."  To distract Timmy so that Matt could keep working,  I offered Timmy a piece of bacon to munch on.  Matt encouraged him by telling him, "bacon makes you fast."  Timmy marched over, took the piece of bacon, and then proceeded to rub it on the bottom of his skis.  Later, when Matt retold this story on Facebook, he said, "So if I win today, you know why... fast skis."

This, of course, made us all laugh, including our friend Sean, who always has our best interests at heart: he warned Matt that he was giving his waxing secrets away and that now everyone is going to be "'sliding on bacon' we call it in the race management business.  Just don't tell them about the pancake klister." (Klister is a type of very sticky wax.)

Previously, I wasn't so sure if Timmy was even interested in taking part in the kids' race, but it seems that he wanted in on the action with the rest of us.  Confirming this later, he said, "Mommy, I want to win."  (I've come to understand that I sometimes have to orchestrate a "win" for my son by crowning him "first of the three-year-olds").  I expected big sister to reply with a retort about how small he is, but instead she said, "Timmy, I'm bigger and faster than you are, but if I win, you can have my medal."  I was reassured that moment in her capability for compassion.  I also realized that as much as we stress that the racing is just for fun, they can take it quite seriously.

At registration, The kids received a glorious goody bag along with their racing bibs.  Candy, gummies, and various patriotic treats like red, white and blue star necklaces, flag pencils and "I heart USA" tattoos, all which looked suspiciously like leftover goodies from a Independence Day celebration.  The kids were oblivious to the seasonality and overjoyed to have some bling to sport during the race.

Despite the bitter cold, Matt joined 100 other racers at the start line for the Geschmossel, one of New England's oldest citizens' races.

Meanwhile, I got the kids geared up for their race which followed.

They were very excited to have number bibs to wear.

They were full of smiles as they warmed up before their start, eager to get things going.

And then the meltdown happened.  As all the kids lined up, Bridget started to whine about her hands being cold.  It was, in fact, only about 15 degrees out and windy.  Matt ran to the car and got her some hand warmers (little packets that heat up when you open them), but this didn't calm her down.  As the race started, so did the tears.  Matt skied along next to Timmy while I tried to encourage Bridget to follow the other racers.  She started down the trail, sobbing about how cold her hands were.  Historically, she tends to heat right up when she cross-country skis, but I knew that this wasn't going well, and despite all the preparation that morning, I knew what I had to do.  I told her she didn't have to race if she wasn't having fun, and we headed back to the car to warm up.  In truth, I think the meltdown was due more to panic than cold hands, but either way, I was only interested in this process being a positive one, and we talked about how sometimes a race just doesn't work out.

Meanwhile, Matt and Timmy were doing a short loop of the race course, and we watched Timmy come  across the finish line with his hands over his head.  And then he wanted to know, "Can I have my candy now?"

The prospect of candy soon trumped Bridget's memory of the race, too.  There seems to be a pattern here!

Many thanks to the Bretton Woods Nordic Center staff for putting on a great race for both kids and adults.  We're looking forward to the Bretton Woods Nordic Marathon and the Mount Washington Cup in March!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Sweet Rewards

Sometimes, you have to resort to a little bribery.  This past Saturday, the Learning Center Quad was temporarily down, and three-year old Timmy wanted to ride the lift.  He wasn't so sure about going on the "big" mountain just yet, but we knew just the thing to entice him: a stop at Chutters, a penny-candy shop at the top of the Zephyr Quad.  Somehow that run down Avalon just became a lot more alluring!

Chutters' claim to fame at their home store in Littleton, NH, is the World's Longest Candy Counter.  Although their Bretton Woods winter satellite shop isn't quite as long, there's still a dizzying array of sweets to pick from.  Customers can grab a bag and fill it with sours and gummies, jellybeans, licorice, caramels, and other traditional penny candies.  

Bridget and Timmy each got their own bag, and they gravitated towards their favorite gummy shapes: giant dinosaurs, colorful flowers, squirmy worms and several sizes of frogs.

