Basch: Life’s a beach at Mount Sunapee

  • From left to right, Izzy Senior, Neil Senior, Neil Totman, Chip Nolin, Jenn Nolin, Doug Shorten, Amy Coletti, Alison Senior, and Kendall Quackenbos are regulars who frequent The Beach at Mount Sunapee in Newbury. MARTY BASCH photo

For the Monitor
Published: 3/4/2019 7:25:22 PM

When the Mount Sunapee ski season starts, the diehards arrive in Saturday’s darkness around 6 a.m. As the lifts start spinning at the Newbury mountain, the portable chairs, rugs, tables, tents and more create outdoor living rooms and kitchens where skiers and riders rotate in and out during the day, skiing hard and eating hardily.

For some, three generations hang out on The Beach.

“I think it’s a sense of community and friendship that goes way beyond skiing,” says longtime Beach-goer Neil Senior of Andover, Mass. “The Beach is the draw. We love the mountain. We love to ski but if we didn’t have this it wouldn’t be the same experience.”

A roughly 200 yard stretch of the Flyway trail between the Spruce Lodge and Sunapee Lodge, The Beach touches the first row of parking lot No. 1 and its sea of vehicles making it a prime flat spot for tailgating and grilling. Beachers are easy to spot, often flying flags from New England sports teams to colleges marking their turf.

The Beach began in the late 1960s according to longtime Sunapee employee Wendy Nolin when members of the ski school and some families in the Mt. Sunapee Area Ski Club wanted to eat lunch outside. What started with sandwiches, evolved to grills and morphed into today’s version with menus that include staples like hot dogs and burgers to ahi tuna and game meats and breakfasts foods like pancakes, and egg sandwiches.

“Everyone shared and got more families to join in,” recalled Nolin. “Now the little kids go off and ski. We know where they are and they get more self-reliant and confident. It’s a nice feeling.”

Nolin’s son Chip is a Beach regular. He grew up in Sunapee, attended ski school, raced and now drives from Burlington, Vt. every weekend with his family to stake a spot with the Seniors and others. His father worked in the ski school.

He said the kids are happy to wake up early to get to The Beach. The parents ski and then take turns manning the spot. Everyone brings a dish and contributes.

“This place is just a rotating amoeba,” Chip said. “It takes on a life of its own. There are friends down The Beach. There are friends up The Beach. It’s fantastic. We ski hard in the morning and then it’s about hanging out and having fun.”

The Nolins, Seniors and other friends, a core group of about five families, are season-long Beach-goers coming from New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts and beyond. Senior’s wife, Alison, attended Colby-Sawyer College in New London where she grew up. A handful of her classmates were ski instructors at Sunapee and the defunct King Ridge.

“Now we have all come back in the next phase of our lives with our families to hang out every Saturday on The Beach,” said Neil, a season pass holder like many Beach regulars.

On The Beach, John Pfeifle of Bradford was grilling as his grandson raced. D’Orsey DeWispelaere of New London had brought her pretzels dipped in chocolate. Both are seasoned Beachers.

“You see regulars but there are always new people,” said DeWispelaere. “Today’s there’s a race so other mountains know what we do here. You have to get here early. Some people park their trucks here the night before. But you have to physically be here and get your chairs out and cordon off your little area.”

The Beach can get packed, especially in spring with its lively events like the Chip Gilroy T-shirt Race March 23, the March 30 slush cup and April 6 cardboard sled race. Though there are longer days and early morning light, Pfeifle remembers a day when it was just him and his wife.

“There’s a photo, it was from one March, and there’s just two people on The Beach,” he said. “It was the two of us. We had two chairs set up here. It was a beautiful sunny day. Not a cloud anywhere and just the two of us sitting out here. It was wonderful.”

But there are also nasty days. That’s when tents are set up. Heaters come out. Loyal Beachers are out too, hunkering down and having fun.

Senior, whose group is aged from 7 to the 70s, hopes for many years on The Beach.

“I look at our kids and hope they want to be here in 20 years and we’ll be here skiing here when we’re 70 years old,” he said.

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