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Outdoor Adventures

Outdoor Adventures: Skiing it like a local

Local knowledge is good.

Pick the brain of a season pass holder on the slopes and chances are insight will be shared, at least some.

Better yet, find one before you’ve even turned down the ski area access road.

That’s the case with Hess and Rosemary Gates, a retired software engineer and real estate appraiser turned innkeepers at the Twin Doors Bed & Breakfast in Sunapee about three miles from Mount Sunapee in Newbury.

Both lifetime skiers (and camera shy), Hess remembers skiing at Sunapee when he was 5 or 6, long before the couple raised a son and daughter, both racers during their college days at St. Michael’s in Vermont.

So, they’ve accumulated some tips for their guests – generally casual skiers out on the trails a few times per winter – looking to cruise along the groomers of the 66-trail, 2,743-foot ski area owned by the state and operated by Tim and Diane Mueller since 1998, with some 1,500 feet of vertical.

Rosemary figures skiing some 40-plus days per season, with Hess 60-plus. Before moving to the town along the resplendent lake often linked to the early days of Aerosmith, they were weekend warriors from Amherst, in Hillsborough County northwest of Nashua. They skied other mountains, being the equivalent of soccer parents, following their children during the racing years.

“We live here because we love the area,” said Hess after a morning of midweek skiing when the ski area isn’t as busy but does see an influx of school children in early afternoon. “The B&B is a hobby, a way of meeting interesting people and staying active.”

So, for skiers staying with them, they give them not only a breakfast with mint yogurt and fruit, turkey sausage and stuffed French toast, but an old-school handout with local suggestions for a busy ski day.

“We skied on weekends for years,” said Rosemary, completing and continuing sentences and thoughts as longtime couples often do. “We would be at the mountain at 8 a.m. (when the lifts open on weekends) even if we were driving up from Amherst.”

Hess likes the steeps, the fall line plunges of Lynx off the North Peak Triple and Cataract, something of a local Sunbowl secret. Rosemary enjoys more forgiving terrain, but always enjoys the views of glistening Lake Sunapee or the spine of the Green Mountains.

“I stop every day and look at that view,” she said. “The one towards the lake from the top of Blast-off and off to Vermont. That is just a million-dollar view in every direction.”

The discerning eye, depending from where it looks, can see a fair amount of Vermont ski areas from, say, a spot on the upper portion of the two-mile Ridge Trail. Mount Snow, Bromley, Magic, Mount Ascutney, Stratton, Sunapee’s sister Okemo, and Killington can be seen. And north, in New Hampshire, Mount Washington is often spotted.

And those in the know, like marketing man Bruce McCloy, often plan their runs around the grooming schedule that goes Sunbowl, the main mountain, Ridge and South Peak.

McCloy is also quick to point out the new air bag in the Bob Skinner Terrain Park used by area freestyle programs like Cardigan Mountain School, Proctor Academy and Kimball Union, and notes there’s even a lane for those in a snow tube to use. Plus, he’ll also remind you about Start Here, the new weekend and holiday learn to ski program where ski instructors also become tour guides, in essence staying with their clients from check-in to the rental shop and through the two-hour group lesson.

But for those who start with the Gates, they’ll gain some insight about Sunapee that many a local know about their favorite ski area. Start early, as the early bird not only gets the corduroy, but more elbow room. Around 10 a.m. seems to be the magic time when people get to the ski area and, by then, many who have been riding the fastest lifts get in the most runs.

If people can see it, they ski it. That’s where you’ll find the most people. So, if you stick to something people can’t see from the base lodges, say Sunbowl about mid-morning, you’ll have some fine runs to yourself.

Of course, the Gates have many specific suggestions just for Sunapee. Though they can be revealed here, well, better yet it’s best to check in with them.

(Marty Basch can be reached

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