Once outside, they each got to pick one piece of candy before heading down the mountain, with promises that they'd earn more candy for lots of good turns down the slope.  

We are working getting Timmy to be able to stop.  He loves to whiz down the trail in "french fry,"
with his skis parallel, but he's not really interested in learning to stop yet, which can prove troublesome at times.  Matt started him off down Avalon, a long, gentle ride down towards West Mountain and back to the base lodge, and had Timmy mirror his turns back and forth across the mountain.  It's a long run for a three-year old, but he was proud of making it down and ready for another piece of candy when we returned to the lodge.

Do you ever use treats to motivate or reward your kids?

Chutters at Bretton Woods is open on weekends and during school vacation weeks throughout the school season.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Little League of Cross Country Skiing

For a family that loves outdoor activities, Nordic skiing is an essential part of our quiver of winter fun choices.  Introductory cross-country ski programs for kids provide a fun way to get outside and enjoy playing in the snow.

Happily retuning to the Bretton Woods Nordic Center for another season, I passed by a family loading up little ones into their Chariot for a tour. One of the kids was crying, and I wanted to reassure the parents that (1) most likely their kids would soon fall fast asleep as they glided along the winter trails, and that (2) before they knew it, the kids would be clamoring to strap on skis of their own.   It occurred to me that this would be the first season in five years that we wouldn't be toting our babies around in the trusty pod to get our skinny-ski fix in.

Instead, we were embarking on a new endeavor to all of us: Bridget was going to try out the Bretton Woods Nordic Club's Bill Koch League.  Named after the first American Olympic medalist in Nordic skiing, BKL is the Little League of Nordic skiing.  Sponsored by NENSA, the New England Nordic Ski Association, BKL programs teach the fundamentals of Nordic skiing and racing with an emphasis on fun.

Although Bridget is only five, the youngest of the age requirement to join the club, I had a feeling she'd do fine, given her familiarity with downhill skiing and her one foray into Nordic racing last year.  I was excited for her to ski with other kids, knowing that the camaraderie of other kids would make it more about playing in the snow than learning a new technique.

After filling out some paperwork and renting skis, we met the group out by the tennis courts.  Bridget was thrilled to have poles - a piece of equipment we haven't tackled yet on the downhill terrain.  Although parents are required to accompany kids 7 and younger, I was glad to be able to tag along and see what kinds of activities the kids would do.  It was reassuring to see that along with the coaches and other parents, 31 kids had gathered to learn more about cross-country skiing - a large number for what many consider to be a "secondary" sport to downhill skiing.

We started with a warm up that asked the kids to pretend they were touring the world on their skis, and they yelled out countries to visit and obstacles to ski around.  Although I'm pretty sure the zombie references were above Bridget's head, she followed right along as we stood in place and moved from double-poling to tucking to making a star pattern in a circle.  I could see how all the jumping and hopping around would make these little skiers nimble in the snow.  We played a game to see how many times we could double-pole along a length of track and then ditched the poles to practice gliding as far as possible. We played freeze tag, where the only way to "un-freeze" was to have someone else either ski through your legs or over you.  Bridget's size made her perfect for rescuing the adults who wanted back in the game.


Next, we split up into smaller age and ability groups.  Our friend Audrey, an instructor for Bretton Woods Nordic, took Bridget and a few other girls under her wing for some basics in getting moving on cross-country skis.  We practiced shuffling our feet and swinging our arms like a gorilla, to "step, step, glide" along the track.  Then we skied over to the hill below the Mount Washington Hotel to practice a little uphill and downhill maneuvering.  The girls we eager to slide downhill, and somehow didn't even notice that they were using a herringbone (making a V with their skis) to get uphill.

Although our allotted time wasn't quite up, some of the girls had to take a restroom break and I knew that Bridget would be exhausted after all the new activity she just took part in.  As part of her membership in the BKL, a cup of hot chocolate was waiting for her in the Nordic Center, and I knew she'd be happy to go in for a while and tell her Dad all about her adventures.  She's excited to return next week!

