People who live where it doesn't get cold are just taking the easy way out. Winter builds character, and it makes spring that much more satisfying when you know that you had to suffer through a cold few months to get there. But winter doesn't have to be completely miserable -- just look at all the fun options we have here in Massachusetts:
Ski or Snowboard
- We're not exactly in the Rockies or the Alps, but there are still plenty of quality places where you can go totally richter on the slopes without having to drive too far. Nashoba Valley Ski Area in Westford has 17 trails, a tubing area, a terrain park and racing leagues for all ages. Weekend day lift tickets are $48 for adults, $46 for children 12 and under, $22 for children 5 and under. For other pricing and more information, visit www.skinashoba.com.
- If you're not too scared of western Mass, you could go to Wachusett Mountain in Princeton. It has 22 trails spread across 110 skiable acres. Weekend day lift tickets are $58 for ages 13-64, $44 for ages 6-12 and 65+, and $15 for ages 5 and under.www.wachusett.com.
- You could also fill up your gas tank and head to Sunday River in Maine. The mountain's 132 trails over 742 acres make it a tad larger than the other two mountains, and it also offers a super-pipe, a mini-pipe and five terrain parks. Weekend day lift tickets are $85 for adults, $69 for teens, $56 for juniors and seniors. For other pricing and more information, visit www.sundayriver.com.
Public Ice Skating
- During the winter, rinks all over the state have specific times when the ice is open to people besides smelly hockey players. In Lowell, Janas Rink holds public skating from 10 to 11:45 a.m., Monday through Friday, and 2 to 3:45 p.m. on Sunday. Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for everyone younger than 18 and older than 65. Rental skates are $5. More information at www.janasrink.com.
- Chelmsford Forum is open to the public from 1 to 2:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, 8:30 to 10 p.m. on Saturday, and 1:30 to 3 p.m. on Sunday. $5 admission, $5 skate rentals. More information at fmcicesports.com.
- In Haverhill, Veteran's Memorial Rink is open from 11 a.m. to 12:50 p.m., Monday through Friday, and noon to 1:50 p.m. on Sunday. $3 admission, $1 for children under 12 years old. $4 for skate rentals. More information at http://ci.haverhill.ma.us/departments/human/skating/index.htm
- And if you like skating outside (or you just like being very romantically gross with a lot of PDA), the Boston Common Frog Pond holds public skating from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Monday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Tuesday through Thursday, and 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Admission is $5 for ages 14 and up, free for children 13 and younger. Rental skates are $9 for adults, $5 for children. More information at www.bostonfrogpond.com.
Winter Wilderness Exploring
- You could also be a little more adventurous and trek out into the wilderness. In Hollis, N.H., the Beaver Brook Association is a non-profit organization that focuses on the education of nature through hands-on experience. Beaver Brook offers snowshoe hiking, weekly fitness hikes, wildlife tracking sessions, nature classes and more. There's even a 5K snowshoe race on Saturday, Jan. 12, if you're feeling particularly in shape and/or out of your mind. For more information, visit www.beaverbrook.org.
- Cross-country skiers also have many options in the area. The Lowell-Dracut-Tyngsboro State Forest on Trotting Park Road in Lowell has 6 miles of trails over 1,140 acres. Great Brook Farm State Park in Carlisle and Walden Pond in Concord also offer miles of trails ripe for exploration. For more information on these and other trails, visit http://www.mass.gov/dcr/recreate/skiing.htm.
Sledding and Tubing
- Amesbury Sports Park has what it calls the steepest and fastest tubing hill in New England. It's open Thursday and Friday from 3:30 to 9 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Three-hour passes are $24; 5-hour passes are $32. More information at www.amesburysportspark.net.
- Chelmsford Winterfest will be held Feb. 1-3 throughout the town of Chelmsford. Activities will include night snow-shoeing, Chowder Fest, ice skating, cross-country skiing, hot refreshments and more. For a complete schedule of events, visit www.chelmsfordlibrary.org/winterfest.
