Winter Sports Page

Last updated January 19, 2019



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When it comes to winter sports, I am truly a late bloomer. Up until 2008, I had never done any downhill skiing, cross country skiing, or snowshoeing. The most experience I had in the snow was with church trips out to the Sierra Nevada to go tubing down small hills. I must have been around 10 years old back then.

As an adult, the winter was mostly a time for doing short day hikes, lifting weights, and working on my kayak and backpacking gear. Then one day, Norma introduced me to cross country skiing on February 16, 2008 at New Germany State Park. I had done some backpacking with hiking poles and found this same motion quite intuitive on skis. But stopping and turning was a whole new concept for me. In the first few seconds, I found myself heading straight for a tree and thinking to myself, "This is how Sonny Bono did himself in." Fortunately, I avoided it and lived to go cross country skiing again on February 16, 2009 at Crystal Lake Ski Center. The first time I believe I used touring skis but this time I had backcountry skis so while I wasn't moving as quickly, I had more lateral control. I decided that this was a sport I could get into and started looking for a cheap pair of beginner cross country skis.

I never got into downhill skiing though I came close to it on the January 12-15, 2007 weekend. But after getting a feel for the downhill skiing atmosphere, I decided it was not for me. I'm more into getting out in nature, away from the crowds, using my own body to get around, and not paying any more money than I actually need. I have no doubt there is a certain rush from sking down a slope and weaving from side to side (and I'd probably enjoy it) but cross country is just better suited for my personality...and my wallet.

Unfortunately, getting from point A to B on the snow couldn't always be easily done via skis. Hence, I looked into snowshoes. Combined, I knew I could get past most winter obstacles and probably make good time in doing so.

As I write this on February 17, 2010, I've owned my skis now for about a week and I have snowshoes currently being shipped to me from the store. In the next few days, I hope to be prepared to get around easily and enjoyably when our next mid-Atlantic blizzard brings things to a standstill.

 My snow tubing adventures are at Tubing Adventures.

Elkhorn Branch Trail, Part One
According to the Baltimore Sun in the early afternoon of January 13, 2019
Four to five inches of snow blanketed the Baltimore area this weekend - and another one to five inches more could fall before Monday morning.

They say that when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. So with all the snow, Norma and I decided to go cross country skiing. We started at the Lake Elkhorn parking lot off Broken Land Parkway in Columbia, less than four miles from our house. I like the idea of not having to travel far to go skiing.

The two of us skied around the lake and explored the trails in the Owen Brown community on the northeast side of the lake. We then skied around the community garden off Oakland Mills Road and then north on the Elkhorn Branch Trail to where it meets with Dobbin Road before returning. Skiing in the Owen Brown community and around the community garden wasn't my just sort of ended up that way. The goal was just to ski around the lake and on the Elkhorn Branch Trail. On the return trip, I learned where I made a wrong turn.

We were out for three hours. I'm guessing we got in 6-6.5 miles. It was pretty slow and much of the time we were using our skis more like showshoes.

I took a few photos on this very overcast day.

  • First photo: Lake Elkhorn spillway.
  • Second photo: Everywhere there was a hill, there were kids with sleds enjoying the winter weather. That means they weren't stuck inside playing electronic games, which in my opinion is a good thing.
  • Third photo: The top layer of Lake Elkhorn was frozen though not by much. I don't think anything heavier than a goose could stand on it.
  • Fourth photo: Norma skiing on the Elkhorn Branch Trail. In this state, it was easy skiing. But shortly after, around 1300, a snow plow came and cleared off all the nice, packed snow. That's the problem with skiing on a paved path in Columbia. With all the money that the Columbia Association brings in, they are far too good at snow removal.
  • Click thumbnails to enlarge.

    Elkhorn Branch Trail, Part Two
    As of January 14, 2019, we are in day 24 of the partial federal government shutdown. But today the government was shut down due to snow. I was told to not come in to work. So instead I went cross country skiing again.

    Yesterday, Norma and I explored part of the Elkhorn Branch Trail. Today, we completed our exploration. This time, our good friend Sara joined us.

    The three of us parked at Dobbin Center and then walked between the Wal Mart and Advanced Auto Parts building then downhill and across Dobbin Road to get to the trailhead. The good thing about parking here is that there are plenty of restaurants, restrooms, and parking. We started skiing where we left off yesterday, at Dobbin Road.

    The plan was to get out early, before the Columbia Association could plow the trail. Yesterday, we saw the plow on the Elkhorn Branch Trail around 1300. Today we were there around 0930 and it had already been plowed. The Columbia Association is just too efficient. It seem ironic that there are neighborhoods (especially cul-de-sacs) that get plowed very late (if at all) and yet this pedestrian path gets plowed so early.

