Winter in New England might be the season you look forward to all year, or it might be the season you endure, but no matter — we’ve got all of the tips, treats, and must-see places to make winter fun all season long. Grab your mittens and let’s go!
#1 Build An Igloo
Join Dr. Bert Yankielun, author of How to Build an Igloo (W. W. Norton, 2007; $15.95), at the Montshire Museum of Science in Norwich, Vermont, on February 14 and try your hand at constructing your own simple-yet-elegant “snow shelter” block by block. Then bask in the greenish-blue glow under the dome — the perfect way to warm up to winter. 10 tips for building an igloo. 802-649-2200; montshire.org
#2 Sample Mo’s Splendid Spuds
Mo’s Midtown in Hartford, Connecticut, serves its potato pancakes four to a plate, with the requisite applesauce and sour cream on the side. Going there for breakfast? Try the giant, fluffy buttermilk pancakes, so big they barely fit on Mo’s oversized plates, with a side of the diner’s famous hash browns. 25 Whitney St., Hartford, CT; 860-236-7741
#3 Sugar on Snow
Collect fresh, clean snow (snow clinging to pine trees adds some flavor) and pack it into a pail or bowl. Leave it outside while you boil one or more cups of pure maple syrup for six or seven minutes, stirring often. (To make it thicker, add a quarter-cup, or half a stick, of butter per cup of syrup.) Pour the syrup over the snow and eat up–the perfect winter treat.
#4 Winterproof Your Wardrobe
Are your boot treads slipping over the ice and snow? Use a utility knife to cut some V-shaped marks across the soles and heels, about an inch apart, to give yourself more traction. Do you have to work outside and can’t wear gloves or mittens? Rub baby oil on your hands to keep the cold out; it works for your face and neck, too. Before shoveling or starting a snowball fight, cut thumb and finger holes in a pair of tube socks and slide them on under your jacket and gloves to keep snow and ice from sneaking into the bare gap near your wrists.
#5 Great Views
The clear winter sky makes this the best time to visit some of New England’s tallest buildings. Check out the outdoor observation deck atop Nantucket’s Whaling Museum, where you can see all of the harbor and stunning views of the island. (Call ahead for winter hours.) In Boston, the Prudential Tower’s 50th-floor Skywalk Observatory is home to the highest observation deck in New England, where you can see up to 80 miles in any direction. Nantucket Whaling Museum, 508-228-1894; nha.org Skywalk Observatory, 617-859-0648; topofthehub.net
#6 Pony Up
The Vermont Icelandic Horse Farm, in North Fayston, the heart of the Green Mountains, is an ideal and unusual winter getaway. Easy to ride, this shaggy Far North breed is known for its good nature and small stature. The farm offers daytime trail rides in winter by reservation (as well as two- to six-day inn-to-inn treks during May-November). Stay at the farm’s Mad River Inn or book your own accommodations nearby. 802-496-7141; icelandichorses.com
#7 The best Chicken Pie You’ve Ever Tasted
Is there any better winter food? Dottie’s Diner in Woodbury, Connecticut, keeps the recipe simple and traditional: a light, savory crust filled with both white and dark meat plus gravy, with peas and carrots either on the side or packed into the crust. Either way makes for a great dish to warm up with. For dessert, don’t miss the homemade cake donuts. 740 Main St. South, Woodbury, CT; 203-263-2516
#8 Get Hooked
Togue (lake trout) ice fishing is big in Maine all winter. Sebago Lake’s DerbyFest, February 20-22 this year, kicks off with a free kids’ event, introducing youngsters up to age 12 to the joys of this winter pastime. The rest of the weekend is devoted to the adult competition, with prizes ranging from gift certificates to a $30,000 Chevy pickup truck. 888-423-3524; icefishingderby.com 877-655-2530, 207-655-2530; sebagolakeregion.com
#9 Dartmouth Winter Carnival
Join in a weekend of seasonal fun–February 12-16 this year–at the oldest collegiate winter festival, held annually on campus in Hanover, New Hampshire. Since the carnival’s birth in 1910, it has focused on celebrating winter, snow, and outdoor sports. Events include ski competitions, a human dogsled race, jazz and a cappella concerts, a polar bear swim, dances, and a screening of the 1939 movie Winter Carnival, a romance set at Dartmouth. Each year students build a large snow sculpture on the college green, too. What better way to get into the spirit of winter recreation? 603-646-3399; dartmouth.edu/~sao/events/carnival
#10 Make the Perfect Cup of Hot Chocolate
For rich flavor and a frothy top, always use full-fat milk (this is no time to worry about your diet). Use just shy of an ounce (about a third of a cup) of finely chopped chocolate per cup of milk. The cocao content is up to you: One in the 60 percent range will make a rich, silky hot chocolate, whereas a slightly lower percentage will make a sweeter drink. To flavor it, add cinnamon, vanilla, chili powder, raspberry sauce, or peppermint. For an extra kick, throw in a splash of Baileys or a flavored liqueur. Flake some chocolate on top to make it look professional, or add a raspberry, a sprinkle of cinnamon, and so on. Use soft marshmallows because they melt better; the small ones are best, but the big ones are still great for dipping. And don’t forget the whipped cream on top!
