Suburban Diary

Mount Washington in winter — what a deal

Guided day trips to the top of Mount Washington — in winter — just might burn off a few calories.
Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe/File 2013
Guided day trips to the top of Mount Washington — in winter — just might burn off a few calories.

DUBLIN — If you are like me, you have self-insulated in recent weeks, packing on a few extra pounds to ward off winter’s chill. I have even applied for a renewable energy grant, although it is 50-50 whether government officials will agree that I am helping to reduce our household reliance on fossil fuels by gorging on Pringles.

Still, my motives are laudable enough. But for those folks who are not as concerned with the environment and want desperately to reclaim their svelter selves, hope is at hand.

Last month, while examining deals on the Web, I came across an intriguing offer guaranteed to burn off a significant number of calories. The Mount Washington Observatory is open for winter day trips and the staff is looking to attract adventurous outdoorsmen and women.


Why is this Web deal so surprising? Well, Mount Washington, situated about three hours north of Boston near North Conway, N.H., regularly experiences some of the world’s most extreme weather. Even at the height of summer, visitors to the summit can be greeted by extraordinarily frosty conditions.

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Of course, if you are looking to shed some unwanted weight, it is hard to argue with a midwinter mountain trek. But before you pull on the sort of all-weather gear that would have revolutionized early 20th-century polar exploration, allow me to bullet-point some of the essential information contained on the Mount Washington website. (Anyone who became light-headed watching films like “Into The Wild” or “127 Hours” should look away . . . now.)

 First of all, the folks in charge at Mount Washington actually promote the fact that the northeast’s highest peak is “Home of the World’s Worst Weather,” rivaling the conditions found on Mount Everest and in the polar regions. It is hard to imagine they learned this approach at Harvard Business School, where students are taught that the aim of every commercial enterprise is to increase customer footfall, not stop them dead in their tracks.

 A winter visit to Mount Washington does not technically involve any hiking. Interested parties are transported to the summit and back aboard a snow tractor. However, the website does include this cautionary note: “While there have been few vehicular breakdowns over the years, you absolutely MUST be prepared for that possibility. All participants must be ready, willing, and able to hike to safety [which is sometimes several miles away] in severe conditions. These conditions may include drifted snow, glare ice, subzero temperatures, hurricane-force winds, and near-zero visibility.” I hope you have not thrown out that discount coupon from your local gym.

 Reservations for a seat on the snow tractor are taken on a first-come, first-serve basis. I assume the “first-served” caveat refers to the inevitable outcome should a vehicular breakdown occur (see above) and participants are delayed in finding safety (also see above). Still, if you can handle the notoriety of being the only surviving member of New England’s very own Donner Party, then go for it.


 Finally, in case it is not apparent by now, a winter visit to Mount Washington is intended for individuals already in excellent shape who are “required to submit a health form attesting to their physical condition, and must sign a release form absolving the observatory of responsibility in the instance of illness, injury, or death.” In other words, maybe it is best to forget about heading into the wild and instead to get up on that exercise equipment you have been neglecting since Thanksgiving. When it breaks down, you will have no trouble reaching the safety of your living room sofa.

Medford native Steve Coronella has lived in Ireland since 1992. His new novel, “Designing Dev” — a comic tale about an Irish-American lad from Boston who runs for president of Ireland — is now available for download from Amazon’s Kindle Store. He can be reached at