Nordic Tracks: The optimist's report

By Sally McMurdo


Veteran downhill and cross country skiers remember winters like this where the snow came late and sparingly, then got washed away. They know how to make do by scouting out the best snow, using old equipment until conditions improved, and being satisfied with whatever Mother Nature delivered. Some choose alternative activities to keep fit while waiting for good snow. Throughout the long wait for significant snowfall, optimistic skiers adopt a positive spin on a marginal snowfall. In the last few weeks, I've heard alpine skiers say the skiing was "not bad for early season," and "surprisingly good." Nordic skiers make similar comments about skiing that's "pretty good, considering," and "challenging, but doable."

Rarely do you hear anyone say the skiing stinks. That's because we're all so hungry for snow, we'll take anything and make it work. Superstitious skiers think any negative thoughts or comments will drive the snow gods away.
Skiers, have faith, be patient, and have a back-up plan if the snow doesn't come your way. Maintain that positive attitude and keep your humor handy. Only ski where it's been recently groomed. Conditions might not be perfect, but if you're resourceful, you can make the winter work.

Recreational Ski Options:
For the recreational skiers, the game is "find the best snow and use your old equipment." Many work on their skate skiing techniques as tracks get harder to find in shallow snow. Gunstock Nordic Center, with the help of their snowmaking and shoveling equipment, has been able to keep some trails skiable. Check out their trail report. With reduced terrain, they've discounted their trail pass to $8. If you need more skiing, try Gunstock's alpine skiing as another option.

Winter Activity Options:

Snowshoeing is another possibility if the skiing's rough. Find wooded areas where the sun hasn't eaten the snow and no one has packed the trail, and you'll find hidden snow pockets. Bushwhack and explore new areas. Off trail, you might even find corn snow and animal tracks.

Hiking with "footwear traction" is another option. There are many choices out there suitable for hiking — Kahtoola Microspikes, Hillsound Trail Crampons, ICEtrekkers, Yak Trax, and NANOspikes. These are rubberized ice grippers that stretch over most shoes or boots to give traction on ice. The best ones have actual teeth underneath and a strap over the instep to help you climb on ice. The spikes easily handle hard-packed snow and icy patches. Many people use them for winter hiking as an easier alternative to traditional crampons.

If conditions are not positive for skiing, snowshoeing, or "traction" hiking, there's another option: fat tire biking. Fat bikers in the area have been riding nonstop on local trails and at Nordic centers. Gunstock Nordic now rents and allows fat tire biking on their trail system when conditions allow.

Here's the optimist ski report: There's white ground somewhere. Get out there and ski, snowshoe, micro-spike, or fat bike while you can and make the best of it.

Robots vs. castles - Gilford FIRST team well on their way to competition

By Roger Amsden


Connor Craigie, Brad Parker and Ayden Carpenter of the Gilford High School FIRST Robotics Team and the robot they are working on which will take part in competitions next month. (Roger Amsden photo for the Laconia Daily Sun)


Connor Craigie, Brad Parker and Ayden Carpenter of the Gilford High School FIRST Robotics Team and the robot they are working on which will take part in competitions next month. (Roger Amsden photo for the Laconia Daily Sun)



