Area ski resorts have witnessed an increase in patronage since the Martin Luther King holiday weekend finally brought a sustained blast of cold weather, and frigid overnight temperatures have aided snow-making.
While the lack of natural snow hasn't dampened the enthusiasm of skiers, snow boarders and tubers on the ski mountains, it has put a huge crimp into other recreational snow sports.
Snowmobiling has been nonexistent in the area. So too has cross-country skiing. Both recreations require Mother Nature to provide that blanket of white in order to get out there and enjoy the scenery.
Plenty of people are taking advantage of the weather by running, walking and cycling to continue their beloved activity 12 months out of the year despite.
Dave Lutz of Salisbury Township sent me an email earlier this week remarking that he has taken advantage of the zero amount of winter precipitation by trail riding on the Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor as well as the Delaware and Raritan trail in New Jersey.
Marty Nothstein, the executive director of the Valley Preferred Cycling Center, an Olympic gold medalist and three-time world champion in cycling, trained on Lehigh Valley roads through his winters of competition and offered a few tips for anyone who wants to take part in winter cycling.
"Obviously dressing properly is the one thing most people don't realize," he said. "Cycling is a lot different than running or hiking in the winter. On the bike, you feel the cold a lot different than running. Your upper body is stationary, your arms aren't moving and you're going at a much higher rate of speed. The cold can really affect you."
The front of your body is in particular peril because of its exposure to the cold and speed. Your face, hands, chest and thighs are facing wind chill factors based on the speed you're pedaling. Nothstein and many other cyclists buy apparel with specific wind-blocking capabilities for those areas, but dressing properly for winter cycling goes beyond that.
He said he prefers to overdress for cycling.
"You can always take layers off and stuff them into the pockets of your jersey or jacket," he said. "I made the mistake of overdressing for running, and when I overheated, I took things off and had to carry them. With cycling, you have plenty of pockets, so don't be afraid to overdress."
Nothstein prefers wool underwear as his base layer. Wool is just as wicking as today's most popular performance materials, but does not lose its insulation value when it gets wet. For his legs, he wears tights with windproof material over the knees and thighs. The upper body gets the addition of a performance-wear turtleneck, a thin riding jacket on top of that, a layer of folded newspaper (preferably your just-read sports section of The Morning Call) and a heavier jacket on top of that with a windproof front.
"I've raced in Europe in rain, sleet, freezing rain and snow," he said. "The sports section of the paper makes an ideal insulation layer. You shove it under your jacket in the front. Watch at the Tour and guys go over mountain passes and grab newspapers and shove them under their jerseys. It's the perfect size to cover your chest."
Nothstein also advises to invest in a good set of gloves and shoe covers that will block the wind and keep you warm. The other thing he advocates is wearing your helmet properly. He sees a lot of winter cyclists who either go with a cold-weather hat and forego the helmet, or who wear the hat and put the helmet on without adjusting for the size of the winter hat.
"Adjust the helmet or it's doing you no good," he said.
He advises people to take a few extra seconds before heading into a turn to scan for loose gravel, cinders and ice, all of which are winter perils. And because many people cycle before and after work, with low-light conditions a very real possibility, he advises getting a jacket with reflective striping or wearing a reflective vest, a headlight, head lamp and flashing warning light for the back end of the bike.
What else: Pennsylvania's state parks have been fertile ground in the barren winter for cross-country skiers. Beltzville State Park in Carbon County possesses 15 miles of hiking trails, approximately nine of which are excellent for cross country skiing when it snows. Thin ice has been forming on the lake, but not enough to safely ice skate, ice fish or ice boat as of yet.
Other regional state parks such as Hickory Run in Carbon County, Nescopeck in Luzerne County, Tuscarora in Schuylkill County and others to the north have snow showing and cross-country days planned, but in lieu of natural snow, the events turn into winter hikes. You can go online to the Department of Conservation and Natural resources trails page at http://www.explorepatrails.com to find active outdoor events throughout the state. Events take place on both weekends and weekdays.
Hickory Run State Park is hosting "Winterfest 2012" on Saturday, Feb. 4. The event was formerly run at Nescopeck State Park, but has moved to Hickory Run's Sand Spring Day Use Area. Snowshoeing, a sled dog team and kids activities will take place, as well as guided interpretive walks.
Later in February, Mauch Chunk Lake Park is hosting the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission's popular Family Ice Fishing Day. If you've every wanted to get out ice fishing but were afraid of the ice, check out this program which begins with a classroom session on ice fishing safety and fishing at the Carbon County Environmental Education Center. As long as the ice is safe, the group will move outdoors and take part in hands-on ice fishing.
No equipment or fishing license is required. To register for this event, contact the CCEEC at 570-645-8597.