Get Out There!
There are many paths to winter fun, some for beginners and some for pros. Here are great tips for those at either extreme, so now you’ve got no excuse.
The season of snow is upon us. Whether Mother Nature is feeling generous with the fluffy white stuff or if we need the assistance of science, technology and an arsenal of guns and hoses, it’s time for skiers and snowboarders take to the slopes and trails.
Corduroy carpets await. Ever-expanding terrain parks are filled with jumps, rails, boxes and more. Wind through the woods on skinny skis or snowshoes. Winter is no time to hibernate. A chilled Granite State is loaded with wonderful ways to embrace winter in the outdoors. Skiing and riding certainly get the headlines, but skating, ice climbing, winter camping and even bicycling are other invigorating options for the active crowd.
And for those set in their ways, well, two old favorites are offering something new for their 50th anniversaries.
Waterville Valley Resort’s Green Peak expansion means 10 new trails along the green-circle-to-black-diamond spectrum, all accessible by chairlift. Not really up to speed on your skiing lingo? Basically, the new peak offers terrain for newbies (green circles mark beginner-level trails), the casual skier (blue squares mark intermediate trails) and experts (black diamonds indicate that you better know what you’re doing).
General Manager Tim Smith explains that Green Peak is its own mountain, much different from the current peak on Mount Tecumseh. Experts, rejoice — steeps and bumps await you on those black diamonds.
In addition to the new peak, Waterville’s season-long 50th anniversary celebration includes an event for each decade the resort has been open, starting with the ’60s.
Loon Mountain marks their Golden Anniversary Weekend January 28-29 with activities such as the Briefcase Race, where participants ski in 1960s-era business suits. They’ve also restored one of the original orange gondola cabins.
This year also marks a race’s 50th anniversary. In 1967, Cannon Mountain hosted the first Alpine Skiing World Cup race in North America, won by Jean-Claude Killy. To commemorate that race, Cannon is holding a World Cup 50th Anniversary Party in conjunction with BodeFest (their annual event with New Hampshire Olympian Bode Miller) on March 25.
If Mother Nature delivers the deep stuff this winter, then there are no better places to play in than glades, those backwoods-feeling pockets of powder off the beaten path. The state’s big boys, such as Wildcat Mountain and Cannon Mountain, are known for glades, but there are plenty of stashes to be found elsewhere, from Mount Sunapee Resort’s Sunrise and Cataract glades to the Lostbo glades off the summit at Black Mountain in Jackson and beyond.
There are definitely treasures to be found at the venerable Bretton Woods, starting in the widely spaced birch trees found in both the Enchanted Bear and Black Forest glades. From there, venture to the steep and narrow type found in Rosebrook and Mount Stickney.
Try a Terrain Park
Haven’t hit the slopes in two decades or so? You might be surprised to learn that many mountains are now home to something like skate parks. The state’s terrain park scene started in the 1990s as snowboard-only bastions in memorable parks such as the Boneyard at Waterville Valley. Now, terrain parks are destinations unto themselves, a place where snowboarders and twin-tippers can showcase their high-flying talents on rails, jumps and boxes (similar to a rail, but wider).
The beauty of the terrain park boom is that many larger resorts serve up parks for all levels and sizes of air-seekers.
Some good advice? Start small before going big.
“We were one of the first resorts in New England to allow snowboarding in the 1980s, and started building our first terrain parks in the mid-1990s,” says Greg Kwasnik, Loon’s communications manager. “Things have really taken off since then. Today, we have an award-winning progression of six terrain parks for riders of all abilities.”
The parks are also home to a myriad of events that include various disciplines of freestyle like rail jams, big air and slopestyle. Check out Cannon’s Bern Freeride series, the Abenaki Parks contests at Attitash and the USASA stops at resorts such as Loon.
Lessons for Beginners
If you’re interested in learning to ski but are put off by the expense of the sport, some mountains offer deals targeted at beginners that keep costs down.
There’s no getting around it, price is a big issue for many — skiers and riders rack up the credit card points every season to hit the slopes and parks. But there’s a movement afoot to keep the introductory costs at a minimum. Take Ragged Mountain. As part of the Danbury spot’s Mission: Affordable plan, novices can learn to ski or snowboard for free all season thanks to the the three-lesson Bebe Wood’s Free Learn to Ski & Ride program presented by Rossignol. Named after one of Ragged’s first ski instructors, the program includes free rental equipment and appropriate lift tickets.
