Early season snow
With the snow flying in November like it did, Wren, my dog, and I were happy to begin our ski season a bit earlier this year. And even when early December brought us a bit of rain (a four-letter word familiar to anyone who skis), we had plenty of base to survive until our next round of snow — for which we didn’t have long to wait.
The Lake Clear trails
I ski with Wren at a variety of places across the region, but of late we’ve been frequenting some of our favorite trails in Lake Clear, right off Fish Hatchery Road. On one of our recent visits we followed the snaking trail which loops Little Green Pond on our way to the Fish Pond Trail, a usual route for us to take. On the way we stopped by Little Clear Pond, which wasn't frozen yet, but once it is solid, skiers can create a loop by cutting across or along the edge of the pond, linking themselves to the canoe carry trails that lead to neighboring water bodies.
But the pond was not ready for that yet, and we stuck to the trails, sending fresh powder up from our feet and ducking the spindly branches of American beeches, which reached for us like groping hands ready to dump their layer of snow on our backs. The winter woods were silent like they usually are, save a few Black-capped Chickadees and the calls of a flyover Red Crossbill.
The following day we were back, and this time the dropping nighttime temperatures had sealed over Little Clear Pond, although I was not foolish enough to test its strength. Anyone who wants to ski across the ponds needs to be sure they are frozen and strong enough before attempting anything like that, particularly near the edge of the ponds where warming ground or a spring could weaken the frozen surface. Pond skiing can also expose you to cold wind and for these reasons Wren and I usually remain on the trails.
We did just that again on our most visit. We arrived late in the afternoon, but I was prepared with a headlamp and we both wore orange reflective vests (with the short days at this time of year, such things are necessary equipment). Wren’s vest looks like a cape when she runs down the trail and so I call it her super-suit as if she is saving the world — in reality she’s just having fun. Once again we cut our way along the trail and followed the Fish Pond Trail until it was time to turn around, but on this visit we completed the loop around Little Green Pond by linking up with the trail which follows the railroad tracks that lead past the parking area.
Varying conditions – and opportunities
A few days later on my ski I experienced light, misty rain, and the next outing was a light powder over a hard, fast base as the temperatures had dropped, freezing everything up and switching the rain back to snow.
And so it went with each trip and each visit a little different than the previous one, making the same location and the same trails a new adventure each time I went with Wren. One day was cloudy with fresh snow, the next fast and with well kicked-in tracks. It is one of the things I love the most about exploring the same place over and over again. It's never boring to return to the same place time and time again. It's like getting to know the different moods and faces of a friend.
My discoveries also changed from trip to trip. For instance, the days following snow falls are also great for finding fresh animal tracks, and I often spend time looking at the prints of red fox, coyote, white-tailed deer, red squirrel, and snowshoe hare. On one of my earlier ski trips I had seen mink tracks, and now and then I found those of Ruffed Grouse — their short strides creating a necklace of dots through the trees. The other day during my ski, I was excited to find the tracks of a fisher which cut across the ski trail as it hunted for hares and squirrels. Later on that same outing I found a line of bobcat tracks, although they were somewhat covered by new snow.
Wren likes my track finding habit. The trick is to keep Wren from following the tracks and wiping them out in her exuberance for their animal’s scent before I’ve had a chance to study them and possibly photograph them. One night (I was again skiing with a headlamp) I found fresh otter slides, but the tracks would not have been worth photographing in the dark anyway, although I was no less excited for finding them.
I suppose that’s one of the best thing about exploring such trails. While I love the exercise and the opportunity to get outside on skis, it is the sense of discovery and the potential for seemingly anything that brings me back time and time again. Well, that and my dog, Wren, who is good at reminding me that every day requires a visit to the snowy woods. And so as I sit here, still in some of my ski clothes from today's adventure, I’m already thinking about our next trip and what it might bring.