White Mountains Skiing
New Hampshire ski resorts represent a tremendous variety of styles and price ranges, from purpose-built ski villages to charmingly laid-back resorts that families return to generation after generation – and everything in between. Some are remote, away from any après-ski scene, while others have created full-service villages right at the base. Some are perfect for families, others are designed for skiers seeking real challenges. Some offer a bit of both – one of the steepest verticals in the state is at the most family-friendly resort. All these considerations have been weighed in the following descriptions.
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. These include four high-speed quads and a new addition, New Hampshire’s first eight-passenger gondola.
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.
Only a few miles away, Adair Country Inn offers luxury rooms and fine dining in an elegant former summer estate.
Address: Route 302, Bretton Woods, New Hampshire
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. Three million dollars has been invested over the past few years in snowmaking. This investment 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. A new option nearby is the luxury RiverWalk Resort at Loon Mountain.
The Adventure Center 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 to 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.
Address: 60 Loon Mountain Road, Lincoln, New Hampshire
A White Mountains Ski Village – 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.
It’s a lot more now. It has 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 one of New England’s top ski resort towns. It is also one of its most affordable.
Skiers have several other mountains within an easy drive. In addition, 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, and nearby Stonehurst Manor offers the option of country-house charm or family-sized condos.
Cranmore Mountain overlooks the town of North Conway. This ski area has 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, Giant Swing, 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, with a diesel-electric driven groomer and vehicle charging stations.
A new Calendar Pricing program rewards advance on-line ticket sales with discounts – the longer ahead you book, the greater the discount.
Address: 1 Skimobile Road, North Conway, New Hampshire
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.
A major investment recently upgraded the Aerial Tramway and all the chairlifts. In addition, energy-efficient snowmaking equipment has been installed which reduces energy consumption and increases 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 10 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.
There are no on-mountain accommodations at this state park, but the nearby village of Franconia has several country inns and the family-owned Hillwinds Lodge.
Address: Franconia Notch Parkway, Franconia, New Hampshire
A few miles north of the village 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 near the base include condos and the Grand Summit Hotel at Attitash, 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.
Address: Route 302, Bartlett, New Hampshire
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 recently 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 – a relaxing atmosphere indeed!
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 here 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.
Address: East Madison, New Hampshire
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 highly 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; a Mountain Coaster operates on weekends and holidays.
it is 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. Although there is no on-mountain lodging, The Summit Resort, six miles away in Laconia, has an indoor pool and family-sized rooms.
Address: 719 Cherry Valley Road (off Route 11-A), Gilford, New Hampshire
Waterville Valley is the closest full-service resort to the Boston and Manchester airports. The 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 continues, with completion of the new High Country T-Bar, whose low-to-the-ground design cuts ascent times in half. When completed, the Green Peak expansion 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, including the Golden Eagle Lodge, with condo suites and an indoor pool. Multiple dining options and activities, including ice-skating, a spa, swimming pools, sleigh and dogsled rides, and evening programs make Waterville 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.
Address: Route 49, Waterville Valley, New Hampshire
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. 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 of 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; the closest is the new eco-friendly The Glen House Hotel, opened in the Fall of 2018 at the base of the Mt. Washington Auto Road.
Address: Route 16, Gorham, New Hampshire
When you think of skiing in the great state of Maine, it is likely that the first mountains that come to mind are Sunday River and Sugarloaf. However, unbeknownst to most, the oldest ski area in Maine lies near the town of Bridgton. Shawnee Peak is rich in history and provides an intimate, family-friendly skiing experience. The mountain is located approximately 45 miles from Portland and only 20 miles from North Conway, New Hampshire. This “local hill” offers an entirely wholesome skiing experience, short lift lines and no hint of a big corporation.
Upon stepping out of the parking lot and onto the snow, the community-oriented atmosphere is immediately apparent. It’s not uncommon to see the owners chatting with patrons in the lift lines about the weather forecast or their kid’s hockey team.
Shawnee Peak features a 1900′ summit and has a 1300′ foot vertical drop. The mountain offers 40 trails, six lifts, and 249 skiable acres. Night skiing is available six days a week including the popular Monday Night Madness. You can ski from 3:30 PM – 9 PM on 110-acres of well-lit terrain for just $20. This is a fantastic way to cure a nagging case of the Mondays without breaking the bank.
For a modest-sized mountain, Shawnee Peak offers some impressively steep terrain. From the main lodge, take the Summit Triple and ski Headwall and East Slope straight down towards the picturesque Moose Pond. To skiers right of the triple, you will find some stellar tree lines such as Dungeons and the East Glades. Take a gander to the northwest as you ride the lift and you will be greeted with views of New Hampshire’s Mount Washington. This view is enhanced even more stunning at sunset.
On looker’s left of the hill, you will find the quieter East Lodge. Use the Sunnyside Triple to access some great steeper terrain such as Poachers Paradise and Tycoon. On a powder day, the upper liftline, ‘Cody’s Caper’ is a local’s favorite.
Shawnee Peak is a wonderful place to learn to ski. To looker’s right of the main lodge, you will find mellower, beginner-friendly, terrain accessed by the Pine Quad.
Shawnee Peak dates back to 1935. The ski area was originally known as Pleasant Mountain named after the peak on which it is located. According to New England Ski History, local clubs began planning a ski trail on Pleasant Mountain in 1935. The original plan was a single 1.5-mile trail on the hill. Two years later, the town of Bridgton received a grant to further develop Pleasant Mountain. In 1938, a rope tow was installed to serve the lower mountain. Other improvements included in this project were cross-country skiing and a ski jump.
In the early 1990s, the Shawnee Mountain Corp. divested some of its holdings including Shawnee Peak. In 1994, Chet Homer, of the Toms of Maine company, purchased Shawnee Peak. Geoffrey Homer, Chet’s son, now operates the mountain with his father.
This is a family-friendly mountain with great views and night skiing too!
Address: 119 Mountain Rd, Bridgton, Maine