“Our goal is to bring the fun back to skiing so that anybody can get involved,” says Ragged’s marketing manager, Ben Hall. “You don’t ski, you don’t snowboard? No problem. We’ll take care of you.”
Don’t miss out. Participants must register in advance online.
With January being Learn to Ski & Snowboard Month, many New Hampshire ski areas are offering $39 discounted beginner group lessons with lift ticket and equipment ($19 at cross-country ski areas). Absolutely reserve a spot and ask about age restrictions. Visit skiandsnowboardmonth.org and skinh.com for a list of participating ski areas, more information and to sign up.
At Pats Peak in Henniker, newbies ages 6 and up can enroll in the Passport Program, a four-lesson beginner deal that culminates in a season pass for the rest of the season and free daily use of rental gear. Cranmore Mountain Resort in North Conway has a unique approach to teaching with its terrain-based learning. That’s where newbies are taught on a number of snowy features such as flats, mini-pipe, rollers and banked turns. The idea is to remove anxiety while having fun. Both Pats Peak and Cranmore also have beginner programs where, upon completion, you get a pair of new skis (limited space available).
But lessons aren’t just for beginners. Even if you’re the type who buys a season pass year in and year out, there’s always room to improve. That’s where clinics, camps and workshops come in.
“Some of the ways that skiers and riders can up their game at Pats Peak is to take an advanced lesson,” says Marketing Director Lori Rowell. “Our instructors are able to watch them ski and ride and then give them instruction on how to make it even better.”
Waterville Valley communications manager Tatiana Baier agrees. “When you work one-on-one with the right instructor, learning happens fast.”
Women and girls who prefer to leave the guys home for the day can attend several camps and programs aimed at helping them improve their skills.
The Women’s Droppin’ In Freestyle Camp (March 25-26) at Loon takes intermediate and advanced female skiers and riders ages 13 and older off groomed trails and into the parks for a two-day workshop led by Oakley pros. Women’s Performance Ski Camps (January 21-22 and March 2-3) cater to blue- and black-level female skiers ages 18 and up, using video analysis to help them advance to the next level.
Women’s Only Wednesday (WOW) at Pats Peak is a seven-week program beginning in early January that incorporates instruction, discussion, some meals and more.
The Women First Ski Program at Bretton Woods provides an opportunity for women to improve their skills and confidence by skiing with and being coached by women. Skiers are grouped by pace and ability level.
Waterville’s Ladies Retreat & Clinic lasts almost all winter and includes lodging, Saturday lift ticket, private clinic, a bottle of wine (for après-ski fun) and a $50 gift card for resort dining.
Family Ski Areas
Looking to get the entire family — including young kids — involved in skiing and riding without racking up a huge price tag? Consider New Hampshire’s smaller, tucked-away feeder hills. These delightful, less-intimidating areas are ideal for fostering the alpine lifestyle in young students, their parents and even grandparents. Sure, the big resorts have miles of options and steeper trails, but pocket-sized areas tend to have less expensive lift tickets, grassroots atmospheres and everything from old-school rope tows to a new-school terrain parks.
New Hampshire is graced with several community-minded ski areas, including Whaleback Mountain in Enfield, Manchester’s convenient McIntyre Ski Area, the pleasing Granite Gorge Ski Area outside Keene, Abenaki Ski Area in Wolfeboro (the oldest small ski area in the country) and the family-owned King Pine Ski Area in East Madison.
“Everything about King Pine is geared towards nurturing those who want to learn and novice skiers and riders at an affordable cost,” says Aly Moore, King Pine’s marketing coordinator. “Families with younger children often comment on the fact that they feel comfortable letting their kids ski without them because they can find them in the short lift lines at the base of the mountain after every run.”
Though family-centric, King Pine has a new race clinic designed to enhance performance in the gates and on the slopes, and they offers lesson in their Twisted Pine Terrain Park.
