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Mount Washington Valley - four ski areas for fun!

Attitash l Bretton Woods l Balsams l Cannon l Cranmore l Crotched l Gunstock l Loon l Ragged l Waterville Valley l Wildcat

Mighty Mount Washington looms large, white and inviting throughout much of New England. Take this scenery as a personalized plea to go ski nearby North Conway. Once you are in the Mount Washington Valley, you have four ski resorts to carve all within a snowball’s toss.

Cranmore is located in the heart of North Conway, very convenient. Cranmore is an historic hillside dating back to 1938, when Hannes Schneider introduced ski instruction from Austria and the unique “ski mobile” debuted – individual cars carried seated skiers uphill on a cable (an original car is on display).

CranmoreI found Cranmore to be a cruisers’ mountain, especially popular with racers for its consistent pitch and 4 ½ minute lift laps on the 1,200’ vertical SkiMobile Quad. You can arc GS turns on Competition and North Slope. Or, if you prefer more woodsy winding trails, swerve down Kandahar and SkiMeister. The Darkside Terrain Park is well-dubbed, and dotted with skull and cross bones. Cranmore is a real deal Saturdays from 2-9pm, lift tickets are $25 as part of their Cranapalooza party with live entertainment.

Black Mountain in Jackson (not to be confused with Black Mountain  in Rumford Maine) is an absolute gem. Black Ski Area is the oldest in New Hampshire, and home to the first overhead cable lift in the country, 1935, which offered skiers shovel handles from Sears Roebuck to hold onto for their uphill pull.

Black remains refreshingly retro, no terrain parks or high speed lifts here, just soft natural snow on 1,100’ vertical runs with a rare sunny southern exposure. The summit scenery of Mount Washington is stunning, and the 1.5 mile long Black Beauty (my favorite) is a serene saunter through snow covered trees with not another soul in sight, akin to Maine’s Saddleback.

Black MountainBlack Mountain is a modern day reminder that a deliberate double chair to the top means no “skier density” on your descent. I loved Black. Black brings back classic trail skiing, happy humble faces; there are even horses in a pasture next to the little but lively base lodge. For après ski, stop by the Shovel Handle Pub next door to see the authentic lift handles, and enjoy entertainment in this historic post and beam barn.

Attitash is the largest of the North Conway quad of ski areas and certainly the most modern, with powerful snowmaking and two high speed lifts servicing two interconnected peaks Attitash and Bear Peak. With 77 trails from groomers to glades, an a few fun terrain parks, Attitash is a good pick for families looking for lots of on hill options. Attitash, originally dubbed “Red Carpet ski area” in 1965, is host to events galore and some great trails like Ptarmigan’s and Tightline.

Wildcat is the second highest ski area in the State (Cannon wins Wildcatby 18’) with a 4,062’ summit reached by a speedy quad in six minutes. Wildcat has extraordinary views of Mount Washington from every trail, whether you take Polecat’s 2.75- mile prowl (NH’s longest beginner trail) or you go wild on LiftLion - which delivers the most direct route down the 2,112’ vertical. Because of Wildcat’s higher elevation, there is often more snow, and a later season, than neighboring ski areas. Wildcat's first race trail was cut on these slopes summer of 1933 by the civilian conservation corps.

With four worthy ski areas within 15 minutes of each other, you should stay overnight and ski a few. The Valley has too many lodging options to list from candlelit inns to condos, and so many cozy pubs with après ski ambiance like Red Parka Pub and Wildcat Tavern you will be glad you aren’t driving home. In fact, now is a perfect time to plan a vertical Valentine’s getaway to North Conway.

My personal pick is the winter postcard town of Jackson. From the moment you cross the covered red “honeymoon” bridge into this snow globe scene, you are under cupid’s spell. Shimmery white lights adorn trees and cross country skiers glide over snow covered fields.

The Wentworth Inn is the grandest in town, very elegant at over a century and half old (1869). Wentworth’s rooms range from romantic to downright regal with your own fireplace and Jacuzzi tub. A midweek ski package including full breakfast and a ski ticket starts at $106 per person, per night. For cross-country skiers, 158km of trails emanate from the Jackson Touring Center – the largest Nordic trail system in the East.

Shoot over to the nearby Mount Washington Valley for a change of ski pace, interesting history and great après ski places. I didn’t even get to the shopping, but the White Mountains are especially snowy this season, so the factory outlets will have to wait.

Wildcat New Hampshire

MaineVermont| New Hampshire |Canada | Rockies | Sun n'Sea Travel

All Stories by Heather Burke
All Photography by Greg Burke.

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