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‘This Is Perfect’: An Abundance of Winter Fun in Strafford, Hanover

  • Strafford’s Volunteer Fire and Rescue service raised over $500 with a polar plunge during Winter Carnival in South Strafford, Vt., Saturday, Feb. 10, 2018. The Newton School PTA sponsors the annual carnival during which meals and snacks also raise money for the farm to school program, preschool and the PTA itself. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Mary Gage Donahue, 13, of South Strafford, slides across the finish of the cross country ski track while being timed during Winter Carnival in South Strafford, Vt., Saturday, Feb., 10, 2018. The event was scheduled in February this year after several snowless March carnivals. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Skates and a helmet rest in a snowbank during the Newton School PTA’s annual winter carnival in South Strafford, Vt., Saturday, Feb. 10, 2018. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Alford Manning, 11, of South Strafford, catches his breath after running an obstacle course in the snow during Winter Carnival in South Strafford, Vt., Saturday, Feb. 10, 2018. Numerous athletic events from cross country ski and snowshoe races to skating and sledding were available for participants.(Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Saturday, February 10, 2018

At about 1,000 feet above sea level in South Strafford, flurries were still flying over the athletic field across Route 132 from the Newton School on the cusp of late morning and afternoon on Saturday. And seventh-grader Maeve Miller was loving every minute of the school PTA’s Winter Carnival, even the 66 seconds she spent circumnavigating the field in snowshoes at a full run.

“We lived here until I was four, then we moved to Maryland for a while before coming back when I was 10,” Maeve recalled while catching her breath on one of the high snowbanks surrounding the village’s youth center. “It’s, oh, so different here. More snow. When we got it there, it was gross.

“This is perfect.”

At about 500 feet above sea level in Hanover, a pallid sprinkle that barely deserved the designation of rain was just starting to slicken the ice on Occom Pond during the town recreation department’s annual party, which coincides with Dartmouth College’s Winter Carnival.

While at nearly 40 degrees Fahrenheit it was a good 15 degrees warmer than a year ago, the temperature beat the 2016 party, which was canceled because of the long run of warm weather. Scores of skaters and shufflers and at least a couple of dozen dogs circled the pond, many before or after touring the Star Wars-themed snow sculptures on shore.

“Are you a child?” Dartmouth freshman Darya Romanova joked while taking a picture of sophomore Lizzie Clark in the cockpit of an X-wing Starfighter spacecraft.

“Last year was fun,” said Clark, a Californian who is attending Dartmouth with her twin sister. “It was the first time we’d ever seen snow.”

Saturday was the first time that 3-year-old Bostonian Nicholas Orsotti had shuffled onto Occom Pond, taking turns with one of his West Lebanon cousins, chasing a hockey puck with a stick half again as long as himself.

“When I was going to Dartmouth, we tried to come every year,” Rebecka (Grimes) Orsotti, a 2006 graduate, recalled while watching her son. “It’s always a lot of fun.”

Before the rain arrived and started rotting the snow and ice, families shared fun around the Upper Valley. In Newport, they were marking the third day of the town’s venerable carnival. Meanwhile, Enfield hosted a snowshoe festival, and visitors to Woodstock’s Billings Farm & Museum enjoyed the sleigh rides that a siege of single-digit and below-zero-degree weekends had canceled.

In Cornish, snowshoers of all ages and  abilities explored the trails of the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site, and on Mascoma Lake, visitors to the Winter WingDing got to choose among wing sailing, Nordic skiing and skating, snow-village construction and demonstrations of fat-tire bikes on Mascoma Lake.

As Strafford’s snowshoeing and skiing contests wound down, many of the school-age residents found their fun scaling the mountain range of snow obscuring the ground-level, south-facing windows of the youth center and reaching the roof of the center’s lower entrance. Parents struggled to coax them down until the kids spotted some of their peers dumping clumps of snow into the dunking pool where Newton School Principal Greg Bagnato and members of the Strafford Volunteer Fire Department, who had filled it with 60-degree water from the fire station, would be plunging shortly.

“We’ve reached $350 so far!” firefighter Andrew Lane declared with a bullhorn. “Can we get $50 more? Let’s get it up to $500.”

Within minutes, as the air temperature inched toward the mid-30s, Bagnato and most of the firefighters sprinted out of the youth center in swim trunks and bare feet along a path of dirty slush before diving or vaulting into the pool. Then they clambered out, threw themselves onto — and rolled around in — the giant snowpile and returned to the pool for one more plunge. No ambulance or CPR required.

For Bagnato, who grew up in Norwich and moved back to the Upper Valley five years ago after a long stint teaching in Thailand, the chill was momentary — and relative.

“Last year it was freezing cold,” he said before the plunge. “Negative 10 degrees. The year before there was almost no snow.

“This is just about right.”

David Corriveau can be reached at dcorriveau@vnews.com and at 603-727-3304.