New Hampshire’s White Mountains include the tallest peaks in the northeastern United States, and the elevation, plus the northern latitude, assures plenty of natural snow. Early and late in the season, and to tide over the occasional winter thaw, state-of-the-art snowmaking and grooming equipment keeps the trails and slopes in A-1 condition all winter. Not all New Hampshire’s ski mountains are in the northern part of the state. Two excellent ski resorts are in the mid-state Lakes Region, and two other good-sized mountains are close to the Massachusetts line in the south. Ski trips to Canada offer students the chance to explore the very best of Canada, which makes them just right for school ski trips.
An advantage of planning a ski vacation in New Hampshire is that many of the major ski resorts are close to one another, so skiers can experience a number of different mountains during one trip. This is particularly true of the Mount Washington Valley. Its central town of North Conway, something of a ski legend for its place in the history of recreational skiing, is a tourist attraction in its own right, with an abundance of off-slope activities and one of New England’s best shopping scenes. Skiers with more time can combine skiing in New Hampshire with nearby Vermont ski resorts.
1. Cranmore Mountain and North Conway
Since the glory days of early recreational skiing in the 1930s, when the famous Ski Trains brought eager skiers from Boston and New York to the elegant Victorian railway station almost at the foot of Cranmore Mountain, North Conway has been a ski town. But it’s a lot more now, with one of New England’s largest collections of brand-name outlet stores just outside its compact village center. The combination of skiing, shopping, and a variety of lodging, dining, and après-ski options makes North Conway New England’s top ski resort town – along with one of its most affordable. Skiers have several other mountains within easy reach, and there is more than enough to keep non-skiers busy here. Hotels and cozy B&Bs, like Kearsarge Inn and Cranmore Inn are steps from the lively main street.
Cranmore Mountain overlooks the town, with 57 trails and nine lifts accessing more than 200 skiable acres. The majority of slopes and trails face west, for long, sunny afternoons and knock-out views of Mt. Washington and the Presidential Range. Trails and lifts are suited to all skill levels, with excellent beginner and intermediate terrain and several serious challenges for experts. Cranmore is well known for its innovative ski instruction program and for its family-friendly activities, which include the Mountain Coaster, the Giant Swing, the Soaring Eagle Zip Line, and an outstanding multi-lane tubing park in the Cranmore Mountain Adventure Center, open daily. Like other New Hampshire ski resorts, Cranmore is steadily lowering its environmental impact, this year adding a diesel-electric driven groomer and installing vehicle charging stations.
2. Bretton Woods
Facing Mount Washington across a wide valley, Bretton Woods Resort is the largest ski resort in the state, and the most upscale. The resort’s 62 trails, 35 glades, and three terrain parks add up to 464 skiable acres served by 10 lifts, including four high-speed quads. Bottom-of-the mountain activities are just as extensive, with a climbing wall at the base lodge, a zipline tour, dedicated fat bike trails and rentals, and one of the state’s most extensive cross-country trail networks. What skiers remember most are the views from Bretton Woods trails on a clear day. The summit of Mt. Washington, encrusted in frost, fills the horizon, with the red rooftops and towers of the largest of the remaining White Mountain grand hotels – part of the same resort complex – stretching at its foot.
With a north/northeastern exposure, an average annual snowfall of more than 200 inches, and snowmaking covering 97 percent of its trails, Bretton Woods is normally open from early-November to mid-April. It is consistently rated among the highest in the east for snow conditions. Bretton Woods has night skiing on Friday and Saturday evenings, and several money-saving specials, such as 2-4-1 Wednesdays and a combined Zip & Ski Ticket. Skiers can also take advantage of ski-and-stay package deals with the Omni Mount Washington Resort, where there is a full-service spa, swimming pool, and other recreation facilities.
3. Mount Sunapee
Only 90 minutes from Boston and always listed among New England’s top ski resorts for snowmaking and grooming, Mount Sunapee packs an astonishing amount of ski terrain onto its 1,500 feet of vertical. The 66 trails are served by 10 lifts, including two high-speed quads to the summit. The Sunbowl Express whisks skiers and riders to the mountaintop in just over four minutes. Snowboarders appreciate Bob Skinner’s 603 Terrain Park, with 50 terrain features, a 4,000-watt sound system, and dedicated triple chair to access the park.
