Go North for Downhill
A ski trip to North Conway
We set the tone for an Alpine weekend with dinner at The 1785 Inn, where our waiter, Cranmore ski instructor Eric Styffe, broke into a yodel as he set aflame the inn's signature Bananas Foster, prepared tableside. Less dramatic were the perfectly cooked venison medallions and smoked rabbit loin. Returning to elegant Cabernet Inn, we chatted with innkeepers Jessica and Bruce before retiring to our romantic room to relax in front of our fireplace.
It was one of those glorious days that make winter's cold worthwhile, mountains white against a brilliant sky and sunlight turning the snow outside to a field of diamonds. So anxious were we to hit the mountain for first tracks that we didn't linger over the inn's superb breakfast of Tuscan omelet with maple-smoked bacon.
Views of Mt. Washington and the Presidential Range from Cranmore Mountain were breathtaking. From all the way down Middle and North Slope, mountains looked near enough to reach out and touch. Snow conditions rivaled the "Champagne powder" that western skiers think falls only there. It was Cranmore where my brother taught me to ski when I was still in a one-piece snowsuit, and America's ski history began there, too. Cranmore was America's first ski resort and its founder, Hannes Schneider, is considered the father of modern skiing. Cranmore was among the first to groom trails, even inventing machines to do it, and today's lifts, snow-making and grooming are among New England's best.
We waited for the rush to slow at Meister Hut, the cozy cabin at the top of Skimobile Express chairlift, where we had hearty sandwiches at a window table with views across the valley.
After a few runs on East Slope and a nice series of expert and intermediate trails, my knees reminded me that they no longer wore a one-piece snowsuit and had been working since the lifts opened. So we skied over to the new Adventure Park for a couple of runs down the Mountain Coaster before walking over to the tubing hill to join squealing kids in another knee-friendly way to hurl ourselves down a mountain.
Dinner at Stonehurst Manor
Wood-oven pizzas get justified attention at this gracious shingle-style Victorian mansion built by carpet baron Erastus Bigelow, but we opted for succulent roasted Muscovy duck breast with raspberry/blackberry sauce and Veal Oscar -breaded veal topped by delicate crabmeat, asparagus and hollandaise.
Saturday's blue-bird sky was too good to last – a "weather-breeder" my dad always called those too-perfect winter days. So this morning we gave Cabernet Inn's breakfast the lingering appreciation it deserved, savoring Lemon Blueberry French Toast and sizzling sausage as the wind blew light snow across the valley. On our way into town we stopped to have our ski boots tweaked at Stan & Dan's, an annual custom-refit that keeps our feet happy all winter.
If it is this windy here, we thought, what must Mt. Washington be like, so we stopped at the Weather Discovery Center to see the live video link with the summit and to play with the weather toys. Abandoning plans to snowshoe on one of the valley's trails, we watched skaters in Schouler Park in front of the grand Victorian rail station and browsed through New England-made crafts and foods at Zeb's General Store.
Still not really hungry after Cabernet Inn's bountiful breakfast, we split a Coevolution pizza – Kalamata olives, red onion, local goat cheese, roasted sweet peppers and mozzarella – at Flatbread Company before heading home through the snow. With darkness falling early, we felt it an important safety measure to have something handy to keep us awake, so we stopped at Bavarian Chocolate Haus for our favorites – dark cashew turtles, chocolate-dipped candied ginger and marzipan.