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Warm up to these 10 fun outdoor winter activities

In Vermont, Bolton Valley Resort offers one of the most robust programs for skiers who are new to navigating the backcountry. | Photo by Bear Cieri Photography In Vermont, Bolton Valley Resort offers one of the most robust programs for skiers who are new to navigating the backcountry. | Photo by Bear Cieri Photography

Want to be the coolest person in your circle as temps drop and meteorologists giddily predict New England’s next bout of frozen precipitation? Then, here’s the nudge you need to venture out and give something you’ve never done a whirl. Even if you’re not prone to simply hunkering down and counting the days until spring, it’s time to shake up your winter routine. These 10 new or rare opportunities are experiences that will reawaken your sense of winter wonder.

Maine

1. Multitask on a dogsled adventure

Maine Dogsled’s rescue dogs love to run and to pull, and their instinctive joy when the sled comes out is contagious. | Photo courtesy Dogsled Maine

Maine Dogsled’s rescue dogs love to run and to pull, and their instinctive joy when the sled comes out is contagious. | Photo courtesy Dogsled Maine

As your dogsled speeds past skeletal old-growth maple trees and powder-dusted mountainsides before gliding deeper into the placid woodlands, your mind should be on little other than the exhilaration. If you’ve planned ahead, though, your time at Kate and Brian Ray’s 80-plus-acre regenerative New Portland farm—surrounded by their motley bunch of mixed-breed rescue dogs—can be memorable beyond an hour’s outing.

Kate is a professional photographer, and, for a small add-on fee, she’ll capture rosy-cheeked family portraits or even those first giddy moments after you pop the question. If your next stop is the Rays’ Maine Beer Shed, 5 miles away, you’ll feel warm and fuzzy knowing every sip and bite of local brews and food supports their ambitious plans to run a zero-waste, community-supporting agricultural operation (be sure to designate a driver if you plan to drink alcohol).

2. Ice skate at Maine’s largest state park

The mountain views from Maine’s most spectacular outdoor ice rink are worthy of a gold medal … even if your skating skills are not. | Photo courtesy Visit Maine

The mountain views from Maine’s most spectacular outdoor ice rink are worthy of a gold medal … even if your skating skills are not. | Photo courtesy Visit Maine

In Weld, you can cross-country ski, snowshoe, or sled downhill at 8,000-acre Mount Blue State Park. But the most enchanting activity, particularly if you harbor fantasies of being a winter Olympian, is skating on the ice rink.

As you etch the frozen surface, you’ll have one of the best views in the state, looking out at Webb Lake and dusky mountains all around. When your extremities need warming or the wind kicks up, duck into the toasty yurt, where a wood fire is kept burning.

If you don’t own skates, free loaner pairs are available, and skate helpers can help stabilize learners. If hockey’s your gold-medal dream, bring your stick: You just might find yourself in a pickup game.

New Hampshire

3. Take the Skyway Gondola to Rosebrook Lodge

The new Rosebrook Lodge at Bretton Woods is a cozy refuge from the winter elements, and a place to toast all that gives this frozen season its own magic. | Photo courtesy Omni Mount Washington Resort

The new Rosebrook Lodge at Bretton Woods is a cozy refuge from the winter elements, and a place to toast all that gives this frozen season its own magic. | Photo courtesy Omni Mount Washington Resort

Skiers aren’t the only ones who will board the 8-passenger Bretton Woods Skyway Gondola this winter. Adventurous diners can reserve their own soaring excursion for the sake of doing nothing more strenuous than hoisting a spoonful of White Mountain Stew.

The exhilarating, 5-minute ride to Rosebrook Lodge allows just enough time to work up an appetite. Views of the snow-glazed Presidential Range from the lodge, a theater-like, glass-walled structure, are the sort that make you pause and truly marvel at the natural playground New England provides.

Choose from 3 dining venues: Crystal Hills offers a casual menu of hearth-baked pizzas, grilled sandwiches, and beer-infused chili, while on weekends, the Switchback Grille features a more elevated selection of handhelds and shareable plates, plus a daily entrée. Oh, and apple cider doughnut holes topped with Maine-made Gifford’s vanilla ice cream? There’s also the casual Peaks Café.

4. Escape to a Tuscan village

The jolt of espresso, the comfort of cooking with others, the breezy lightness of ice skating, the silkiness of gelato, the romance of walking arm-in-arm beneath Italian-made lampposts, the joviality of raising a glass at a beer garden: These are a few of the sensations that await at Salem’s Tuscan Village, where European style and New England tradition intersect.

With 2 of 3 phases now completed, this 3-million-square-foot, hospitality-driven, lakeside development on the former Rockingham Park racetrack site is ready to entice winter visitors with its lineup of restaurants, events, and experiential retailers that include L.L.Bean, which will offer outdoor activities like snowshoeing and ice fishing. ’Tis the season for festive lighting, igloo dining, and pop-up s’mores stations beside fire pits.

Open year-round, Tuscan Market, an Italian grocery, butcher, and trattoria, offers daily cooking classes, in partnership with Williams-Sonoma, for your chance to learn skills like wine pairing or making risotto. Hoist a mug of brew at Smuttynose Beer Garden from December through September.

