Franconia Notch in the Winter
We’ve enjoyed the many attractions of Franconia Notch in the summer and fall, but never stopped to really explore it in the winter — This month we do
Cannon Mountain. Photo by Stillman Rogers.
By the time we reached North Woodstock, we were hungry, so we stopped for dinner at the Woodstock Inn Station & Brewery. Itself a piece of White Mountain ski history, the restaurant was a fitting start for a winter sports weekend. We learned from the menu that the dining room was once the waiting room of Woodstock’s railway station, where ski trains dropped skiers in the 1930s and ’40s. Here they piled onto lumber trucks that took them to their lodgings. We still had a few miles to go, so we shared a sampler of five craft beers (with the driver getting the short end of the deal) and enjoyed dinners of St. Louis-style smoked ribs in a sauce made from the brewery’s Pig’s Ear brown ale, and a hefty serving of Better’n Mom’s meatloaf, made with blend of veal and pork.
We had stayed at The Horse & Hound Inn in the summer, but found it even warmer and cozier surrounded by snow, a reflection of its earlier days as a favorite ski lodge for skiers at Cannon Mountain and Mittersill. Our room was both smart and traditional, with custom-made (in New Hampshire, we learned from our host) maple furniture and beautifully restored original porcelain fixtures. Our queen-sized bed was covered in a checked coverlet of crimson and forest green, and the large window overlooked a snow-covered back lawn. Hearty vegetable omelets, house-baked breads and the inn’s own granola with fresh-cut fruit prepared us for an active day playing in the snow.
Although we are skiers, today we parked at the base of the Aerial Tramway to buckle on our showshoes and hike into the heart of Franconia Notch. We couldn’t see or hear the traffic that whizzed along the parallel route as we snowshoed through the woods on the lower slopes of Cannon Mountain on the Franconia Notch Bicycle Path. Below Profile Lake we crossed the ice-edged Pemigewasset River, which we encountered again just before Lafayette Campground. We turned around there and enjoyed a new set of views as we hiked back north.
Sunny Day Diner. Photo by Stillman Rogers.
Our plans for the afternoon would take us to the southern end of the notch, so lunch nearby at Sunny Day Diner (603-745-4833) right on Rte. 3 in Lincoln seemed a good idea. And it was. We’d had breakfast last summer at this cheery 1950s diner, which we were astonished to learn had once been the familiar Stoney’s Diner in Dover, where we grew up. This little bit of nostalgia made our hot meatball sandwich with melted mozzarella and Sunny Day’s signature Reuben with beer-baked sauerkraut even tastier.
We visit The Flume almost every summer or fall, but neither of us had seen it in the winter. The hike to it on snowshoes took a bit more energy than this morning’s hike, although the uphill climb is not steep. It was worth every bit. The narrow cleft with vertical walls was almost filled with cascades of ice, like giant icicles against the southern face. The wooden walkways had been removed to protect them, so the gorge looked much as it did when it was first discovered — except that back then it had a giant boulder suspended at the top. A few ice climbers were practicing on its slippery side, their bright parkas adding colorful highlights.
Dinner at The Horse & Hound
The dining room was warm and inviting, with logs burning in the fireplace and soft ‘40s music recalling its previous life as a ski lodge. We began with their own flatbread topped with garlicky mushrooms and arugula with Parmesan cream sauce, and sautéed shrimp highlighted with garlic and rosemary. For entrées, we chose beer-brined pork chops grilled and topped with herb butter, and a chicken schnitzel, served like the classic schnitzel Holstein, topped by a sunny-side-up egg and crisp fried sage leaves.
We couldn’t be this close to Cannon Mountain in March and not ski at least one day, so we headed to the slopes early while the morning sun bathed its east-facing slopes. Well aware that Cannon’s intermediate trails at the top of the mountain — which has the highest vertical drop in the state at 2,330 feet — are at the more challenging end of intermediate, I stuck to the lower mountain for the morning.
After a late lunch in the base lodge, where they serve a mean chili, I decided it was time to see the afternoon sun shining on the eastern mountaintops, a view I could only get from the top. So I did the only sensible thing — ditched my skis and rode the Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway to the top. While Tim skied to the base, I munched a hot pretzel in the summit lodge and rode back down. Before heading back home, we browsed through the free New Hampshire Ski Museum at the base of the tramway.