Final Days of Winter Fun in Pinkham Notch
Ideas for fun in the final days of winter
Cross-country skiing for the family at Great Glen Outdoor Center, Pinkham Notch
Photo by Stillman Rogers
Our late arrival at the Joe Dodge Lodge made us grateful that dinner is served buffet-style until 8 on Friday nights, instead of the usual family-style at 6. We helped ourselves to fresh-baked bread, steaming chowder, green salad and a bit of each of the two entrées: a meaty stew loaded with root vegetables and a lasagna-type dish of layered vegetables. Sitting at a long wooden table, we shared weekend plans with others, mostly members of the Appalachian Mountain Club, which operates the lodge.
We didn’t need our alarm clocks, as skiers in the hallway, eager to make first tracks, wakened us even though we were in one of the private rooms instead of a bunkroom. The atmosphere at the Joe Dodge Lodge is a bit like a high-class hostel, with shared baths and a general air of camaraderie throughout, so we dressed quickly and hurried down to breakfast choices of hot muffins, granola, oatmeal, cooked-to-order eggs, homefries, bacon and sausage.
The Mt. Washington SnowCoach at the half-way point, March Great Glen Trails Outdoor Center
photo by stillman rogers
Washington Auto Road revealed a winter world that changed as we climbed higher and higher. This all-wheel-drive vehicle features a 4-track system to grip the sometimes-precipitous track when it is deeply covered in windblown snow and ice. With views in all directions through its large windows, we climbed through a landscape where trees grew shorter and shorter, until we reached the point where we could easily see right over their rime-covered tips. Here, at the mountain’s halfway point, we climbed out into a frozen world where everything around us was white. We traced the tracks of small animals in the snow, and learned how wildlife survived the winter on the cones of these mountain conifers. Views into Pinkham Notch and across the mountains were spectacular.
As we ate bowls of steaming chili, custom-built sandwiches and fresh-baked cookies at the Glen View Café and admired the view of Mt. Washington through its huge wall of windows, we considered our afternoon options. These included cross-country skiing or snowshoeing here at Great Glen Trails, but we decided to leave that for Sunday morning.
Wildcat Mountain Ski Area in Pinkham Notch
photo by stillman rogers
Instead, we decided on an afternoon ticket to challenge our downhill skiing skills at Wildcat Mountain. Although the steepest trail in the White Mountains is at Wildcat’s sister mountain, Attitash, Wildcat is known for its overall challenging terrain. Six minutes from boarding the Wildcat Express Quad, we found ourselves standing at the 4,062-foot summit looking across eye-to-eye with the frozen top of Mt. Washington. The sight was so breathtaking that we’d have enjoyed it longer had the wind not been blowing so hard. The workout on the way down warmed us fast, though.
After our day outside in the cold, we were happy to relax by the fireside in the convivial atmosphere of the lodge’s common room, over glasses of BYO wine. Several fellow guests were planning to join a naturalist from the AMC on a moonlight snowshoe hike at Great Glen Trails that evening, taking advantage of the free equipment at the lodge’s Demo Center. But we had other plans.
Hunter's Cassoulet, Libby's Bistro, Gorham
photo by stillman rogers
Dinner at Libby’s Bistro
It would take a lot to lure us away from Libby’s Bistro, which alone would have been enough to bring us to this corner of the state. We were not surprised to see entirely new menu choices since our last visit, but the memories of Liz Jackson’s braised beef still lingered, so I zeroed in on the nearest thing, Brasato Misto: beef short rib, pork shoulder and chicken slow-cooked and served in a Dijon-thyme sauce with rosemary-scented baby carrots. For a starter I ordered a warming Northern Forest wild mushroom and heirloom squash soup. The notion of forest mushrooms prompted Tim to order North Woods Risotto — redolent of locally foraged lobster chanterelles, local corn and leeks — preceded by Very French Mussels, coaxed to open their shells in a cream-laced bath of wine and herbs.
After breakfast we joined an AMC guide for the Ski with a Naturalist tour offered every Sunday morning at Great Glen Trails, free for Joe Dodge Lodge guests. The guide helped us identify animal tracks as we skied beneath Mt. Washington and we learned that several native animals are active in the winter; we saw tracks of moose and fox, as well as winter birds.
We returned to the lodge for one more short hike, this time on snowshoes, up a gentle trail to Crystal Cascade. Its frozen face glistened in the dappled sun, just as beautiful a sight as it is in liquid form in the summer. All that exercise made a stop in Jackson at The Shannon Door Pub essential, and we refueled for the ride home on a delicious “Loaded” pizza, covered in onion, pepper, mushrooms, sausage and pepperoni.