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Pond and lake skating are cherished New England traditions. So far, not this year.

After an unusually warm start to winter, wild ice enthusiasts are holding out hope for February.

Dan Ryan, chairman of the Walpole Pond Management Committee, is framed by hockey nets on the shoreline that would usually be on frozen Turner Pond this time of year.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

For 13 winters, Dan Ryan has watched families glide across the ice at Turner Pond and sip thermoses of hot cocoa along the natural rink’s edge or while warming up inside Turner Lodge.

But as Ryan, chairman of the Walpole Pond Management Committee, looked out at the pond last Friday, there was nothing to see but an expanse of still water, as the temperature hovered in the 40s.

For safety’s sake, he won’t open the pond up for skating until the ice is at least five inches thick. Usually, that can’t happen until there’s been around nine days of consistent cold weather. The most ice they’ve had in the last few weeks has been “a little slush on top” of the water’s surface.


“There have been many Januaries where we see odd temperatures,” Ryan said. “Not as aggressive as this.”

An unusually warm start to the winter has left ponds and lakes across the region ice-less. With an entire month of outdoor activities lost due to the lack of cold, skating enthusiasts are hoping that a deep freeze in the coming days — temperatures are supposed to dip below zero later this week — will help get things back to normal, and keep a cherished New England tradition alive for another season. But that’s not possible without an extended period of cold.

Photographs through the (colder) years, hang on a beam in the skating hut on Turner Pond.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

Experts say ice-less winters could become more common in Massachusetts due to climate change. Data show New England winters have become warmer on average amid rising greenhouse gas emissions.

In Newburyport, home to the popular Bartlet Mall Frog Pond, it’s the same story.

Typically, the skating is as reliable as it gets for a natural rink, due to the pond freezing quickly because of its shallow depths and the team of volunteers that keep its surface pristine by clearing away snow after every storm.


But for now, people’s skates have been packed away, and the group’s shovels have been idle.

“There were a couple of weeks in the middle of December when we had a good freeze, and folks immediately flocked to the pond to skate, but then the temperatures rose,” said Kim Turner, the city’s manager of special projects. “We haven’t seen skaters since.”

Skating is a beloved tradition at the Bartlet Mall Frog Pond in Newburyport, but this year it's been too warm for the water to freeze.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

The atypical warmth — it will likely end up being the fifth warmest January on record, dating back to 1872 — has also hampered backyard rink-builders, who construct elaborate setups on their lawns and then fill them with water and wait for it to freeze.

Despite enjoying a few days on the ice in December, they’re still waiting to get back out there.

“So incredibly frustrated and disappointed!” one person posted in a Facebook group for owners of backyard rinks in Central Massachusetts.

Another reminisced about spending 50 days on their homemade rink last winter. But this year, the skating enthusiast has been left out in the (lack of) cold.

“It’s a pool now,” the person said.

Further north, the situation isn’t much better. Vermont, Maine, and New Hampshire have all reported a disappointing lack of ice cover on the ponds and lakes that usually draw crowds of skate-toting locals and vacationers.

“Winter has shown up pretty late. It’s strange,” said Sergeant Randy Hazard, a game warden with Vermont Fish and Wildlife who covers the northeastern region. “Our winter lakes, people should be driving trucks on them by now.”


At Lake Morey Resort in Fairlee, Vt., a spot that takes pride in the 16 wild ice hockey rinks and four-and-a-half mile skating track it lovingly maintains each year, staff have been watching impatiently as the ice has remained too thin by several inches.

Over the weekend, the resort was supposed to host its “Frostbite Face-off” pond hockey tournament. The event typically attracts 700 players to the lake and is a boon for local hotels and businesses.

But organizers had to cancel it.

“Without ice thick enough to hold people and equipment, we’re at a standstill,” said Sarah Howe, the resort’s business development director. “It’s not only a disappointment for players and fans, but also an economic loss for the region.”

Usually the resort welcomes skaters sometime between New Year’s Eve and Martin Luther King Jr. Day and stays open until late February or early March.

“What was once a 10-week skate season is now a four-week skate season,” Howe said.

Dedicated Vermont skaters have had to seek out ponds and lakes at higher altitudes, sometimes hiking in difficult terrain to find ice, said Phyl Newbeck, a Jericho resident who co-founded VTNordicSkating on Google Groups, where members swap tips on skating conditions.

“Only for the more intrepid among us has it been a good year,” she said. “It has definitely been a tough year for people at lower elevations.”

Recent snowfall hasn’t helped. The state, starved for snow for much of the year, finally got hit by storms earlier this month. That was good news for skiers — but not ideal for skaters, who can’t glide on the ice when it’s buried and know that snow can disrupt the freezing process.


Now, she said, “I can’t think of any place where anyone would be skating.”

The situation has left “wild ice” enthusiasts from Massachusetts weighing whether excursions to the Canadian border could be worth it. That is, if the conditions are ideal even several hours away.

“Our options are very limited,” said Kiki Ghossiany, co-administrator of the Eastern Mass. Ice Skating Facebook group. “I’ve thought about taking a few days off work and driving north to get some skating in before the season is completely over, but that’s not really feasible for everybody. It’s also not a guarantee [the ice is skate-able].”

So for now, many are setting their hopes on more seasonable weather in the weeks ahead, and thinking cold thoughts.

After all what else is a New Englander to do?

“It’s Mother Nature. There’s no book on it. There’s no manual,” said Walpole’s Ryan. “You just gotta wake up and you figure it out.”

Like much of this winter, there’s no ice on Turner Pond for skating, as Dan Ryan, chairman of the Walpole Pond Management Committee, can attest.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

Spencer Buell can be reached at spencer.buell@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerBuell.