January 31, 2013
By Mike Collins
The Alton Bay ice airport in Alton Bay, N.H.—a seasonal public-use facility at the charted location of the Alton Bay Seaplane Base (B18)—has opened for the 2013 season, said Paul LaRochelle, its volunteer manager.
Although the runway is temporarily closed Jan. 31, LaRochelle said the prospects for a successful season are good. Two years ago, poor conditions kept the runway closed for the 2011 season. “This year we haven’t had a lot of snow and it hasn’t been real cold,” LaRochelle said—but the ice has grown thick enough, and the 2,500-by-100-foot runway was plowed Jan. 26 after a 12- or 13-inch snowfall. Yellow cones were positioned to mark the runway, and it opened Sunday, Jan. 27.
“We probably had 30 or 35 airplanes come in Sunday, and a few more Monday—then snow closed the airport on Tuesday,” he said. “There’s no snow at all on the runway right now—it’s just a sheet of ice.” LaRochelle said conditions will be evaluated again on Friday morning, Feb. 1, and he will record an update on the airport’s information line at 603/875-3498. “If it’s just too slick I’m going to keep it closed until we get some snow, and get something on the surface,” he explained. The area recently received rain, but temperatures are expected to turn colder this weekend, and LaRochelle said there was a chance of snow in the forecast.
The ice airport has operated for more than 30 years, and was the subject of a January 2010 AOPA Pilot feature, “ The Iceway is Open.” You can see an arrival to the ice runway in an AOPA Live video.
A highlight for many pilots is Alton Bay’s Winter Carnival, scheduled for Feb. 17. Because of poor conditions on the ice, last year’s carnival was held in a parking lot. “The airport was open but there were slick conditions,” said LaRochelle, noting that the airport was able to operate for only two and a half weeks last year. Plans call for this year’s carnival to be held on the ice, but if conditions won’t allow, it will be in the parking lot of the Christian Conference Center, a short walk up the hill from Lake Winnipesaukee.
“A lot of pilots believe it’s a fly-in. It’s really a carnival for the town, and a lot of pilots fly in,” LaRochelle said. “I’ve been talking with the pilots to see if they want to have a day of their own, and have an actual fly-in.” There used to be a fly-in back in the 1970s, he explained; adequate space for aircraft parking is a consideration.
He is very optimistic about the prospects for this year’s season. “Last Sunday was the best conditions I’ve seen in three years—and it lasted one day,” he said. “That’s how quickly things can change around here.”
The airport can remain in operation as late as March 15, if ice conditions allow.
Mike Collins has worked for AOPA’s media network since 1994. He holds a private pilot certificate with an instrument rating.
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