    Rather than drive to find a different trail that had not been plowed, we skied mostly on the side of the cleared part of the path. Where else would we have skied? I think the non-paved paths don't get plowed. Also, places outside of Columbia are less likely to get plowed. The Patuxent Branch Trail is always a good fall back though I've done it too many times and, like listening to Metallica, I've gotten a little tired of it through overuse. Maybe next time, we will try the trails in Piney Orchard. This means those at the Piney Orchard Nature Preserve and the Washington, Baltimore and Annapolis (WB&A) rail trail which connects to the Nature Preserve via the Vernal Pool Path.

    We made it all the way to the end of the Elkhorn Branch Trail, across from Howard High School at Route 109 before turning back. We got in five miles. Jackson Pond was rather scenic. The return trip was much faster because it was downhill and also because we didn't have to break new ski tracks. The sun was starting to melt the snow so it made things slick and fast for skiing.

    Unlike yesterday, the day was mostly sunny and thus much better for photography.

  • First photo: Deer love this place. Nobody hunts in Columbia.
  • Second photo: We passed by and over several creeks.
  • Third photo: Norma racing along.
  • Fourth photo: Sara practicing good form.
  • Fifth photo: If the guy in the yellow sign wore skis and a cowboy hat, we would be twins.
  • Click thumbnails to enlarge.

    Savage to Lake Elkhorn
    On March 21, 2018 (the second day of spring) we got several inches of snow. See my back yard in the first photo.

    Work was canceled so I got caught up on my beekeeping studies and then went cross country skiing from my house to Lake Elkhorn in Columbia, and then back. I skied along the Patuxent Branch Trail which runs along the Little Patuxent River, shown in the second photo.

    I skied across the Guilford Pratt Truss Bridge in Guilford. It was built in 1902. See third photo.

    On the way back, I spotted this snowman (fourth photo) in my town.

    I skied for a total of 8.9 miles. I had blisters on my heels. I was wearing really thick wool socks so I wasn't expecting that. Maybe I should tape up my heels before I put on such mileage next time.

    It was a good day to ski but I didn't get out at the best time. It was a very wet snow that melted and turned slushy after people walked on it. I like wet snow for cross country skiing because the skis slide easily. But I don't like it when it has watery or dry patches. I should have gotten out as soon as the downpour was slowing up.
    Click thumbnails to enlarge.

    Broadford Park
    2017 was not conducive to winter activities in our area. 2018 was not looking so good either. But further west, in Garrett County, Maryland, things were looking a little better over Presidents Day weekend. Norma and I were visiting her mother, Hazel, in that part of the state. About five inches of wet snow fell overnight on February 17, 2018. So the next morning, we got out to enjoy the snow before it melted.

    First, we took Daphne outside for a pee break. See first photo. This was her first time seeing snow. She didn't hate it as much as the chickens but she didn't love it either. I'm guessing the beagle in her was more concerned about scents, and the snow dulled what she could smell.

    Norma and I left Daphne with Hazel for a couple of hours. The two of us drove a short distance to Broadford Park. It cost us $1.50 per person to enter the park. Much cheaper than lift tickets.

    We skied around Broadford Lake as much as we could. The park really isn't set up for skiing and the trails aren't that great. It is better as a local, community park for picnics and baseball. But that didn't matter much. I was just wanting to get out and didn't matter where as long as the snow was good. The snow was very good indeed. Not a lot of it but what we had was wet and slick. So we slid with little effort. See second photo.

    We made our way around to the south side of the lake and then skied across the dam (third photo) which separates the lake from Broadford Run.

    On the south side, we found a small hill that was fun to ski down. See fourth photo.

    We had a nice view of the lake. See fifth photo.

    The trail ended at a sign telling us not to go any further. Even if the sign were not there, I don't know if it continued. So we turned back.

    It was good to get out when we did. By the afternoon, it was warming up and the snow was much less than ideal for cross country skiing. Opportunity only knocks once. We answered when it did.
    Click thumbnails to enlarge.

    Cross Country Skiing on the B&A Trail
    The problem with the recent winter storm Jonas is that even if the main roads are pretty clear, there often aren't many places to park near where you want to cross country ski. Clearing places to park takes a back seat to clearing the roads, some of which still are not driveable. On January 25, 2016, this prompted me to consider trails near major roads that have nearby commercial parking. "Commercial" is the key word. If folks are making money off it, then there is more incentive to remove snow.

    Marley Station Mall is right next to the Baltimore and Annapolis (B&A) Trail. So I drove out there and parked at Google Maps - 39 08'17.5"N 76 36'30.1"W which is is on the west side of the mall in the JCPenney/Sears lot. From there, it is a stone's throw to the trail.

    Driving wasn't bad. I waited until it was warm enough for thin sheets of ice to melt. There wasn't much traffic and if there was, it would have been very slow and dangerous since many double lanes were down to one and a half. Additionally, some merge lanes had not been plowed.

    I saw no other skiers out all day but there were obvious ski tracks. I stayed in them which made my job easy. I skied over highway 100 heading south. See first and second photos.