The family-friendly resort has an easygoing, informal vibe; plenty of base-lodge space for those who prefer to bring their own lunch; and a number of money-saving specials and discounts. Season passes that include skiing at its sister resort, Okemo Mountain in Vermont, are especially good value. New this year are Mount Sunapee’s RFID-enabled cards that replace traditional lift tickets and save time, with no more waiting at the ticket window – after the first visit, skiers can reload their card online and go straight to the lifts. Sunapee has for many years been a leader in adaptive skiing, with lessons provided by the New England Handicapped Sports Association for people of all ages and abilities.
4. Loon Mountain
Loon Mountain is the closest full-service ski resort to Interstate-93 (it’s less than 10 minutes away). Its 61 trails, in two sections of the White Mountain National Forest, spread across three peaks, with 2,100 feet of vertical drop and terrain for all ski and snowboard levels. The terrain parks are especially varied, with parks designed for very young beginners, intermediate cruisers, and experts. Most of its slopes and trails face north, which combine with more than 650 high-efficiency snow guns to assure Loon a long ski season, even when temperatures are marginal. More than $3 million investment in the past few years has boosted the efficiency of New Hampshire’s most powerful snowmaking system.
On-mountain lodging is right at the foot of the lifts for ski-in-ski-out convenience. The Mountain Club on Loon is a full-service hotel/base lodge, with rooms and suites, restaurants, parking, a swimming pool, and spa all under one roof within a few yards of the gondola loading point. The Loon Mountain Adventure Center, also at the base area, offers snow tubing, snowshoeing, cross country skiing, ice skating, and a zipline ride over the frozen river that runs past the base. Guided snowshoe tours for various skills include one of the Loon Mountain summit, with the option of returning to the base on the gondola or on snowshoes. Money-saving season passes include special rates for those for ages 19-29 and ages 65-79, along with the Loon Sunday Pass.
5. Gunstock Mountain
With panoramic views over New Hampshire’s largest lake, Gunstock Mountain makes the most of its 1,400-foot vertical drop, with 55 trails and 90 percent snowmaking coverage. Despite its size, there’s a friendly home-town feel to the mountain and its large – and historic – base lodge. Although its trails will challenge skiers of all skills, Gunstock is a particular favorite of families for its outstanding learning program and the separate slopes and lift where novice skiers can gain confidence before hitting a beginner-friendly trail from the top of the mountain.
Along with its snowmaking and grooming, Gunstock is always rated high for its night skiing, with five lifts serving 21 well-lit trails Tuesday through Saturday nights from late December through late March. In addition to skiing and riding, Gunstock has a tubing park and one of the nation’s longest ziplines, and new for the 2017/18 winter season is a Mountain Coaster operating on weekends and holidays. Along with being the closest major New Hampshire ski area to Boston, with easy access from both I-93 and I-95, Gunstock is appealing for its money-saving Flex Pass, offering a 50 percent discount on primetime and night lift tickets for the entire season, and its Golden Age passes that offer skiers over 70 a season pass for only $25. Gunstock celebrates its 80th season this winter.
6. Attitash Mountain
A few miles north of North Conway, Attitash Mountain has 68 trails on two connected mountains. This and a policy of limiting the tickets sold daily keeps the lines reasonably short, even in the height of ski season. There is plenty of terrain designed for all levels of skiers, and experts will be challenged by the steepest trail in New Hampshire, more than 60 acres of glades for tree skiing, and alpine race trails. At the other end of the skill spectrum, Attitash is especially welcoming to beginning skiers, who can ski free in the Learning Terrain area and ride the surface lift at the base of Attitash or Bear Peak.
Lodgings at the base include condos and a hotel with dining options, or for more luxury the Bernerhof Inn is just down the road. Non skiers enjoy the Nor’Easter Mountain Coaster on weekends and holidays. About 20 minutes away is Attitash’s sister resort, Wildcat Mountain, with whom they offer interchangeable lift tickets and season passes for a combined total of 535 skiable acres.
7. Cannon Mountain
Overlooking Franconia Notch, Cannon Mountain is a state-owned ski area with some of the most challenging trails in the state. Olympic Gold Medalist Bode Miller learned his skills on this mountain, which is known for its steep and varied terrain. The 4,080-foot elevation of Cannon’s summit seems to attract more snow than many other White Mountain areas. The ski terrain is networked by 81 trails and reached by 10 lifts. New energy efficient snowmaking equipment installed this year is expected to reduce energy consumption by 50 percent and increase snowmaking significantly.
