For some people the words “snow” and “North Country” automatically lead to dreams of packed powder and ideal ski conditions. But the rest of us, the ones who would rather wear a hair shirt than a ski parka, have found our own ways to enjoy the cold months in New Hampshire’s stunning winter landscape.
We may not ski. But we do shop, eat, spa, enjoy theater and museums and even hike. We love a roaring fire and a great meal, but we also love the great outdoors, just not a great outdoors rushing by as we slide down a slippery mountain with boards strapped to our booted feet.
While our ski bunny buds are schussing and snowplowing we get at least some of our thrills from a healthy does of retail therapy.
For the winter bargain hunter, the outlet malls in North Conway are tantamount to perfect packed powder conditions. Who says you can’t enjoy fresh air and shop at the same time? Places like the Settlers’ Green Outlet Village have over 60 outlet stores but not confined to a crowded, overheated mall. This is an outside shopping Mecca. You get to look at the blue ridges of the Presidential Range between stops at The Gap Outlet and J. Jill. Grab a hot chocolate at Brandi’s and visit the a look at the huge mosaic snow man in the center of the complex.
For those who dislike malls of any type, there’s plenty of boutique shopping to be done in North Conway and the other charming towns in the region.
If you’re idea of a winter sport is reading a good novel with a hot cup of coffee in your hand, you can’t beat North Conway’s White Birch Books in a funky old Victorian house on 2568 Main Street for an independent book store with gratis hot drinks, lots of cozy corners and a great section of New Hampshire books for browsing.
For shopping with a social conscience check out the Women’s Rural Economic Network Gallery on 2013 Main Street in Bethlehem, where the fine crafts, jewelry pottery, textiles, baskets and more from over 200 local artists are displayed and sold. It’s feel-good shopping knowing you’re helping women all over the state make a living from their hand work.
If you like your recreational shopping tinged with a touch of history and funk head to Jackson Village a visit to Ravenwood Curio Shoppe in Jackson Village is worth a trip north in itself.
Ravenwood is funky all the way - pieced together out of found objects like some giant Joseph Cornell shadowbox by Larry Siebert who literally took years to complete the whimsical structure and it’s mesmerizing sculpture garden. While a kind of museum of funk in and of itself, Ravenwood is, after all a curio shop, and the gifts are offbeat and original.
Flossie’s General Store and Emporium beside the covered bridge in Jackson, is named for the woman who once lived in the building, the late school teacher Flossie Thurstorn Giles who according to legend, was named after her uncle’s horse when she was born in Conway at the turn of the 20th century. After she married , Flossie eventually moved to Jackson and served as town clerk and post mistress for over 25 years.
The shop named for her is all about country chic and sells penny candy, puzzles, cards, souvenirs and home décor. You can even buy a detailed wooden replica of the Jackson Covered Bridge.
And you need only hit the Main Street in Littleton for one-of-kind clothing boutiques, bookstores, music and cigar shops and a League of NH Craftsmen retail center. Littleton also has Jax Jr., a first-run movie theater on Main Street open year round - another favorite of the non-winter North Country visitor.
If old movie houses appeal to you, cozy up with popcorn at the Majestic Hometown Theatre in Conway Village. The interior is art deco and there’s even the original red velvet curtain dating back to the 1930s. This is an art movie house as befits its retro setting and there’s a café for a light meal before or after the flick right on site.
And if you like your entertainment live, North Country nightlife offers lots of live bands at area clubs and check out the Silver Center for the Arts at Plymouth State University. Upcoming performers include second generation jazz guitarist/vocalist John Pizzarelli, familiar to TV viewers as the voice of Foxwoods Casino (“The Wonder of it all”); the virtuoso pianists of the Claremont Trio and poet C. D. Wright.
If shopping is a non skier’s first love, eating has to be the second and there is no shortage of great casual and fine dining up north. Hey walking from store to store burns up calories and an athlete has to eat don’t they?
In the North Country good eating is often linked with good lodging. Such is the case of the 18-room Snowvillage Inn in North Conway with its view of the White Mountains and miles of snow shoe and cross country ski trails in the inns own pine forest. The restaurant at the inn - The Sleigh Mill Grille -has been featured on the Food Network and recommended by “Bon Appetit.”
Recent menus have included scrumptious sounding offerings like butternut squash and apple bisque, blackened red snapper and pumpkin ravioli. Now that’s winter eating.
At the the Palmer House in the Inn at Crystal Lake in Eaton, you can sip a martini and nibble some baked brie en croute at the vintage walnut bar that was originally situated in the Ritz-Carlton in Boston. When your table is ready sit down to some vegetable paella or maple ginger salmon.
You can curl up with a good book in front of a crackling fireplace at dozens of postcard-perfect lodgings. For the romantic think Valentine’s Day. The Christmas Farm Inn in Jackson, the Mount Washington Hotel in Bretton Woods, the Franconia Inn, Mountain View Grand in Whitefield and the Common Man Inn at Plymouth with its faux lodgey feeling. The prices are really good and they offer some unusual treatments.
All of these offer special winter and Valentine’s Day packages which include lodging, meals and some extra special spa treatments like salt glows and desert heat body wraps, and warm stone massages. Now that sounds like a fun winter sport.