    The trail isn't very interesting for skiing because it is so straight. The scenery doesn't seem to change much. See third photo.

    At Jumpers Hole Road, the ski tracks I had been following came to an end. I took off my skis, crossed the road, and resumed. Now, my job was much more difficult. There were snowshoe tracks but these were difficult to ski in. Then they came to an end and I skied in virgin snow. Snow was sticking to my skis, making them heavy. I spent a lot of time just walking on top of the snow rather than sliding (what one would expect with skis).

    I started in Glen Burnie and ended up in Pasadena. I crossed East West Boulevard (fourth photo), ate a snack, then turned around.

    I passed a wetlands area and looked for signs of wildlife. Nothing. See fifth photo.

    After I crossed Jumpers Hole Road again, it seems I was flying. The tracks in which I skied were slick. This made my job easy. I continued past the mall to Norfolk Road before turning around.

    By the time I finished, I completed 6.8 miles.

    On the way back, I stopped to check out access to the Baltimore Washington International (BWI) Trail access at Amtrak Station, 7 Amtrak Way, Hanover, Maryland 21076. There is a fee for parking in this multi-level lot. The road to the station was clear. From there, it is a short walk to the trail which crosses the road on the way in. I'll add that on my list of local places to ski.
    Click thumbnails to enlarge.

    Snowshoeing after Jonas
    Winter storm Jonas brought 29.2 inches of snow to Baltimore Washington International (BWI) Airport on January 22-24, 2016. Compared to the last two winters, this winter hasn't been as cold but it has been much colder than three winters ago. But this one storm brought us more than our share of snow. But when God gives you lemons, make lemonade.

    I spent the afternoon of January 23 and the morning of January 24 digging us out. I was done before a lot of folks. Since our street is a major road in Savage, it is one of the first to get plowed. So if we wanted to drive somewhere, we could. But we chose not to. Instead, on January 24, 2016, I broke out my Winter Walker 26 Snowshoes and Norma put on her Atlas 1023 Elektra Snowshoes. I don't know if I had ever used mine before. If I had, it was only once. Norma's still had the tag on hers.

    I had mentioned that our street was plowed. But the side streets in Savage had not been, such as Jefferson Street. See first photo. While I could have walked in tire tracks on the road, my snowshoes kept me on top of the thick snow in the center.

    Where you park during the blizzard is very important. Parking near (but not under) a roof overhang is bad because it will send the snow on the house atop your car. See second photo. Parking on the street is also not good.

    Savage Park looked like a frozen tundra (third photo). I imagine this is what Siberia must look like.

    Much of the surface of the Little Patuxent (Pax) River was frozen and/or covered with snow. See fourth photo. Walking along the east side of the river, a lot of snow hung in the trees (fifth photo). I was a little surprised of this because we had so much wind. Our big pine tree in the front yard had little snow accumulation.

    At the falls section of the Little Pax, water got channeled into one small area because of the ice. In the sixth photo, you can see water getting churned up on the right side. There wasn't a lot of flow overall. I expect once things start to melt, the water level will be much higher.

    Walking in town on Fair Street, Norma stopped and spoke to a few people digging out.

    We stopped at the Bollman Truss Bridge (seventh photo) then started heading home.

    By now, Savage Guilford Road was pretty clear but the adjoining Lincoln Street was untouched. It is where the stop sign and street sign are in the eighth photo. A few winters ago, it would have also been one of the first roads to get plowed because the Savage Volunteer Fire Department resided there. I bet the residents wished they were still least for today.

    I figure we walked two and a half miles with about one and a half of that in snowshoes. I was the lead snowshoer so my job was more difficult. I found it exhausting...much more than cross country skiing. I came home and took a nap.
    Click thumbnails to enlarge.

    Wincopin Area - Green, Blue, and Yellow Trails
    I was told not to come into work on Saint Patrick's Day, March 17, 2014. It had snowed quite a bit and was still snowing.

    In the mid-afternoon, Norma and I drove out to the Wincopin Area. We were just there on March 3, 2014. But today we decided to ski on the trails we missed back then.

    Our good neighbor, Sara, started with us but decided to do the shorter red trail which Norma and I did last time.

    We usually only ski once or twice a winter. This was our third time skiing in the season so I think that is a record for us. Amazingly, all our trips this winter have been in our own town or the one next to us.

    The temperature was about 33 degrees and there was no wind. I was overdressed.

    I'm guessing there was 5 inches of snow. We could have used more but it was enough for cross country skiing. But it wasn't enough to cover all the rocks and branches so we had to be careful. I think we were more cautious than usual on the downhills because of that. Still, we had a blast. In the first photo, see Norma carefully contemplating how to negotiate a tricky hill. In the second photo, she nails it!

    We saw a couple of hikers, another skier, and a mountain biker. I was not expecting to see the latter. He seemed to do perfectly fine in the snow.

