The person who, back in the dim mists of time, designated the first day of winter Midwinter’s Day must have had a pretty warped sense of humor. Although it has been dark and chilly for a long time already, the end of the holiday frenzy brings home the bleak realization that winter itself has just started. Several long, dreary months of it stretch off into the foreseeable future; and in this era of global warming, there’s no guarantee that Mother Nature will provide enough snow even for those of us who enjoy winter sports.
Still, we have all those extra seasonal pounds to work off and cabin fever to keep at bay; so there’s no better way to use those short hours of daylight this time of year than by getting out and moving our bodies vigorously in the cold air. And what better place to get that outdoor workout than the Gunks, whose expansive vistas, dramatic cliff faces, jumbled boulder piles and swaths of dense forest become, if possible, even more beautiful than usual when bedecked with snow?
Minnewaska State Park, the Mohonk Preserve and Sam’s Point are the usual Shawangunk Ridge destinations for mid-Hudson residents; but we shouldn’t forget that the gorgeous landscape immediately surrounding the Mohonk Mountain House is accessible to non-hotel guests as well, with the purchase of a meal, spa service or grounds pass. If 2011’s showing as the wettest year on record in these parts continues into the New Year, we can reasonably expect some decent cross-country skiing conditions once we get into the thick of winter, and Mohonk’s grounds add 30+ miles of regularly groomed trails to the larger trail systems of the surrounding Preserve lands. If you’re not a hotel guest, you may need to bring your own equipment: Rentals at the Ski Shop are subject to availability.
Another popular day use at the Mountain House, weather permitting, is snowshoeing. Again, bringing your own gear is the safest bet, although some rentals are available. As at the Mohonk Preserve and Minnewaska, there are rules regarding which routes you can use, since snowshoes, like romping dogs, are the bane of cross-country skiers, tearing up carefully laid track on trails groomed for skiing. But there are still miles of scenic trails available – some set aside specifically for the use of snowshoers, while elsewhere a snowshoeing lane is provided alongside the skiers. Just mind your trail etiquette and don’t spoil the snow-day experience for others.
In winter, snowshoers can try out the Mountain House’s latest year-round outdoor sport: disc golf. A sort of processional Frisbee tournament involving baskets or other targets laid out along a course, it’s a winter activity that might just burn even more calories than a day of cross-country skiing!
The number to call for trail conditions is (845) 256-2101. So what if there’s no snow, or not enough? You can still hike, if it’s not treacherously icy. Or, for an extra fee, you can practice your double-axels on the Mountain House’s award-winning 9,375-square-foot refrigerated ice rink. It’s set in a gorgeously rustic open-air pavilion with a 39-foot-tall fireplace at one end, a great hunk of amethyst crystal set among its fieldstones.
What does it cost to pretend for a day that you’re among the privileged few who get to stay at this luxurious Victorian resort? A day pass for grounds use only costs $20 for adults, $15 for children under age 12 midweek, $25 for adults and $20 for kids on weekends. A family of up to two adults and two kids gets in for $50 midweek, $65 on weekends. Perhaps a better deal is combining day use with a meal, which will also gain you access to some of the indoor activities provided for hotel guests – plus, you get to park at the top of the mountain instead of down by the Gatehouse. For an adult in winter, breakfast will cost $31.50, lunch $50, dinner $55 and Sunday brunch $52; kids’ rates are less, and all these meal packages include use of the grounds and trails for the whole day.
For more information, visit www.mohonk.com/Activities/Day-Guests/Winter-Activities. For meal reservations at Mohonk Mountain House call (845) 256-2056.