Winter retro fun: snow sliding gets back to its roots.

It’s Winter once more at the October Country Inn, and it looks like there may be a lot more snow to play in than last Winter.  We love to play in the snow.  There are so many ways: alpine, telemark, or cross-county skiing, sledding or tubing, snowshoeing, fat-tire biking, snowmobiling, snowboarding.  Add snowskating to the list.  Snowskates come in many varieties but are distinctive in that the rider is not attached to the deck.  No bindings.

The two most common types of snowskate are the single deck and the bideck. For mountain riding, the bideck is the way to go.  This snowskate has a top skateboard deck which the rider stands on and a lower ski deck, which is in contact with the snow. Bideck snowskates were reportedly invented by a Stevens Pass (Washington) local named Steve Frink in 1994. Ridden in much the same way as a skateboard, bideck snowskates are gaining in popularity.  The device itself is way less expensive that a snowboard alone, and you don’t need bindings or special boots.  The savings is attractive, and you can ride these things anywhere you can ride a regular snowboard.

Unfortunately, some ski resorts don’t allow you to ride snowskates on their trails.  It’s kind of like the opposition to snowboarding that initially occurred.  Killington, our home mountain, falls into the “does not allow” category.  For all their bluster about being the “Beast of the East,” and a place for adventure, turns out they don’t walk what they talk.  Killington was also slow to allow snowboarding.  I guess leadership at Killington is still of the old-school variety. However, you can ride them at Stratton or Jay Peak if you don’t mind a little travel.  Or, much closer to home, at Woodstock’s Suicide Six, the first ski resort in the U.S. to allow snowboarding.  Suicide Six welcomes snowskate riders.  It’s nice to be welcomed.

Vermont backcountry opens up for snowboarders.

Earning your turns.  A splitboard in tourning mode.

Earning your turns. A splitboard in tourning mode.

When the sun arcs low across the horizon, and snow covers the land, cross-country skiers have long had the extensive Vermont backcountry all to themselves.  No more.  The woods are now open to a fast growing segment of snowboarders–splitboarders.  Since the October Country Inn is conveniently surrounded by Vermont’s Green Mountains, and I don’t ski, but really enjoy snowboarding, I couldn’t resist it when I discovered a Burton Fish splitboard on sale at the nearby First Stop Ski Shop and Board Barn.  I was soon fully equipped with a splitboard, Spark RD Magneto bindings, and Sabertooth crampons, Voile climbing skins, Black Diamond collapsible poles, and a Burton splitboard specific backpack.

On the top.  Splitboard halves ready to become a snowboard.

On the top. Splitboard halves ready to become a snowboard.

As things go, splitboards are pretty new.  It all started in Utah in the early 1990s when Brett “Cowboy” Kobernick’s buddy cut an old snowboard in half down the middle with a hand-held hacksaw and said “wouldn’t it be cool if we could somehow put these back together.”  It wasn’t long after that Cowboy, laid up from his ski resort job with an injury, took the two snowboard halves down to his basement, and used whatever he could find to put them back together.  Although crude in the extreme, Cowboy kept thinking about how to make it better.  He got Mark Wariakois, owner of Voile, a backcountry ski equipment company, to let him use the shop’s equipment.  The splitboard was born.  It took a while to catch on, but new lightweight bindings and hardware have made the modern splitboard mandatory for any powder loving snowboarder.

The turns you earned.  The splitboard in snowboard mode.

The turns you earned. The splitboard in snowboard mode.

I now count myself among the splitboard converts.  My first splitboard adventure was somewhat clumsy.  I stuffed my backpack with climbing skins, poles, Powerbars, and Gatorade, strapped on my Burton Fish, and took Killington’s Ramshead quad up the point short of peak where the chair ends.  I split the Fish into its halves, changed the bindings into  touring position, put on the climbing skins, assembled the poles, and began the half mile ascent to the top of Ramshead peak.  Although walking thorough the deep powder with the split skis was relatively easy, I soon discovered that when the grade got steep, I started sliding backwards.  It took a bit of experimenting, and not a little floundering, but I was able to get up the grade.  Note to self: investigate climbing technique.  It was a beautiful February day and I was really enjoying being alone on Killington’s Ramshead Peak during the middle of the day.  Once on top, a quick conversion, remove the climbing skins, put the halves back together, switch the bindings to snowboard mode, and enjoy the trip down in untracked powder.  It was a short trip but I’m hooked.

