Don't lament Mother Nature's often misunderstood gift of the season: Ice is nice. And let's face it, if you're going to spend a winter in New England, you might as well embrace the below-freezing temperatures. Chill out and celebrate with these fun things to do this winter on ice.
Talk about embracing ice: at the surreal-looking FROST Ice Loft at Faneuil Hall Marketplace (200 State St., 617-307-7331, www.frosticeloft.com), the walls, furniture, and bar are hand-carved from giant chunks of ice and the temperature is a chilly 21 degrees. No worries; slip on the provided insulated poncho and gloves and order a super boozy cocktail to warm you up. It's the world's largest permanent ice bar and a hot tourist attraction.
What do Vermonters do with an abundance of apples and months of frigid weather? They make ice cider, of course. Head to the Eden Ice Cider tasting bar at the Northeast Kingdom Tasting Center (150 Main St., Newport, Vt., 802-334-1790, www.nektastingcenter.com) to sample this sweet elixir. The cider is made from ripe apples kept in cold storage until winter sets in, when they are then pressed and set outdoors to freeze for six to eight weeks before fermentation. We like it best with a gooey, warm chocolate bread pudding, served next to a roaring fire, of course.
Avoid the skid
The mere mention of icy roads can send some of our friends into a full-blown, white-knuckle panic attack. They'd trudge on foot five miles to the nearest grocery store in a raging Nor'easter before getting behind the wheel of their car. Granted, we'd prefer our ice in a cocktail glass splashed with bourbon but, c'mon, we live in New England, we should know how to drive in the wintry mess. Enter: Team O'Neil Rally School (178 Miller Road, 603-444-4488, www.teamoneil.com). This first-rate driving school is located in northern New Hampshire, where the roads can be slick six months out of the year. You'll drive your own vehicle on skidpad and slalom tracks before hitting the back roads to learn how your car reacts on ice and how to perform accident-avoiding maneuvers. It won't make you a pro, but you may be able to drive to the grocery store without overwhelming anxiey.
Visit a fairyland
Even the most winter weary will be enchanted walking through the Ice Castle at the Hobo Railroad in Lincoln, N.H. (64 Railroad St., 888-407-4054, www.icecastles.com/lincoln), the only one on the East Coast. The dazzling 12,000-ton, nearly one-acre fairyland of ice has 25-foot, growing glacier walls, giant icicles, and stalagmites and stalactites. Dress warm to meander through the icy corridors, arches, tunnels, and caves; there's even a waterfall and slide. The best time to go is after dark when the castle is lit up with multicolored LED lights.
Practice your figure 8s
Forget about hibernating. Head to a local ice skating pond to get some fresh air and low-impact exercise. And, a quick twirl around the ice rink can be exhilarating. The frozen Boston Frog Pond in Boston Common (617-635-2120, www.bostonfrogpond.com) is a popular winter hangout for young and old, offering public skating seven days a week. You'll have pretty views of Boston Harbor and the Rose Kennedy Greenway while skating on the Boston Harbor Hotel Rotunda rink. The 2,500-square-foot ice rink is open daily (70 Rowes Wharf, 617-439-7000, www.bhh.com). There's also an outdoor public rink in Kendall Square. The Community Ice Skating rink at Kendall (300 Athenaeum St., Cambridge, 617-492-0941, www.skatekendall.com) is open daily for public skating, with skate rentals, lessons, and an on-site cafe.
Revel in the beauty
Don't let the season slip by without an outdoor outing to see one of Mother Nature's finest works: the stop-in-motion beauty of a frozen waterfall. Head to New Hampshire, home to several majestic frozen waterfalls, icy cliffs, and giant icicles. Come winter, The Flume Gorge in Franconia Notch State Park (603-745-8391, www.nhstateparks.org) is a winter paradise of snow and ice. Pass through the covered bridge over the snow-banked Pemigewasset River into the chasm of towering ice-covered granite walls and frozen cascades and waterfalls. Arethusa Falls in Crawford Notch State Park, (Rte. 302, Harts Location, 603-745-8391, www.nhstate
parks.org) is the state's tallest waterfall and an impressive sight this time of year. Hike the well-trodden trail about 1½ miles, passing snow-banked Bemis Brook and Coliseum Falls, before reaching 200-foot or so Arethusa Falls. The massive waterfall, popular with ice climbers, is surrounded by layers of frozen cascades that form thick walls of ice hanging from steep, open ledges. For an easier jaunt, visit Glen Ellis Falls near Pinkham Notch (Route 16, 603-745-8391, www.nhstateparks
.com/waterfalls.html). A short 0.2-mile hike will get you to the ice-covered 65-foot waterfall.
Hang on, baby!
It's hard to beat this icy thrill. Climb in, wrap your legs around the person in front of you, tuck in your arms and elbows, and hold on tight. When the lever drops, the toboggan tips nearly vertical before it drops into the ice-packed trough. This is no ordinary sled ride! The Jack Williams Toboggan Chute at the Snowbowl in Camden, Maine (20 Barnestown Road, 207-236-3438, www.camdensnowbowl.com/toboggan-chute), is one of the last of its kind in the country. Toboggans drop some 70 vertical feet, zooming through the woods and reaching speeds of 25 to 30 miles an hour before sliding across frozen Hosmer Pond.
Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at email@example.com.