Thursday, March 28, 2013

Snowmobiling, Kid-Style

Snowmobiling is a huge attraction for many of the locals and visitors of Northern New Hampshire. Cruising through miles and miles of trails and forests offers a chance to view a side of the outdoors that not everyone sees.  An extensive trail network in the Bretton Woods area has almost limitless possibilities, and the great snowpack this spring means that riders are still enjoying this winter pastime.  

A guided tour can take you out on the groomed trail network and give you a sampling of what it's all about.  Kids can ride along with an adult and take it all in.

But what if your little people want to be in charge and drive their own machine?  Tucked between the Bethlehem Express Quad and the Zephyr Quad at Bretton Woods is a new activity for your little rippers - a Kids Snowmobile Park that offers 4- to 13-year olds a chance to zoom around a track and drive a kid-sized sled.  

Looking a bit like a bobble-head in her giant full-face snowmobile helmet that they gave her for the ride, Bridget was excited to finally get to steer her own sled after watching them from the lift all season.  

Before taking off, the attendants got down to Bridget's level and went over some basics of running the machine.  

Although the track is in a confined area where the banked turns keep them from going too far astray, they also put a safety strap around her wrist, so that if she did fall, it would cut the engine.

A snowman keeps watch as the kids zoom around the circular track.

To someone who's never driven a motorized vehicle, however, staying on that circular track proved to be a bit of a challenge.  Bridget drove into the rope marking the lane, but as the attendant said to me, "at least she knew enough to stop when she got tangled up!  Some kids just keep on driving!"

She was soon zooming again, with a giant smile for me every time she came around.

The 15-minute tour seemed just right for the 5-year old attention span and she was all giggles as she hopped off.  

I'm guessing we'll be back another day, when Bridget's brother is old enough to hop on a sled, for a little racing action!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Where the Wild Things Are: WinterWild 2013

It was a wild morning for Outdoor Mom at the WinterWild race at Bretton Woods, an uphill/downhill race that challenges skiers, snowboarders, snowshoers and runners to get up the mountain and back down in the fastest time possible.

The night before, ski bag was packed, skins placed on my telemark skis, blister block purchased, and alarm clock set for the 6:30 am race.  I congratulated myself on how organized I was and went to bed early to get a good rest before the race.

Unfortunately, I set my clock for 5:15 pm rather than am.  I woke up on my own at 5:32 and in a panic  rushed out the door... to find that it was dumping snow.  Normally that would be a cause for celebration in my world, but wet snow on unplowed roads meant I wasn't making up any time on my way to the ski area.

As I arrived at Bretton Woods in the dark and quickly grabbed my gear and headed to the lodge, I overheard the events director tell someone in the parking lot that the race start had been pushed back to 6:45 because of the morning's slow driving.  Phew.  I  rushed to register and said hello to friends and family who were also racing.  Tracy and Fred, visiting from New Mexico, were also up before dawn to race up the mountain.  Tracy would be skiing with me, while Fred ran.  I also saw friend and fellow blogger Organic Runner Mom, and my cousin Becky and her family, Mark and Casey, who were in the running for winning the overall WinterWild series.

Out at the start, I panicked again when I saw that only one of my poles was with my skis on the rack.  I figured that one of the other competitors must have inadvertently grabbed one of my poles, and I rushed around looking for it, and had the race announcer ask if anyone might have it, but with no luck.  I thought I might have to abandon the race, but saw that there was another single ski pole, very different from mine, sitting on the rack, so I grabbed it and figured I might as well make the best of it and use two different poles to trek up the mountain.
The start courtesy of SNAPacidotic

Flustered and with barely enough time now to get into my bindings, the race started and Tracy and I headed up Two Miles Home towards the summit of Mt. Rosebrook.

