There are two camps when it comes to winter: hibernate until spring or embrace the snow.
While many of us choose the first course, it can get downright boring. Yet, the thought of hurling ourselves down a hill on skis isn't appealing (but we do like the lodge scene!). Cross-country is enjoyable, but again, a certain amount of skill is involved. At this time of year, we yearn to "just do it" without a lot of trouble. But what is the "it?"
Our answer came on a pair of snowshoes and a journey that got us away from home to Cortland's Lime Hollow Center for Environment & Culture and the nearby Greek Peak Mountain Resort.
With snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, downhill skiing and tubing options, everyone in your party can get involved, and nobody is left out in the cold.
>Lime Hollow Center for Environment & Culture
Cheektowaga native Glenn Reisweber is the executive director of the Lime Hollow nature preserve. In 2007, the facility opened a visitors center where guests can rent snowshoes and cross-country skis to explore more than 10 miles of trails. According to Reisweber and nearby outfitters in his area, this winter has been the best Nordic season in 30 years.
Snowshoeing is as easy as checking in at the desk and getting a trail map, poles, shoes and 5-minute instructions on how to secure the shoes to your own boots.
When we asked if there were any maneuvering tricks, our main man and staff member Aaron said, "No, you basically just walk."
We wondered, "Then why do we need snowshoes?"
Along the snowy Fen Way trail, it became immediately evident that had we been wearing only boots, we would have struggled.
Sinking, slipping, trudging -- all gone with these magical attachments that look like awkward floats, but in reality, kept us stabilized. Metal claws under our toes helped to dig into the snow, while poles kept us steady on hills. We had been liberated!
Crunching along, we set out into the preserve.
Winter in the woods is breathtaking. No dirty snow. No dusty salty. No noisy snowplows.
Fresh powder had just fallen. Stands of evergreens thick with frostinglike snow lined the trail. Deer tracks were everywhere. We stopped to just look at a light snow dust falling from branches. We inhaled, exhaled and relaxed to the lovely sound of silence.
Following handy markers, a variety of trails wound us through thick stands of trees, along ridges and through open spaces. Bridges carried us over icy cold running streams, each with thin ice lacing along its edges.
Having gotten the hang of it, we ventured off the trail into deeper snow to experience the sensation of sinking, but not really sinking. Feeling confident, we tried more difficult trails that went up and down steep inclines. We marveled. We could never have done this in boots.
Onward we headed to see Cattail Pond, where we came across bright green watercress growing underwater in a stream. The only souls we saw the entire time were a few deer and a couple wearing snowshoes, pulling their little guy along a trail on a sled.
Between the trail map and marked trails, we never felt lost or unsure about where to go. Time flew, and in all we spent about four hours exploring. We returned to the center, hit the "green" bathroom, then watched a mob of birds feeding outside near a picture window. Besides being a little tuckered out, we can report no soreness in the following days.
Lime Hollow is open for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. It will also be open during the Presidents' Day week (Feb. 21-25) when many schools are off for a midwinter recess. Snowshoes are available for just about anyone, including the little ones. Cost to rent is full day $10 adult ($5 child); half day $8 ($3 child) and two hours $6 ($2). Cross-country skis for adults are full day $15 ($12 half and $9 two hours). Lime Hollow has a no-pet policy.
On Friday there is a Full Moon Owl Prowl (7-9 p.m.) and on Feb. 26 an Animal Tracking Workshop starting at 10 a.m. Located off Route 281 at 338 McLean Road, Cortland; 607-662-4632; www.limehollow.org.
>More at Greek Peak Mountain Resort
About 10 minutes away from Lime Hollow, the Greek Peak Mountain Resort offers more options for your group. In addition to a Nordic center where visitors can rent snowshoes and cross-country skis to explore the property, downhill skiers can hit the Greek Peak mountain trails, while Winter X-Game wannabes can try the snowboarding hill. For silly fun, there is a very safe looking tubing hill.
And for those who absolutely aren't into the great outdoors, the swanky Hope Lake Lodge spa and lovely bar/restaurant area with a fireplace are perfect ways to spend the day. The only place not open to the public is the indoor waterpark, which is reserved for resort guests.
Weekend trail passes are $14 adult ($9 child). Snowshoe rentals are available for adults only at $9. Basic ski rentals are $14 adult ($10 child). Learn to ski or ride (snowboard) lessons are $25. The downhill lift opens at 8:30 a.m. The Nordic center (snowshoes/cross-country) is on the same side as the lodge; tubing is across the street. Both open at 10 a.m.
Greek Peak Mountain Resort, Route 392, Cortland; 800-955-2SKI (2754); www.greekpeak.net
If you stay:
You could make a weekend of visiting both Lime Hollow and Greek Peak. The resort is pricey, but does offer ski and stay packages and plenty of kids' activities. It would also gain you access to the waterpark. We discovered a Country Inn & Suites on Route 281 in Cortland (www.countryinns.com) that's just about dead-center between the two locations.
For evening fun, the Shipwreck Amusement Center offers an entertaining evening of indoor black light mini-golf. The course is lit by fluorescent murals of underwater sea creatures. There are also fun ice cream novelties. Cost is $8 for adults; $6.50 for kids 35 inches tall or to age 11; $7.50 for seniors. A Bounce & Play area is perfect for the wee ones. Cost is $5 for an hour. Shipwreck Amusement Center is at 759 Route 13, Cortland, (607) 758-8585; www.shipwreckgolf.com
Some places to eat in Cortland:
Blue Frog Coffeehouse, 64 Main St., Market Place Mall; (607) 758-7989; bluefrogny.com/
Doug's Fish Fry, Route 281; (607) 753-9184; www.dougsfishfry.com
Hairy Tony's (we're told a favorite of the New York Jets during summer training camp), 102-104 Main St.; (607) 662-0239; www.hairytonys.com.
Pita Gourmet, 41 Main St.; (607) 756-4442; pitagourmet.com
Starr Bistro, 117 Main St.; (607) 299-0077; www.starrbistro.com
Sun Fat Chinese Buffet, 854 Route 13; (607) 753-8122
To get there from Buffalo, take the Thruway east to exit 41; take State Route 414 S/Ridge Road to 318 East to NY-5/US-20 east through Auburn to Skaneateles, to NY-41 (or 41A) heading south along the lake to Route 281 into Homer/Cortland. It's about 2 1/2 hours from Buffalo.