An experience in itself is riding to the top in the 80-passenger Aerial Tramway, a cable car that reaches the summit in about ten minutes. On a clear day, you can see the mountains of four states and Canada. The Tuckerbrook Family Area is separated a bit from the rest of the mountain, and Mittersill, a former ski area adjacent to Cannon Mountain, offers ungroomed natural snow for experts. A new lift and a warming hut have been added there for the 2016/17 season.
8. King Pine
One of the sweetest little ski mountains in the northeast, King Pine is part of Purity Spring Resort, an old-fashioned family-oriented resort. Runs are short – the vertical is only 500 feet – but each one is a beautiful trail carved through pine woods, and they offer a surprising variety of terrain. The Twisted Pine terrain park challenges boarders, and the area for tree skiing is being expanded each year. Until Attitash opened the trail over the ledges, King Pine claimed New Hampshire’s steepest ski trail – a double-black diamond called Jack Pine. Snowmaking capability, which already covers 100 percent of the trails and terrain, has been improved this year with the addition of 45 new high-efficiency, low-energy Snowmakers. Lines are almost non-existent, and skiers smile and make way for each other – the relaxed atmosphere seems to put everyone in a good mood.
Along with lodging and dining, the self-contained resort has cross-country trails, a tubing hill, ice skating, and night skiing, and it’s close enough to the larger mountains in the Mt. Washington Valley that you can stay there and ski several others in the same vacation. As expected at a family resort, the learning program is excellent, as are snow conditions and grooming. An alpine ski ticket also includes cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and ice skating.
9. Waterville Valley
The closest full-service resort to the Boston and Manchester airports, Waterville Valley Resort is completely self-contained, at the end of a cul-de-sac valley surrounded by the White Mountain National Forest. Although it is one of the smaller ski areas in terms of terrain, with only 255 skiable acres, 100 percent of the terrain is covered by snowmaking, and its south-facing slopes make it popular in the coldest months. The 50 trails are served by 11 lifts, so lines are usually short. The Green Peak expansion, well underway, will add 10 new trails and 45 new acres of skiing served by a new chairlift.
The purpose-built village near its base has a wide range of hotels, dining, and activities, including ice skating, a spa, swimming pools, sleigh and dogsled rides, and evening programs that make it a favorite for families. Frequent free bus transport from the village lodging and activities to the slopes is an added advantage, making the 500-acre resort virtually car free.
10. Wildcat Mountain
Like Cannon Mountain, Wildcat is a favorite of experienced skiers who like a challenge. But the attraction for skiers of all skills is the chance, on a clear day, to see by far one of the best views in the White Mountains. Wildcat faces Mt. Washington across a narrow notch, and from the top of Wildcat’s gondola, you are up close and almost eye-to-eye with the summit of the Northeast’s tallest mountain. Every building and tower is completely covered in hoar-frost, doubling and tripling their size, and brilliant white against a blue sky. The view isn’t reserved for experts, as there is one green-rated trail from the summit, although it might be rated for intermediates elsewhere.
Wildcat’s northwestern exposure promises the highest annual snowfall in the area, with an average 200 inches of natural snow. This is enhanced by 90 percent snowmaking coverage across its 225 acres, which includes 49 trails and a terrain park. Although Wildcat is favored by expert skiers, who love its bumps and glades, there is plenty of skiing for all skills, with 25 percent of the trails rated for beginners. There is no lodging at the mountain, but nearby Jackson and Gorham offer a wide variety of choices.
11. Ragged Mountain
New Hampshire’s only high-speed six-person chairlift, the Summit 6-Pack, whisks skiers to the top of one of ragged Mountain’s two peaks. Together, the two mountains offer 57 trails, including 17 glades and three terrain parks, covering a total of 250 skiable acres. About a 20-minute drive from I-89, the resort is just two hours from Boston, but is consistently less crowded than other southern New Hampshire ski areas. Its friendly, low-key atmosphere, not to mention its learn-to-ski program that’s free to beginning skiers, makes it popular with families. An especially nice feature for beginners is that two trails run from the top of the mountain that are easily manageable for novice skiers.
Between the two peaks, the section called The Ravine holds most of the Black (expert) and double Black (really expert) trails, including several double-black glade terrains that will challenge the best. There is slope-side lodging in the Cardigan Cabins or nearby at the New Hampshire Mountain Inn, where there’s an indoor heated pool. Visit us for Canada skiing resort accommodation.