Blissed Out Skating the Connecticut River

Nordic skates on black ice

Nordic skates on black ice

When I was a kid, ice skating was a painful, bloody experience.  I never had skates that fit properly, so invariably after an hour or so on the ice, my ankles throbbed and my socks were stained with blood.  Figure skates or hockey skates, the result was unfortunately the same.  Finally last year I discovered the solution: nordic skates.  These clip directly onto x-country ski boots and since I had a pair of those that fit comfortably I was all set to (re)discover the joys of ice skating.  Now all I needed was some ice…

Ice on the Connecticut River

Ice on the Connecticut River

Enter the Connecticut River.   Thanks to a dam in Wilder Vt., this part of the river has been made smooth, essentially forming a 25-mile long lake.  There is still a current but when conditions are right you can skate for miles and miles, much like the famed canals of Holland (as in Hans Brinker).  I don’t know what other state parks have good skating (Umbagog and Pawtuckaway come to mind) but thanks to a quirky lawsuit years ago, the border between Vermont and New Hampshire follows the western shore, making the entire river part of New Hampshire.  (Now the state probably regrets this as they are responsible for the entire cost of every bridge spanning the river, instead of splitting it down the middle!)

The Connecticut River Skateway

The Connecticut River Skateway

Usually the ice is covered with snow but every now and then the weather gods team up and clear the snow.  A warm spell with rain usually does the trick, and if followed by cold it’s like having an endless rink.  So far I’ve been out twice this year and I can’t wait for the conditions to return to go again.

A textbook view of a root system as the bank erodes, undercutting this tree.

A textbook view of a root system as the bank erodes, undercutting this tree.

Skating on the river gives a completely different view of things.  I loved this tree, still straight and erect, suspended above the eroding riverbank with two thirds of its root base exposed to the winter air.  It will probably tumble in the spring.

Ice crystals

Ice crystals

Ice has all kinds of forms, and the frozen river yields its share of beauties if you look carefully.  These crystals had formed where a pool of water formed on top of the ice, then drained away just as it was turning from liquid to solid form.  Just one touch and it would all crumble to a pile of shards.

Connecticut River ice skating bliss

Connecticut River ice skating bliss

For about a week in January the river ice was just about perfect.  A warm rain had melted the thin layer of snow and frozen into ice as smooth as a sheet of glass.  Sadly, work prevented me from spending my entire days on the ice and I could barely get out early enough to get in a 45 minute skate.

Waiting for another day of skating on the river

Waiting for another day of skating on the river

Maybe it’s the ephemeral nature of the ice that makes it so appealing.  In the past, I hated to see rain in winter as it always seemed to be spoiling things for skiing.  Now I look forward to the next rain and maybe, just maybe, the perfect ice once again.

Happy travels!

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