The cozy Inn at Ellis River at the edge of Jackson Village was recently named one of the top 12 inns worldwide by beadandbreakfast.com. It has 20 rooms, most with fireplaces and many with hot tubs. There’s a heated outdoor pool and sauna overlooking its namesake river. The inn offers special winter packages including those for lovers, shoppers and one called Sleigh Bells and Candlelight which includes a two-night stay, gourmet breakfasts, afternoon noshes, a ride in an Austrian sleigh, a candlelight dinner at a local restaurant, plus roses, Champagne and chocolates in the room.
If you’re traveling with children for a swim and pretend it's summer at the Indian Head Resort in Lincoln, which has an outdoor pool that is open all year and plenty of family activities and evening entertainment. The dining room also has some old New England favorites on the menu like Indian Pudding and English cut roast prime rib.
Winter is also a great time to travel and cuddle up with your warm puppy. The Lazy Dog Bed and Breakfast in Chocorua not only takes dogs as guests in their 1845 farmhouse, they’re crazy about them.
“We have a lot of people who come up here in the winter who don’t ski,” said Pat Davis, who has worked behind the desk at the Wentworth Resort Hotel for the past 23 years. The Wentworth has been around since the grand hotel era - built in 1869 as a private residence, a wedding gift for Georgia Trickey and her husband Gen. Marshall Wentworth and legend has it - the inspiration for Wentworth By the Sea. The resort has recently gone through a major renovation and is known for its five-course candlelight dinners.
“Look around it’ just so beautiful. People come to the Wentworth, to Jackson, the North Country, just to relax where it’s quiet and beautiful.
“It’s nice if you ski to sit by the fireplace in you room or get in the hot tub, but it’s also nice if you just want to get away from it all.”
Once rested and well fed, kiss your skiing friends good bye and check out some museums and gallery.
White Mountain Photography and Photo Gallery is housed at the Snowflake Inn in Jackson. It features, among other stunning images, panoramic photos of the majestic Whites Mountains and other New Hampshire scenic photography
Formed in 1998, The Bethlehem Heritage Society has restored a former Bethlehem restaurant into a museum of Bethlehem artifacts and history. The museum has a changing exhibit of Bethlehem memorabilia which reflects the town’s historic role as a vacation destination for world travelers. At one time the village had over 30 hotels. The collection includes hotel china, silverware, glass, and menus. There are also historical items from Bethlehem's two Donald Ross-designed golf courses, the town's fire and police departments, Stonecrest Colony, The National Hay Fever Relief Association and Chase Tennis Camps. Winter and spring hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Thur-Sat or by appointment.
OK so you don’t ski, but that doesn’t mean you don’t like skiing history and the New England Ski Museum in Franconia Notch State Park, at the base of the Cannon Mountain Tram, is something you and your skier companion can go to together.
This is only one of four ski museums in the country and the only one in the east. Exhibits include vintage photographs and videos as well as equipment and clothing dating from the 19h century to the present.
This year the museum opened a satellite exhibit in the former Carroll Reed Ski Shop in the Shops at Norcross Place, Kearsarge Street and White Mountain Highway, in North Conway. The free exhibit spotlights the career of Hannes Schneider, the pioneering ski instructor who relocated to North Conway from Austria in the days before World War II.
And really just because you don’t ski, doesn’t mean there isn’t outdoor adventures for everyone from the slightly sedentary to the winter adventurer.
Tune into 95.3 FM or 1050 AM when you’re in the region and tune into Visitor Information Radio sponsored by the White Mountain Chamber of Commerce. It’s a constant source of information about everything from ice fishing to what to do if you see a bear and what’s the latest dinner special at a local restaurant.
You’re likely to hear about the Colebrook Winter Carnival which will take place on Valentine‘s Day this year. It’s a particularly family friendly event with snow tubing, dog sledding and Little Jack Frost and Snow Flake pageants for the wee ones. There will also be a cribbage tournament and bocce competition.
Any clear winter day is a great time to bundle up and take the Cannon Mountain aerial tramway. Once at the 4,180-foot summit take a breath of fresh, cold air and snap a panaromic photo of your own. On a clear day, you can see the mountains of four states and Canada. The summit has scenic walking paths, an observation deck and a cafeteria where you can grab a hot burger and coffee before heading back down.
While you’re at it, go mountain climbing without leaving your car by taking a 34-mile scenic cruise over the Kancamagus Highway through the White Mountain National Forest from Conway to Lincoln. One of the most scenic roads in the country , it's usually packed during the foliage season, but is much less traveled during the winter months where you might see a moose at dawn or dusk. There are plenty of scenic overlooks to park in and drink in the spectacular snow-covered granite crags and ice-crusted streams as the road climbs nearly 3,000 feet toward the summit of Mt. Kancamagus before dropping into the valley near the base of Loon Mountain.
For the more active non skier why not try gliding above the snow-covered tree line - a zipline canopy tour through Alpine Adventures of Lincoln and Bretton Woods.
How about getting in touch with the Sasha Cohen within and try some ice skating at Nestlenook Farm in Jackson Village where you can take a sleigh ride after a few triple axles.
At last, never underestimate the value of a basic winter walk.