Sled, skate and ski your way through Pioneer Valley
Contrary to popular belief, winter does not mean there is nothing to do outside until the spring thaw. It simply means that activity seekers need to put on an extra layer before heading out the door.
So while it is true that the chill of the winter months eliminate swimming from the list of outdoor activities, winter does offer up a chance to go sledding, ice-skating and cross-country skiing. Here’s a look at where you can partake in these activities in our area.
Fortunately for University of Massachusetts students, one of the best sledding hills around is right on campus: Orchard Hill.
As a result of its proximity to the dorms, sledding trails are made quickly following any snowstorm resulting in fast sledding. And, as a result of the mischievous nature of college students, bumps are made soon after making the route down the hill interesting to say the least.
If Orchard Hill isn’t extreme enough of a location, try Clarke Hill Road. You know, the steep one that goes from Thatcher Drive all the way up to Butterfield Hall. A word to the wise, make sure you know how to stop a sled before tackling this ride. The bottom is an intersection after all.
For those looking to escape campus, Cherry Hill Gold Course, located just two miles away from campus, offers another option. Not as scary as Clarke Hill Road, while not a super steep hill, it does offer a change of scenery.
But come Saturday, Feb. 9, that slope will have snow whether Mother Nature wants it to or not, in order to support the annual Winter Fest snowing competition. While sledding on the hill is normally free during Winter Fest, there is an admission price of $8.
While ice skating is not allowed on the campus pond, there are other places nearby to hit the ice.
The closest place to campus to glide on pond ice is Puffer’s Pond, located in Amherst. This ice is not groomed or closely supervised, so it is important to remember to be cautious. Check to make sure the ice is thick enough to skate on (the ice should look thick and blue). And remember, always skate with a buddy.
For those willing to leave Amherst, another option is the Beacon Field Outdoor Ice Rink in Greenfield. While a bit of a trek, the rink is one of the safest bets for good skating as the ice is made on top of a football field, guaranteeing its safety. It’s free to skate on, but no rentals are available.
For those who prefer to stay in a temperature controlled environment or who simply dislike the bumpiness of pond ice, the Mullins Center holds public skate times throughout the year. Using the facility is free for UMass students or $6 for adults. Skate rentals are available for $4. Public skate times can be found at www.mullinscenter.com/events-tickets/community-ice-rink.
While doable, there are no truly good places on the UMass campus to cross-country ski. For those that are really desperate to give it a whirl, skiing to class is an option, but the amount of equipment involved makes it a truly impractical endeavor.
But just two miles off campus at the Cherry Hill Golf Course, groomed trails offer excellent cross country skiing. Groomed trail are easier to learn on than self-made paths in the wood, where skiers have to compete with obstacles such as fallen tree branched. This run is particular good to learn on since it isn’t a long trail. The trail is free to use and snow dependent.
For people looking for some more difficult skiing, it is worth it to make a trip out to the hill towns, where there are several larger ski areas. A little less than a half hour away, Northfield Mountain, Cross Country Ski Area located off of Route 63, offers more advanced ski trails. Unlike Cherry Hill, the mountain is a skiing destination offering 25 miles of trails the range in difficulties. Ski rentals are available at the facility that is open Wednesday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Skiing costs $12 a day and rental cost $14.
Katie Landeck can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.