    On the green trail near the Little Patuxent River, we came to an area marked on the map as Stone Finishing. Clearly it was the ruins of something. If only the walls could talk. See third and fourth photos.

    Along the rivers, the green trail is very flat and straight...almost like a narrow rail trail (fifth photo).

    Norma and I made our way to the Gabbro Bridge Support then continued on the green trail. We passed the pond that we had visited several times before. See March 31, 2010. Unfortunately, today it was frozen on top and we saw no signs of life in it. See sixth photo.

    Lastly, we skied on the yellow trail. This was the roughest because there were big exposed roots and quite a few rocks.

    At one point on the yellow trail, we saw a sign showing the white trail. I don't think we've ever explored that before. I don't know where it goes since it isn't even on our map. We'll have to return and check that out.

    Our day's total mileage was a meager 3 miles. It may not have been far, but it was just what we needed.
    Click thumbnails to enlarge.

    Wincopin Area - Red Trail
    I was told not to come into work on March 3, 2014. It was snowing and driving conditions were unsafe. But by about 1430, the snow stopped. There was at least 4 inches of snow on the ground. I went to to shovel and noticed that the weather wasn't that bad. So I suggested to Norma that we go cross country skiing. It was a last minute decision. I called up my neighbor to see if she wanted to join us but she didn't answer.

    We walked to Patuxent Valley Middle School and skied across the field. Then we caught part of the Patuxent Branch Trail.

    Next, the two of us walked on Vollmerhausen Road to the Wincopin Area.

    At Wincopin, we skied on the red trail and did the Horseshoe Loop by the Middle Patuxent River, which was flowing quite nicely. We saw the river to both sides of us and at first I thought one was the Little Patuxent and one was the Middle Patuxent but once I got home, I realized that both sides were the Middle just loops around.

  • First photo: East view.
  • Second photo: West view.
  • Third photo: Unusually calm section of the river.

  • If we had we more time, we would have stuck around longer to check out some of the other trails but it was getting late.

    It was colder today than it was on February 16, 2014. As a result, the snow was more powdery and we didn't glide as easily on the snow. So it took more effort to go.

    I was going to take an action photo of Norma skiing down a hill but she played it safe and decided to walk down. But she insisted on taking photos of me.
  • Fourth photo: Me with the Middle Patuxent River behind.
  • Fifth photo: On the go.
  • Sixth photo: Under the right conditions, cross country skiing is the next best thing to kayaking.

  • Once we got back to the middle school, we skied to Savage Park on the Patuxent Branch Trail. This wasn't much fun. There were a few parts of the trail where it was wet and when our skis touched the water, ice formed and stuck to our skis. So we couldn't slide. Our skis became floppy snowshoes. We stopped a few times to scrape the ice off but it was futile since the ice just kept reforming.

    We finished a little after dusk, having completed 4.5 miles.

    As we walked down our driveway, I slipped on the ice and landed flat on my back. Actually I landed on my Garmin GPSmap 76CSx and the screen cracked. It still works and is mostly readable though some sections are not. I was doing better than my GPS. I was reminded of the time I was sparring my Muay Thai instructor and he kicked my leg. I ended up flat on my back with the wind knocked out of if someone pulled a rug out from under me. At least I didn't break my GPS back then.

    Tonight it is supposed to get down to 3 degrees. In my platoon, we would say that is as cold as a well digger's ass. It is hard to say how long winter will last. It could be a very long time before I get the kayak out on the water. So it is great that we have things like skis to keep us entertained and outdoors.
    Click thumbnails to enlarge.

    Patuxent Branch Trail
    In the last few winters, Norma and I have reserved lodging in the winter for cross country ski weekends. But we have rarely been fortunate enough to pick weekends where there was a good bit of snow and good weather for being outside. So in the winter of 2013-2014, we decided not to plan such activities in advance. If the ski conditions were good, we would instead try to do something at the last minute. More likely than not, that would mean any lodging would be filled up. But that was a chance we were willing to take.

    We got a moderate amount of snow during the 2013-2014 winter. It actually seemed like we got a lot more because it was so cold that it really stuck around for awhile.

    After a lot of snowfall in the Baltimore area, we decided to take the skis and walk a quarter of a mile to Savage Park on February 16, 2014. Here, we caught the Patuxent Branch Trail. We skied north towards Columbia.

    Eventually I realized that I forgot my camera. Usually, it is second nature for me to bring it for any outdoor activity but we haven't been doing much outdoor stuff this season so I've been forgetting it. Fortunately, I have one of those fancy cell phones with the camera built into it but it takes exceptionally crappy photos.

    We crossed the Guilford Pratt Truss Bridge, built in 1902. See first photo.

    Near the bridge, a driver was stuck in the snow. Norma and I helped him get his car free.