 

This is the year for a New England sleddin’ adventure.

Snow is piling up around the October Country Inn.

Snow is piling up around the October Country Inn.

We’re about half way through February and the snow continues to pile up around the October Country Inn.  Snow’s an important component if you like to play in it, and that’s what our Winter guests usually like to do.  Fortunately, the October Country Inn is perfectly situated.  Besides endless acres of public forestland, there are three downhill ski resorts, four nordic ski centers, and an ice skating rink all within a short drive.  October Country Inn is also situated close to a public snowmobile trail.  Many of our guests arrive on their snowmobile, stay the night, and have a hearty breakfast in the morning before getting back on the trails.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARiding snowmobiles, called “sleds” by enthusiasts, is a popular wintertime recreational activity.  There are 225,000 miles of groomed and marked snowmobile trails in the U.S. and Canada developed by volunteer clubs working with local government and private landowners.  In Vermont alone, there are over 5,000 miles in the Vermont Association of Snow Travelers (VAST) trail network.  VAST, like similar organizations in other states and provinces, develops and maintains this trail network for all to enjoy.  All the trail networks of the various New England states and abutting Canadian provinces connect to each other and make long distance snowmobile touring a possibility.  And there are many that take advantage of this possibility.

October Country Inn is very near a snowmobile trail.

October Country Inn is very near a snowmobile trail.

Just last Tuesday, we got a call from Mark.  He and his three buddies had ridden their snowmobiles from their homes in Connecticut, and were on their way to Canada.  They had taken a week off work for this adventure, and by the time they arrived at the October Country Inn Tuesday night they were more than half way there.   After a good nights sleep, a hearty country breakfast, and a quick trip to the local snowmobile shop for parts, they poured over their maps, picked their route, donned their snowmobile pants, jackets, and helmets and were on their way.  I’m sure they’ve reached Canada by now, or they are very close.  Like for Mark and his buddies, the possibilities are endless.  More than once, some hearty snowmobilers have made the trip from Alaska to northern Maine.  All you need is desire, a snowmobile, a sense of adventure, and lots of snow.  Stop at the October Counry Inn along the way.  We’ll take care of you.

Pico Mountain Ski Resort makes Winter fun available for everybody.

Alpine skiing for the blind.

Alpine skiing for the blind.

All of the New England states except Vermont have declared a state of emergency in preparation for Winter storm Juno.  Here at the October Country Inn, we watch the snow fall with glee.  In Vermont, more snow means more fun, and fun in the snow is not limited to only those of us who are physically fit and functional.  You may be surprised that, with specialized equipment and/or techniques, snow skiing and snowboarding are being enjoyed by many disabled snowsports enthusiasts.  If you fall into this category, come to nearby Pico Mountain Ski Resort, home to Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sports.

Monoskis open up a whole new world for  paraplegia.

Monoskis open up a whole new world for paraplegia.

Adaptive snowsports adapts equipment, instruction, and accessible support systems to allow snowsports enthusiasts with a wide range of physical, mental, or developmental disabilities to experience the freedom of skiing or snowboarding in the least restrictive manner possible. Vermont adaptive works with amputees, paraplegia, and quadraplegia; as well as those with visual or hearing impairment, autism, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, Spina Bifida, stroke, or traumatic brain injuries.  Each lesson Vermont Adaptive teaches is tailored for the individual and equipment and teaching techniques are constantly changing and evolving as technology advances.

boardFounded in 1987, Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sports has been located at Pico Mountain Ski Resort since 1999.  A new, state-of-the-art, 6,000 square foot facility has recently opened.  This new facility greatly expands Vermont Adaptive’s ability to offer adaptive ski and snowboard clinics at Pico Mountain for all ability levels.  Students may book lessons as individuals or as part of a group.  Family members or friends of the Vermont Adaptive students are invited to participate and, if interested, can learn the adaptation needed to help their skier or rider achieve as much independence as possible.  Clinics are by appointment only and include a lift ticket, private adaptive instruction, and adaptive equipment.  Call (802) 353-7584, or visit Vermont Adaptive at Pico Mountain Ski Resort.

More than you thought there was to know about snow.

Fresh powder.  The holy grail for Vermont Winter fun.

Fresh powder. The holy grail for Vermont Winter fun.

