Written By: Rebecca Nimerfroh | Photography By: Chris Sleeper, Kit Noble, & Brian Sager
The ultimate off-season activities rundown for Nantucket.
Come Christmas Stroll, many an islander is asked, “So what’s the winter really like out here?” Yes, we all know how the crowds disperse and a serene quiet descends upon the island. But with colder temperatures, winter also brings a whole new lineup of fun sports, hobbies and activities. Nantucketers can enjoy activities in the great indoors at the top-notch Culinary Center, a state-of-the-art film set at NCTV or the studios of the Artist Association. Or they can relish the wild adventures found right out their backdoor. So pull on your gloves and hat, lace up your ice skates, and maybe even grab your sled — here’s our guide for seizing the freezing season.
With the 111-foot Altar Rock counted among Nantucket’s highest peaks, skiing is hardly thought of as a winter activity on the island. But if the conditions shape up just right, die-hard skiers like Peter Engen devise ways to make the most of the snow. Such was the case last year when Engen enlisted the help of his friends to build a jump on Third Hole Beach. After being pulled into the jump by a pickup truck, Engen executed a perfect backflip that photographer Chris Sleeper captured for proof of this first island descent.
When the kids of Nantucket get a snow day, Mill Hill Park, known to locals as “Dead Horse Valley” is the place to be. This pocket park located just beside the Nantucket Cottage Hospital is home to one of the island’s only steep hills, providing all-day fun to adults and kids alike. Sleds are a rare commodity on the island when a big snowfall hits, so you’ll be sure to see some creative alternatives, from boogie boards to cafeteria trays. Word to the wise: After several snowfalls, be on the look out for handcrafted jumps and bumps that could send you soaring.
The gorgeous and recently built Nantucket Culinary Center has a continual rotation of delectable workshops and classes to further the knowledge of any budding chef. More interested in noshing than learning? Dinners at the chef’s table with Greg Margolis offer a front-row seat to the creation of his meal, all the while enjoying a communal table and flowing wine. Learn more about classes and upcoming meals here.
Sometimes referred to as “ice yachting,” this unique sport involves strapping blades on to sunfishes, beetle cats and other small sailboats. With their sails at full mast, these boats rip across Nantucket’s frozen ponds at staggering speeds. If cold enough, head over to Sesachacha or Hummock Pond on any given weekend in the winter and catch a glimpse of these sailors really chilling out after a season on the high seas.
With hundreds of miles of conservation land, there are enough hikes to last a lifetime on Nantucket. From the glorious ocean views of Tupancy Links to the sweeping moors of Sanford Farm, there’s almost too many options to choose from. Not sure where to go? Call in a pro. Island naturalist Peter Brace runs Nantucket Walkabout and will take you on a tour of some of the island’s most beautiful spots. To see some of Brace’s suggested routes, click here. Or better yet, hire him as your guide here.
Nurture that inner artist in you. Whether it’s a ceramics class at the Nantucket Artists Association, an introduction to filmmaking at Nantucket Community Television or piano lessons at the Nantucket Music Center, the options to hone a new talent on Nantucket are endless and affordable. Classes are offered both days and evenings to accommodate any schedule.
Curling traces back to sixteenth century Scotland where games were held on frozen lochs and ponds. In 1998, this curious sported gained international attention when it became part of the Winter Olympic Games. Now thanks to Nantucket Ice, islanders can slide into curling throughout the winter months by participating in a number of workshops and tournaments. While curling might be a world away from hockey, competition can get very heated. To learn more, click here.
Everyone’s favorite off-season treat, Nantucket bay scallops can be harvested with a shell fishing permit from the harbor between October 1st and March 31st using a push rake or a wetsuit and snorkel. Shucking is considered an old Nantucket art form, but beware that their shells can stink to high-heaven, so be sure to equip yourself with some insulated kitchen gloves. To get your scalloping license, click here.
Offering so much more than just movies, the Dreamland Theater provides a community gathering place year-round, with scheduled programming that includes everything from live streaming performances of opera and ballet to the best-reviewed documentaries and feature films every Wednesday night to community theater. Feeling talented? Be sure to audition for the February production of Nantucket’s Got Talent, just one of many opportunities for the public to perform onstage. For showtimes and more information on programming, click here.
When the temperature plummets below freezing, a number of Nantucket’s ponds become the idyllic setting for skating and pickup games of pond hockey. Of the island’s many ponds, Maxcy Pond off Cliff Road is a local favorite. But beware, the ponds typically need a week of sub-twenties temperatures before they’re safe to skate. For a map of all the island’s named ponds, click here.