    We passed signs saying that the trail was closed due to construction but we ignored them and continued on. I can't imagine anyone would be working on the trails on Sunday. We made it to the first crossing of Broken Land Parkway before turning back.

    The weather was really nice. It wasn't warm but there was little wind and we were dressed appropriately so we were comfortable. The snow was slick and it was easy to glide. The trail doesn't have a lot of hills so it is suitable for beginners.

    The winter Olympics are going on. We care about that about as much as the Super Bowl (i.e. couldn't give a rat's ass). But Norma was feeling and looking like a gold medal winner that day. See second photo.

    There were a few other people out enjoying the day but not many.

    By the time we were done, we had skied about 5 miles.
    Click thumbnails to enlarge.

    Blackwater Falls State Park 2013
    Ralph organized a fine cross country ski weekend at Blackwater Falls State Park in West Virginia on January 11-13, 2013. This was a Potomac Appalachian Trail Club - Ski Touring Section (PATC-STS) event..

    Herrington Manor State Park
    My goal is two weekends of cross country skiing every year. But for 2012, it might only be one.

    I made big cross country ski plans at Crystal Lake Ski Center for the Martin Luther King 2012 weekend. Unfortunately, this fell through, primarily because of a lack of snow. Such a shame.

    On February 11, 2012, Norma and I joined Joyce and Jimmy for a day of cross country skiing at Herrington Manor State Park. The last time we skied out there was December 26, 2010.

    Unlike our Martin Luther King weekend plans, we did not have a lack of winter weather. On the contrary, we had a good bit of snow and cold weather. Not just cold but REALLY COLD. The temperature was about 16 degrees with a wind chill of -4. Fortunately, we were usually sheltered from the wind on the trails.

    Joyce and Jimmy don't yet have cross country skis. But they do have downhill skis. So they rented cross country skis at the park. We arrived at the place where the skis are kept. This is the concession stand building near the lake. We were in my Subaru Impreza. The only other vehicle there was another Impreza. The owner of the other vehicle was quite proud of his vehicle. I guess he never had a hitch on the back that rattles against the heat shield like my car does.

    The ski locker was secured so we had to drive to the park office to find someone that could rent us skis. We did just that, which got us on the trail a little later than what we planned.

    It was bitter cold but we were well dressed. I had polypropylene underwear, breatheable raingear, a scarf, mittens, ear bags, and a hat. In the wind, the area around my eyes was cold but that was it. Norma and Joyce were dressed similarly. See Joyce and Norma in the first photo.

    Joyce was having problems with her skis so we headed back and got her another pair. The first pair just weren't sliding.

    The trails were well marked and maintained. See Norma (our leader) in the second photo at an intersection, deciding which way to take us.

    Back on the trail, we all noticed that we had some difficulty with sliding to some degree. I'd been on the blue trail before so I knew what to expect. But what we actually experienced was much different. Going uphill was pretty easy because we didn't slide back at all. But going downhill wasn't fun because we couldn't get much speed. This is when having a plethora of words for snow (like the Eskimos have) is of great benefit. I really don't know much about snow but if I had to think of a word for ours, I would borrow from the Germans and create a word by running several together: slowDownhillEasyUphillSnow. In the third photo, Jimmy and Joyce ski a downhill section at the pace of a slow jog.

    During the summer, the lake is open for swimming. We passed the lifeguard station and saw a sign that read "lifeguard on duty" (fourth photo). There was also a sign that read "danger unprotected water" (fifth photo). I suppose it is dangerous in that one could try to walk across the lake and slip on the ice.

    By the time we were done, we had skied about 4.4 miles. This includes getting off to a false start when we returned Joyce's skis. It really didn't seem like we did all that much but we had definitely worked up quite an appetite.
    Click thumbnails to enlarge.

    Patuxent Branch and Wincopin Trails
    On Wednesday, January 26, 2011, our area got hit with an unexpected snowstorm. Just one day prior, the meteorologists expected just an inch but on the day of, several inches of wet snow came. It was a slow and dangerous drive home that night and Norma even made an unwanted 180 degree turn. So with all that snow, it only made sense that we would get out an enjoy it that weekend.

    On Saturday, January 29, 2011, Norma and I set out to do a little local exploring. Our original plan was to do a cross country ski car shuttle on the Patuxent Branch Trail. So we both drove to the parking lot at Lake Elkhorn in Columbia. This would be where we would start. Unfortunately, we saw an orange sign near the lake on the west side of Broken Land Parkway stating that the trail was closed due to construction. There is a big project taking place to add a sewer line.

    Plan B was to just start at where the Patuxent Branch Trail meets Vollmerhausen Road near Savage. This is only about 200 feet from the parking lot at Wincopin Park.

    So starting from there, we skied north. There was a sign mentioning that our end of the trail was also closed due to construction but we figured we would ski until we were forced to turn around. Since we were now doing a yo-yo route, getting stopped by construction was no longer an issue.

