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VPR's coverage of arts and culture in the region.

When Winter Hits, We Play!

Is it that living in the far north only attracts a brave and hearty soul? Or does almost six months of winter weather start to addle the brain and motivate seemingly sane individuals to enter events like the Lake Elmore Polar Splash or the 8-Hour Polar Bear Obstacle Challenge?

Who thought ice skating needed to be upgraded to Lake Morey's 4.5 mile skating trail? Or that a sledding hill in Quebec needed to go on for 7.5 kilometers? Or ice climbing!? Apparently quite a few people.

We learn about the events and activities that Vermonters take part in each winter that a lot of us would need some serious coaxing to attempt.

Plus we'll take a bobsled ride down the Olympic track in Lake Placid, N.Y., and learn about efforts to get a rink placed on the State House lawn in Montpelier.

Learn more below about some of our guests and the activities and events they discussed on this show. Full show audio above.

Lake Morey Ice Skating Trail

This 4.5 mile skating trail bills itself as the longest ice trail in the United States. It is free and open to the public, and is groomed by equipment from Lake Morey Resort in Fairlee.

"It's just so beautiful to be outside with nature," says Lisa Avery, director of fun at Lake Morey Resort. "So I'll go out around 7:30 in the morning and I check the trail. It's my excuse to get out and skate.

"And it's peaceful, and there's usually very few people out there – you might see some ice fisherman at the north end of the lake. So you go out and you hear the lake, with the ice shifting, and you can see an eagle. They're usually out on the north end of the lake. It's quite spectacular."

Credit Lake Morey Resort, courtesy
At 4.5 miles long, the Lake Morey Ice Skating Trail bills itself as the longest ice trail in the United States.

The trail starts getting groomed once there are at least 6 inches of ice. Avery says that in the past, the trail has opened in early- to mid-January. Avery also suggests using "Nordic blades" on the trail, as opposed to hockey skates or figure skates, in order to move more efficiently.

More information on the trail is available at Trail Finder and the Lake Morey Resort website.

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Polar Bear Challenge

The event takes place at the Shale Hill Adventure Farm in Benson, and this winter obstacle course covers 10 kilometers and has 80 obstacles. The goal is to complete as many laps as possible in an 8-hour timeframe. The fifth annual challenge will take place on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2017.

"Many races that are set up like this are kind of hellish, and we have developed this race to be a challenge, certainly, but a lot of fun along the way," says Rob Butler, co-owner of Shale Hill Adventure Farm. "There's a lot of races out there that just try to really abuse their people who try to run these things – we do not do that. We have fires going all over the place, we have a full buffet the whole time it's there."

Credit Memorevents (Christine Kipphut) / Courtesy of Shale Hill Adventure Farm
A group of people participate in a past Polar Bear Challenge. The course is 10 kilometers long with 80 obstacles, and the event takes place over 8 hours.

"And it's really a lot of fun," Butler continues. "People come out and they challenge each other. And we have all different classes, so people can go out and enjoy each other while they're on the course. Some people are really serious and really racing hard, and other people are really just having a good time."

Butler explains that some of the "military-based" obstacles on the course include tasks like climbing ropes or barbed wire crawls.

More information about the challenge is available at the Shale Hill Adventure Farm website.

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Possible Skating At The Statehouse

There's an effort under way to build a skating rink in front of the Vermont Statehouse in Montpelier.  

Nate Hausman, a member of the "Put A Rink On It" committee, says the idea came out of a conversation between him and a group of friends passing by the Statehouse one day.

"It's a nice flat area that doesn't see a ton of use in the winter months, but often there are folks out there in the summer, playing Frisbee or just enjoying [it]," Hausman says.

Credit Stephen M. Frey (Arocordis Design) / Courtesy of the 'Put A Rink On It' committee
An artistic rendering, created in June, of the proposed ice rink outside the Statehouse. Not depicted in this rendering though is a perimeter fence, which Nate Hausman of the 'Put A Rink On It' committee explains is an element now included in the most recent proposal, which was submitted in November.

He explained that actually getting a rink set up there is "a complicated process" – they've been working with a number of people to turn this project into a reality, and they are now waiting to receive approval from the Department of Buildings and General Services. Hausman says they are expecting to get approval and could have a rink up this winter.

"They call the Statehouse 'the people's house,' so we envision this as 'the people's rink,'" Hausman says. "And it'll be free and open to the public for folks to learn how to skate or just skate around and enjoy it."

More information about the proposed rink is available at the "Put A Rink On It" Facebook page.

Update 5:50 p.m. 12/21/2016  It was announced that the installation of a temporary rink on the Vermont Statehouse lawn is planned for next week, with a plan to open it for skating on Jan. 4, 2017.

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Ice Climbing

Did you know there is some world-class ice climbing here in Vermont?

"Ice climbing's accessible to people in all ages and stages of life," says Kel Rossiter, owner and lead guide of Adventure Spirit: Rock + Ice + Alpine Experiences. "It has an image of being sort of an extreme sport, but in fact, it can be quite friendly to a variety of ... ages of people and body types."

Credit Adventure Spirit, courtesy
Ice climbing, seen here being done at Bolton Quarry, is an activity that is "accessible to people in all ages and stages of life," says Kel Rossiter, the owner and lead guide of Adventure Spirit. He also talked on 'Vermont Edition' about some ice climbing tools.

"And so the best way to get started – certainly learning some of the fundamentals of belaying, that you could practice in a rock gym," Rossiter continues. "And then, you would have to access some of the equipment, but then going out and getting ... some proper instruction, learning about some of the technique of kicking and swinging, and making your way up the ice cliff." 

Rossiter talked about the experience of climbing at Lake Willoughby, as well as explained some of the tools that an ice climber would use.

More information about ice climbing is available at the Adventure Spirit website.

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Lake Elmore Polar Splash

This annual plunge into Lake Elmore is sponsored by the Morrisville Rotary Club, with proceeds donated to a local group. This winter's event will take place on Saturday, Feb. 11, 2017 and will support the Morrisville Youth Girls Soccer team's trip to Europe.

Joe Gagne, a Morrisville Rotary Club member, says there are approximately between 70 to 100 plunge participants each year. He says there's a range of how deep people actually venture into the water, adding that many do commit to going completely in.

Credit Morrisville Rotary Club, courtesy
About 100 civic-minded individuals jump in Lake Elmore each year as part of the Morrisville Rotary Polar Splash.

"We generally cut a triangle out of the ice, and people go one at a time – if you have a group or a team, you can go as a team," Gagne says. "And we, of course, have some trained people in the water, you know, to get people out, just to make sure that everybody's safe."

More information about the event is available at the Polar Splash website.

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In this show, we also mentioned a few past VPR stories about winter activities. Find those segments below:

Broadcast live on Monday, November 28, 2016 at noon; rebroadcast at 7 p.m.