Members of the Gilford High School FIRST Robotics Team are putting in a lot of hours these days building a robot which will compete for glory next month by attempting to breach the defenses and scale the walls of a miniature castle.
Jackie Drever, one of the team's mentors, said the students, 22 of them in all, spend four to five hours a day and as many as eight to 10 hours on Saturdays working on the project, which is as much time as they spend in all of their other courses combined.
"It takes a lot of effort and a lot of dedication on their part," says Drever, who points out that the benefits of the intense involvement are shown by the fact that in the last 10 years of the FIRST program in Gilford, students who took part in the program have been awarded over $500,000 in college scholarships.
The team is one of 3,000 from around the world with an estimated 78,000 students involved in the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology competition, which was launched in 1989 by New Hampshire inventor and technological innovator Dean Kamen, with an eye to inspiring students to explore science and technology as future careers.
The competition sees teams involved in a six-week project in which they build a robot from a kit which is provided for them and requires them to use their math, science, technology and engineering skills to design and program the robot to perform certain tasks which are required as part of the competitions.
This year's challenge, FIRST Stronghold, is played by two alliances of three teams each. Alliances compete against each other to breach their opponents' defenses, known as outer works, and capture their tower. They score points by crossing elements of their opponents' outer works, hurling basketball size inflatable balls into their opponents' tower goals, and surrounding and scaling their opponents' tower itself.
The team has $6,000 in support from the Gilford school system but also is allowed to raise as much as $4,000 from sponsors and local fundraisers in order to purchase other items needed for the project. New Hampshire Ball Bearings is their major sponsor and they also receive assistance from Meredith Village Savings Bank. Meals for the team are provided by places like Taco Bell, T-Bones and Fratello's and parents of the students provide Saturday meals.
Drever says that other mentors include her husband, Chris, who is director of infrastructure at Plymouth State University; Mike Andrews, a mechanical engineer at New Hampshire Ball Bearings; Scott Plessner, a software engineer, and Steve White, who works at the Anheuser-Busch brewery in Merrimack, who helps the students with building the robot.
Connor Craigie, a junior who has worked with a computer-assisted design program to help design the robot, says that he utilizes knowledge he has acquired from high level math and science classes in the building project.
He said the code which will enable the team to control the robot is based on Eclipse software but hasn't been fully uploaded yet. By next week he expects that the team will be able to start testing out their fully functioning robot and then work to fine tune it.
Craigie says that he wants to become an aerospace engineer and that the project is providing the hands-on kind of experience that he and other team members will need in their future careers.
Cameron Fraser, a junior, said he has always been interested in building and design, starting with Legos as a child, and that he is looking forward to a career as an architect or engineer.
Ayden Carpenter, a senior, is in his fourth year of involvement with the FIRST program and will be handling the controller for the robot,
He said he has seen the team grow better each year and advance further in the competitions.
"I grew up with mechanical toys and I always loved building things," said Carpenter, who wants to become a mechanical engineer.
He says that his experience with the FIRST team has helped him in physics and calculus classes in high school and that the one of the major benefits of the program is working with others as a team to solve problems.
The first district will be held at Windham High School March 4 through 6. The second district event is March 24 through 26 at the University of New Hampshire, followed by a regional championship from April 13 to 16 in Hartford, Connecticut. The world championship will be held in St. Louis, Missouri, from April 27 to 30.

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Sled dog race nixed - ‘Crazy winter’ causes derby cancelation

By Roger Amsden

LACONIA — "This is the craziest winter I've ever seen. It's the winter that wasn't," said Dave Emerson of Emerson Aviation, the official ice-out observer for Lake Winnipesaukee.
Emerson wasn't surprised by the Lakes Region Sled Dog Club's announcement that the 87th annual World Championship Sled Dog Derby, scheduled to be held Feb. 12-14, has been canceled.
"I've never seen it like this. There's no significant snow on the ground anywhere. And the Broads on Lake Winnipesaukee are wide open. It's going to be the first winter since 2001 that the Broads don't freeze over," said Emerson.
The lack of solid ice cover on Lake Winnipesaukee has caused the postponement of the Great Rotary Fishing Derby from Feb. 13-14 to Feb. 27-28. And the New England Pond Hockey Classic, scheduled for this weekend in Meredith, has been moved from Meredith Bay to Lake Waukewan due to poor ice conditions.
Jim Lyman, president of the Lakes Region Sled Dog Club, explained the decision to cancel the derby.
"The lack of snow and the warm weather scheduled for the coming week are without a doubt the determining factors. Warm weather in the high 30s and no major snow in the forecast will not allow the Sled Dog Club trail crew to establish and maintain a safe World Championship trail," he said.
The sled dog race tradition in Laconia dates back to 1931, when the city hosted its first race. In 1936 the name of the race was changed to the Laconia World Championship Sled Dog Derby.
With war clouds on the horizon, the race was canceled in 1938 and sled dog racing didn't return to Laconia until 1956, when it was brought back by the Belknap County Sportsmen's Association.
During the 1960s and 1970s, the race was a major annual event and drew many presidential candidates to the start-finish line in downtown Laconia. But numerous cancelations due to poor snow conditions over the years and the difficulty of bringing snow into the downtown area for a course on North Main Street led moving the starting line first to Opechee Park and later to Old North Main Street across from the former Laconia State School property.
Even though the race has been canceled, the Lakes Region Sled Dog Club will still host a raffle to support future races. Tickets to win $2,000, $1,000 or $500 are $100 each, with only 100 tickets to be sold. The drawing will take place Friday, Feb. 12, at 8 p.m., at the Christmas Island Steak House, 644 Weirs Blvd., Laconia.
Tickets may be purchased from club members or by calling 524-4314.