    The trail was icy. It looked like an off-road-vehicle drove on the trail during or shortly after the snow. Rather than having a nice, flat surface on which to ski, we had high and low spots where the vehicle had driven. This made it hard to ski without looking down.

    I fell once. I skied down a small hill created by a small water outlet. Then I skied up the other side. This was like skiing in a 6 meter wide half pipe. Not having enough momentum to make it up the other side, I skied backwards, falling at the low point. Norma was smart and chose another route.

    We skied under highway 95. This is the same spot I hiked back on July 25, 2010. But things looked a little different today. See first photo.

    It was nice seeing the Little Patuxent River (second photo). Compared to our previous ski trips in western Maryland, the temperature was comfortable to me. The ducks didn't seem to mind the cold either (third photo).

    We turned around once we started to reach some houses where someone had obviously gone out and used a snow blower on the trail. We didn't know how far the trail was snowless so we figured it was a good time to head back.

    The return trip was a little more scenic because now we were heading south and could see all the snow in the trees that had been blown in by the north wind. See fourth photo.

    At Wincopin Park, we skied on the main trail, heading south. We didn't get far before we encountered a downed tree. Getting around these things on skis is very cumbersome. A little further, we encountered another...then another. After about the 4th one (we could see more just ahead), we figured it was time to head back.

    At one of the downed trees, Norma gathered branches with colorful berries for a flower arrangement. See fifth photo.

    We probably only made it about a third of mile south of the parking lot at Wincopin. At least there were no tire tracks.

    On the way back, Norma insisted on taking a few snapshots of me. See sixth photo.

    Norma and I saw several dogs out walking that day. The dogs seemed especially eager to be out. I'm guessing they might have been locked inside for quite awhile until things cleared up. We knew how they felt. It was good to get out.
    Click thumbnails to enlarge.

    Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday weekend, 2011
    Norma, Clark, Carmen, and I headed out to western Maryland for a superfantastic weekend of cross country skiing on January 15-17, 2011.

    Swallow Falls to Herrington Manor
    Norma received an LL Bean Rossignol Discovery Ski Set with X5 boots for Christmas 2010 from her mother, my parents, and me. The previous winter, I purchased the same thing but with the X2 boots (a downgrade) for myself.

    On Christmas Day, December 25, 2010, we went cross country skiing at the family farm. This was her chance to break them in and see what they were capable of. We found a big hill and skied down that several times. While there was a good bit of snow on the ground, there were also a few places where rocks stuck out. But more often than not, the things that stuck out were simply cow patties.

    The following day, we took our skis to Swallow Falls State Park. There was a more snow there. It was cold and windy and there were no other cars in the parking lot.

    It took us awhile to find the white-blazed trail but after some searching, we finally found it and were off. I don't know why anyone would use white blazes for a cross country ski trail.

    There were a few ups and downs but overall, it seemed fairly flat and well suited for skiing. Only about 5 other people (and one dog) were seen over the next few hours on the trail. I fell twice. Both times were when I went downhill and had to make a sharp turn to remain on the trail.

    Though it was windy, all the nearby trees and the fact that we were often in a valley kept us out of the wind. See first photo.

    Much of the trail followed or passed over a creek. See second and third photos.

    After I got moving, I found my body temperature to be just right with polypropylene long underwear under my synthetic summer trousers and my insulated M-65 field jacket over a thin flannel shirt. I also wore Gore-Tex mittens and no hat. See fourth photo. Anything more made me sweat though I quickly got cold if we stopped for more than a few minutes. So make sure to wear layers so you can shed once you get moving.

    The last part of the trail was on a very flat, wide section surrounded by pine trees. See fifth, sixth, and seventh photos.

    After 5.5 miles, we arrived at Herrington Manor State Park. There was a big fire burning in a lodge-like area. We spoke to one of the employees who we saw the next day at Denny's.

    Hazel, Norma's mother, came and picked us up. We were hoping we would have time to ski back to where we started but we were running out of daylight. Our pace was only about 2 mph.

    We had a great day getting out and enjoy the wintery wonderland of western Maryland.
    Click thumbnails to enlarge.

    White Grass
    On February 12-15, 2010, Norma, Alison P., Peter, Joyce, Jimmy, and I rented a cabin for the holiday weekend from Timberline Four Seasons in Davis, West Virginia. The mid-Atlantic region received record-breaking snowfall just days prior. The roads were fairly clear and it was a great time to get outside and enjoy some winter activities.

    On February 13, we went to White Grass to enjoy some cross country skiing (see first photo). This touring center boasts having over 50 kilometers of maintained trails, 30 kilometers of machine groomed trails, ski rentals, snowshoe rentals, lessons, sales, food, and clever furniture (second photo). The elevation of the building is 3336 feet above sea level which is pretty high in our region.