#11 Make Like Hans Brinker
Fairlee, Vermont’s Lake Morey is home to the longest natural ice-skating trail in the country. This breathtaking two-mile-long track is protected from harsh winds by the deeply forested hillsides around it. The four-mile loop trail, generally frozen solid from December to April, hosts several seasonal events, including the Lake Morey Skate-athon (January 10 this year), Lake Morey WinterFest (January 11), and a series of Nordic skating workshops (January 17-18). Or just come for a quiet day of skating with family or friends. Relax and enjoy the panoramic views of Vermont’s snow-covered mountainsides and cliffs. 802-649-3939; nordicskating.org 802-333-3405; alohafoundation.org/hulbert
#12 Catch Iditarod Fever Close to Home
Mahoosuc Guide Service, based in Newry, Maine, offers dogsled
day trips and weekend overnights, introducing beginners to winter travel by snowshoe, ski, and canine team (all specialized winter clothing and equipment provided), as well as four- to six-day North Woods journeys into pristine wilderness. Or, if you’re not quite up to mushing, check out the 80th Laconia (New Hampshire) World Championship Sled Dog Derby, February 13-15 this year. Watch canine champs race this 18-mile course over three days–a great way to get into the sled-dog spirit. Mahoosuc Guide Service, 207-824-2073; mahoosuc.com Laconia Derby, 603-524-4314; lrsdc.org
#13 Hang 10 in 10°
Visit Narragansett, Rhode Island, on February 21 this year to catch the 41st Annual Mid-Winter Surfing Championships, the longest-running winter surfing contest in the world. Winter surfers can enjoy near-empty beaches and bigger waves, and spectators can stay warm on the beach while still basking in the thrill of watching the competition. And, if you want to try winter surfing but you’re not ready to compete yet, contact Peter Panagiotis–he runs the Peter Pan Surf School in Narragansett all year round (wet suit and surfboard provided). Eastern Surfing Association, 757-233-1790; sne.surfesa.org Peter Pan Sales, 401-575-0003; peterpansurf.com
#14 Moosehead Lake Snowmobiling
With 160 miles of well-groomed, marked trails (thanks to five loyal snowmobile clubs)–plus stops for coffee, food, and gas along the way–you can’t beat Moosehead, Maine’s largest lake, for snowmobiling adventure. Its tracks join with the Maine Interconnected Trail System, letting riders explore more of the Pine Tree State plus New Hampshire and Canada as well. Greenville and many of the other towns along the way are snowmobile-friendly, with rental shops, guide services, and plenty of resorts, as well as easily accessible trail condition reports. Moosehead Lake Region Chamber of Commerce, 888-876-2778, 207-695-2702; mooseheadlake.org
#15 Watch Olympic Flyers
The Harris Hill Ski Jump in Brattleboro, Vermont, is one of only six such Olympic-sized structures in the U.S. Open since 1922, Harris Hill stayed in operation after the sport’s popularity declined. The 85th annual tournament is scheduled for February 14-15 this year. It’s worth the trip to watch the ski jumpers do their thing from the spectator climb–and when they take off, you’ll hear the whoosh of air as they leap into space. 877-254-4565; harrishillskijump.org
#16 Grab Your Camera
5 Tips for Great Winter Photos
- If it snowed the night before, photograph early in the morning, before the sun becomes bright enough to reflect off the snow.
- In winter, don’t shoot directly into the sun, because it will reflect off the snow and bleach your picture.
- Because of the gray-and-white landscape, it’s easy to get washed-out looking pictures, so include some bright hues–a colorful scarf, for example–in your settings, to break up the pale expanse of winter scenes.
- To keep the lens from fogging up in the cold, hold your camera near your body when you’re not using it.
- Cold weather uses up power fast, so carry extra batteries. When you’re not taking pictures, take the batteries out of the camera and keep them warm in your pocket to save energy.
#17 Build a Snowman
Want to know the best way to build a snowman? The best snowman snow is at or near the melting point, with a high moisture content (near 50 percent). Roll the separate sections as symmetrically as possible, so that he doesn’t start to lean. If the balls won’t stay together, put sticks through their centers for support. If your arms get tired from all the rolling and lifting, use a bucket to pick up the snow and pile it on top for the upper sections; then shape them. Food coloring is a fun and easy way to add some pizzazz to your snowman; an umbrella will keep him from melting at the first hint of sun.
Hear Yankee Editor Mel Allen talk with the “Frugal Yankee” on having fun in winter, not just surviving, but thriving — from going to winter carnivals to building your own igloo.