CONWAY — With many cooped up at home due to the risks of the coronavirus, many outdoor lovers are asking: Can one safely go outside for a cross-country ski, hike or walk?
The answer is of course, as long as you practice responsible social distancing and sensible protocols in these health-conscious times.
In fact, in his Thursday press conference announcing a “stay-at-home” order for Granite Staters, Gov. Chris Sununu emphasized it is not a “shelter-in-place” order. “We won’t prevent you from leaving your home to take a walk,” he said.
Responding to the governor’s directive late Thursday afternoon, Attitash and Wildcat’s John Lowell said, “The governor’s order does not change what we have been saying, other than that it puts more onus on everyone not only for their own safety but for the safety of others to maintain a distance of at least 6 feet apart.”
Wildcat and Attitash, both owned by Vail Resorts, like all local alpine areas, are closed their lifts and lodges and have erected signs at their respective bases notifying the public that they are not staffed and that they are on their own should they choose to venture onto trails, which several people have been doing, using skins to get to the top and skiing down the trails.
Shannon Hogue, public affairs specialist for the White Mountain National Forest, responded to a request for comment Thursday but said any response had to go through official U.S. Forest Service/U.S. Department of Agriculture channels in Washington.
But earlier, the WMNF’s Colleen Mainville said WMNF offices are open virtually and that the forest remained open. For more information, call Forest Headquarters (603) 536- 6100, Saco Ranger Station (604) 447-5448, and Androscoggin Ranger Station (603) 466-2713 from 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday-Friday.
Ben Wilcox, general manager and president of Cranmore Mountain Resort, also was unavailable for comment regarding the governor’s Thursday stay-at-home order. But, earlier in the week, Wilcox on Wednesday said that Cranmore does not officially allow skiers or hikers up its trails without a ticket.
With plenty of snow still on the ground, one good option is cross-country skiing. Seventeen ski touring centers are open nationwide, and they include Bear Notch Ski Touring in Bartlett and Jackson Ski Touring in Jackson.
Both have closed their lodges and say skiers are practicing safe social-distancing out on the trails.
Bear Notch is offering rentals on a one-person-at-a-time basis, said co-owner Doug Garland.
“People go out and come back so relieved and so happy to go enjoy nature at least for a few minutes,” said Garland. “We’re asking people to use the donation box on the porch, and people are being very polite, staying a safe distance form one another at the bottom of the stairs of the porch, waiting their turn.”
He added that as many local workers have been laid off due to the business shutdowns wrought by the virus, Bear Notch does not expect payment from them.
“Those who can pay, do. But we want people who may be struggling — the restaurant workers, the resort workers — to know they can come and use the trails. We’re asking everyone to follow the guidelines (wash your hands, keep safe social distancing, don’t come if you are sick, sneeze and cough into your elbow),” said Garland, noting that with Monday’s 8-plus inches of new snow, he and brother John Garland have 35 kilometers of groomed skiing.
At Jackson Ski Touring, Ellen Chandler said skiing is offered on an honor-system basis at Prospect Farm, where they are doing limited grooming. Customers are asked to pay online on a donation basis.
“We’re doing this primarily as a thank-you to our season pass holders who do so much for us on a year-round basis,” said Chandler.
In terms of safety, she reported: “Up there at Prospect Farm (at the end of Carter Notch Road), one car leaves and another pulls in, so there is not overcrowding. People are social-distancing.”
Cross-country isn’t the only skiing alternative around.
Although local alpine ski areas shortened their season due to the pandemic, that hasn’t stopped intrepid backcountry skiers who are “skinning” up.
On Tuesday at Wildcat, Roy “the Skiing DJ” Prescott of WMWV 93.5-FM reported 35-40 vehicles in the parking lot. “Everyone was being super cool about the safe social distancing,” he said, adding: “It was like a backcountry mountain.”
He very much advocates the benefit of safe, sensible outdoor exercise.
“All of us who love the outdoors in the valley still need to do mind-cleansing stuff that physical activity brings, including skiing, hiking and biking. People need to find a safe place and be smart about it,” said Prescott.
Mark Dindorf, a Hart’s Location selectman, said in addition to cross-country skiing, he has gotten some spring ski runs in by skinning up the now-closed Attitash.
“I really want to thank places like Bear Notch and Jackson for making this physical activity possible,” he added.
Ben Wilcox, general manager and president of Cranmore, said although Cranmore does not officially condone it, people have been hiking or skinning up and skiing down the trails there.
As for the economic impact of the pandemic, Wilcox said the only plus is it happened just prior to the slower springtime season.
It was a sentiment shared by his older brother, International Mountain Equipment owner /Everest climber Rick Wilcox. Although the climbing school is closed, Rick said the North Conway store is open, staffed by a small crew that includes himself, wife Celia and longtime staffer Alec Behr.