Head to the Races
Feeling the need for speed? Consider trying a recreational race league. Tap into your inner Bode Miller or Lindsey Vonn and give the gates a go. Whether you choose a day league or want to fly down the mountain under the lights, there’s an event suited for you. The Mountain Dew Vertical Challenge (January 7 at Cranmore, February 3 at Cannon, February 5 at Pats Peak, February 21 at Mount Sunapee and March 18 at King Pine) is a fun way for the family to enter the race scene.
But not everyone equates fun with zooming down a mountain. For flatlanders, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing are great ways to get exercise while taking in winter’s beauty.
Snowshoeing, featuring aluminum frames, effortless bindings and crampons for traction, can be as simple as plodding out on the local hill or seeing your favorite hiking trails from a snowy perspective. Mix it up with a guided full moon tours at several touring centers during the season, including NH Audubon, Jackson Ski Touring Foundation, Great Glen Trails and more (click here for our statewide map that includes both ski resorts and Nordic centers).
And forget the idea that snowshoeing is limited to plodding through the snow. With snowshoe racing, adventurous practitioners can take the pursuit to the next level. In fact, New Hampshire is one of the best places to give it a try, thanks to the Granite State Snowshoe Series, a program scheduled throughout the state from January 14 all the way to the March 4 Granite State Snowshoe Championship held at Waterville Valley.
Snowshoeing isn’t alone in welcoming some innovation. Cross-country skiing also offers ways for regulars to shift gears and get out of the routine funk. Classic-striding skiers (those who keep their skis in the tracks set by a grooming machine) can give skate skiing a try, and vice versa. In traditional Nordic cross-country skiing, skiers move forward in a linear kick-and-glide motion, suited for tracks. Skate skiing is more like ice skating (hence the name) — it’s a V-stride where skiers push off with the edge of one angled ski while shifting body weight to the other ski, driving them forward. If you’re thinking it sounds tough, you’re right — this is an excellent way to incorporate more cardio exercise into your life.
Trail Networks for Cross-Country Skiing and Snowshoeing
Sick of trekking through your own backyard or local woods? Try finding a touring center for something new (and well maintained). Given the state’s vast array of trail networks, that’s fairly easy to do. Plus, the centers’ warming huts make for excellent motivation.
Windblown Cross Country Skiing and Snowshoeing area in New Ipswich is known for its gorgeous views of Mount Monadnock. While in the area, get in a real workout by taking on the seriously steep expert trails on Barrett Mountain. Skiing at the base of Mount Washington in Pinkham Notch, make the Great Angel Warming Cabin the destination after skiing the winding Dragon Corridor at Great Glen Trails. From the trailhead at Pine Hill XC Ski Club in New London, it’s just about a 20-minute ski to Robb’s Warming Hut, open weekends only with hot beverages. The hilly Yates Farm trail network at down-home Bear Notch Ski Touring Center in Bartlett provides a nice look at the Saco River.
If it’s variety you seek, then head to the Northeast’s largest cross-country ski area, which happens to have just gotten even bigger. This fall, the Jackson Ski Touring Center cut the ribbon on a brand new $500,000, 3-3/4-mile addition. The newly expanded 96-mile facility has added four new trails and eight new trail bridges.
Who says you can’t use a lift for cross-country skiing? Fly up the Bethlehem Express at scenic Bretton Woods for access to high elevation groomed Nordic trails serviced by a T-bar (kids — that’s what your parents used before chairlifts).
Need some inspiration? Watch some of the best skiers around at Jackson Ski Touring Foundation (and Cannon) during the NCAA skiing championships March 8-11.
Winter ice can be nice, especially while gracefully gliding over frozen surfaces. Or, for the adrenaline-seeker, when venturing up vertical frozen waterfalls with ice axe in hand and steady, sharp crampons underfoot.
Outdoor ice skating harkens back to childhood as, over time, unsteady shuffling turned to graceful gliding. Wool hats, scarves and mittens were the norm, with hot chocolate a warming elixir. Certainly skating on ice can be done in an indoor arena, but when winter’s chill means trails of breath in the air, it’s time to head outdoors to frozen expanses found in the shadows of snowy mountains, amidst rolling hills or even right next door.
From community rinks and frozen ponds to those linked to tourism-related enterprises, skating is also an invigorating workout and fine crossover alternative for bicyclists, in-line skaters, runners and joggers. Use it as a foundation for playing hockey, competition, dance or just plain family fun.