Now that we’re well into Winter here at the October Country Inn, we routinely check the thermometer, and look out the window to gauge, before we venture outside, the best way to dress, and choice of footwear for the activity we plan to undertake given the differing types and conditions left by our most recent snowfall.   Although commonly said, it turns out that Eskimos do not have over one hundred words for snow. They probably have about as many words for snow as Vermonter’s do. After all, Vermonter’s have ample opportunity to contemplate the many ways that Winter’s moisture falls to the ground, and accumulates there, during the months from December through March.

Hoarfrost adorns a lone maple.

Hoarfrost adorns a lone maple.

Basically, snow is formed when dust particles in the air act as a nucleus for condensation. Water vapor condenses on the dust, and as the droplet grows and is cooled, it freezes into an ice crystal. The crystal grows heavier as more water vapor condenses, and begins to fall. As it falls, continued condensation changes the crystal’s shape. The crystals clump together into snowflakes as they fall out of a cloud into warmer air.  Atmospheric conditions, such as the amount of supersaturation and temperature of the air, affects how snow crystals form, and what happens to them when they fall to the ground. Freshly fallen, unpacked, symmetrical six-sided snowflakes are called powder.  Freshly fallen snow can also become hoarfrost when it lands on a surface whose temperature is colder than the surrounding air. Graupel is the name for snowflakes that become rounded, opaque pellets, with a texture softer and more crumbly than hail. Finally, when water vapor remains more liquid, it either freezes into balls of ice before it falls to the ground as hail, or as freezing rain that falls as liquid rain and then forms a thick coat of ice on every surface it touches.

Graupel.

Graupel.

Snowfall can also occur in different ways. The intensity of snowfall is determined by visibility. Light snowfall occurs when visibility is over 1 kilometer (0.62 miles). Moderate snowfall occurs when visibility is restricted to between 0.5 and 1 kilometer. When visibility is less than 0.5 kilometer, snowfall is considered to be heavy. A snowstorm occurs when large amounts of snow fall. Snowfall can be further described as a blizzard, when subfreezing temperatures and strong wind last more than 3 hours; a flurry, when snow falls for short durations with varying intensity; a squall, when snowfall is brief but intense; or a snowburst, when snowfall is very intense for a brief period. Then, once snow is on the ground, the snowpack can acquire many different characteristics, and formations. New snow is recently fallen and the original form of ice crystal can be recognized.  When it can’t be recognized, is becomes old snow.  Névé is young granular snow that partially melted, refroze, and became compacted. Névé that survives a full melt season is called firn.

Freezing rain leaves a thick coat of ice on everything.

Freezing rain leaves a thick coat of ice on everything.

The further action from periods of shade or sunshine, air temperature, and surface wind can also produce differing snow formations. Corn is a type of coarse, granular wet snow typical during the Spring. Crust is a hard snow surface lying on a softer layer.  Crud covers a variety of snow conditions including windblown powder leaving crust patches and ridges, or refrozen wet snow leaving a deeply rutted surface with loose chunks (also called death-cookies).  Penitents are tall, thin, closely spaced pinnacles of hardened snow ranging in height from a few inches or a few feet. Sastrugi occurs when wind erodes or deposits snow in irregular grooves and ridges. A cornice on the edge of a ridge is an overhanging accumulation of ice and wind-blown snow.  A barchan is a horseshoe-shaped snowdrift with the ends pointing downwind. Snow cups are a pattern of shallow, bowl-shaped hollows that form during intense sunshine.  As you can see, there’s a lot to be considered when preparing for a day of Winter fun in Vermont.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A dog day Winter’s afternoon in Vermont.

2sledsWinter snowfall came early to the October Country Inn this year.  Trees bend under a heavy load of snow, and the forest floor is knee-deep in sparkling white stuff.  And since temperatures have been mild, the full range of winter activities are at play.  One such activity we haven’t yet written about is dog sledding.  Although dog pulled sleds used for winter travel in snow bound places has been largely replaced by snowmobiles, there are still those romantic individuals who stick to the old ways.  Like Kathy Bennett and Alex MacLennan, of Braeburn Siberians in nearby Windsor, Vermont, who invite you to join them in a winter outdoor dog sledding adventure on local trails behind a team of their Siberian Huskies.