“Brad White (owner/director of the climbing school) said he has seen plenty of cars at the AMC’s Pinkham Notch Visitor Center, so I think a lot of climbers are still climbing,” he noted.
Jack Savage, president of the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests in Concord, said the organization manages many properties across the state where people can get outdoors but stressed that social distancing still must be practiced.
The society’s website, forest society.org, encourages peopleto visit a local (to you), lower-trafficked reservation to ensure you can stay at least 6 feet apart from other visitors.”
Savage said many of the society’s 190 forest reservations “offer opportunities for a quiet walk in the woods without seeing anyone else along the way.” Of those, 58 have marked trails. The society’s High Watch Preserve in Effingham and Freedom contains several trailheads, Savage said.
“I think we are fortunate to live where we do, in New Hampshire. For the moment, we can practice social distancing without completely locking ourselves away inside — our still-abundant forests provide respite from a world in upheaval,” Savage said.
Chris Meier, president of the Mt. Washington Valley Trails Association, has been skiing or hiking with his family in Conway-owned Whitaker Woods or going to the less-visited Albany Town Forest.
The Mt. Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce published a statement from Meier in its Member News on Monday. In it, he said we all should heed health concern advice but that it is also important to get exercise — though maybe now is not the time to tackle a feat that is out of your normal limits.
In addition, he said, “The MWVTA hopes everyone will consider limiting travel, and limiting outdoor recreation to your own local areas, within a half hour from home, and well under your ability level until the threat of COVID-19 has passed. ... This is not a time to be taking any risks in our outdoor pursuits, with rescue and medical personnel focused on other tasks.
“The mountains, vistas, adventures and trails of the Mount Washington Valley will still be here waiting for you after the COVID-19 challenge passes,” Meier said. “Until then, please do your part and recreate locally, flatten the curve, and help allow our first responders to protect our most vulnerable.”
He directed those seeking more info to check with the Leave No Trace organization (nt.org) which offers such good advice as:
• Where COVID-19 is spiking, it may not be possible to get out at all, so pay close attention to guidance in your community before heading outside. Then follow physical distancing guidance, meaning staying at least 6 feet away from anyone you aren’t living with.
• Expect closures: As businesses limit services or direct their staff to work remotely, closures should be expected. The result could be a lack of water, restrooms, campgrounds or other facilities — or even entire areas closed to the public.
• Pack out your trash: With limited staff and services likely, trash and recycling receptacles may not be emptied as often as normal or at all.
• Avoid times and places of high use: Absolutely avoid crowded parks, trails and beaches. Physical distancing applies in the outdoors just as it does anywhere else. Spread out to less popular spots and avoid times of highest use if possible.
• Recreate with caution: Keep in mind that as our health-care system becomes more overwhelmed, it’s important to reduce potential accidents that would add to the stress on first responders and medical professionals.Stick to activities and areas that are within your regular routine and take it easy.
Echoing those sentiments Wednesday was James Wrigley, director of the Appalachian Mountain Club’s White Mountain Huts and Lodges.
The AMC has closed its public facilities, including huts and lodges and their restrooms, and is encouraging folks from urban centers to recreate closer to home.
Wrigley said, “At this point, we are encouraging folks to to go out in their own back yards and areas closer to home so they can get their mental and physical benefits but in social responsible settings and with social distancing.”
State Rep. Jerry Knirk (D-Freedom), a retired orthopedic spine surgeon and s fitness enthusiast, said: “The great thing about going for a walk or run or bike ride is you can do it alone. I was on a walk yesterday, and I saw my neighbors on the opposite side of the street, and we had a perfectly fine conversation — 20 feet apart.
“You don’t have to be alone, but when you get to your destination or peak, keep a distance, which is different behavior for us as social beings, but we need to learn that,” Knirk said.
Marianne Jackson of Madison, a retired physician and co-chair of the MWV Age-Friendly initiative being coordinated by the Gibson Center for Senior Services, agrees that exercise is important.
She pointed to the compendium of walking trails compiled by local attorney/ town moderator Deborah Fauver.
The list of walking trails may be found at the Gibson Center website, gibsoncenter.org (open up the MWV Age Friendly link at the top).
Fauver said Wednesday she is hesitant to send people on hiking trails until the snow and ice are gone, but she does encourage people to walk in areas like shopping centers or town streets until the snow is gone.
Fauver said she is interested in compiling information on places people can walk, such around Schouler Park, past the Conway Scenic Railway station and on village sidewalks.
“I’m very interested in having people email me their thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org,” said Fauver.
Memorial Hospital President Art Mathisen. appearing with Dr. Matt Dunn. medical director at Memorial Hospital on “Drive Time” on WMWV 93.5-FM, said people should exert common sense.
“I agree with what Matt said that a lot of these things are in gray areas. If you’re going running and you’re 6 feet ahead or behind someone, that’s one thing versus running side by side and sweating. You have to use your best judgment.”