Long overlooked, New Hampshire's mountains are one of New England's best-kept secrets – not to mention easier on your wallet.
Many families looking for an active and stress-free vacation are surprised to learn what New Hampshire’s White Mountains have to offer. As a loyal New Hampshirite who took her first plunge down New Hampshire slopes at the age of 2, I may be a biased advocate for all that the Granite State has to offer. However, the combination of mountains and charming resort villages makes it the perfect destination for families seeking a fun and relaxing time away from home.
New Hampshire’s relatively small size makes it possible for skiers to sample a little bit of everything—from the western White Mountains to the Great North Woods. All within two hours driving time from Boston, these destinations are easily accessible, a nice change from the traditional ski resort vacations out West, and much more affordable. The season runs from around Thanksgiving until the end of March, although spring skiing in April is an occasional treat.
Here are my personal favorites of New Hampshire’s treasures, all within a half-hour of each other in the western White Mountains.
Skiing and boarding are definitely the focus around these parts, yet the mountains and towns have much to offer besides the traditional pasttime, such as sleigh rides to outlet shopping. With more than 20 alpine ski areas to choose from, winter visitors to New Hampshire won’t be bored.
Best for Beginners & the Entire Family
Bretton Woods is New Hampshire’s largest ski resort, and the extensive selection of beginner and intermediate trails make it an ideal family destination. This constantly expanding resort features 101 trails and ten lifts, and was rated #1 in New Hampshire for best family programs by Ski Magazine in 2005. The area boasts a less windy climate than others, and is always making snow so it can open for the season in early November—the first resort to open in the state. Exceptional views of Mount Washington and the Presidential Range make Bretton Woods a picturesque experience. For kids age 4-12, Bretton Woods offers all-day and half-day programs at its Hobbit Ski and Snowboard School. The resort also has a Babes in the Woods Nursery program where parents can hit the slopes while staff entertains kids from ages 2 months to 5 years. On Fridays and Saturdays, Bretton Woods opens a few trails for night skiing.
Many surrounding lodging facilities offer affordable midweek ski and stay packages that are good for all seven downhill ski resorts in the Mount Washington Valley. Travelers can settle in to comfortable New England style accommodations, ranging from the historical, elegant Mount Washington Hotel (603/278-1000) to the Lodge at Bretton Woods (800/314-1752), which boasts a fun, family-oriented atmosphere. On holidays and weekends, enjoy a free marshmallow roast while waiting for the shuttle. All four of Bretton Woods’ resorts have access to 100 kms of Nordic ski trails, sleigh rides, a spa and sports club, snow shoeing, ice skating, dog sledding, and much more. The resort offers Kids’ Camp at the Hobbit Ski Program for children 4 to 12, which includes either a half or full day, lunch, and rentals.
And for a once-in-a-lifetime experience, ride the historic Mount Washington Cog Railway to the summit and enjoy breathtaking views, although it closes for the season around November 28.
Great Snow & Weather Conditions
The town of Lincoln is centrally located between four of the state’s best ski areas, including Loon Mountain, which is a personal favorite. Loon has 55 trails and 12 lifts, including a gondola. There are plenty of ways to get down the well-groomed slopes at Loon, from snow shoeing to tubing, with ice skates available for rental as well. With 97% snowmaking coverage and wind-protected basin areas, skiers will find comfortable conditions. The mountain offers various options for children, such as the P.K. Boo Camp for 3-year-olds, which includes daycare and up to two hours of lessons for beginners. Kinderbear Camp is geared towards 4 to 6-year-olds, and includes a full-day lift ticket, lessons, and lunch, as well as snack and hot chocolate breaks throughout the day. Snowboarders can enjoy many options at Loon, with a terrain park and superpipe. Saturday nights are exciting for everyone, as children can take part in Kid’s Night Out, which incorporates dinner and various indoor and outdoor adventures, like tubing, rock climbing, and ice-skating.
Near Loon, the Indian Head Resort (800/343-8000) strives to provide a kid-friendly experience, with regular shows and activities for children, as well as a game room, indoor and outdoor heated pools, and Nordic ski trails. The Indian Head offers affordable ski and stay packages, and was voted best family-friendly resort by New Hampshire Magazine in 2009. The slopeside Mountain Club (800/229-7829) on Loon offers spacious suites and family studio rooms. In addition to the on-site restaurants and spa facilities, all living accommodations provide scenic views of the White Mountain Range and the Pemigawasset River. The Alpine Village Resort (800/746-5650) which rents a variety of condos and townhouses, is located in the quaint New England town of North Woodstock, among a mix of shops and charming restaurants.
