By Krista L. Hawley
Winter in Boston can be a dark time. When a mid-morning snowstorm can make for a six-hour commute home; when foodie arguments erupt over who makes the best hot chocolate (Flour Bakery and Café or L.A. Burdick Chocolate?); and when fisticuffs break out over parking spots in South Boston, where residents have been known to claim a cleared space with a lawn chair and defend that hard-earned patch like “Braveheart” with shovels.
But it also is the time when the local gems of winter outdoor recreation are in peak season, entertaining those who are as disappointed as schoolchildren when a predicted Nor’easter fails to deliver.
In the suburbs of Boston, there are two cross-country (or Nordic) ski centers providing miles of groomed trails, lighted night skiing and equipment rentals for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing December through March. The Weston Ski Track and the Great Brook Ski Touring Center offer distinct experiences, highlighted by the snow-making capacity at Weston and the rural charm of Great Brook.
WESTON SKI TRACK
Just 15 miles west of Boston lies the Weston Ski Track, a cross-country skiing and snowshoeing center on the Leo J. Martin Golf Course in Weston, Mass. Tucked between two major routes, the Massachusetts Turnpike and Interstate 95, Weston is one way to get on the snow without spending more time driving than skiing.
The ski track provides 15 kilometers of groomed trails and a lighted 2.5-kilometer loop for night skiing. While Weston is most popular during natural snow conditions that open all 15 kilometers of trails, the snow guns running in December and January guarantee skiing on the loop through March.
This snow making capability is unique among local cross-country centers, which generally rely on natural snow cover.
Snowshoeing is an increasingly popular choice for those without ski experience and groups of varying experience and ability levels. Since it is simply walking, those new to snowshoeing can quickly be on the snow and into terrain that would take years of experience to ski.
Weston Ski Track posts daily ski conditions and special events on its website and on Facebook.
GREAT BROOK SKI TOURING CENTER
Where Weston provides reliable conditions through its snow making, the Great Brook Ski Touring Center in Carlisle, Mass., is distinguished by its rustic, scenic experience that feels far more rural than its location 25 miles from Boston. Reliant on natural snow conditions, Great Brook is part of a 1,000-acre state park and home to a working dairy farm. The lodge and snack bar are located in a renovated cow barn heated by wood stove; the night skiing Tuesday and Thursday evenings is by light of lanterns hung in the trees.
When the snow conditions are right, skiers can take advantage of both wooded terrain and the open space of farm country on some 16 kilometers of trails. Trails and maps are marked by difficulty, with routes around the cornfields being most welcoming to children and beginners. There are also trails designated for snowshoeing and winter hiking, which have the benefit of being less dependent on snow conditions.
Without snow-making equipment, the ski center’s opening is thrown into doubt. If there is not enough snow to groom trails, there is no skiing at Great Brook. But in a good winter, there is plenty of snow and skiing throughout the season of Dec. 1 to March 21.
Great Brook has an extensive inventory of rental skis and a smaller number of snowshoes for day use. The groomed trails are open only to cross-country skiers who have purchased a pass. There are un-groomed trails and paths open to horseback riders, walkers, hikers, and other users.
As Great Brook is highly dependent on daily snow conditions, skiers and others should consult the website, or Facebook to determine if skiing is available on a given day.