5. Marvel at the White Mountains from a helicopter

Take off on an exhilarating private adventure, and see the White Mountains from an angle few humans ever experience. | Photo by CeCe Chen

Take off on an exhilarating private adventure, and see the White Mountains from an angle few humans ever experience. | Photo by CeCe Chen

Buckle into your leather seat and prepare to lift off from Whitefield as gently as Glinda the Good Witch in her iridescent bubble. Vertical Ventures Aviation’s helicopter is one luxury ride, and winter’s cool, crisp air makes for a smooth flight adjacent to the starkly beautiful Presidential Range, anchored by Mount Washington, which juts up like a ginormous snow cone.

Your pilot may well be company owner CeCe Chen, who has more than 7,000 hours of flying experience. Whether you and up to 2 companions book a 20-minute trip or a longer tour, you’ll hear a bit of history and local lore. The photos you snap will put your friends’ social media feeds to shame.

6. Ski the backcountry with Redline Guiding

Why go it alone when you can have an educational, more meaningful, and safer backcountry experience with one of Redline Guiding’s trained pros? | Photo courtesy Redline Guiding LLC

Why go it alone when you can have an educational, more meaningful, and safer backcountry experience with one of Redline Guiding’s trained pros? | Photo courtesy Redline Guiding LLC

If you dream of breaking tracks but have only skied the front-country, turn to Intervale and the White Mountains’ most versatile expert guides for a half- or full-day introduction to backcountry skiing.

If your mind automatically conjures images of daredevils hurtling down Tuckerman Ravine’s steep-pitched slopes, it’s important to note: This doesn’t have to be scary skiing (although Redline’s guides do make excellent companions for highly skilled skiers ready for the region’s audacious challenges).

Your private tour can be as relaxing and profoundly serene as gliding on Nordic skis through unblemished woodlands or as unforgettable as climbing up and schussing down secret gullies and ridges on alpine touring skis. You’ll come away with skills, local knowledge, and a sense of confidence that will stay with you.

7. See where fairies go when it snows

When Ice Castles opens in January 2022, this wondrous winter world built in North Woodstock, New Hampshire, with nothing more than water and ingenuity will have two new features: an ice sculpture garden and an Enchanted Fairy Village.

Kids will love spying the dozens of glowing fairy homes tucked up in trees that line a woodland path. It’s an extension of the Mystic Forest Light Walk that debuted last year, which returns along with a snow tubing hill, another 2021 addition.

Vermont

8. Fat Bike at Woodstock Nordic Center

Fat biking is the easiest winter sport you’ve never tried, and when you venture out in Woodstock, Vermont, the visual rewards exceed the calories burned. | Photo courtesy Woodstock Inn & Resort

Fat biking is the easiest winter sport you’ve never tried, and when you venture out in Woodstock, Vermont, the visual rewards exceed the calories burned. | Photo courtesy Woodstock Inn & Resort

It’s the winter sport for people who don’t typically enjoy sporting once the ground freezes and the flurries fly. Fat biking—riding a mountain bike with oversized tires on snowy groomed trails—is picking up steam in New England. It’s fun. It’s fast. It’s almost just like, well … riding a bike.

And the Woodstock Inn Nordic Center is the best place for beginners to give it a try. Rent from their fleet of Rocky Mountain fat bikes, and explore miles of packed-out trails. Or, better yet, book a tour with an experienced guide who can teach you about the nuances of cycling on snow, lead you on a loop that matches your skills and fitness level, point out natural features along your route, and ensure you don’t miss scenic vistas of Woodstock, one of Vermont’s prettiest winter villages.

9. Give airboarding a go at Smugglers’ Notch

Rocketing downhill on an inflatable airboard is an out-of-the-ordinary way to boost your adrenaline. | Photo courtesy Smugglers’ Notch Vermont

Rocketing downhill on an inflatable airboard is an out-of-the-ordinary way to boost your adrenaline. | Photo courtesy Smugglers’ Notch Vermont

Invented by a Swiss snowboarder with an injured leg, airboarding is offered at only a few dozen resorts in the world and only one in New England: Smugglers’ Notch. Think of it as a cross between snowboarding and tubing.

You’ll take the Morse Highlands Lift up, and, after some expert instruction, you’ll have about an hour of free riding time on your 4-foot-long, bodyboard-shaped, inflated sled. You’re face down, 6 inches from the snow (helmets are a must, goggles are smart), and—unlike in a snow tube—you’re able to steer and carve turns on your descent. It’s not for the faint of heart, nor for kids under 12.

10. Try skinning (uphill skiing)

Skiing uphill, or “skinning,” isn't as counterintuitive as it sounds. | Photo by Bear Cieri Photography

Skiing uphill, or “skinning,” isn't as counterintuitive as it sounds. | Photo by Bear Cieri Photography

Ski lifts? Who needs them? In Vermont, interest in skinning is on the rise, and more than 15 ski areas have programs and policies in place for those seeking the ultimate workout: climbing uphill, typically on alpine touring skis or a splitboard, in order to ski or snowboard down. Renting specialized equipment before you buy and taking a lesson are both advisable if you’re new to this extreme pursuit.

Bolton Valley Resort, in north central Vermont, has one of the most comprehensive instructional programs for those who want to take the path less traveled to access more than 12,000 acres of backcountry terrain.

But even Middlebury College’s little Middlebury Snow Bowl offers uphill rental equipment and lessons. Be sure to wear brightly colored clothing and do your homework, as each resort’s policies vary. Some charge for uphill access. Others, like Stratton, offer a season-long uphill travel pass for free.

Kim Knox Beckius is the New England and New York State travel expert for tripsavvy.com, a contributing editor at Yankee Magazine, and the author of 7 books.

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