For those of you wondering about the difference between telemark and alpine, the actual telemark ski has become very similar to alpine, but often lighter.  The major difference between the two types of ski gear is the binding.  Unlike a downhill binding that locks in the entire boot to the ski, the telemark binding is only attached at the toe, allowing the heel to raise up and down.  The free-heel concept allows for a telemark turn going down the mountain, where you do a lunge-like bend for each turn.  It also allows you to "skin" up the mountain.  For those times when you want to ski somewhere that doesn't have a lift, "skinning" can often be the most efficient way up the mountain.  Originally mountaineers really did use animal skins, but nowadays we have synthetic skins for the bottom of our skis. Going uphill, you adhere the skins, which are cut to fit, to the bottom of your skis.  Like an animal's fur that slides smoothly in one direction and roughs up in the other, the skis slide uphill, but catch in the other direction, keeping you from slipping backwards as you ascend the mountain.  Going uphill, a free heel allows you to "walk" up the mountain on your skis.

Once I got past the fact that my morning hadn't started so smoothly, the skin up Two Miles Home was beautiful.  Dawn was just brightening up our way as we began, and every tree bough was blanketed with fresh snow.  I resisted the urge to diverge from the race course to grab some turns in the powder as we passed Inferno and Snowmaker's Gully trails.  Unlike last year's race that ascended the steep Waumbeck trail on the opposite end of the resort, Two Miles Home is a much more gradual incline - although the two kickers near the top of Mt. Rosebrook felt steeper than "intermediate" going up!

Tracy urged me on to start picking off some of the skiers ahead of us (the runners were long gone), but I couldn't maintain her pace and she climbed ahead of me.  At the peak of Rosebrook, Tracy was clipping back into her bindings as I was just starting to take my skins off.  Now for the fun part!  I zoomed down High Ridge and Outer Bounds, past the top of the Zephyr Quad and down Range View to the finish.  I made it up and down in 55 minutes and 11 seconds, and I'm guessing 51 of those minutes were used up on the ascent.

The Downhill courtesy of SNAPacidotic

Back at the lodge, Outdoor Dad and the kids greeted me with smiles and cheers.  I explained to my husband the confusion at the start of the race when I couldn't find my pole, and he went to check the car and parking lot to make sure I hadn't dropped it on my way in.  When he saw the pole I used as a spare, he realized my mistake: he had gotten a pair of rental poles for our visiting friends, and I had grabbed one of the rentals instead of my own when I was rushing in the dark that morning.  That pole that just happened to be on the rack at the start of the race was the one I had brought from the car!  

Well, I felt quite silly having been so confused at the start of the race, but happily everything turned out okay.  I hadn't actually lost my pole, and I managed to win my age group in the Telemark category of the race despite my foolishness!  We all had a good laugh at my expense.

One of the best parts of this race were all the PRIZES.  Not only were there nice mugs for placing in all of the different categories, but it took nearly an hour to get through all of the great raffle prizes they had, including eggs and t-shirts from Pete and Gerry's.  Tracy won a gift certificate to Poco's Bow Street Cantina in Portsmouth and Fred and I won beer from 603 Brewery.

We filled the remainder of our day enjoying all that new fallen snow on the runs at Bretton Woods.  And I even used my own poles.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Kids and Competition at the Nordic Marathon

Kids and racing... do they mix?  In a household where bike racing is part of our lifestyle it's hard for me to imagine not participating in some kind of competitive sport.  Outdoor Dad and I often look forward to the challenge of a good competition to spur us on.  Having a goal, like competing in a race, helps me focus on training and technique.  We've made a lot of friends in our bike racing community.  But for kids, I'm learning, it can be hard to see the fun in just participating.  I'm working on helping them understand that there's intrinsic joy in being part of something, whether you reach the finish line first or not.

Bridget and Timmy raced in Bretton Woods' Bill Koch League race of the Nordic Marathon last weekend.  They were excited to get racing bibs like the grownups and Bridget wore hers around the house all morning before the race.  While Dad was out on the 42 kilometer course, Bridget and Timmy were going to do the "Lollipop Race," a special .5 kilometer race for 5-7 year-olds.  Older kids could participate in the BKL races that were 1.5 or 3 kilometers in length.  

After what seemed like weeks of dreary weather, the bluebird skies and warm temperatures would have drawn anyone outdoors.  

As we watched the skiers from the 21k race cross the finish line near the Swix waxing tent, I was inspired to see the great range of athletes that had come to participate in this event that raised funds for The New England Ski Museum- from pros barreling through the 42 kilometers to avid skiers who were taking part in the untimed race.

