Picture Perfect Jackson
Skiing, après skiing, good food and a knockout exhibition of paintings highlight this winter-perfect village
Checking in at Christmas Farm Inn left no doubt about where we'd eat dinner – the aromas wafting from the kitchen were the best advertising they could have. We wasted no time taking our luggage into our first-floor suite in the Carriage House located on the hill above the farmhouse and resolved to return after dinner to read by our fireplace in the large sitting room.
Dinner at Christmas Farm Inn
We studied the menu, which combines old favorites with up-to-date dishes that give the chef a chance to show off a bit. I ordered a seafood carbonara full of shrimp, lobster claws, scallops and mussels with roasted sweet red peppers, mushrooms and bacon in a light creamy sauce over linguini. The shellfish were tender, juicy and impeccably fresh. The sausage and chicken in pesto with portabella mushrooms was equally delicious – the flavorful herbiness of the pesto blending with the other flavors nicely. The breads, baked in-house, are delicious.
At breakfast Christmas Farm Inn offers a full menu of all the classics and we both chose Eggs Benedict. My two eggs were perfectly poached and the Hollandaise was tangy with lemon; the accompanying homefries were nicely browned.
Saturday started slow and cold, with an ominous gray sky and icy wind that did not inspire us to ride a chairlift to even windier heights. As we debated heading to the slopes, our host told us of the exhibit at the new Museum of White Mountain Art at Jackson, just down the road at the restored old town hall, itself a landmark on the National Register of Historic Places.
We have long been fascinated by the White Mountain School, a group of 19th-century plein air artists who painted landscapes in the White Mountains, and we have admired their works at several museums. But what we saw as we entered the upstairs gallery literally stopped us in our tracks. The "On the Road to Jackson: A Journey Through the White Mountains of NH" exhibit includes 47 paintings of scenes in Jackson and along the roads leading to it from Tamworth, Gorham and Crawford Notch. All are from private collections meaning this is the only chance to see them, let alone see them together, which allows you to compare styles, techniques and even how different artists saw the same scene. This remarkable group of paintings will be shown at least through Easter, and they alone are well worth a trip to Jackson.
We spent so much time admiring the paintings and learning more about them from Historical Society President Warren Schomaker that we were surprised to discover it was lunch time. So we walked across the street to Backcountry Bakery & Café for bowls of rich, creamy sweet potato soup and big wedges of hot cheddar-jalapeno cornbread.
We stepped out into sunlight (if you don't like the weather, wait a minute) and headed up the road to Black Mountain, where the ski trails have the agreeable combination of afternoon sun and splendid mountain views. The half-million dollars they invested this year in new snow-making equipment has really paid off, and we love their easy-cruising trails that wind through the pine forests. We know we should make one trip up the vintage poma lift just for old times' sake but we opted instead to rest our legs on the chairlifts and skied until they stopped running.
As we finished the last run, we skied straight to the door of the Shovel Handle Pub at Whitney's Inn, right at the foot of the mountain. The pub is named for the first T-bar lift, made by the Whitneys from Sears Roebuck shovel handles, and has live music on weekends. For a little village Jackson has an embarrassment of après ski riches, so we moved from the Shovel Handle to the Wildcat Tavern after stopping at our inn to peel off a few layers of ski clothes. Like the Shovel Handle, this is a lively, friendly place to lift a glass, listen to music and share tales with fellow skiers.
Dinner at The Shannon Door
From there we moved on to The Shannon Door in time to get a table for dinner before the Irish music began. While an Irish pub may not seem a likely place to order pizza, The Shannon Door has been known for its pizza since it opened in the '50s – who are we to break with tradition? We split a "loaded" thin crust pizza, covered in onion, peppers, mushrooms, sausage and pepperoni, then tucked into two pub classics: shepherds pie and that night's special, a hearty Irish stew, accompanied by Angry Orchard cider.
Anticipating an energetic morning, we ordered a ham and cheese three-egg omelet and blueberry pancakes with sausage before skiing right out the door and onto the trail network of Jackson Ski Touring. Their 89 miles of ski trails cross the valley fields and reach far up the slopes of the White Mountain National Forest.
Even after that breakfast we were ravenous from skiing, so we walked across the street to J-Town Deli for lunch. Like The Shannon Door, Shovel Handle and Wildcat Tavern, J-Town is a member of The Valley Originals, a group of locally-owned restaurants dedicated to food that's prepared fresh daily and from local products whenever possible.
When we were at the art exhibition, Historical Society President Warren Schomaker told us the exact points where some works were painted and we couldn't resist searching for them. We headed up Carter Notch Road past Jackson Falls – ice-covered and glistening in the afternoon sun – to drive the Five Mile Circuit on Route 16B. At its high point we could see the views of Moat Mountain and Mt. Washington painted by Thaddeus Defrees. On the way home, we diverted from Route 16 to follow 16A, where we spotted the house shown in Frank Shapleigh's painting "Farm in Bartlett."