(Karen Bobotas/for the Laconia Daily Sun)
By ADAM DRAPCHO, LACONIA DAILY SUN
Old Man Winter thought he would try the snowbird lifestyle last year, disappointing locals whose favorite activities require lots of snow and ice. Fortunately, the Old Man decided to stay in New Hampshire this winter – did you know there are alligators in Florida? – and he's ready to have a good time. After the bummer that was last winter, when snow came late and then rarely, and temperatures frequently flirted with T-shirt conditions, organizers of some of the region's anticipated cold-weather activities are welcoming the current season, fashioned after a classic New England winter.
"We're like a bunch of caged animals, ready to go," said Mike Horsch, member of the Lakes Region Ice Racing Club. The club organizes races every Sunday on ponds in Moultonborough, either Lee's Pond or Berry Pond, featuring everything from front-wheel drive economy cars to high-horsepower, highly-modified racers. Many local people bring a car to race, and many more come just to watch. Spectators are charged $10 per carload – no matter how many people are in the car – so it can make for a cheap day of motor sport entertainment – and proceeds go to benefit various charitable efforts.
"As long as there's enough ice, we race every Sunday and we start at noon," said Horsch. The club needs at least a foot of ice in order to race, which they never achieved last winter. But, this season, they're almost there already. "We're very close to starting racing – if the weather holds up we could be racing in a week or two."
Horsch isn't the only one happy to watch the ice growing. A thick sheet of ice is also a prayer answered for Ray Moritz, president of the Meredith Rotary Club, which is planning the 38th Great Rotary Ice Fishing Derby for Feb. 11 and 12. The derby was delayed last year to make time for a little more ice – although Winnipesaukee never completely froze over last winter. The poor conditions and schedule change resulted in low participation. Moritz said that a good derby year will see 5,000 people participate, while last year only a little more than 3,000 people bought tickets. That was enough for the Rotary Club to cover its costs, but it left little extra for the club to spend on charitable works.
The fishing derby is about more than just dollars, too, Moritz said. Many families come to the derby together, and children often have their first taste of ice fishing at the event, at the learn-to-fish clinics. And others come just to walk around the bobhouse villages and to see the fish on the leader board.
"We monitor the ice from the first time we see any, so far we're looking pretty good," said Mortiz.
A week prior to the fishing derby, also headquartered in Meredith Bay, is the region's fastest-growing winter events, the New England Pond Hockey Classic, which will be held Feb. 3-5. The event, which offers teams of hockey players the chance to participate in a natural-ice, open-air tournament, was started by Scott Crowder in 2010 and has grown to accommodate 270 teams. Some of the teams have been with the tournament since its founding, and many travel from far away for a weekend of hockey.
Last winter, the Pond Hockey Tournament was held on Lake Waukewan for lack of safe ice on Meredith Bay. Crowder said it's still too early to say if the event will be held on Meredith Bay, which is his strong preference.
"Obviously, every year we go into it excited and hopeful," said Crowder. "We're looking to have a really fun weekend."
Older than both the ice fishing derby and the hockey tournament combined is the Laconia World Championship Sled Dog Derby, and the 88th running, scheduled for Feb. 10-12, is being held in memory of Keith F. Bryar II, renowned local musher who died last year.
The sled dog championship was called off last year for lack of snow, and Jim Lyman, trail boss of the organization that runs the championship, said he is optimistic about the event's prospects for this year. "We're excited to get the early snow this year," he said. More than a foot of snow has fallen so far this winter, and it has absorbed some rain and then been treated to freezing temperatures.
"It's a good base for us, the cold weather is going to freeze the lakes and that's good for everyone," said Lyman. "Hopefully, after this cold snap, we will get a couple good snowstorms and we'll start building the trail," he said.
What would a good winter be without sledding or skating? In Gilford, the town's Parks and Recreation department schedules a week of winter activities during school vacation week. The highlight of that week is the annual Cardboard Box Sled Derby, which challenges participants to construct a sled using only cardboard, tape, glue, paper and paint, and then bring them to the Gilford Outing Club Sledding Hill on Cherry Valley Road at 10 a.m. on March 1. Prizes will be awarded for several categories, including fastest sled, most creative and biggest wipeout. There's no cost to enter the contest, and it's open to contestants of all ages and from any town.
For skating, head to Center Harbor on Feb. 18, where the town and the Center Harbor Community Development Association are sponsoring the third annual SkateFest, a free, family-friendly event that features skating on a rink as well as on Lake Winnipesaukee. The activities begin at 1 p.m. with a bonfire and skating, food, beverages, music and skating demonstrations.
(Karen Bobotas/for the Laconia Daily Sun)