- February 8 and 9 is when Lowell will hold its own WinterFest. The Wine & Dine Restaurant Specials are sure to be a hit, as well as the All-You-Can-Eat Chocolate Festival and the competitions in soup bowls and microbrews. The main event is the famous National Human Dogsled Competition, where teams of unfortunate competitors will learn that Balto was not nearly as happy a story as it seemed. For more information, visit http://www.lowell.org/Pages/Winterfest.aspx.
- Forget the human dogsled -- you can try a real dogsled right here in Massachusetts. Northern Exposure Outfitters offers real dogsled expeditions, from hour-long tours ($300) to lessons and half day-long trips. For more information (or just some pictures of cute dogs), visit www.ne-outfitters.com.
Passion for the park
Keith Kreischer, terrain park manager for Nashoba Valley Ski Area, says that urban skiing and snowboarding is more popular than ever.
"When it snows, college kids will hit the nearest rail or jump where they can find it," says Kreischer. "It's totally illegal, but they don't care."
At Nashoba's terrain park, thrill-seekers have access to the same familiar street obstacles -- they just don't have to worry about getting caught grinding on them.
Kreischer has cultivated Nashoba's Sundance Terrain Park into an urban wasteland, recycling used materials like old snowmaking pipe and leftover barn board to create more than 50 different rails, jibs and jumps in the terrain park.
His most novel creation? A long piece of corrugated sewer pipe straddled by two ledge boxes, each of which leads to either a jump line on one side or a rail line on the other.
"The Sewer Drain," as Kreischer calls it, won the Feature category of Ski Area Management's 8th annual Terrain Park Contest by beating out 20 other terrain park attractions from mountains across the country, many of the mountains much bigger than Nashoba.
"We're certainly not the biggest mountain," says Kreischer, "but one thing we're able to do is change the features of the terrain park at least four times a week."
Kreischer made jumps from an early age; when he was 16, he and his brother took the metal from a dismantled swing set in their town and fashioned a terrain park in their backyard.
His passion for park grooming continues to this day. Kreischer has to work through the night during peak season, doing everything from grooming the trail to helping create Nashoba's snow. At this point, he understands what it takes to build a great terrain park.
"It has to be consistent," says Kreischer. "All the take-offs have to be raked well so that guests are comfortable they can hit anything in the park without a snow cookie knocking them off course."
"But seeing someone's smile after they hit their first jump -- that's all I need to know I did a good job."
Destination: Anywhere but here...
You don't have to stay in the snow, though. Take a load off and hop on a plane (or a boat) to somewhere warm.
With the fiscal cliff (thankfully) no longer in our sights, travel prices are starting to stabilize, says Gabe Garavanian, president of Garavanian Travel in N. Chelmsford. While he says that prices for flights are somewhat unpredictable ("The airfares to Florida have not been good"), the actual locations have plenty of specials.
Popular now are all-inclusive trips to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic (average price of $1,400 per person for a week) or the Sandals resorts in Jamaica, the Bahamas, Antigua and St. Lucia. Garavanian says that trips to Aruba are always popular, but at a price -- both explicit ($5,000 per couple) and implicit.
"It's like going to South Boston to go to the beach," says Garavanian. "You see the same people every day that you see every year."
Mayra Alamo, general manager of Jeannette Travel Agency in Lowell, also noted the high airfares in this season. She says that many like to go on cruises to Santo Domingo, Puerto Rico and Jamaica, but that people also like using the winter months to plan cheaper vacations later in the year.
"After Thanksgiving, all prices go up until April," says Alamo. "January has New Year's, February has President's Week, March has Holy Week, April has spring breaks. After that, they start to go down a bit."
One alternative Garavanian offers to clients is to hop on a cruise line leaving from New York or New Jersey, bypassing the airfare as long as they're willing to make a five-hour drive.
"The only thing hurting cruises is airfare," says Garavanian. "Otherwise, you could get a deal on any cruise line. For example, Royal Caribbean has the lowest prices they've had since they've been on the ocean."
Follow Pete McQuaid on Twitter @sweetestpete.