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On thin ice: Alton Bay ice runway to stay closed

Pilots whose winter flying plans were to include landing on a much-favored ice runway in Alton Bay, New Hampshire, have learned some disappointing news: The seasonal surface has not sufficiently solidified for safe use this year.

The Alton Bay ice airport from above. Photo by Mike Collins.

In a reversal of the reliable rule that seasons come and go but airports stay frozen in place, the New Hampshire Pilots Association announced in an email that “Mother Nature is not cooperating with us this year,” prompting the pilots’ group and Paul LaRochelle, the airport manager for the Alton Bay Seaplane Base and Ice Runway, to keep the runway—believed to be the only charted ice strip in the lower 48 states—closed.

A tepid combination of current conditions and future expectations melted hopes of ice flying from Alton Bay in the southeast corner of Lake Winnipesaukee, based on a sliding scale of ice thickness.

“The depth of ice in the bay has generally been fluctuating between 5 and 9 inches of ice this season but we need a minimum of 12 inches of ice to get the plow truck safely on the ice,” the New Hampshire Pilots Association’s message said. “The long-range weather forecasts from this point forward show a warming trend as we approach spring.”

The adverse outcome for ice flying won’t have a chilling effect on other winter festivities in the region, however, as the annual Winter Carnival Week is scheduled to run from February 21 to 29.

What a difference a year (and a few inches of ice) can make. On January 16, 2019, the ice on Alton Bay measured at the requisite 12 inches, allowing LaRochelle and airport volunteers to begin plowing out the runway, taxiway, and parking ramp. The state of New Hampshire inspected the runway—and after a passing snowstorm moved out, the runway was plowed and opened with the temperature at 0 degrees Fahrenheit and the wind blowing a respectably wintry 20 mph.

The New Hampshire Pilots Association said it appreciated pilots following the Alton Bay Seaplane Base and Ice Runway on Facebook, checking LaRochelle’s answering machine updates (603-875-3498), and participating in the FAA’s Portland, Maine, Flight Standards District Office’s webinar, “Decision Making on Ice 2020.” 

Safety on ice is a serious concern and misjudgments can have tragic consequences.

To promote safety, LaRochelle will continue to post surface-condition updates and notams “geared at reminding everyone that the runway is not open this year with the hopes of catching those pilots who may have missed NOTAMs or earlier postings on Facebook,” the New Hampshire Pilots Association said.

Dan Namowitz
Dan Namowitz
Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 35-year AOPA member.
Topics: Airport, Travel, U.S. Travel

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