A Day In the Life in North Conway

24 Hours in One of the Nation’s Top Ski Towns

A national audience now knows what New Hampshire residents have known for generations — North Conway is one of the country’s best year-round small towns for outdoor adventure.

North Conway made USA Today’s 10 Best Reader’s Choice Travel Awards as one of the Best Small Towns for Year-Round Adventure this past spring, tipping-off a nation who may not have known about the destination’s top-notch reputation.

Whether it’s the seven alpine resorts and six Nordic and snowshoe centers within 30 minutes of the town center, the tubing areas, ice skating arenas, 200 miles of snowmobiling trails, sleigh riding opportunities or ice climbing sites, North Conway is a quintessential American small town — particularly when the snow is flying.

“Set amid the sprawling White Mountain National Forest, North Conway offers visitors access to Mount Washington (the tallest peak in the northeast) and the accompanying four seasons recreation,” the experts described in the readers poll. “During the snowy months, the area boasts some of the region’s best skiing and snowmobiling, while summer is excellent for hiking, golfing, fishing and camping. Fall leaf peeping is some of the best in the country.”

Billing itself as “the birthplace of American skiing,” and ranked among the world’s 25 best ski towns by National Geographic in 2012, this village has become a hub of the Mount Washington Valley.

A visit to North Conway can bring with it opportunities for skiing, hiking, climbing, dining or snow shoeing, among a diverse roster of outdoor activities. Here’s a snapshot of a day in one of the Granite State’s best-loved ski towns.

3 a.m. The sun won’t break over the Whites for a few hours, but Mark Ross-Parent is starting his work day at the Old Village Bakery.

“We’re early birds, for sure,” Ross-Parent says of his early mornings at the bakery, which has the reputation of whipping
up ‘the best croissants west of Paris.’ “We’ve been here for 16 years and we have a really good following.”

By the time the doors open, four hours later, the Old Village Bakery is stocked with fresh breads, pastries, muffins and cinnamon buns.

5 a.m. Becca Deschenes rolls out of bed and makes the first call of the day to the mountain manager at the Cranmore Mountain Resort.

“I’ll see where we made snow, ask if they’re planning to make snow during the day and where, what trails are groomed and which ones are natural and then I’ll dispatch that report,” Deschenes says.

Deschenes is the marketing director at Cranmore, but her lineage there stretches back to her youth. 

“My dad worked at Cranmore, so my sister and I grew up running around the garage here,” she says. “It’s like a second home to us.”

7  a.m. The ski patrol at Cranmore sweeps the mountain one final time to make sure everything is prepped for the day. The last two Snow Cats are pulled off the mountain, trails are opened, others roped off and the area is made ready for its close-up just an hour
before first tracks.

11:30 a.m. The second carriage ride of the day departs Farm by the River — two miles from downtown North Conway on West Side Road. A private Victorian carriage and horse-drawn sleigh glide along through meadows and mixed maple and evergreen forests along the Saco River, bringing guests past panoramic views of Mount Cranmore, Kearsarge and nine miles of the Moat Mountain Range and by Cathedral and White Horse Ledges.

Noon  The doors have been open for 30 minutes at the Moat Mountain Smokehouse and Brewing Co., a 174 seat brewpub and restaurant right in North Conway, and tables are already filling up. Just inside the door, a group of snowboarders heading up from Massachusetts for the day are fueling up with an overflowing plate of Long Horn Nachos and a round of Moat Mountain-brewed beers. Appropriately, the group is most interested in the Cathedral Ledge Lager — a Vienna-style lager on draft, and the Gate Crusher, named for North Conway native and local ski hero Leanne Smith, a two-time Olympian in women’s alpine skiing.

2 p.m. Instructors at Bear Notch Ski Touring, in nearby Bartlett, direct a group of beginners — and their four-legged companions — to the upper fields trail for a mid-afternoon cross-country skiing start. It’s the easiest and best method for warming up (and also close to the warming hut where weary skiers can get some soup and bread) it’s a great way to get to the lower fields, which bring skiers past the Saco River Loops. The trails on the north side of Route 302 are scenic,
simple and excellent for first-timers. As for bringing along man’s best friend: well-behaved dogs are welcome on Bear Notch’s entire network of trails.

4 p.m. The lights lining the ice skating rink in Schouler Park blink to life, illuminating a small group of visitors as they move in and out of the warming hut facing the seasonal arena. Located right on the White Mountain Highway in downtown North Conway Village just in front of the train station, skaters can completely immerse themselves in the quintessential small town winter atmosphere.

5 p.m. Guests begin to file into the Red Parka Steakhouse & Pub, in nearby Glen, for some Sunday evening après ski — as generations have before them. The warmth of the pub offers weary, chilled skiers and boarders a welcome respite. Artifacts recalling seasons gone-by cover the walls and ceilings of this area institution, which first opened its doors in 1972. Servers whisk by with entrees that include the Chicken Sink Sandwich (cheese, sautéed mushrooms, onions, bacon, lettuce, tomato, barbecue sauce and guacamole) and the Kitchen Sink Burger (same).
Pro tip: grab some extra napkins.

9 p.m. Fireworks launch over the King Pine Ski Area precisely at 9 p.m., leaving brilliant sparkling trails tracing through the sky. It’s just one part of Cynthia’s Challenge — a 24-hour ski-a-thon to help raise money for families facing special medical needs. Aly Moore will spend much of the next 24-hours ensuring the annual event runs smoothly. She’ll coordinate volunteers, oversee the event’s timeline and if things go smoothly, take a run or two down the mountain herself.

“The lift operators and ski patrol volunteer their time for the overnight shifts,” Moore says. “Participants are encouraged to ski the whole time but they can also grab their sleeping bag for a nap in the base lodge. We create a party-like atmosphere with a DJ, games and events through the night so they
can come and go as they want.”

With the fireworks lighting up the sky above her, Moore touches off the bonfire that will help warm the skiers and riders ending their runs. At last season’s event, more than 300 skiers and snowboarders took part, raising more than $65,000.
This year’s event will be held on March 15-19.

8:50 p.m.  The grooming team at Crotched Mountain is back on the slopes — prepping trails for Midnight Madness. A number of resorts have night skiing, but Crotched takes it to another level, opening trails to insomniacs and enthusiasts from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. A live band keeps everyone moving as it grows later, and a slopeside bonfire warms those just finishing their nighttime runs.

Midnight  From the southern part of the state to the northernmost reaches of the White Mountains, New Hampshire’s ski resorts grow quiet — though not entirely so. Snowmaking teams head back up the mountain to fire up their equipment: monitoring, maintaining, grooming and making preparations — all of it designed to welcome skiers and boarders who will arrive in a few short hours looking to lay down first tracks.

Categories: NH Ski Magazine

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