In the spirit of camaraderie and fun competition, our Bretton Woods Bill Koch League directors had arranged for some of the older kids to help lead the younger racers along the course, to cheer them on and keep them headed toward the finish line.  

I had really tried to emphasize to my kids that the race was for fun - they got to wear colorful beads they recieved in the race goody bags and there would be prizes for everyone at the finish.  I explained (in kid terms) that like when Mom and Dad race, there are age and gender categories, so you don't feel like you have to compete against someone who might be older than you.  Bridget was excited to race alongside the big kids and lined right up in the track and took off with a smile on her face when they said, "go!"

Unfortunately, I think I may have asked too much of my three-year old when I put him in the race.  Although I had thought he'd have felt left out if he didn't race, I'm questioning that decision now.   From the moment the kids lined up until a good 45 minutes after the race (that took all of about three minutes), Timmy cried inconsolably because he didn't want his sister to beat him.

I tried telling him that he was the first three-year old boy.  The race organizers offer him a medal and a lollipop prize.  Passers-by offered him cookies and other treats.  Nothing would stop the crying.  

Luckily, Bridget remained confident and pleased with her race, and was overjoyed to see the supersize lollipop she earned.

Timmy's tears finally abated when we made our way to The Omni Mount Washington Hotel for the awards banquet.  There, the Bill Koch League kids all sat together and celebrated their accomplishments after a great ski season together.  There were even MORE ribbons and prizes from the tireless BKL organizers.

Many thanks to Rose Ellms and Audrey Crowe, who led our kids this year with so much enthusiasm and joy.  And to our friend Peter Smith, Nordic Center Director, who gave invaluable support to the club.

After a break from Nordic racing, I believe we'll continue to teach our kids about what it means to compete.  Timmy might be still to young to understand, but we'll keep working on showing him how teamwork and fun go hand in hand, and how great it feels just to be part of the event.  And in the meantime, if he just wants to ski on his own for fun, then that's just fine, too.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Stickney Cabin Secret Stash

I'm writing this post a bit reluctantly because like a fisherman with a secret fishing hole, I feel like I have a secret skiing stash.  Only it's clearly marked on the trail map.

When Bretton Woods first cut the 30 acres of glades on Mount Stickney two years ago, you had to ski/hike uphill a short way to get there, and the small effort to get there kept the powder pristine for days.  And the best trail, in my opinion, #5, was the furthest to get to, so many people would peel off and hit the first trail or two and keep the further ones untouched.  But, add to that the fact that you had to ride two lifts to get there, followed by a long run down Two Miles Home, so that a round-trip run down Stickney Glade #5 took almost 45 minutes, it often made more sense for me to search out some fresh tracks on Minehan's or Roz's in the interest of limited kid-free time.

This year, that has all changed.

Last summer, Bretton Woods installed a new 2,000-foot Doppelmayr T-Bar on Mount Stickney and hand built a 600-square foot log cabin at the top.

The last time a T-Bar was installed in New Hampshire was at Bretton Woods in 1973, the year they opened.  According to, Bretton Woods opened with two double charilifts, a T-Bar, and 30 acres of snowmaking on 7 intermediate trails and one beginner slope.  Since then, the ski industry trend has been to remove T-Bars in favor of high-speed, high-capacity chairs.  But in keeping with the retro feel of this "side country" experience, the Stickney Glades feel to me like what grassroots skiing should be: families exploring the woods, scooting under snow-covered pine boughs and sipping hot chocolate and roasting marshmallows by an outdoor fire.

Now that Bridget is clamoring for tree runs and Timmy can make his way down easier mountain trails with the help of his harness, the cabin has proven to be a rewarding destination for us all.  For the kids, a warm-up in the cabin includes choosing from treats like hot chocolate or cider, big fresh cookies, or a small bag of marshmallows.  Outside the cabin, the kids pick from a stash of roasting sticks and enjoy browning (or burning!) their marshmallows at an exterior stone fireplace, sitting on big flat boulders and soaking in the sun.

For grownups, a cold beer at the cabin might be just what you need for an afternoon break.  They also offer warm soups and a great local cheese and sausage platter with fresh bread and an assortment of mustards and hot sauces.

