10 Ways to Deal with February in New England

Estabrook Woods in Concord, MA is quintessentially New English.

Estabrook Woods in Concord, MA is quintessentially New English.

Generally, I hate February. I’m convinced the real reason that the month is so short is because some Roman emperor hated it too, and, one February 29th in a winter that had been particularly gray and bleak, decreed: “Oh, to hell with it. It’s March now. March 1st. Got that?” I’d probably move us on to March even sooner, but sadly I don’t have the same level of calendrical control.

Nevertheless, February is here and it must be dealt with. There are only 10 more days to go, so I’ve come up with 10 ways to deal.

1. Take a winter hike in the Blue Hills. At the beginning of the month, before the major nor’easter that dumped 30 inches of snow on Boston, I went for a vigorous three-hour hike in the Blue Hills, on the Skyline Trail. You’d probably need your snowshoes to make the same trek now (or you could snowshoe or ski one of the wider, flatter trails). It was much more serene than the Blue Hills are in the warmer months; just me, a handful of other blissed-out winter hikers, and some gently falling snowflakes making everything look magical. Dust off your trekking poles and your CamelBak, and bundle up in plenty of layers.

2. Take a walk somewhere pretty. If winter hiking sounds too strenuous, then throw on your Bean boots and do something easier. I’m a year-round visitor to Estabrook woods in Concord (here’s a map), but my favorite time of year to visit is the winter. Just something about the snow, the sunlight, and the bare trees. It’s a great place for dogs, who can run around off-leash — and also a great spot for those of us who like saying hi to other people’s dogs. For other options, check out the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation’s useful park finder.

Long Trail brewery is close to Okemo and Killington.

Long Trail brewery is close to Okemo and Killington.

3. Get thee to a brewery. There are enough great breweries in New England to fill a book. But a quick list of favorites would have to include: Long Trail in Bridgewater Corners, VT (cram in around the woodstove with apres skiiers and be sure to try the Coffee Stout and the Triple Bag); Harpoon in Boston (do the tour and enjoy 30 minutes of unlimited tasting; then take yourself tipsily over to the ICA); Night Shift in Everett, MA (a nano-brewery Ben has been raving about; I’ve yet to go); the Shipyard Brewery in Portland, ME (conveniently located in the historic waterfront district, not far from a charming narrow gauge railroad museum); and Moat Mountain in Conway, NH (sit in the bar and get some of their amazing BBQ nachos to go with your sampler). There’s also the delightful Portsmouth Brewery in Portsmouth, NH — I’m a sucker for their sampler and their pretzel rolls.

4. Eat brunch and ice skate. When was the last time you hit up your favorite Boston brunch place and then went skating on the Frog Pond? There’s a reason it’s a Boston tradition: it’s fun. Pick up some hot chocolate on Charles Street to keep yourself warm while you wait in line for skates.

5. Try nordic skiing. The weekend of the big blizzard, Ben and I were in Waterville Valley, NH taking a ski lesson. Ben’s already a good cross-country skier, but my skills were rather, uh, rusty. We took a skate skiing lesson and I’m hooked. Not only is it vastly cheaper than downhill, but it’s much, much more of a workout. After a couple of hours, your legs will be tired and your endorphins will be up; and unlike with alpine skiing, you won’t be cold. The trail system around Waterville is extensive and well-maintained, and it’s just about a 2-hour drive from Boston. There are also ski tracks closer to Boston, in Carlisle and Weston. Of course, if you have the gear, you don’t need to bother going to a groomed trail system; with all the snow we’ve gotten this month, you can just find an obliging patch of woods and get to it.

6. Go to a spa. Sometimes, you just need to get warm. Boston is replete with spas featuring hot tubs (like at Inman Oasis), Russian baths (like the old-time Dillon’s), Finnish baths, and chi-chi top-shelf spas (like the one at the Mandarin Oriental). Further out, I’ve been to both Essential Therapies Day Spa in Bolton and — way far out — Cranwell in Lenox. This last makes a great day trip if you combine it with a tour of The Mount (Edith Wharton’s estate) and dinner at Nudel (swoon).

7. Ski hut-to-hut at Maine Huts and Trails. Drive north — waaaay north — and take advantage of this ever-growing network of trails and rustic huts in the woods of Maine. Friendly staff will have hot meals waiting for you when you arrive, and they’ll even move your gear along for you so you can schuss unencumbered.

8. Go antiquing. From Cape Ann to Maine’s Route 1 to Connecticut’s Route 7, New England is full of neat old stuff. Find some of it near you.

9. Try a new museum. So you’re bored with the MFA, the Science Museum, the Isabella Stewart Gardner. So what? New England is full of other great options: the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, the RISD museum in Providence, Fruitlands in Harvard, the Currier Museum in Manchester, the Worcester Art Museum, the Museum of Russian Icons in Clinton (really — it’s stunning). Pick one and go find out what it is.

10. Make a hot toddy and read a good book. There’s no better time in New England to finally read that novel (or, if you’re like me, pore over your trail guides and make plans for spring). So get off the Internet already and pick up that paperback. For the toddy, I prefer simple recipes. My current favorite is Meyer’s rum, hot water, and lime juice. Lather, rinse, and repeat until spring.

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