Skiing in New Hampshire’s White Mountains

Skiing in New Hampshire’s White Mountains
In my world there’s no more beautiful view than the snowcapped peaks of New Hampshire’s Presidential Range white against a blue morning sky. And while the mountains are beautiful from the valley below, the best place to savor this sight is from the top of Cranmore Mountain, framed in snow-dusted evergreens, with a well-groomed ski trail dropping away before me.

For a different perspective on Mt Washington surrounded by its neighboring Presidential peaks, I go to Bretton Woods, a little farther north, where the range spreads before me, dwarfing the grand Mount Washington Hotel, whose red rooftops add a splash of color to the scene below. And the best part of this region known as the Mount Washington Valley is that I can ski both these mountains – and a clutch of others – in a short vacation. They are all within a 45-minute drive of North Conway.

Cranmore’s white trails overlook North Conway’s pretty little downtown, where independent shops and locally owned restaurants line its tidy Main Street. Its variety of lodging, dining and off-slope activities make North Conway a good base for a ski vacation here, but certainly not the only one. Nearby Jackson has another lodging and dining nucleus, plus Jackson XC Center, the largest cross-country ski facility in the northeast. Romantic country inns with their own restaurants scatter among the hills.

Some ski mountains are connected to their own resorts – Bretton Woods is one of these – and the largest ski area in the state. By contrast, King Pine is one of the smallest, but packs a lot of winter sports variety into its family-friendly Purity Spring Resort. The options are many, so there’s a mountain and an inn experience for every taste – or mood.

I grew up in these mountains and learned to ski here, so I’ve skied them all, and stayed at many of the inns and hotels. These are my favorites.

Starting small, we like to begin our annual ski vacation at Purity Spring Resort and its ski area, King Pine. The sweetest little mountain we know, with trails winding down through pine forests, King Pine also has the second-steepest trail in the state, so there’s terrain for everyone. Runs are fairly short, but so are chairlift rides and on cold days we appreciate that the whole area is protected from the wind.

King Pine is also tops in snow-making and grooming, and after thaws it often has better conditions than the larger mountains around it. The kids love the resort’s comfortable atmosphere, family-friendly dining room and big indoor swimming pool. Skiing, the tubing hill, cross-country trails, skating rink and all the other recreation facilities are included with lodging. Ski/stay packages fit most family budgets, and the resort is only a 20-minute drive from North Conway. About halfway between King Pine and Cranmore, Snowvillage Inn is a hilltop inn that’s a perfect hideaway for couples, with a good dining room and knock-out views.

Cranmore Mountain has a long history and was a major force in introducing recreational skiing in America. It has grown since its origins in the 1930s, with long runs from the summit and shorter ones from the top of the South Quad. Its sunny west-facing slopes and trails are especially welcome on the coldest days. In addition to the skiing, Cranmore has a large tubing hill with 10 lift-served lanes and a Mountain Coaster with self-controlled speeds up to 25 mph. North Conway is filled with inns, hotels and resorts just a few minutes from the mountain.

A little farther north, Jackson is a post-card New England village with a red covered bridge for an entrance. The lovely Wentworth Resort sits at its center, and behind the hotel stretch miles and miles of cross-country ski trails. These and the more than XX km of back-country trails that climb the surrounding hills and mountains are part of Jackson XC Center. Guests at the Wentworth Resort not only enjoy hot tubs on their private terraces, but apres-ski fondue in the afternoon.

Also in Jackson is the somewhat old-fashioned Black Mountain, another family-friendly ski area. Its lift rates are old fashioned too, as is the base lodge with its budget-friendly lunch room, but the trails are beautiful and well maintained. On the same road as Black Mountain, our kids love staying at the Christmas Farm Inn. The cottages that stud the hillside behind the inn are perfect for families, and there’s a pool and full-service spa.

Bretton Woods is the largest ski resort in the state, covering 464 acres across an entire ridgeline from the peak of Mt Stickney on the east, across Mt Rosebrook to West Mountain. These three provide enough terrain for 62 trails, plus 35 glades and three terrain parks, served by ten lifts including four high speed quads. Bretton Woods has some extraordinarily good terrain for beginner to excellent skiers, including one of the nicest green-rated trails in the state. It is unusual to have a green trail that is comfortable for new skiers starting at the top of the mountain and ending back at the base lifts.

Bretton Woods is part of the full-service Omni Mount Washington Resort, which includes the historic Mount Washington Hotel and several other lodging options, along with a cross-country center, tubing hill, full-service spa, swimming pool, canopy tours and several dining options.

The Mount Washington Valley makes it really easy for families to ski in New Hampshire.

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