dogloveBraeburn Siberians offers a variety of options from 45 minute rides, to 4 hour excursions, as well as options for any variety of special events.  Each ride begins with a dog meet and greet, complete with snuggles and photos! Then you hop aboard the sled, they say to the dogs, “Everybody ready? Let’s go!”, and off you go!  Then there are stops on the trail for more dog snuggling and photo ops.  Rides begin at Great River Outfitters in Windsor, Vermont for exhilarating runs on carefully groomed trails through scenic fields and woods along the Connecticut River with views of Mount Ascutney

dogs2The Siberian Husky was originally developed by the Chukchi people of northeastern Siberia as an endurance sled dog and to herd reindeer.  During the short summers, they roamed free on the tundra fending for themselves while developing a highly socialized pack behavior.  During the long Siberian winter the dogs provided warmth to the Chukchi people by living in the houses where children were encouraged to play with them.  These two historical activities put predatory drive and a desire to run as well as a strong need for a pack, either canine or human, into the Siberian Husky’s genetic code.

Take advantage of a rare opportunity that only a rural state like Vermont could offer.  Try a dog sledding adventure.  Share the riches that these friendly hardworking Siberian Huskies offer: unconditional loving and travel in a traditional time-honored way.  There are few things more exhilarating and therapeutic than riding behind a team of canine partners on a pristine, Vermont winter day, or under a dark sky filled with stars.

 

 

Embrace Winter–Catamount Trail Assoc. offers backcountry ski courses.

catpondThe first Northeaster of the Winter visited nearby Woodstock and the October Country Inn a little earlier than usual this season.  A good foot of snow now blankets the hillsides and provides a visual cue that it’s time to prepare for Winter fun.  For many of our guests, this means backcountry skiing.  If this is a brand of Winter fun that interests you, the Catamount Trail (a cross-country ski trail that runs the length of Vermont) Association has significantly expanded its Get Out & Backcountry Instructional Series for 2015.

skiskills

The Introduction to Overland Touring course is being offered on February 1 and 15.  This introductory course is aimed at the new skier looking to try point-to-point backcountry turning on the Catamount Trail or other similar trails using lightweight nordic touring equipment.  The course will emphasize skill demonstration, practice, evaluation, and feedback.  Likely participants might never have been on skis before, but will probably have some skiing experience and are now interested in getting off the beaten path.  The course covers different equipment types, layering strategies, moving forward efficiently, stopping/speed control, turning, and basic uphill technique.  The goal of this course is to introduce and reinforce the basic skills required to participate on an easy tour over gently rolling terrain.  Once comfortable with the skills presented during this course, you will be ready for the Intermediate Overland Touring course.

catwoodsThe Intermediate Overland Touring course is being offered on February 1, 8, 15, & 22.  It will take the form of a teaching tour where the group will explore easier backcountry trails in search of teachable moments.  The emphasis during this course will be learning by doing.  Topics similar to those in the introductory course will be covered but you will be practicing these skills and putting them to use under slightly more challenging conditions.  Once comfortable with the skills presented, you will be ready to participate in one of Catamount Trail Association’s introductory day tours.

TelemarkThe Telemark Turn Clinic is being offered January 25 at nearby Pico Mountain.  This course is for skiers looking to tackle more challenging terrain, or those who want to spice up tours by being able to take better advantage of skiable downhill areas.  This course will take place on easy, lift accessed, downhill terrain at a ski resort, and will emphasize skill demonstration, practice, and technique evaluation.  This is an introductory level class for the beginning and intermediate Telemark skiers looking to develop and refine their skills.

The Introduction to Mountain Touring course will be offered February 8 & 22.  This course is intended for expert level skiers who are new to exploring the backcountry.  This course will take the form of an instructional tour and will cover layering strategies, what it means to be prepared, navigation, efficient touring and uphill techniques.  At the end of the course you will be more prepared to safely spend a full day in the backcountry.

 

A rare opportunity to join in the celebration of Vermont skiing.

A vintage category skier charges down the slopes at Vermont's Antique Ski Races.

A vintage category skier charges down the slopes at Vermont’s Antique Ski Races.

One reason to book a weekend stay at the October Country Inn is a rare opportunity to  join in celebrating the evolution of Vermont snowsports at Killington Ski Resort’s 11th annual antique alpine ski race to be held on March 15th at Killington’s Pico Mountain.

The Vermont Antique Ski Race raises funds to help support the Vermont Ski and Snowboard Museum.

Being pulled uphill with the rope tow wasn't easy, but it beat walking.