When it comes to burning calories in the winter cold, you can’t beat platform tennis, often referred to as paddle tennis. Combining the best aspects of tennis and squash, paddle tennis will have you breaking a sweat even in the coldest temps. Thanks to the Nantucket Platform Tennis Association, the island has a world-class court that’s open to the public located on 82 Hinsdale Street. For more information, call 508-982-8808.
This ain’t your typical pub darts. Every Thursday night in the off-season, a small but serious group of islanders meet at The Chicken Box to play darts. Although leagues have already formed this past fall, there’s no reason you can’t enjoy watching the games and support the local competitors.
Who says the beaches are just for summer? Nantucket surfers certainly don’t. In fact, in the off-season, the south shore becomes the meeting place of friends to catch up and talk while checking out the waves. For those willing to slip on 5/6 millimeter wetsuits and brave frigid temps, Nantucket Surf School owner Gary Kohner recommends surfing off beaches like Nobadeer and Fisherman’s in the winter because of the shorter paddle out. “The cold saps your energy,” he says, “so it’s tough to be going under a lot of waves trying to get out.”
Nantucket’s beautiful state forest is home to a champion-level eighteen-hole Frisbee golf course that was established in 2011. Long and short tees are available to accommodate players of all levels, and the course is free and open to the public year-round. For the best competitive discs, The Sunken Ship is your one-stop shop. But be sure to buy a couple so you don’t have to spend your day searching for your lost ones in the bushes. For directions and to learn more about the course, click here.
And when you need a little escape… why not an ICELAND GETAWAY
Iceland has become one of the hottest destinations for Nantucketers in the offseason. With an affordable, direct flight from Logan Airport provided by WOW Airlines, you can get to Reykjavik in less than six hours. After renting a car (upgrade to an SUV during the winter), check into the trendy Marina Residences on the waterfront where luxurious suites come equipped with a personal concierge who can help guide you on an action-packed weekend.
Drive the Golden Circle, a five-hour, 185-mile circuit that hits some of Iceland’s top sites within striking distance of Reykjavik. The landscape is unlike anything else in the world, a cross between the Scottish Highlands, Patagonia, New Zealand and the surface of the moon. If you’re lucky, you might just catch the northern lights, which are most visible between September and April in the Icelandic skies. For dinner, head to Iceland Fish Company, but beware that whale might be on the menu, so order wisely.
On your way back to the airport, soak up your remaining hours in Iceland at the world-famous Blue Lagoon, a massive thermal hot spring were you can wade around in a mud mask with a beer in your hand.
TIPS FOR BEATING THE WINTERTIME BLUES
When the crowds of Christmas Stroll finally board the ferry to leave until Daffy, a heavy quiet descends on the island. Days get shorter, and the Grey Lady gets grayer. For many islanders, this time can be marked by seasonal depression, clinically known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Theories abound for the causes of SAD, which studies have shown affect up to 20 percent of Americans. Many scientists believe that the lack of sun throws off our circadian rhythm and increases melatonin levels, leaving many feeling lethargic, anxious and depressed. “The reason it occurs mostly during the winter months is that one of the main causes of the condition is a lack of sunlight,” explains Dr. Norman Rosenthal, the author of Winter Blues and a leading SAD expert. “Besides the lack of environmental light, which is a major cause of SAD, there are two other leading causes: biological predisposition and stress.” Thankfully, there are three easy steps to taking SAD down a notch.
STEP 1: LIGHT UP YOUR LIFE
Soak up as much sun as possible. Get outside and play everyday, no matter the weather. Add vitamin D supplements to your daily diet and consider light therapy, using a special lamp that mimics the sun’s rays. According to Dr. Ritsaert Lieverse, a psychiatrist at the VU University Medical Center in Amsterdam, light therapy has been shown to fight depression symptoms as effectively as antidepressants.
STEP 2: EXERCISE
Rigorous exercise releases endorphins in the brain. So go puddle sweat on the gym floor. Make your lungs scream for air. At the very least, go for a walk. “The most tangible example of exercise stimulating certain brain chemicals is the runner’s high that many athletes report experiencing once crossing a certain threshold of exertion while running,” explains Dr. David Muzina, the founding director of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Mood Disorders Treatment and Research. “Endorphins are our body’s natural morphine, and, when released by special glands in our brains, they can produce a sense of well-being or joy and also decrease pain levels.”
STEP 3: MEDITATE… OR AT LEAST ATTEMPT IT
“People with SAD have a reduced ability to handle stress, which can push them deeper into depression,” writes Dr. Rosenthal. “One of the most effective ways to reduce stress is meditation.” While many cringe at even the thought of meditating, it’s the most readily available approach to fighting SAD. Ten minutes can change an entire day. Try meditation apps like Headspace to guide you through the process.