Active Outdoors: One lodge, two nights, three days, four ski experiences
Bright sunny slopes and no wind make Black Mountain in Jackson, NH the place to ski on a sub-zero morning. (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)
As these smiling skiers at great Glen Trails in Pinkham Notch, NH discovered, thereâs nothing better on a cold afternoon than cross-country skiing in the wind-sheltered woods. (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)
On a cold, bright winter morning, East Slope and adjacent trails at Cranmore Mountain are sunny and sheltered from any wind. (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)
Skinning up the Gulf of Slides trail in Pinkham Notch, NH. By the time we turned around to ski down, our âup tracksâ had disappeared under fresh snow. (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)
Shortly after yet another major snowstorm went barreling out to sea south of New England, my sweetheart Marilyn and I headed north to the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Joe Dodge Lodge in Pinkham Notch. While skiing and more skiing was on the agenda for both of us, Marilyn was also scheduled for her second (and final) ski boot fitting appointment on Monday morning at Stan and Dan Sports (stananddansports.com) in North Conway. Choosing the right ski boots and getting them fitted properly is an investment that pays off in comfort and better skiing every time you go.
We started out on a bitter-cold Sunday morning. It had snowed a couple of inches in the night, the car thermometer showed below zero all the way, and I had to drive with both hands on the wheel to control the car in a blasting wind.
When it’s that cold and windy, we head straight for Black Mountain (blackmt.com), which faces south and is tucked into a wind shadow behind its own peaks. A wind out of the north or northwest doesn’t touch the slopes at Black. On a blue-sky day (like this one), the sun makes Black feel warmer than the ambient temperature.
Apparently, most people hadn’t gotten the “Black Mountain is the place to be” memo, because the parking lot was nearly empty when we arrived and still pretty empty when we left shortly after noon. In between, we dressed warm and hammered the hill until our legs gave out, rested a bit and did it again. We never had to wait even seconds to get on the lifts. Great day of skiing on twisting trails with smooth, fast, man-made snow.
Leaving Black Mountain, we were too early for check-in, so we cruised past the lodge to Great Glen Trails (greatglentrails.com) where afternoon trail passes are only $15 for adults, and $10 for kids and old dudes like me. The wind was still howling but the temperature had climbed to 11 degrees. Marilyn cuddled her book by the fireplace while I donned classic skis and went striding out into the teeth of the gale. As soon as I reached the shelter of the woods, it turned into a perfect afternoon for cross-country and I had a wonderful couple of hours alone on Great Glen’s trails. Snow conditions were prime and movement kept me plenty warm – cross-country skiing is a wonderful thing on a cold day.
Two great ski experiences in one day! That night we had and a scrumptious dinner of soup, salad roasted turkey with fixins and pumpkin pie, relaxed by the fireplace, then slept well in a private room with a comfortable queen bed. Heaven!
The next morning, after a huge breakfast, Marilyn headed for her boot-fitting while I slapped the skins onto my AT (Alpine Touring) skis and met up with Danielle Jepson, one of the backcountry trail specialists for the AMC, and Nicole Sims, another guest at the lodge, for an informal trek up the Gulf of Slides trail. The temperature was still 11 degrees and the wind was still howling, but now we had an added bonus: it was snowing hard. A couple of inches of new snow on top of a frozen base made for ideal skinning. It was my first skin-ski of the year and I didn’t make it as high on the mountain as I’d hoped. Danielle and Nicole (whose combined ages totaled less than mine) decided to go a bit higher. Knowing they’d be coming down the trail shortly behind me and knowing there were other folks coming up below (we were the first out), I felt confident skiing down (cautiously) alone. By the time I’d pulled my skins off and stowed them in my pack, our tracks had disappeared and I was skiing untracked powder, a perfect reminder of why earning your turns by skinning up is sooooo worth it. If I’d had more snap left in my legs, I could have skied the Sherburne Trail, as well, that afternoon in more wind and snow.
Dinner that night was a hearty soup followed by salad, pot roast, mashed potatoes, squash and German chocolate cake. Yum, again
We had planned to go to Wildcat Mountain (skiwildcat.com) for our last day, but it was, you guessed it, below zero and incredibly windy. Not a Wildcat day. So we packed up and headed toward home. By the time we reached North Conway, the temperature had risen and the wind had dropped, so we turned into Cranmore and found an empty parking lot, lodge and lift lines. The slopes and trails on the southeast face of the mountain were sunny, sheltered from the wind and perfectly comfortable to ski from the new Schneider triple. Out on the main mountain, trails like North Conway and the aptly named “Hurricane” took the brunt of a rising wind later in the morning. Another great morning on the slopes.
So that was our adventure. One lodge, two nights, three day, four ski experiences. It could as easily have been five or six or more different experiences if we’d wanted. This is one place where almost any kind of ski experience you desire is within easy reach. This trip, we missed skiing at Wildcat (one of the defining mountains – and the best views – of eastern Alpine skiing) and Jackson Ski Touring (jacksonxc.org), which has over 130 kilometers of maintained cross-country trails. Next time! Soon! Life isn’t a spectator sport. Get out and enjoy!
Ski and stay central
Joe Dodge Lodge (outdoors.org/lodging/lodges/pinkham) offers terrific ski-and-stay packages. For cross-country skiers, $88 per adult ($74 if you are an AMC member) gets you a comfortable bunk (there are private rooms available) with a bathroom down the hall, an all-you-can-eat dinner served family-style, an all-you-can-eat buffet breakfast and a trail pass for skiing, snowshoeing and tubing at Great Glen Trails (greatglentrails.com).
For Alpine skiers, $140 per night gets the same deal with tickets good for either Wildcat (skiwildcat.com) or Attitash (www.attitash.com) 15 minutes away, which is often the better choice on really cold, windy days.
If you are interested in backcountry skiing around Pinkham Notch, I’d recommend you pick up a copy of David Goodman’s Best Backcountry Skiing in the Northeast. This new edition describes much of the skiing around Pinkham in detail, plus other great routes from New York to Maine.
(Tim Jones can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)