Thursday, January 15, 2015

Don't Be Afraid of the Cold!

New England has been on the chilly side the past week or two, and we even had one morning when school was delayed for two hours because of the cold. But do we have to be confined to the indoors when it gets really cold? I don't think so. With the right gear and some common sense, there's no reason you can't have a fun day on the slopes even when the thermometer struggles to reach positive digits.

Being the Outdoor Mom, I'm obviously an advocate for getting outside whenever possible. The kids get restless indoors, and although I'd love to think we will be reading books and playing board games all afternoon, odds are the kids are going to ask to watch TV, which doesn't even enter their minds when we are out playing in the snow.

The good news is that those super-cold days are often the bluebird ones without a cloud in the sky. There have been days when the views of the Presidential Range have been so crystal-clear against the stunning blue sky that I've felt like I could almost reach out and touch the top of Mt. Washington from my skiing vantage point atop Bretton Woods.

The first step in getting outside on a cold day is making sure you've got the right gear. It doesn't have to be expensive, but investing in the best quality snow jacket, pants and mittens you can afford is a good idea. TreeTop Sports in Bretton Woods has a great selection of kid and adult apparel. Online outdoor gear sites like Sierra Trading Post and Backcountry often have great deals on last season's snow wear.

We take a lot of breaks with the kids. Kids don't have the same kind of fat layers that adults have, so they might not be able to stay out as long as adults. With all the fun going on outside, they might not want to come in, but a hot chocolate or hot apple cider break is an enticing way to take a break and fights off dehydration. Fueling up with heathy choices like a granola bar or nuts will help their bodies stay warm. We often incorporate fun destinations on the mountain into our breaks, like the Stickney Cabin, Chutters on the Mountain, or the Yurt when we are cross-country skiing.

We also keep an eye on each other for frostbite. At the top of the lift and at the bottom of a run, look for noses and cheeks that are starting to turn from that rosy-red you get from normal outside play to white or chalky yellow.  In that case, be sure to cover up the exposed area with a gaiter or mitten, and get inside to warm up quickly.

Here are a few tips on clothing and gear choices that will make being outside fun this winter:

  • Layers: I'm sure you've heard the often-touted rule that layers are the best bet for outdoor play. My kids usually start with a polypro base layer, such as Hot Chillys or Patagonia.  they key here is to make sure that it's a synthetic material, like polypropylene, or wool, like products from SmartWool or Icebreaker. Polypro and wool allow sweat to "breathe," or evaporate through the fabric, so that your clothing doesn't end up wet. Even on a cold day you are sweating, and wet clothes will steal your body heat. Over that polypro layer, the kids wear fleece pants and tops, often a mid-weight fleece as well as a heavy weight one over that.
  • Socks should also not be cotton.  We are big fans of SmartWool socks, but there are many ski-specific socks out there to choose from. Again, if your feet sweat and your socks get wet, it is a lot to harder for your body to keep them warm. If you have a long drive to the ski area with snow boots on, my advice is to wear a different pair of socks on the way and change into your socks when you put your ski or snowboard boots on at the mountain. Then you have dry socks to start your runs and can change back into a dry pair at the end of the day.
  • Make sure your boots aren't too tight. You need to have air circulating around your toes that your body heat will warm up. It can be hard to know if you are tightening your kids boots too much - the really little ones often don't have the vocabulary to tell you how the boot is fitting.  Ask them if they can wiggle their toes around. Although you don't want the boot falling off their foot while they are on the lift (this has happened to my son!), in general you should err on the side of looser boots. Until they are older and perhaps looking into racing or more aggressive skiing, they need to be able to flex the boot anyways and don't need it to be super-tight.
  • Wearing a helmet is commonplace nowadays for safety reasons, but they are also warmer than a hat, with full coverage over your ears. We love our Bern helmets. Make sure to pair your helmet with goggles that fit snugly against the helmet, so there's no gap in between the top of the goggle and the helmet and your forehead isn't exposed to the cold. 
  • Mittens tend to be warmer than gloves because the fingers generate heat and warm up the entire space in the mitt. 
  • Toe and Hand Warmers are great to offset that cold as well. You can pick them up at TreeTop Sports or buy a box of them ahead of time at many big box stores.  For the kids, I always make sure to stick the toe warmers on the top of their feet rather than the bottom - I think having that under your foot would be uncomfortable.
  • A Neck Gaiter or Balaclava is great to protect exposed skin on your neck and face. The kids love the Turtle Fur Shellaclava, a combo fleece neck gaiter and breathable hood that keeps snow out and is easy to pull up over their chins to keep out the wind. Disclaimer on neck gaiters: I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with them - I love being able to pull that fabric up over my lower face in the cold, but breathe through it for too long and it gets wet and could freeze. I usually pull it up over my chin on the lift, but leave it down when I'm breathing a bit harder going downhill.