For more on a sample of Bill Koch League games, visit the NENSA Bill Koch League Kids Page.

For more on getting kids started cross-country skiing, visit Winter Feels Good.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Calling in the Experts

What a relief to be getting in to the groove of winter!  After a month of relying on our trusted snowmakers for our white fix, we got the one thing we really wanted for Christmas: a big fat snowstorm, followed by several days of the beloved Bretton Woods flurries.  Now that more and more terrain was opening and the winter habits of gathering our gear and heading to the hill were becoming routine, we decided it was time to try to bust out of one habit: it was time to get Bridget into a lesson and work on getting her out of the wedge and into some parallel turns.

Getting out regularly on the slopes frequently has been great for our five-year-old's confidence and comfort on skis, and I've really enjoyed being able to share the joy of being outside in the winter.  Although I'm comfortable skiing most any terrain, having kids has made one important fact plain to me: I'm not a ski instructor.  I've picked up a lot of great tips in the few years we've started skiing with kids, but when I get to the point where I'm not sure how to help them get to the next level, I call in the experts.  

One of our favorite experts on teaching kids to ski at Bretton Woods is Jess Cyr.  Jess has been teaching lessons at Bretton Woods for six years, and her infectious love for working with kids shows in her warm smile and easy way with even the most reticent young skier.  She's a middle and high school special ed teacher during the week, and her creativity in working with kids is evident in her ski lessons.  I spoke with Jess after Bridget's lesson to find out how the it went: not only did I want to share their story here, but I was also curious to see how Jess thought Bridget was progressing, and I was hoping to again pick up some tips to reinforce what she's learned and keep challenging her.  Like every parent who has asked, "What did you do in school today?" I've learned that sometimes you've got to be proactive in finding out what happens with your kids while they are out of your sight.  Good ski instructors will be happy to debrief you.

After a run on the bunny hill, Jess saw that Bridget was ready to work on moving from the "power wedge" to some parallel turns, so they headed up to Range View to do some games and drills.  "The challenge with kids," Jess told me, "is to come up with fun ways to to say the same thing."  For their lesson on moving her skis from "pizza" to "french fries," Jess had Bridget make "smiles" in the snow with her skis until she was almost facing uphill again.  This forced her to really turn across the fall line, rather than just push the snow out below, heading straight downhill.  Keeping it fun, she told Bridget that you have to smile as well or the drill doesn't work, and sure enough, every time Jess looked back, Bridget had a big grin on her face.  

Next, Jess added more little girl fun: after each smile turn, Bridget had to bunny hop in the middle of the turn.  When she landed, she had to land with her skis parallel.  Then they put their hands together in front of them, holding a carrot.  Holding the carrot up front helped Bridget focus on keeping her weight forward and moving down the fall line.  The hopping with each turn takes a lot of energy, but she was making turns and keeping her skis together.  

"Learning the wedge or "pizza" is great for kids to learn how to stop, but it puts them in the back seat," Jess told me.  Being in the "back seat" means not keeping your weight forward, and with the incline of the hill, you've got to keep forward to maintain balance.  Learning to stop by putting your skis parallel to the fall line is the next step in getting away from just using a wedge all the way down the hill.  

Jess also tried not to overwhelm her with too much information all in one lesson.  "I try to focus on one or two things so they don't get bombarded," she said.  "It was fun to work with Bridget because she's so relaxed on the mountain and didn't get nervous on skis, but they get tired quickly."  Jess also reminded me that it's all about motivation: "find what works and build on that."  For Bridget, making smiles and doing bunny hops gave her a mental picture of what to do.  For her little brother Timmy, we might need to call in the polar bears and pirates.

The next day, Bridget showed me the smiles and hops that she had learned with Jess and I knew the money spent on a lesson was well worth it.  Her confidence and skills keep growing, and I know this is a sport she's going to love for a long time.