Where New England Goes Skiing in NH
Get the inside track on why and where the locals go
The summit of Gunstock Mountain in Gilford, NH. Photo by Ann McLaughlin.
By the time the first chill is in the air, they’re gone.
They are our families, friends and neighbors who keep their edges sharp and their inner compasses trained north. They are the skiing and snowboarding sherpas who know every bump, trail and lift operator from the southernmost part of the state to the Canadian border – and these are precisely the people you want to listen to.
Finding the best winter resort destination – whether it’s to rip up some perfect corduroy, test your freestyle skills on some rails or just cruise the glades and shed the workweek stress – can be subjective. That’s why it’s best to rely on those who live for this time of year.
The most reliable guides are quite often the people who frequent the Granite State’s ski resorts the most. They know where the steepest drops, the most perfect powder and the shortest lift lines are, so that’s who we turned to. Here, we talk to seven families who spill their secrets on some of New Hampshire’s best skiing destinations.
The only caveat: you’ll have to catch these enthusiasts early in the season, because once the frost is on the pumpkin, they’ll be gone slopeside.
Favorite ski destination: Bretton Woods
The Roberts family of Windham, New Hampshire: Mike, Jennifer, Andrew and Wil
This active family has found its winter home in the shadow of Mount Washington.
Almost every weekend from the first frost until late spring, Mike and Jennifer pile sons Andrew, 12, and Wil, 10, into the car each weekend and point it at this longtime Granite State favorite. Mike will often lead his older son through some of the resort’s 35 glades before taking advantage of one of four high-speed quads that get the group to the top without much of a wait.
“If you get up into your 40s, like me, and you like to ski but your legs hurt and your knees ache, Bretton Woods is a great place because of the variety of terrain,” Mike says. “It’s a lot of fun, but you don’t have to be in fear of rolling down the mountain.”
Andrew will often lead his dad down the bumps on Snake before heading for the back country trails off of the Black Forest Glade – a nice introduction – before testing himself on Roz’s, which twists through some trees before heading down steeper terrain.
The day will quite often lead to freestyle classes and rails at the Bretton Woods Ski and Snowboard School. (“That’s what I do in my world,” Andrew says.) But the family remains loyal to this favorite for more meaningful reasons. Wil, who has autism, has learned to flourish at New England Disabled Sports – a program that provides adaptive sport instruction to people with physical and cognitive challenges.
The individualized, thoughtful approach has helped create a safe environment the Roberts can enjoy together.
“Wil will only ski at Bretton Woods,” Jennifer says. “That’s why it’s our family’s mountain.”
Favorite ski destination: Loon Mountain
The Balukas family, of Deerfield, New Hampshire: Ryan and Katy
Diversity of terrain and easy access has kept this young couple at Loon since rediscovering the sport six years ago.
Ryan, a cyclist and road racer off-season, will be the first to admit he occasionally likes to test himself – which is why Loon fits his personality perfectly. He cites “a little bit of everything” as the lure that keeps him returning: cruisers, steeps and a few trails that offer more than a little challenge.
The two that fit that description best – Ripsaw, which features a fairly steep headwall allowing him to build up speed near the bottom, and Flume.
“Flume is sweet because you go under the chairlift,” he says. “You can open it up and get people yelling and cheeringyou on.”
The pair traditionally start their day at Camp III – a great breakfast spot nestled at the base of the North Peak Express Squad. Named after the third of eight logging camps on Loon, it sets these two up for a full day on the mountain.
There are other elements that come into play, including accessibility. Loon sits just three miles off of I-93, making it an easy day trip for the couple. When the day is done and it’s time to relax, the pair can often be found in the Bunyon Room listening to some live music and soaking up the friendly vibe.
Favorite ski destination: Jackson XC
The Kanes of Manchester, New Hampshire: Barry, Chris, Maddie and Emma
A wide range of family activities helps this family recharge in the fields and pines on the edge of the White Mountain National Forest.
Flying down the hill at top speed is all well and good for many skiers and boarders, but this family of four prefers the Zen of gliding along through the gentle rises and slopes of Jackson. 154 kilometers of cross country trails wind throughout 60 square miles with views of Mount Washington and the Presidential Range, providing these Manchester residents with a placid weekend getaway that’s become a family tradition.
The Kanes take advantage of the Covered Bridge Trail, a scenic trek great for beginners and perfect for warming up, before heading out on the 3.6-mile South Hall Trail, or testing themselves along the Woodland Trail.
“You can learn to cross country ski there,” Chris Kane says. “They have a great support system. The first few times we went, we took lessons – which is good because you can take easy trails until you improve and take on some of the more difficult trails.”
While Chris and daughters Maddie, 15 and Emma, 14, speed along the trails, Barry often trades in his cross-country skis for a pair of snowshoes. Eighteen trails give this Manchester dad a chance to strike out on his own path before meeting up at one of the strategically-placed rest stops.
“The girls and I will go off one way and Barry will look at the map and go a different way, but we always like to meet up at the hot chocolate hut along the way,” Chris says. “We like to go in and warm up and get some cocoa or snacks, and it gives us a strategic spot to meet up if we get separated.”
Favorite ski destination: Wildcat Mountain
Brian Schlender of Durham, New Hampshire
The affordability and classic feel of Wildcat keep this active couple heading back to Pinkham Notch all winter long.
In a previous life, Brian Schlender was a self-described ski bum – he lived, worked and taught skiing in Winter Park, Colorado. So it’s with an appreciation for classic resorts that he rates potential destinations, and it’s why he and his wife, Stacey, repeatedly find themselves at Wildcat Mountain.
