Ice runway opens for season

2019 Alton Bay winter carnival is Feb. 17

New Hampshire’s Alton Bay ice airport opened for the 2019 season on Jan. 22. The seasonal, public-use runway on Lake Winnipesaukee, at the charted location of the Alton Bay Seaplane Base in Alton Bay, is believed to be the only charted ice airport in the 48 contiguous United States.

  • The Alton Bay ice airport from above. Photos by Mike Collins.
  • The ice is at its slickest when it appears black or deep blue from above. A thin layer of snow actually helps with traction.
  • Winds are usually from the north with Runway 1 being the preferred calm-wind runway.
  • Be sure to pack boots or water-resistant shoes as there can be pools of water on the surface of the ice.
  • When operating in the vicinity keep an eye out not only for other aircraft and pedestrians, but also snowmobiles.
  • Donations towards ice runway maintenance are appreciated.
  • Facet Jewelers at Shoppes on the Bay will give pilots free certificates for landing on the ice runway.

Airport manager Paul LaRochelle announced the runway’s opening on the ice airport’s Facebook page around midday Tuesday. “Good morning everyone!” he wrote. “I’m happy to announce Alton Bay ice Runway is now open. Runway 100 feet wide, 2,730 feet long, taxiway 50 feet wide. Runway conditions are good, a little bumpy in some spots.”

LaRochelle said the depth of the ice reached the required 12 inches on Jan. 16, allowing him and other airport volunteers to begin plowing out the runway, taxiway, and parking ramp. Then, the state of New Hampshire inspected the runway. They delayed opening until last weekend’s snowstorm passed and they could plow the airport surfaces again. LaRochelle and another volunteer were finishing that task after sunset Monday, when the temperature was 0 degrees Fahrenheit and the wind was blowing around 20 mph.

Conditions for this weekend will be uncertain, LaRochelle said Wednesday, because there is rain in the forecast. “We don’t know how much rain we’re going to get,” he said. Right now there’s a little snow on top of the ice, providing good traction. “If that melts and we get rain on top of it, it could be a sheet of ice” offering no traction. LaRochelle reminded pilots to call the airport’s information line, 603-875-3498, for recorded updates on the airport’s status and surface conditions.

The annual Alton Winter Carnival, coordinated by the Alton Business Association, will take place Feb. 17. If flying and runway conditions are good, the airport is sure to be busy. The carnival typically begins at 8 a.m. with a pancake breakfast at the Alton Bay Community Center; activities such as sleigh rides, bed races, snowmobile events, and a chowder festival continue until 3 p.m.

The earliest the runway has ever opened was Jan. 10. In 2016, it never opened at all; temperatures stayed warm and the ice never got thick enough. The runway must close by March 15, but the season will end earlier if surface conditions deteriorate.

Wind usually is from the north, and Runway 1 is the preferred calm-wind runway. On final, watch for snowmobiles and pedestrians. Plan for a long rollout. When the ice looks black or deep blue from above, it’s likely to be slickest; a light covering of snow actually helps. Bring chocks, and boots or water-resistant shoes—there can be pools of water on the surface.

Check notams for Alton Bay Ice Runway before departing. During the season, LaRochelle updates the airport’s information line, 603-875-3498, as needed. Updates also can be found online on the airport’s Facebook page. Notams are primary, however; if the runway must be closed temporarily, a notam will be issued before the recording is updated.

If you fly in, stop at Facet Jewelers—at Shoppes on the Bay—and LaRochelle’s wife, Donna, will give you a free certificate for landing on the ice runway at Alton Bay. Alton Bay Ice Runway hats are available for purchase, and several restaurants are within walking distance. Donations toward the maintenance of the ice runway also are accepted. For more information on the Alton Bay ice airport, see “The Iceway is Open,” from the January 2010 AOPA Pilot.

Mike Collins

Mike Collins

Technical Editor
Mike Collins, AOPA technical editor and director of business development, died at age 59 on February 25, 2021. He was an integral part of the AOPA Media team for nearly 30 years, and held many key editorial roles at AOPA Pilot, Flight Training, and AOPA Online. He was a gifted writer, editor, photographer, audio storyteller, and videographer, and was an instrument-rated pilot and drone pilot.
Topics: Travel, U.S. Travel

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