The Pilgrims were a staid bunch whose favorite winter wonderland pursuit was staying out of the cold. Happily, we New Englanders have bucked our forefathers' traditions to find fun in the ice and snow. Most of us are familiar with the basic S's of winter sports - skating, sledding, skiing, snowboarding, and snow angels. Those looking for off-the-beaten-slopes activities should try these alternatives.
Known as "chess on ice" for its stone placement and shot strategies, curling is a polite sport played something like bocce ball. The object is to position stones in the house (ringed target) closest to the button (bull's eye). Stones, which were just random rocks when the game originated in 1500s Scotland, are now 42 pounds of polished, dense, pumpkin-shaped granite, concave on the bottom with a handle on top.
A curler throws (slides) a stone down the sheet (a 138-foot lane of pebbled ice), turning the handle gently to give it a slightly curved path, and teammates sweep the ice in front of the stone with brooms (cloth pads or brushes) to help with distance and direction. Modern curlers continue the post-bonspiel (tournament) tradition of broom stacking - sitting around a fire and drinking - and winners buy the first round.
Where to do it Broomstones Curling Club (Wayland. 508-358-2412. broomstones.com) . . . Curling season runs October to March, though the Cape Cod club in Falmouth (508-540-2414. capecodcurling.org) makes ice for two weeks in the summer. . . . Walpole's club (508-660-9546) stages bonspiels on New Pond. In Central Mass., try Petersham Curling Club (gncc.org/petersham).
"Ice fishing gives otherwise solitary anglers the chance to spend time with friends, make a lot of noise, and still catch fish," says Michael Edwards, an editor at New England Sportsman who has been fishing on "hard water" for 20 years. The angler's holy grail is a monster lake trout or big Northern Pike, but, Edwards says, "It's just as much fun to go out with your kids and catch a mess of sunfish and perch."
Where to do it Arlington Mills Reservoir in Salem, N.H., Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire, and the Moosehead and Sebec Lake Region in Maine. . . . Devonfield Inn in Lee (800-664-0880. devonfield.com) has packages. . . . Sally Mountain Cabins (800-644-5621) in Jackman, Maine, offers ice fishing from your cabin porch. . . . The annual Ice Fishing Derby in Meredith, N.H. is Feb. 9-10. (603-279-7600. meredithrotary.org/derby).
At Eden Mountain Dogsledding in Vermont's Green Mountains, Alaskan Huskies lead adventure tours through the wilderness bordering the Northeast Kingdom. As beautiful a ride as that can be, Eden's Jim Blair says that dog sledding is "all about the dogs." Atii Sled Dogs in Vermont's Mad River Valley offers lessons on skijoring - one or two dogs pulling a cross-country skier - "for owners with their own dogs that like to pull," says Atii's Gail Breslauer.
Where to do it Eden Mountain Dogsledding (Eden Mills, Vt. 802-635-9070. edendogsledding.com) . . . Atii Sled Dogs (Mooretown, Vt. 802-496-3795. AtiiSledDogs.com) . . . See SledDogCentral.com, DogSledRides.com, or Mahoosuc Guide Service (mahoosuc.com. 207-824-2073) for northern destinations. . . . Closer to home, try Warwick's Northern Illusion (978-544-5515. northernillusion.com), Brookfield's Northern Exposure Outfitters (508-867-4396. ne-outfitters.com), or White Mountain Sled Dogging (Whitfield, N.H. 978-649-0476. whitemtnsleddog.com). . . . New England Dog Sledding (207-836-2703. newenglanddogsledding.com) features trips into the Mt. Washington National Forest.
Why scale a rock when you can climb a frozen waterfall instead? The beautiful ice formations and the mental and physical challenges entice avid ice climbers such as Doug Millen, who runs Northeast Ice. Inspired by the stunning ice formations at favorite climbs, Millen grew his single Web-page listing of ice conditions into a "a virtual clubhouse" where ice climbers link to resources, read articles, and exchange stories and photos.
"Ice climbing is all about the gear," says Millen: ice axes, icefall crampons (spiked boot clamps), ropes, harnesses, ice screws, and maybe a shovel for hacking at ice dams. Rock climbing can be done with no gear at all - ice climbing would be impossible without it.
Where to do it Check neice.com, neclimbs.com, and chauvinguides.com for information on picturesque destinations in Crawford, Franconia, and Pinkham notches and Mount Washington Valley in New Hampshire, as well as the Lake Willoughby and Smugglers Notch areas in Vermont . . . . Mooney Mountain Guides (New Hampton, N.H. 603-744-5853. mooneymountainguides.com) provides guided climbs.
"I like surfing when the waves are bigger, cleaner, and more consistent," says former Gremmie Ralph Fatello, who works at Cinnamon Rainbows surf shop in Hampton, N.H., runs SurfFreeOrDie.com, and produces surfing documentaries. "Unfortunately, that's mostly in the fall, when it's cold, and the winter, when it's really cold. It's not for the faint of heart."
Where to do it Don't expect regulars to point out their surfing sweet spots. "Preserve some of the spirit of adventure and discovery," Fatello says. "Go and find it on your own, like I did." Poke around Boston's North Shore; Ogunquit, York, or Kittery Point in Maine; Hampton Beach in New Hampshire; or the outer edges of Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island.