Go ahead and enjoy a day outside in the cold. We are hearty New Englanders, and a little dropping mercury isn't going to hold us back. 

Friday, January 2, 2015

Soar Through the Forest on the Canopy Tour

There are many ways to immerse yourself in the splendor of a New Hampshire forest at Bretton
Woods, but one of my absolute favorites is the Bretton Woods Canopy Tour. On a trail map, an orange line outlines the path the tour takes through the Rosebrook Canyon on the east side of the alpine ski area.  But like a road atlas on your lap as you're planning out a road trip adventure, the map is just an overview of the route you'll follow; the thrill of seeing the forest from a bird's eye-view is one that you have to experience first-hand.

A visit from my sister Liz to the north woods the weekend before Christmas was a perfect opportunity to show her the mountain, and my present to her of a Zip and Ski Package was a gift to myself as much as it was for her. The zip and ski package is an amazing value at $99 for a full day of skiing and a canopy tour, considering that the canopy tour alone is regularly $89.

The trees were laden with a thick frosting of snow that morning, and although we didn't have the bluebird skies and epic Presidential Mountain views we had the day before, the forest seemed to be cushioning us in her branches.

Our guides, Patrick and Bobby, greeted us and the six other participants like old friends at the Canopy Tour building, and even in the very important safety talk, Patrick relayed the do's and don't for a safe fun tour with the care and honesty you'd share with a friend who'd be joining you on a new adventure. Although they take guests out on tours several times a day, year-round, the safety talk didn't feel rote or robotic; they seemed genuinely interested in making this a comfortable and fun experience.

After gearing up and riding the lift to the top of the Behtlehen Quad (without skis on, which felt quite odd), we trekked across the slopes towards Rosebrook Canyon, keeping a watchful eye for downhill skiers as we traversed Mountain Road and Black Forest Glade. In a nook of trees that I would never have discovered on my downhill skis, we stopped for "ground school" training, where each of us got to see how the dual-cable system works as we tuck in tight and straight to begin a zip and then apply even pressure on the top cable with our work-gloved hand when the guide waiting for us tells us to slow down for the landing platform.

The 1000-foot descent of the tour took us along nine ziplines, ranging from 120 - 830 feet in length and up to 165 feet off the forest floor, two sky bridges suspended above the forest floor, and three rappels, from nine to 65 feet in length. The zips, bridges and rappels start and end at 16 tree platforms, ranging from 10-70 feet off the ground. We were flying through the air at up to 30mph. Each zip line varies in length, with a maximum span of 830 feet and 165 feet above the ground.

Each platform is built around a large tree with an unobtrusive wood and steel structure that you wouldn't even see as you are skiing by unless you are looking for it.  For each zip, one of the guides would go ahead and signal back when he was ready for us to fly.  Then one at a time, each of us would step to the edge of the platform, where the guide would clip my harness into the trolley system and unclip the two safety carabiners from the platform.  Then I'd place my hands one over the other on the top of the trolley and when given the signal, step off the platform and tuck up into an aerodynamic position to soar through the frosty trees.

With the trolley whirring above me, I'd try to concentrate on maintaining that aero position, but the rush of speed and the mountain views in the distance drew my attention outward to the stunning surroundings. At the end of the zip, Patrick or Bobby would be ready to give the signal if I needed to slow down for my landing, then make sure I was on my feet before unhooking the trolley and attaching the safety carabiners to the tree. From that vantage point, I'd get to watch my sister come flying in behind me, the grin on her face telling me this was a trip she wouldn't soon forget.

The snow was so heavy on one zip that a branch from above was actually grazing the top cable, but Patrick assured us that although it looks like you are going to smash into the branch as you are careening through the air, the weight of the the zipper lowers the cables just enough to clear the branch.  As I looked around me at all of the clear landings and smooth cables, it occurred to me that the guides must spend a lot of time preparing the tour for us, making sure that platforms are shoveled and cables are clear of ice and anything else that mother nature may have shifted during the night.

Bobby and Patrick did tell us there was one time that they had to climb down and shelter for a few minutes while a rogue thunder and lightning storm passed, but the beauty of the tour is that they can and do go out in just about any condition, all year long. While we zipped through the snow-covered trees in December, the tour is also very popular in the verdant greens of summer or the legendary New Hampshire fall foliage season.

Building confidence as we went, the zips get progressively longer and higher as we go. By the end, as we flew over favorite ski trails like Deception Bowl and Downspout, I was eager to make the morning last and tried to appreciate every moment. The three hour tour had literally flown by, and we chatted amiably with the other participants as we walked back down to the base.

For more information on how to book your own flight, call (603) 278-4ZIP (4947).