Although the T-Bar is certainly a low-tech means of transportation to the top of the mountain by today's standards,  the T-bar holds the novelty appeal of a new gadget for kids and adults alike.  It seems that once you've made the rite of passage and learned to ride a Poma lift or T-Bar, you've earned a ticket to a special place on the mountain.

And then there's the skiing and riding. To skier's left of the T-Bar, the trails are wide and welcoming for almost any ability.  The glades were thinned even more last summer, so they'll be skiable even in lean snow years, and even my little guy can enjoy the ride down.

To skier's right, the glades get progressively steeper and longer, with even a fun little rock drop on trail #5 if you're feeling exceptionally daring.  Out there in the woods, I feel like we've got the whole forest to ourselves, and other skiers we encounter smile and say hello, because we know we're in on this secret, sharing this special little corner of the outdoors.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Rockin' It on the Rock Wall at Bretton Woods

After two years of walking past the Bretton Woods Slopeside Climbing Wall on the third floor of the base lodge, my five-year-old daughter was finally big enough to try on a harness and rock shoes and give the climb a try.

Steve Nicophor, Climbing Programs Director, welcomed Bridget with a big smile and immediately helped her into an indoor kids' harness and the smallest climbing shoes they make, while I filled out some short paperwork.  Steve started out at Bretton Woods with the Canopy Tour, and for the last two years has been developing an adventurous but approachable climbing program at Bretton Woods that naturally appeals to the the allure of the mountains for those of us who come here to play.

Climbing shoes aren't required, but I knew they'd help her start to get the real feel for the sport, and although sneakers would have been fine, clunky snow boots would not have been a option.

James, Steve's assistant, took Bridget right over to one of the easier of the many routes that spans the 624-foot indoor wall.  He attached his rope to her harness with a carabiner and let her at it.  I have to admit I was a bit surprised that Bridget didn't immediately move right up the 26-foot wall to ring the bell at the top.  She made it about half-way up and asked to come back down.  Her timidity was unexpected, but I once again found myself balancing that fine line between encouraging her to try something beyond her comfort level and pushing her so much that she wouldn't want to try it again.

She took turns with another little girl on the same route, and climbed a little higher each time.  When she decided she was done with the rope system, she headed over to the bouldering cave.  There, a 300-square foot "cave" of rock offers climbers a challenge a bit closer to the ground, and a super-thick crash pad makes for soft landings.  Letting go of the colored hand holds and falling to the pad ended up being the highlight of the activity.  Over and over again, she climbed up and then hurled herself to the ground.  I'm guessing the self-control of knowing she was in charge of her landing, as opposed to being hooked up to a harness and belay that someone else held on to, was both thrilling and understandable to her.

As Bridget clambered up and down the bouldering cave, Steve explained that although there's no hard and fast rule about what age you can introduce climbing to your kids, they usually don't have the coordination to really start to "get it" until about age 5.  But as in any new physical sport, like skiing, it just takes practice.  "They go a little higher every time, and they become more comfortable with the idea of the rock, and begin to trust themselves and the safety of the belay."

In the winter, the Slopeside Climbing Wall opens at noon, and I knew that Bridget would be fresher for this activity then, rather than late in the day after a full day of skiing.  Steve told me that their busiest time of day is often 3:00 in the afternoon, when all the kids come in from skiing.  Sure, it seems like a fun way to end the day, but he also said that it's a bit chaotic, because many of the kids are so tired by then.  Knowing your child's energy levels seems to be the key here in deciding when to add on another activity at the Resort.

Apparently Bridget was inspired by all the ropes, carabiners and harnesses that she was introduced to, because when she got home that day, she immediately (and without parental input of any kind) went up to our loft and figured out a way to belay her babies with belts and dog leashes.

Steve also offers many other Guided Winter Adventures at Bretton Woods, and I'm looking forward to joining him on another adventure, like backcountry skiing or ice climbing.  The Slopeside Climbing Wall is also open in the summer, as well as the West Wall Climb, and outdoor rock ascent for veteran craggers and newbies alike.

The Bretton Woods Slopeside Climbing Wall is open afternoons during ski season and costs $10 for ten minutes on the climbing wall or bouldering cave.  Season passes are also available.