For visitors more interested in indoor activities, there are various outlet stores in Lincoln, including one of my favorites for ski and winter gear, Lahout’s Country Clothing and Ski Shop (603/444-5838). And only a short drive away is the outlet capital of New Hampshire, North Conway. Here you’ll find more than 50 outlet stores, including Eddie Bauer and Banana Republic. Great deals and no taxes are perfect excuses to do a little shopping, maybe even get holiday shopping done early.
Best for a Wide Range of Skiing/Riding Abilities
Cannon Mountain, located in Franconia Notch State Park, is just minutes away from the town of Lincoln. One of the state’s oldest ski areas, the mountain is home to the New England Ski Museum (603/823-7177), a perfect way to warm up between runs down the slope. About half of Cannon’s 55 trails are now intermediate, though it’s constantly expanding its terrain. Traditionally known for its excellent expert skiing opportunities and large backcountry skiing area, Cannon has developed a superb children’s program at the Brookside Learning Center. Half or full-day ski and snowboard programs for ages 3-years and up include the options of rental equipment and lunch. This is a great place for families looking for challenging trails along with gentler conditions for kids. Cannon also has a family skiing area with 13 trails completely separated from the main mountain, so you won’t have to worry about speed devils crashing into your kids.
Although I’ve broken a few bones on the slopes at Cannon, I still feel a rush of exhilaration with each ride up the aerial tramway. Don’t miss its gorgeous views of Echo Lake and Franconia Ridge on a clear day. Be sure to bundle up—Cannon’s northeast exposure means chillier temperatures. As noted above, when it comes to lodging, visitors have many choices of resort accommodations in the town of Lincoln, just minutes away.
Best Off-slope Atmosphere
I’ve spent many weekends at Waterville Valley, camping and hiking in the summer and enjoying the slopes and Town Square in the colder months. With 52 trails and 12 lifts, Waterville prides itself as a great place for “family togetherness.” I’ve always found superb coverage and soft conditions at Waterville, and with childcare from ages 6-months to 4-years and Kids Kamps for ages 3 to 12 years, children are apt to have fun as well as a great skiing or snowboarding experience. One of my favorite aspects of Waterville Valley is the charming Town Square, which has a variety of restaurants and shops, as well as an indoor ice skating pavilion, sleigh rides, a snow shoeing and Nordic ski center, and a sports center with indoor tennis courts and a swimming pool.
The Town Square Condominiums (888/462-9887) are conveniently located in the heart of the Town Square, and offer spacious accommodations, with up to three- bedroom, multi-level units that can sleep eight people. Surrounding the Town Square are several comfortable inns and resorts, all offering direct shuttle service to the mountain.
The Golden Eagle Lodge (888/703-2453) is a personal favorite, with an elegant yet cozy atrium, complete with a grand stone fireplace and an old New England atmosphere. The Golden Eagle has an indoor pool with two Jacuzzis, fully equipped condominium suites, and is just a few steps away from the Town Square.
The Snowy Owl Inn & Resort (800/766-9969) has all the comforts of an old country inn and more. With an octagonal indoor pool, two Jacuzzis, saunas, and a newly equipped fitness room, visitors can engage in an active vacation or simply relax in the peacefulness of the mountains.
These four winter destinations are enough to keep me occupied, but those looking for more variety need not travel too far. Other ski destinations in the White Mountains include Attitash and Wildcat Mountain. Look to southern New Hampshire for mountains that are even more accessible from Boston, like Gunstock or Ragged Mountain in the Granite State’s Lakes Region. For something new, Gunstock guests can sign up for Sick Trick Clinics and Camps in which you can ride the terrain park with pros to learn their tricks. Go for a weekend or full week, or take advantage of midweek deals.
I always look forward to my escapes to New Hampshire, a moment of fun and tranquility away from the bustle of New York City. Parts of New Hampshire have seen eight-and-a-half-feet of snow in February alone—we can only hope that this year will be that snowy! For more information, visit www.skiNH.com or call 800/88-SKI-NH.
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