Skiing Suggestions near Boston, Massachusetts & New Hampshire
Having stayed up all night for Black Friday Midnight Shopping Madness, at the end of November I visited New Hampshire, where the skiing season has begun in the White Mountains. Google maps told me to drive 8 miles through a national forest, where the road was officially closed and had all kinds of snow-covered, stream overflowing nasty. Part-way through, the car ran out of gas. As the sun was going down. But enough about people who don’t know what the “E” means on the gas gauge and all that beeping.
I had a great time visiting two ski places that are only a 3 hour drive from Boston and are on opposite ends of the spectrum. Let’s start with Cranmore Mountain, in North Conway, NH, at http://www.cranmore.com
First things first: Cranmore has only a 1200 foot vertical drop, the smallest of the major ski mountains in the area. However, they know their target market, and it is learners and families. According to Ben Wilcox, General Manager, says, “We definitely have some college students who come and have a great time with the family, but if you’re looking for the wild party, we typically don’t have that scene here.” So you won’t get cut off as much by drunken skiiers, and there’s a separate (but within easy view) play area for kids when the adults want to take a break at the bar. Cranmore has a high-speed lift that gets you to the top in 4.5 minutes and contains a stunt park for crazy snowboarders called a jib park.
Cranmore is also a good place for a first-time experience. All ski areas teach lessons, of course, but Cranmore was founded on a teaching ethic and seems, like that old Avis Rent-A-Car ad, to make it their “We’re #2 We Try Harder” mission. If you take three lessons, you get a free all-season pass, and there’s a long beginner trail from the very top. Also — a critical part to teaching — is having something to do if it doesn’t work out. Sometimes you try skiing and then… you want to stop. Well, Cranmore has a brand new “Fun Zone” play park, with an inflatable obstacle course and moon bounce that adults can take part in too, a climbing wall and a tennis court. And they have snow tubing which is so easy anyone can do it. You sit on a tube and slide down a snow slope, which is a lot more fun than it sounds because you can do it as a twosome or spinning around.
Best of all, Cranmore is right in the middle of North Conway, NH, which is a real town with fun shops and restaurants. According to Ben, “there’s a wealth restaurants, movie theatres, and number of amenities here. Attitash is great, but people sometimes say it’s nice to be up there but you have to drive a half-hour just to get there.” It’s your best chance to have something to do in the evenings as well as during the day. The other mountains in the area are either a bit of a drive from anywhere “real” or have sort of a resort village, which may be a little too Disneyworld.
On the other hand, what’s wrong with Disneyworld? How American is that? I also visited Waterville Valley, which you can see at http://www.waterville.com/winter/
They have an entirely self-contained village of shops and hotels that is all run under one corporate umbrella. Event Planner Jamie Cobbett, said “Everything here’s within walking distance. All the restaurants, all the lodges, all the nightlife is within walking distance”, and they have shuttles that take you around so you really can just drive up and park your car once and not drive it until you leave. During the day they have ice skating and horse-drawn sleigh rides, and a whole recreation center for kids. However, when I pressed him on the nightlife issue it pretty much came down to bars and videogames.
That being said, it’s hard to top Waterville Valley’s slopes. With a 2,020 vertical drop, and a 6-minute high-speed chairlift ride, there’s plenty of snowmaking and well-groomed trails. If you’re an intermediate or expert skiier, that is. (There’s only one beginner trail that gets any real height, about 25% up the mountain.) They have all the pipes and skate ramps you could want, and even have a new concept I’ve never heard of, “tree skiing” where you get to weave in-between and amongst actual trees. Obviously, that’s only for experts, and for friends you don’t like who trust you when you point.
The upshot is you really can’t go wrong with either ski resort, but they’re very different choices and depending on your personality only one may be for you. I would tend to send more adventurous skiiers to Waterville Valley so we ski bunnies can have soothing, family-friendly Cranmore Mountain to ourselves. The other mountains on my top list, which I hope to write about later, are New Hampshire attractions Attitash & Bear Peak, Mount Sunapee, Loon Mountain, Bretton Woods, and local favorite Wachusett Mountain which is near Worcester. I would tend to choose those over Nashoba Valley, Wildcat Mountain, Gunstock, Blue Hills, and Cannon Mountain. The big guns (and the only truly nationally ranked mountains) in New England are 4 hours’ drive from Boston, Stowe and Killington in Vermont. Mad River Glen is also out there.
Skiing is easy to learn and I recommend you give it a shot. It’s not that expensive, not nearly as scary or dangerous as you think, and you don’t want to have regrets later in life that you didn’t live life to the fullest.