For parents of the littlest ones, winter in the Upper Valley can morph into a season of forced hibernation. Concern about frostbite can supersede the desire to get outside and play in the snow. Fret not! Pile on layers, strap on some snowshoes, tuck the well-bundled baby in a Baby Bjorn (or backpack) and venture out to discover the idyllic beauty of our snow-laden woods, trails and fields. There’s no better remedy for the winter woes than a hike on a sunny winter’s day. — Editor
By Adrienne Flower
I used to detest winter. In the Philadelphia suburb where I grew up, winter was a cold, dark time to endure until spring. Snow was rare and the outdoor sports associated with it nonexistent. My winter sport was swimming which can be done indoors but has the unfortunate side effect of getting wet. Because I didn’t bother to dry my hair, it froze every day after practice; this was perfect because it distracted me from my frigid feet. Somewhere in my teen quest for cool, I divined that wearing socks was not acceptable and my feet went numb with only thin sneakers to insulate them.
Every place I have lived since has been progressively colder than those Philly suburbs. Stubborn and somewhat naïve about New England winters, I shrugged off the idea that cold would dictate my life choices. However, winter in the Upper Valley isn’t something that can be shrugged off and, if my husband and I hadn’t received snowshoes as a gift one year, I am not sure if we would still be here. We strapped them on and began using them several times every week. Magically, they took us where we could not go with boots alone and winter has rewarded us again and again.
Naturally, when we had kids, we strapped them on along with the snowshoes and they became part of our winter adventures. Snowshoeing is one of few winter sports in which it is very easy to make that transition. One of my favorite places to snowshoe with a child in a pack is the Stone House Farm trails behind Stella’s Italian Restaurant in Lyme, N.H. It is relatively flat with some mild hills, there is a nice mix of quiet pine forest and open fields and a warm meal at Stella’s is the perfect way to end the adventure.
One chilly February day my friend and I left the parking lot at Stella’s with our 15-month-olds snuggled in carriers under our oversized jackets. We snowshoed through the fields and forest and found ourselves in a glittering fairyland. Every small tree, shrub, and bramble was coated in a thin layer of ice, and the sun shone through the icy crystal veil. I cannot say what our tiny cocooned daughters were experiencing as they gazed out on the world a glitter, but considering my daughter’s penchant for anything that sparkles, I suspect that she shared in our awe.
Now that she is 4 years old, my daughter snowshoes on our winter outings and her younger brother has taken her place in the pack. One snowshoe outing on the Rivendell Trail in Orford, N.H., led us over so many animal tracks crisscrossing our path that we decided to follow some. Two different sets of tracks led off the trail parallel to each other, as if the two creatures were out for a stroll catching up on the goings on in the forest. My daughter speculated about the identity of the animals, what they were doing out in the snow, and whether or not we would come face to face with them when the tracks ended. We followed them around bare trees, up and down snowdrifts, and over sticks and logs. Finally, one set stopped at a tree and the other led back to the trail. A Google search at home confirmed our suspicions that the tracks belonged to a deer and porcupine, but the real magic of this experience was in our wondering and imagining as we followed the animals’ paths through the woods.
While much of snowshoeing is quietly satisfying, we have had some exhilarating snowshoeing adventures. One late winter afternoon, we snowshoed up Holt’s Ledge on the Appalachian Trail in Lyme. After enjoying the view and a snack at the top, we prepared to head down the Dartmouth Skiway, which had closed for the season. In summer, we are wary of this path because the tall grasses seem a perfect haven for ticks. Without ticks or skiers, this was the perfect descent. My daughter bounced happily down the wide swath of snow until, close to the bottom, we all came to an abrupt halt at the top of a very steep and icy slope. Our choices were to inch our way down on snowshoes — my husband with an 18-month-old in his pack — or remove snowshoes and toddler and slide down on our bottoms. With some trepidation, we sat down at the top of the slope and pushed off. It was thrilling. We reached the bottom in no time, the children laughing and whooping with delight.
I can’t pretend that I never gaze wearily at the mountains of winter gear required for a family of four and wish fervently for eternal summer. But summer can’t give us a veil of crystal, a mysterious pair of tracks, or a giddy slide down a mountain. So, armed with extra-thick, warm socks that would make my teenage self cringe with embarrassment, we head out into the snow with warm feet and high hopes for another winter snowshoeing adventure.
Adrienne Flower lives along the Connecticut River with her husband, two small children and dog, Barley.