By Brianna Marino
From crisp autumns to soft snowy days, the changing of seasons is one of the more striking advantages of living in the Upper Valley. Winter transforms the landscape into a snowshoeing and cross-country skiing wonderland. Between ungroomed backwoods trails, ski resorts, frozen ponds and indoor arenas, there’s a winter adventure to fit anyone’s criteria. So, layer up and make the most of winter’s wonders — and enjoy some great exercise along the way!
SNOWSHOEING AND CROSS-COUNTRY SKIING
Webb’s Forest, Sunapee, N.H.
Accessed via Harding Hill Road (off Route 11) in Sunapee, Webb’s Forest is actively managed conservation land free and open to the public. Some snowmobile trails run through the property, which can make trekking/skiing easier, connecting with ungroomed snowshoeing and backcountry skiing trails (approximately 6 miles in all). Wildlife (especially deer) is abundant in the area and a view of Mount Sunapee can be had for those who hike into the overlook. A trail map (not all trails are marked) can be found at town.sunapee.nh.us
Dexter’s Inn/Norsk, Sunapee, N.H.
Directly adjacent, some trails from Norsk intersect with Webb’s Forest trails. Groomed for parallel track skiing, they cover 25 km, traverse a variety of conditions and are open to snowshoers as well as cross country skiers. With a starting elevation of 1,350 feet, the woods experience is starkly different from that of golf course skiing. Parts of trails suited to all abilities. Lessons, rentals and rate information for trail use is available at dextersnh.com
Town of New London Trail System, New London, N.H.
Originating behind the Old Kearsarge Middle School on Main Street in New London, Morris Trail is approximately 2 groomed miles and open to the public. It circumnavigates Spring Ledge Farm and terminates at Morgan Hill Road. A snowshoe-only loop spurs off a portion of the groomed cross-country ski trail. A map can be found at nl-nh.com
Pine Hill Ski Club, New London, N.H.
Groomed and maintained by volunteers, the Pine Hill Ski Club is a nonprofit organization with a trail head located on Mountain Road in New London. Approximately 20 km of trails (one open to dogs) are available for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. It’s open daily from 9 a.m. to dusk, and the warming hut is open weekends. For trail conditions, rates, maps and more information, visit pinehillskiclub.com
Eastman Cross Country Center, Grantham, N.H.
With more than 36 km of cross-country skiing and snowshoeing trails, a pro shop with rentals and lessons, Eastman in Grantham is a mecca for winter recreation. Trails (a portion of which are dog friendly) traverse the golf course, woods and lake. “We have terrain for all abilities, ski and snowshoe rentals, ski instruction and a sledding hill and skating rink,” says Leslie Moses. “My advice would to be to just get outside. It doesn’t need to be an epic adventure or a two-hour long ski. Go out for half hour or for ½ mile.” See eastmannh.org/ski for hours and rental information.
Hanover Conservancy Trails, Hanover, N.H.
Hanover Conservancy Trails manages a variety of properties available for hiking, cross country skiing and snowshoeing. For property lists, maps and more information, go to hanoverconservancy.org/lands. One property, Pine Park (pinepark.org) is a 93-acre preserve in Hanover free and open to the public year around. Trustee President Linda Fowler says, “The park is beautiful in all seasons, but particularly in the winter. The big old trees along the Connecticut River trail are some of the tallest in New Hampshire.” Dogs are allowed on all conservancy properties.
Dartmouth Cross Country Trails, Hanover, N.H.
The Dartmouth Cross Country Ski Center has 25 km of trails on Oak Hill and Garipay Field in Hanover with two facilities located at Occom Pond (rentals and lessons available) and another at Oak Hill. Trails are groomed for cross country skiing and snowshoeing. For hours, rates and lesson information, visit outdoors.dartmouth.edu
Marsh Billings Rockefeller National Historic Park, Woodstock, Vt.
The park offers 20 miles of trails and 10 miles of carriage roads which are open year round. These connect to an additional 30 miles of Woodstock trails. Ungroomed cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are available. For more information, including maps, go to nps.gov
Check Out Snowmobile Trails, Too
New Hampshire and Vermont have an extensive network of snowmobile trails. Maps are available from the numerous area clubs that maintain them and through the State Bureau of Trails. They offer hundreds of miles of well maintained trails over varied terrain, perfect for Nordic skiing and snowshoeing – all free of cost – to those comfortable sharing the path with snowmobilers (whose efforts make the trails possible).
An open air rink with lights and a sledding hill is located on Route 11 next to Bar Harbor Bank. Hours are from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. with a warming hut available. Follow Sunapee Recreation on Facebook.
An open air rink with lights is located adjacent to New London Inn on Main Street. A warming hut is open and skates are available at Whipple Hall. Hours from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Follow New London Recreation on Facebook.
A large open air rink with a warming hut is located on the Newport Town Common.
Eastman Cross Country Center maintains a skating pond behind the clubhouse. Sledding is also onsite.
Campion Rink is located at 394 North Main Street and provides open hours of for public skating, stick/puck as well as rentals and sharpening. See campionrink.org for schedule, rate and information.
Pat Walsh Park has two open air rinks. Located on Bank Street Extension, there is lighting, benches, portable toilets and a warming hut. You can even receive ice rink status notifications via mobile phone. For more information, visit lebanonnh.gov
White River Junction
Part of Hartford Parks and Recreation, the Wendall A. Barwood Arena is located at 171 Bridge Street. There’s indoor public skating, stick/puck as well as seasonal events (such as skate with Santa). According to employee Karen McNall, “Skate hours depend on school schedules. We try to have it open on vacation days to give kids something active to do.” For fees, schedule, skate sharpening and rental information, visit hartfordrec.com
Located at 80 Amsden Way, Union Arena offers five months of winter ice for indoor skating, ice hockey (including pickup games) and public skating. There’s also rentals and sharpening. For schedules and information, see unionarena.org
Occom Pond (part of the Dartmouth Outing Club) offers pond skating with on-site ski and skate rentals as well as instruction. For hours, rental and rate information, go to outdoors.dartmouth.edu
Frost Park is also part of the Hartford Parks and Recreation Department and has an open air rink with shelter. Visit hartfordrec.com for more information.
A few notes on safety for winter adventuring:
- Always check trail conditions (if available) to avoid any unwanted surprised (such as closed trails). Be sure to dress in layers and bring a map and a phone.
- Check your equipment before heading out. A broken ski binding or snowshoe strap will curtail the best of adventures.
- It’s best to carry emergency supplies (space blanket, matches, compass, water, etc.) in a daypack if you’re venturing into the woods. And always let someone know where you’re going.
- If this is the first outing for your kids, plan something close by and short to gauge their skill and enjoyment. It’s better to have 15 minutes of winter fun than an hour of cold frustration. As their skills and confidence grow, go further afield.