    Due to the popularity of the center and the busy weekend, Norma called in the previous day to inquire about reserving rental skis. They said that they have never ran out. But on the morning of our arrival, they ran out. There was a short wait while others turned in their skis (third photo) but after that, we were on our way to exploring the trails.

    By 0800, the temperature was a chilly 18 degrees and the expected high was in the low 20s. It was quite windy too which made things uncomfortable in the open. See fourth photo. Alison and Peter felt they weren't properly dressed for the weather. That, coupled with the fact that they had never cross country skied made them decide to head back.

    Joyce and Jimmy took off ahead of us but we soon caught up. Once Norma and I started skiing through the sheltered woods, our core temperature rose and we stayed out of the wind. I was quite comfortable in my rainsuit, wool hat and socks, polypropylene underwear, and silk underwear.

    Whitegrass reported 24-44 inches of base snow and 24 inches of new snow.

    I marked our starting location in my handheld global positioning system (GPS) but never ended up needing it. The trails were well marked with maps at almost every intersection. Additionally, we were given maps to carry. The four of us took Milksnake Run heading west. We then made our way up the mountain. Naturally, the flat and downhill areas were easy and fun, especially for the experience downhill skiers like Jimmy, see fifth photo. But the uphill parts required a good bit of work and getting used to. See sixth photo. We stopped for a quick lunch then headed back to the center for some hot drinks.

    Round two took us east on Three Mile Trail then up the mountain. Now we were tackling much steeper inclines. I think we got as high as 3800 feet. We were going to take the Weiss Knob Slope down but instead opted for a more gradual (but still difficult) decline on Barton's Bend. Norma and Joyce did a more controlled, steady downhill run (seventh photo) while I moved faster and ended up crashing several times. Sometimes it took a few seconds of rolling end over end before I finally came to a stop on the soft powder. But I would simply shake off the snow and do it all again. This was only my fourth time skiing.

    Near the end, the terrain flattened out a bit more, making for more gradual downhills. See eighth photo.

    Back at the touring center building, I saw Gina C., one of the kayak chicks.

    After Norma, Jimmy, and Joyce returned their skis (I own mine) we headed back to the cabin for dinner with Alison and Peter.

    That night we went out to The Purple Fiddle and heard Girls, Guns, and Glory, a fine band from Boston described as having a rock 'n' roll, country, folk, and blues sound. They even won the Boston Music Award for "Outstanding Americana Act of the Year."

    It was a great way to end a nice winter day.
    Click thumbnails to enlarge.

    Lindy Point
    On Valentine's Day, February 14, 2010, Norma, Alison P., Peter, Joyce, Jimmy, and I ate a nice breakfast at our rented cabin in Davis, West Virginia. See how our adventure began at February 13, 2010. In the first photo from left to right standing are Norma, Jimmy, Alison, and Peter. Seated from left to right are me and Joyce.

    Jimmy and Joyce bid farewell that morning so they could attend a birthday party. That left Alison, Peter, Norma, and I to enjoy the day snowshoeing at Blackwater Falls State Park. Snowshoeing was a totally new experience for all of us.

    On the way to our destination, we encountered some hungry deer. See second photo.

    Norma and I had actually been to the park once before on October 8, 2006. But with all the snow, the place was unrecognizeable.

    We parked at the sled run parking area. Unlike yesterday's crowded ski center building, the Blackwater Falls building was much more relaxing. We rented snowshoes and got plenty of personalized service. The fellow working at the counter helped us fit the Atlas 1025 snowshoes and took the time to answer all our questions. No rushing around like yesterday.

    Soon, we were out walking on an unplowed road. See third photo. I led the way at first, walking through unpacked snow to get a feel for how the snowshoes would handle in a less tame environment. They allowed me to move at a good pace and kept me from sinking down like I would have done without them. But it didn't take long before I was working up a sweat. It wasn't terribly difficult but it was certainly much more strenuous than walking on packed snow. After about a third of a mile, I let someone else lead.

    The wet snow really stuck to the trees, making for spectacular scenery. See fourth photo.

    After about a mile, we reached the 0.37 mile long Lindy Point Trail. Up to this point, the cross country skiers moved much more easily than us. But the narrow, winding trail now made snowshoes the ideal mode of transportation. We reached the Lindy Point Overlook. It was rather windy and uncomfortable at this open location so we didn't stick around for long...just long enough to get a good look and some photos. See fifth and sixth photos.

    We stopped on the side of the trail on the way back to eat some lunch. It was nice to get out again but our route was a popular one and we saw numerous other people, which sometimes made it seem like we never quite got away from it all. Next time maybe we can explore some of the less traveled routes. One fellow snowshoer recognized me from The Purple Fiddle last night.

    One bitchy old woman scolded us for walking in the ski tracks. Hence, we walked the rest of the way back on the side. But we later found out from a park employee that walking with snowshoes in ski tracks is perfect acceptable.

    After our short 2.74 mile adventure, we turned in our snowshoes.

