March 23, 2023
2022-2023 was the first winter season Meg and I spent living in remote, scenic, sometimes-snowy Littleton, New Hampshire. Join us on a recap of the highs, the lows, the adventures, and the silliness that happened this season.
Remember how mountain biking is silly? Well, here's an update.
Yes, mountain biking is still silly. People spend far too much money on ridiculous carbon frames, dual and triple and quadruple suspension monstrosities, obsess over "shredding" hills and setting record times and doing drops and jumps and many other very silly things.
BUT if you avoid the greatest silliness -- the electric shifters, the disposable carbon frames, the very-likely-to-break-your-arm jumps and drops, the insane upgrade train, it turns out that riding a bicycle around beautiful woods in beautiful mountains in beautiful country is... well, beautiful. It's nice to be away from cars and noise. It's technically challenging, even if you aren't doing anything crazy. And notably, it's free and there are no lines.
Anyway, this season for mountain biking just kept going and going... and going. I expected to get some mountain biking in during October. I was hoping to get at least one ride in during November. I didn't expect at all that we'd get such fantastic conditions -- warm weather, not too much mud, barely any snow -- almost all the way until Christmas. Sure, that didn't bode well for the ski season (as you'll see below). But I clocked a LOT of late season after-work rides and even the occasional lunch ride in December. We rode through the foliage, until all the foliage fell, past all the foliage turning trails slippery as hell, all the way until the foliage blew off the trails and we could actually ride dicey trails again. I even got to try out a tiny bit of snow riding on my chonky mountain bike tires.
Yeah, it goes without saying that ski season sucked this year. We got our first skiing of the season in in December: Cannon's opening day was rainy, and it was fun for a few days to just be out on the mountain, shredding the gnar again. Soon enough, the holidays distracted from the awful conditions.
January was bleak as hell: a tiny bit of snow, then frigid cold, occasional rain, but just dark and dreary and cold. February finally brought some snow. But not enough for great skiing.
For all of January and most of February, the only real way to enjoy being outside was trail running and walks around town.
Finally, the end of February brought the first truly lasting snowfall. Since then, conditions have been pretty good, if often "east coast icy."
But I am continually amazed at just how many people want to ski around here even when conditions SUCK. We got three or four truly great ski days in this year, when you could cruise all over the mountain, carve fresh powder, and go as fast as you want without worrying about hitting a massive ice patch or a rock. We got three or four decent days where you couldn't hit glades or anything super challenging, but the conditions were fun on groomed trails. And we saw a lot of days where after a handful of runs Meg and I were happy to go grab lunch. (My favorite memory: after bagging a couple of runs on a particularly icy day, a father and daughter arriving at Cannon, fresh from Massachusetts, and asking, "Is there something wrong on the mountain?" I just told him I was hungry and lived local enough to ski any day before work.)
Unfortunately, conditions aren't the only problem: there's also the problem of crowds. When you get a true powder day (and you don't have to work), living 15 minutes from the nearest mountain is great -- you can drive slowly and safely to the mountain and basically get the whole place to yourself. But almost every weekend, especially when terrain is limited, can easily become a nightmare of 10+ minute lines at every lift and massive crowds at every chokepoint. I could bear the lines alone. But the line etiquette (I've seen more folks "saving spots" in lines for friends this year than ever before, or cutting past other people because... reasons?) and the trail etiquette (be aware of other people; don't cut people off; don't hog the entire trail, especially if you're slow; don't stop IN THE MIDDLE OF A BLIND CORNER OR CHOKEPOINT to take a picture and shoot the shit with your friends) have become so bad that any level of crowding quickly turns many mountains into Not a Good Time. And I won't even go into the havok that Epic and Ikon passes have wrought on the ski industry itself, the insane state of day pass prices, or the housing issues destroying the already-unpleasant living conditions of ski hill employees. It becomes harder and harder every year to justify propping up this industry in any way, even if you stick to independent resorts like we do.
We've considered backcountry skiing as a solution to this: either walking up ski hills out-of-hours to get a run in before or after normal hours, or hiking up a smattering of known ski spots around New England (including our mountain biking trails!) to earn ungroomed turns. Unfortunately backcountry gear is VERY expensive for a VERY short season. And Cannon doesn't allow you to hike up before they start lifts... at 9AM. So while I'm keeping my eyes out for deals, I'm not convinced yet.
Fortunately, once the snow fell substantially in Littleton itself, we discovered another activity that partially replaces downhill skiing...
Some of you may think of boring, cold drudgery when you hear the phrase "cross country skiing." I've never felt that way, maybe because I love being outside in the snow, or because I go a little faster than most when I cross country ski, or because I tend to bring a beer. It turns out that the PRKR trails right here in Littleton are a fantastic place to cross country ski.
There's daily grooming. The base layer sticks around for a while. Trails are tighter and have a bit more incline than your average cross country ski trail, but it turns out that keeps things fun and interesting. It's a great way to get a cardio workout, skiing all the way to the overlook at the top of Parker Mountain. There are lots of trails, and they're all absolutely beautiful in the winter. Peace, quiet, nature. Need I say more?
Disclaimer: Meg may think I'm slightly crazy for going down steep trails on cross country skis. That's OK.
Of course, after three subsequent days of 50 degree temperatures, it looks like our one month "winter" is finally winding down. On one hand: wow, was that a short winter. I expected way colder and snowier conditions up here in the White Mountains. But it was a mild winter for the whole Northeast, and at least we still got some decent winter sports in.
But what I'm really excited about is the new bikes we picked up last week. Last year, we took a chance on mountain biking. As I already mentioned, I enjoyed it a lot -- even more than I expected. But I'm not sold on the utility of suspension, carbon, and many other fancy modern "innovations" for folks who want to rip downhill as fast as possible and do jumps. I prefer a bike I can comfortably ride on all day, that's as cozy on dirt roads and broken pavement as it is on a singletrack trail, and that's built so well, I don't think I could break it. For that reason, Meg and I picked up Tanglefoot Moonshiners from James at Analog Cycles.
They've been brilliant so far. We're still settling into them -- we have a 100 mile tuneup coming up soon, Meg's still waiting on her Sinewave Beacon 2, and I've still got to wire up my rear dynamo light. But we've already taken Bill and Wheezie up to Reklis Brewing in Bethlehem twice, out for a mud ride, and for a spin on the causeway trail in Burlington. Once the snow and mud settles out on the PRKR trails and Kingdom Trails, I'm excited to try them on a Moonshiner -- we had a great time at the Slate Valley Trails with demo Moonshiners, so I know they're capable. Stay tuned for updates on mountain, gravel, and bikepacking trips once we have these bikes figured out!
Our first winter in New England. For those who thought we couldn't handle the cold: you should see how low I keep my thermostat at night. For those who thought we were crazy for living anywhere but a big city: you should see how many steps I get per day, and ask me a bit about my hobbies. For those who told me there would be a lot of snow: I wish you were right.
Winter was nice here, though I hope we get an actually snowy winter again some year soon. I love the fact that Littleton has four distinct seasons, and that you actually get snow that hangs around (sometimes) -- something I never experienced in NYC or Denver. But I'm excited for the spring now. The dirt (mud for now) roads. Exploring new trails. New bikepacking trips. The sort-of-complete-now-I-think Lamoille Valley Rail Trail. The farmer's market. Long days in the sun with great bikes and great beers and great friends.