Now an emergency room nurse in Portsmouth, Schlender enjoys taking advantage of his quirky schedule, and as a result, the affordable weekday skiing at Wildcat.
“Wildcat gets a lot of snow,” Schlender says. “And I’m aggressive – I definitely like the steep stuff, which Wildcat does have, but it offers some great terrain for my wife and the more challenging trails, as well.”
The couple appreciates the variety of terrain, which ranges from challenging steeps to some great scenic glades. Stacey prefers the long, winding Polecats – at 2.75 miles, the longest of its kind in New Hampshire – before heading into the glades and the more challenging trails, while Brian is drawn to Hainesville Pass, keep heading into Lift Lion, which starts at the 4,062-foot summit and runs just under the main quad.
“Wildcat has an old-school feel but with big mountain skiing and terrain,” Stacey Schlender says.
Favorite ski destination: Crotched Mountain
The Kraus family of Amherst, New Hampshire: Sonja, Dave, Isabella and Jack
The Kraus family skis all over New Hampshire, but always returns to this small mountain in Hillsborough County. Why? Speed.
There are a number of mountains within reach of the Kraus’s Amherst home that offer some outstanding skiing. Yet when it’s time to load up the car and head out for a day on the slopes, they always seem to find their way to Crotched Mountain.
“We’ve got our favorites up in the Whites,” Sonja Kraus says. “We like Wildcat because it’s old-school skiing and Cranmore, but literally every single weekend from the first week in December to April we’re at Crotched.”
Both Kraus kids – Isabella, 13, and Jack, 9, are in the racing program there, which tests their skills while giving them a chance to open it up.
“I like Satellite Summit to Meteor, but the kids like Pluto’s Plunge,” she says. “It’s a black diamond that goes straight down the middle of the mountain and it’s got a good pitch so the kids really enjoy it.”
Dave, meanwhile, tests himself against the sustained pitch of Jupiter’s Storm, which starts at the 2,066-foot summit.
Sonja cites low crowds, the high speed chair, reasonable prices, and the fact that it’s only 30 minutes from their home as reasons this family loves Crotched.
“That combination seals the deal for us,” she says. “And it’s definitely a very kid-friendly mountain that’s easy to navigate. We feel very comfortable bringing the kids there, and they have plenty to do.”
Favorite ski destination: Gunstock Mountain Resort
Ann McLaughlin and Rob Harrington of Manchester, New Hampshire
Location, the opportunity to help others and the unmatched views lure this couple to Gunstock every weekend.
A hockey player for most of his life, Rob Harrington took to skiing instantly when he first snapped into his bindings 15 years ago. The motions felt familiar and translated well to his new chosen sport.
The next step: Find a resort to call his own. That’s where Ann McLaughlin came in. A highly-skilled skier (“She skis better backwards than I walk forwards – by far the best skier I see on the mountain,” Rob says.), she explored the state with him until they landed at Gunstock.
“It’s a good-sized mountain with great views of Lake Winnipesaukee and Mount Washington and a great family atmosphere,” Rob says. “We’ve been here ever since.”
The 50-year-old enjoys pushing himself on Upper Recoil, a steep but wide black diamond that transitions into the woods of Lower Recoil; the Tiger Steeps; and then dialing it back a bit on Flintlock for those breathtaking views.
“The Tiger Steeps has some pretty good vertical drops, and Flintlock just has some nice big, winding curves and great views. It’s a really pretty mountain.”
Rob also teaches at the mountain’s adaptive skiing program, Lakes Region Disabled Sports.
“I love it,” he says. “It’s much more rewarding than I could’ve imagined. The caretakers are fantastic, the instructors are fantastic – we’re definitely doing it again this year.”
Favorite ski destination: Ragged Mountain
The Rivers family, of West Newbury, Massachusetts: Bryon, Erica, Lauren, Jake and Kelly
This surfer-turned-snowboarder has discovered the perfect mountain for his family of five.
When Bryon Rivers first made the transition from surf to snow, he embraced the sport. As his family grew, however, so did the expense. That’s when he discovered Ragged Mountain.
“We moved back to New England from Florida and my wife decided that if we were going to be living through the winters, we should make the most of it,” Bryon says. “Ragged Mountain was one of the mountains on our list to try – we had never been there before – and we really liked it. Ever since then it’s been my go-to. In terms of getting the most bang for your buck, you get a lot out of it.”
The father of three cites the Mission: Affordable season pass program ($299 for the season with no blackout dates), the free lesson program, its accessibility to the southern part of the state and the six-person high speed lift as reasons he keeps returning to Ragged.
“Especially as a family with young kids, it’s nice that all the lifts filter down into the same area,” he says. “Even though it’s a resort that might be roughly the same size as a Gunstock, it’s really difficult to lose your child. Everybody comes down to one central location, which makes it easier to keep track of everybody.”
You’ll find Bryon boarding through the glades on Rags to Riches or cruising down the Flying Yankee – an intermediate trail that runs from the top to the bottom of the resort’s Spear Mountain. When he’s done for the day, however, you’ll catch him herding his family – wife, Erica, and kids Lauren, 13, Jake, 10, and Kelly, 6 – into Elmwood Lodge and the Birches Mountain Restaurant for an unexpected bonus.
“The food is really good,” he says. “It’s excellent – a cut above the food you’d expect to find at a small resort, without a doubt.”