    Dry snowflakes were falling and we had a chance to see some up close against dark surfaces. Their geometric shapes were quite impressive, seventh photo.

    On our way back to the cabin, we stopped at Hypnocoffee for some snacks and hot drinks to warm up.

    Having the opportunity to try out this new mode of transportation made me eager to buy my own snowshoes so I could enjoy the experience in my own town during the next blizzard. Upon arriving home, I did some web searching then placed an order. I now look forward to harsh winter weather.
    Click thumbnails to enlarge.

    Snow tubing at the Wisp Resort
    I originally intended this page to be about river tubing but in some ways, snow tubing fits too. For a trip report of snow tubing at the Wisp Resort with Norma, see February 18, 2008.

    General Advice
    I don't know much yet but I have learned a little.

    Snowshoeing on fresh powder can be very physically demanding. It works the legs hard because you're exerting yourself both when pushing off and when pulling the foot up. Put someone strong in the lead and have everyone else walk directly behind this person, trying to step in their tracks. This lead person should try and dress and move at a pace so that they don't sweat since of course, sweaty clothes doesn't insulate as well and weigh more. Rotate people in the lead so as to ensure the group moves at a good pace without anyone getting exhausted or sweaty.

    Don't forget to drink (and pack) water. It is easy to forget to drink when it isn't cold.

    Pack high calorie food.

    I looked for both new and used cross country skis at the following places
  • Columbia Ski Club
  • Craig's List
  • Princeton Sports
  • REI
  • Ski Candy
  • A ski swap

  • Craig's List was rather frustrating because I would post very specifically what I wanted but then folks would send me info about ski equipment they were selling that didn't meet my criteria. Or, if people were selling, I would ask them about their gear (via e-mail), and they wouldn't reply. The one and only ski swap I attended in Baltimore County only sold downhill (alpine) ski equipment. Princeton Sports sold almost entirely alpine equipment too.

    My luck changed on February 4, 2010. I just happened to be in LL Bean with Norma. She was looking to use her coupons and I didn't need anything they I thought. I started browsing their website and (just for s**ts and giggles) I did a search on "cross country skis." That is when I found their Discovery Ski Set with Rossignol X2 Boots. This includes Rossignol Discovery EVO skis, Rossignol X2 Ski Boots, Rossignol T3 Automatic Ski Bindings, and LL Bean Touring Poles. At $259, this was quite a bargain. I went home and ordered it that night. Unfortunately, since it was late in the season, they were out of my size poles so I bought a size too small for me. But even without the poles, the price was right.

    I ended up ordering the 54 inch Scott Triton Ski poles from REI. The cost only $18.83 plus tax. Yes, they were on sale.

    I received my skis in time to try them out briefly for the February 6-11, 2010 blizzard that brought the mid-Atlantic area to its knees. While my street was plowed, some were not, and many government offices were closed. So it was a great excuse for me to get outside, enjoy some fresh air, and explore the snow-covered woods behind my house.

    While exploring the woods, I found the skis got around pretty good on the downhill or flat terrain. I was on snow that nobody had touched so, while I couldn't move quickly, I managed to stay on top of the snow and move at a regular walking pace. But then I had to climb a hill. I couldn't do it in the skis. So I took them off and sunk down about 3 feet into the snow. I used my skis and poles to increase my surface area with the ground as I inched up the hill. I knew right then that if I really wanted to get out in the snow and be able to explore, I would need snowshoes.

    On February 13, 2010, I had the chance to use my skis in West Virginia at White Grass. The next day, I rented snowshoes at Blackwater Falls State Park. I returned home on the 15th and after some Internet power searching, I placed an order for snowshoes.

    I considered buying snowshoes from
  • MSR
  • Atlas
  • REI

  • I really liked the Atlas 1025 but after comparing prices, I couldn't pass up the LL Bean Winter Walker 26 Snowshoes for $99.

    It may sound like I'm only interested in buying the cheapest thing I can find but that isn't the case. Getting something that fits and is right for what I plan on doing is the most important consideration. Next, I consider how much I actually plan on using the item and how serious I plan on getting with the activity. This isn't like kayaking where I'll spend $250 on a carbon fiber wing paddle. I might get serious about skiing and snowshoeing later...but for now, something basic will suffice.


    Baltimore and Annapolis (B&A) Trail: See January 25, 2016 blog.

    Baltimore Washington International (BWI) Trail: See January 25, 2016 blog.

    Blackwater Falls State Park

    Cross Country Ski Pennsylvania

    Herrington Manor State Park: 5.5 mile trail to Swallow Falls State Park

    New Germany State Park

    Swallow Falls State Park: 5.5 mile trail to Herrington Manor State Park

    White Grass


    Cross Country Skiing
    Columbia Ski Club

    Craig's List

    Ski Touring Section of the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club

    Princeton Sports in Columbia, Maryland