A few standouts include Hanover’s Occom Pond near the Hanover Country Club’s golf course, North Conway’s picturesque Schouler Park framed by a yellow train station, Keene’s lovely Robin Hood Park and Manchester’s tree-rimmed Dorrs Pond. They all welcome skating when the weather allows. Step back in time to the Victorian era by skating in places such as the Labrie Family Skate at Puddle Dock Pond at historic Strawbery Banke in Portsmouth and Nestlenook Farm in Jackson.
Several ski areas also include rinks for a change of pace. East Madison’s covered Tohko Dome at King Pine stays lit into the night, while the ice arena at Waterville Valley in Town Square offers an all-indoors option. Click here for more ice skating spots in the state.
For the winter enthusiast who’s tried it all and still wants more, New Hampshire is a great place to try ice climbing. In fact, the Mount Washington Valley contains some of the most readily accessible ice climbing in the Northeast. Options range from Cathedral Ledge, which is easily spotted from town, to the more remote Tuckerman and Huntington ravines found on lofty Mount Washington. Over in frosty Crawford Notch, you’ll find climbing spots by Mount Willard and the Frankenstein Cliffs.
But please, don’t try this on your own. The Granite State has a talented array of guides and schools that can lead and teach climbers of all abilities. These experts know best how to navigate those ephemeral frigid pillars and bulges. Learn basic beginner practices like swinging an ice axe and kicking crampons into a frozen waterfall to advanced skills that stress efficiency and technique. See the sidebar on the right for a list of guides and experts.
Climbers can hit the ice, weather permitting, from about late November to mid-April when boulders, slides, waterfalls and gullies freeze with a glorious gamut of color from brown to blue. It’s an exhilarating feeling to battle the cold and wind while armed with ice screws, carabineers, ropes and more.
Whether you’re a first-timer or weathered veteran, all converge in North Conway for the Mount Washington Valley Ice Fest (February 3-5). The event celebrates the ice climbing way of life with clinics, videos and socializing. Climbers can try new gear, take multi-day courses for all abilities or participate in a single-day workshop.
Even resorts such as Bretton Woods get in on the fun by offering guided ice climbing sessions, and there’s even an indoor climbing wall in the base lodge.
If you’re still thinking “been there, done that,” then here’s one more winter diversion that might surprise you — biking. On snow. Fat bikes — mountain bikes with wide, low-pressure tires — are catching on across the state as a winter vehicle for fun. Found on snowy groomed trails, this style of bike gets sweet traction in snow. Fat biking and rentals are both offered at a handful of ski areas on groomed cross-country trails, including Waterville Valley, Gunstock, Great Glen Trails, Mount Washington Valley Ski Touring and Snowshoe Foundation, and Bretton Woods. It’s a good idea to plan ahead to see if there are trail, time and date restrictions.
Care to race and roll? The fourth annual Moose Brook Fat Bike Race is slated for Moose Brook State Park in Gorham on January 22.
Biking isn’t the only warmer-weather outdoor pursuit to get winterized. Sleep under the stars — in the snow — while winter camping.
Add another level of winter to your ski trip by forgoing the cozy lodge. Surprisingly, there are a handful of campgrounds close to the slopes open in winter. All you have to do is pack up the pickup, car, SUV or RV for a taste of gelid camping. As a word of caution, be prepared for limited amenities. But, on the bright side, inexpensive lodging means more money for après-ski fun.
At Gunstock Mountain Resort, the winter camping season runs from early December through early April with tenting and RV sites (with electric) available. There’s even a heated bathhouse with free showers within walking distance. It’s practically the Ritz.
Cannon also welcomes RVs to its small RV park on Echo Lake’s north shore, but there’s no winter water or sewer hookups. For the especially rugged, nearby Franconia Notch State Park offers primitive camping with no facilities at Lafayette Campground.
In the White Mountain National Forest, try rustic camping in the Kancamagus Highway’s Hancock Campground near Loon, five miles east of Lincoln. Pinkham Notch is home to Barnes Field Campground, 6 miles south of Gorham and close to both Wildcat and cross-country skiing at Great Glen Trails.
Ready to ski or snowshoe in with your gear? Head to Windblown in New Ipswich and stay in one of their rustic shelters.
And the best thing about all of these campsites? No bugs! So enjoy the outdoors in winter.