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Ice runway looking goodIce runway looking good

Alton Bay's winter carnival set for Feb. 19Alton Bay's winter carnival set for Feb. 19

This Sunday, Feb. 19, is likely to be busy at New Hampshire’s Alton Bay ice airport. This seasonal, public-use runway on Lake Winnipesaukee—at the charted location of the Alton Bay Seaplane Base (B18) in Alton Bay—is believed to be the only charted ice airport in the 48 contiguous United States.

Why this Sunday? It’s the annual Alton Winter Carnival, coordinated by the Alton Business Association—and the outlook calls for a cloudy, dry day with highs in the low 40s. 

“It looks pretty good. We’re out plowing the parking area right now,” Paul LaRochelle, the ice airport’s volunteer manager, said early Feb. 16. “We’ll plow the runway this afternoon. It’s too wet and heavy to use the blower."

On Valentine’s Day, the volunteer crew was using, for the first time, a large truck-mounted snowblower to clear a 14-inch snowfall from the aircraft parking area. However, a winter storm Wednesday night brought 6 inches of new snow.

“I think we’ll be all right for the weekend. It’s going to be a little wet, and a little warm,” so there could be some standing water near snowbanks, LaRochelle said. He will be reducing the runway dimensions to 107 feet wide and 2,600 feet long; the runway opened the season at 125 by 3,000 feet. “We’ve had over two feet of snow in eight days; it’s made a big difference,” he explained. 

LaRochelle cautions pilots to be aware of snow banks beside the runway and taxiway, and noted that the aircraft parking ramp frequently fills on carnival weekends; avoid landing if no parking spaces are available. Also be aware that as part of the carnival, helicopter rides will be offered from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., weather permitting.

The airport has been opened a couple of times this season, for about a weekend and a half. Heavy snowfalls closed it down until the volunteers could plow again, LaRochelle said. “It’s par for the course.”

The Alton Bay Ice Airport looks different than it appears in this image from a few years ago; volunteers have expanded the aircraft parking area—and now plow a parallel taxiway. Photo by Mike Collins.

The earliest the runway has ever opened was Jan. 10. In 2016, it never opened—because of warm temperatures, the ice never got thick enough. The runway has to 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 before departing. During the season, LaRochelle updates the airport’s information line, 603/875-3498, every few days—and 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 at Alton Bay. Or an “I landed on the ice runway at Alton Bay” button, new this season, LaRochelle said. 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.

There were about 25 airplanes on the ramp Sunday, Feb. 5, when David DeVries flew to Alton Bay and landed on the ice runway. “My understanding is that it was even busier earlier in the morning for breakfast,” he said. “The runway is wide and long and in beautiful shape. Landing on the ice runway may sound a little scary—but believe me, it is very straightforward and easy. Give it a try!”

DeVries is president of the New Hampshire Pilots Association. While he was there, he presented LaRochelle with a check for $250 on behalf of the organization. The New Hampshire Pilots Association’s gift, and all other contributions toward maintenance of the ice runway, go to LaRochelle’s all-volunteer crew—who use their own fuel and equipment to maintain the runway.

Mike Collins

Mike Collins

Technical Editor
Mike Collins has worked for AOPA’s media network since 1994. He holds a private pilot certificate with an instrument rating.
Topics: Airport, US Travel

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