Being pulled uphill with the rope tow wasn’t easy, but it beat walking.

Racing is open to all.  If you have the gear, enter the strictly vintage category. It requires pre-1975 boots, bindings, and skis.  Click this link for more information.

Speaking of antique skiing, the area in and around nearby Woodstock, Vermont oozes with ski history.  Although skiing remnants have been found as far back as 5,000 years ago, skiing in the United States only dates back to the 1800s.  Back then, if you wanted to ski down a hill, you had to hike up it first.

The historic marker outside of Woodstock, Vermont points to the site of Gilbert's Hill.

The historic marker outside of Woodstock, Vermont points to the site of Gilbert’s Hill.

This all changed in 1934, when the first version of a ski lift, a motorized rope tow, appeared at Gilbert’s Hill outside of Woodstock.  This first motorized method of uphill travel for skiers was powered by a Model T Ford, a few pulleys, and a lot of rope.

 

Wintertime fun is found at Woodstock’s Union Arena.

skatingEdie and I are pretty familiar with ice in all its varied forms about this time of year.  We left sunny southern California in 2001 to move the Woodstock, Killington corner of Vermont and buy the October Country Inn.  We wondered what a Vermont winter was going to be like .  Winter where we grew up wasn’t much different that any other time of year except that the days were shorter.

One day, in response to questions about what to expect from a Vermont winter, a neighbor shrugged his shoulders and said:  “Find something to do, you can’t hide from it.”  We think this is good advice.

hockeyFortunately,  nearby Woodstock has a great resource for winter activities, the Union Arena.  Built on the Woodstock High School grounds in 2003 to fulfill a community need for a place to play indoor ice hockey,  it has since evolved into much more.  Besides ice hockey, the Union Arena is open to the public in the winter months for recreational ice skating, figure skating, and curling.

curlingThe Union Arena is a great resource for the Woodstock and Killington communities.  Even though the Union Arena is located on the Woodstock High School grounds, it wasn’t built nor is it operated with public funds.  It was built with privately donated funds, and is operated as a non-profit organization. The Union Arena operates year-round, offering non-ice platforms for non-winter events and activities, and is available to rent for special events.

So if you should be staying at the October Country Inn sometime this winter (we’d love to meet you), or anywhere in the Woodstock to Killington area, and looking for something to do, check out the Union Arena.  They just might be offering a curling or ice hockey clinic, or figure skating lessons.  Or, lace up a pair of ice skates and get into the Vermont winter spirit.

 

 

Free Winter advice: when a friend offers to teach you how to ski or snowboard, politely refuse (and go with a Pro).

ski2Winter at the October Country Inn is an opportunity for us to relax a little.  Because we’re close to several popular winter activity destinations; the town of Woodstock, Killington, and Okemo ski resorts, we’re often busy during the Winter holiday periods.  However, besides innkeeping duties, it’s slow enough so that I can get away with teaching snowboarding at Killington.  Consequently, I’ve spent a lot of time on the bunny hill observing as friends try to teach friends how to ski or snowboard.  It usually isn’t pretty.

It’s understandable that someone who can ski or snowboard would want to pass this fun and exciting activity on to their friends.  However, good intentions alone are insufficient.  Just because someone can get down a black diamond trail with a reasonable degree of dignity, does not mean that they have a clear understanding on exactly how they were able to accomplish this.  In fact, most don’t know.  More than being an accomplished snow slider, being able to teach skiing or snowboarding requires an understanding of the physics of sliding on snow, and being able to relate the cause and effect of anatomical posture and movements as they pertain to the control of direction and speed.  Shouting: “turn,” “turn,” “turn,” at the top of your lungs as your friend whizzes straight down the hill screaming is not usually effective coaching.  In such a situation, your friend would love to turn.  If only they knew how.

ski1If you can dance even a little bit, you can learn to ski or snowboard.  The Professional Ski Instructor’s Association, American Association of Snowboard Instructors (PSIA-AASI), is a national association that provides education and certification for professional ski and snowboard instructors.  The professional instructional programs developed and implemented by PSIA/ASSI is a step-by-step approach to take you from your first awkward day to ripping black diamonds, or shredding the park.  So, when your friend offers to teach you how to ski or snowboard, thank them for their generosity, and then go with a Pro.  You’ll be glad you did, especially if a spouse or significant other is involved.