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Destinations: Alton Bay, New Hampshire

Landing on an ice runway

Editor's note: Weather conditions have not allowed the Alton Bay ice runway to open for the 2020 winter season. Please see this AOPA Online article for more details.
Pilot Briefing February 2020
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Since the 1960s, pilots in the Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire, area have had an interesting way to enjoy winter—landing on the only FAA-approved ice runway in the contiguous United States. Alton Bay is a cove in the southeast corner of the 21-mile-long lake and is a charted seaplane base (B18). When the ice runway opens, upwards of 600 aircraft can touch down in the season—most simply to say they have done it.

But like Brigadoon, you won’t know when Alton Bay is open, at least not without contacting airport manager Paul LaRochelle before you go. There must be a minimum of 12 inches of ice on the lake before LaRochelle will take his trucks out on the ice to plow—and in 2016, the ice never froze enough for the airport to open. The earliest it has opened was January 10. Runway 1/19 is marked by yellow cones and its length will vary from 2,300 feet to 2,700 feet. Snowfall and ice conditions determine the length.

A light covering of snow is best for a graceful landing—keep off those brakes—and pilots who have landed here liken it to a soft-field landing on a grass runway. If the lake looks black from above, it will be at its slickest. Volunteers plow the runway, parallel taxiway, and aircraft parking area throughout the season, which will end when conditions deteriorate or March 31—whichever comes first.

The Lake Winnipesaukee resort area has a lot of restaurants and kitschy gift shops. But pilots who land at Alton Bay should check out the Shoppes on the Bay where LaRochelle’s wife, Donna, operates Facet Jewelers. Sign a guestbook to prove you’ve done the landing and get an “I’ve landed on Alton Bay” button. There are also Alton Bay Ice Runway hats to purchase.

Call the airport’s information line—603-875-3498—to see when and if the airport will open this year. There is also an Alton Bay Seaplane Base and Ice Runway page on Facebook.

Email [email protected]

Julie Walker
Julie Summers Walker
AOPA Senior Features Editor
AOPA Senior Features Editor Julie Summers Walker joined AOPA in 1998. She is a student pilot still working toward her solo.

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