Here’s a recommended New Year’s resolution for all Seacoast inhabitants:
Don’t complain about winter! This is New England; it’s supposed to be cold and snowy this time of year. The slow cycle of the seasons is a beautiful and sacred thing.
December 2015 was a frightening aberration from climatic norms. Bring on the cold! Bring on the snow! Let’s get out in the woods and admire the blankets of white on the evergreen boughs! Let’s take to the snow-glazed hillsides and ice-covered ponds, breathe in the cold winter air, and have some fun. Trust us, it’ll be exhilarating.
We’ve got some suggestions for great nearby places to sled, skate, ski, or just take a winter walk. It’s by no means comprehensive, but it’s a good place to start. If you prefer solitude, find your own quiet path in the woods, leave your phone behind, and explore.
We begin with some destinations that are a little less wild but come with some wonderful amenities.
The rink at Strawbery Banke opened for its second season the day after Thanksgiving, and skaters have been enjoying the ice ever since. The outdoor rink opened for the first time in December 2014, and that winter it welcomed more than 22,000 skaters.
Located among the historic houses on the museum’s campus, the rink offers a professionally maintained skating surface, weekly pond-hockey sessions, skating lessons for all ages, and skate rentals and sharpening. New this year is a broomball league on Tuesday and Wednesday nights, managed by the New Hampshire Sports and Social Club. The rink also offers adaptive ice time each week for skaters with physical challenges. Figtree Kitchen café is next door, and the rink and café are available for private parties.
The rink is open daily from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Non-peak admission is $7 for adults and $5 for children; it’s $3 more at “peak” times; visit the website for details.
There’s more than one way to speed down a snowy hill. The New England Sports Park has the steepest snow tubing hill in New England, with a slope nearly 1,000 feet long divided into five lanes. There is a conveyor-belt lift now open; during peak winter hours, there is also a secondary “handle tow” lift that allows guests to sit in their tubes while they’re pulled up the hill.
Formerly known as Amesbury Sports Park, the facility opened under new ownership last winter. It has machine-made snow when there is not enough natural powder, and tubing is offered in three-hour blocks to avoid overcrowding. There is a lodge and restaurant on site, and the venue is popular for birthday parties.
The park is open from 3 to 8 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays, and from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. A three-hour pass is $25 ($20 on Thursdays). The price includes a tube rental.
Owned by the town of South Berwick and operated by volunteers, Powderhouse Hill has 175 feet of vertical elevation, with three trails and a sledding area. There’s a rope tow to pull skiers and snowboarders to the top of the hill, and there’s a small lodge at the bottom with a snack bar and a woodstove. It’s an ideal spot for beginners, or for seasoned skiers looking to get in a few runs.
Powderhouse Hill has a fascinating history, which is described on its website. It is believed to be one of the oldest operating ski areas in the country, with some accounts suggesting it started all the way back in 1939, though the true opening date is a bit of a mystery.
The hill is open on Wednesday and Friday nights from 7 to 9 p.m., and on Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. Tickets are just $5; they only accept cash.
Top five places for sledding
Garrison Hill Park
off Central Avenue in Dover, turn onto Abbey Sawyer Road near Wentworth Douglass Hospital and go up the hill
This former ski area is popular for both sledding and snowboarding, with the 76-foot Garrison Hill Tower nearby.
Harvey’s Hill (a.k.a. Brown’s Hill)
off Hedding Road from Route 125 in Epping
Another former ski area, the hill on Harvey’s Farm is now popular for sledding and snowmobiling.
Exeter Country Club
58 Jady Hill Ave. in Exeter
With the golf course closed in winter, the hill by the parking area becomes a family-friendly sledding spot.
Stratham Hill Park
270 Portsmouth Ave. (Route 33) in Stratham
This is another good spot to bring the whole family. The park also has several trails and a fire tower.
Wagon Hill Farm
on Route 4 in Durham, three miles east of downtown (look for the wooden wagon at the top of the hill)
Owned by the town of Durham, the picturesque 139-acre property has a great sledding hill and lots of walking trails.
Top five places for cross-country skiing
off Colovos Road at the University of New Hampshire in Durham
With 250 acres of woods, streams, and small fields, the property is popular for skiing and snowshoeing.
at the Mt. Isinglass Recreation Area on Rochester Neck Road in Gonic, adjacent to the Turnkey Landfill
There are two loop trails (1.5 miles each) and one out-and-back trail (3.5 miles each way) in the woods along the Isinglass River.
Oaklands Town Forest
access via Route 85 in Exeter, near the Route 101 ramps
The Oaklands trail network includes a 5-mile loop trail with several offshoots, as well as a 6-mile snowmobile trail.
Rockingham Recreational Rail Trail
end of Ash Swamp Road off Route 108 in Newfields
The “Portsmouth branch” of the rail trail stretches more than 26 miles, from Newfields in the east to Manchester in the west.
Urban Forestry Center
45 Elwyn Road in Portsmouth