A ski resort with terrain for all levels and closeby lodging, lots of apres ski activities and a good ski school make for great vacations on snow.
“I think we’re going to like it here.” That’s what famed Austrian skimeister Hannes Schneider, inventor of the Arlberg Technique, told his son Herbert, as they stepped off the train at North Conway, N.H., Feb. 8, 1939. International financier Harvey Gibson, who had purchased land on Mt. Cranmore to develop a winter sports resort, leveraged his firm’s German holdings and negotiated the Schneider family’s release from house arrest after the Austrian Anschluss (annexation of Austria into Germany).
The Schneiders received a roaring welcome to the small New Hampshire town where he would soon make Mt. Cranmore the most popular place to ski in America. His first move was to install a “skimobile” from the bottom to the top. Ski trains from Boston disgorged hundreds of skiers off the rails each weekend. Yes, that was the start of all of us “liking it here.”
The good news got better and better. Another Austrian skier and racer Sepp Ruschp installed a rope tow up Stowe’s Mt. Mansfield in 1937 and the Boston Globe immediately labeled Stowe the “best skiing in the east.” Beer scion Fred Pabst soon opened Ski Tows, Inc. in 1938 putting tows wherever he could find a vacant hill. Little Bromley in southern Vermont became the “star.” Many years later Jake Burton Carpenter honed the first Burton snowboard on Tamarack Run at Stratton Mountain, Vt. in 1977, breaking open a second wave of the sport.
So, history is a reason to like it here. Here’s another one: Many of the best skiers in U.S. history – the Olympians and later World Cup champions -- honed their skills on the often ice-hard and difficult race courses of the region. Lake Placid, N.Y. hosted the Winter Olympics twice (1932 and 1980).
To mention a very few: Bode Miller at Carabassett Valley Academy in Maine. Billy Kidd and his cowboy hat may be more identified with Steamboat, but his ski edges were sharpened at Stowe. Downhiller Doug Lewis of the Green Mountain Valley School. Olympic champ Barbara Ann Cochran of Vermont’s famous skiing family of Richmond, Vermont.
Today’s superstar Mikaela Shiffrin wears Vail’s name on her helmet, but Burke Mountain Academy in Vermont justifiably claims credit for her development. Snowboarders Ross Powers (Stratton), Hannah Teter (Belmont, VT), Louie Vito and Lindsey Jacobellis (Stratton Mt. School), Kelly Clark (Mt. Snow). So many more.
All of this combined makes Northeast skiing and snowboarding so special – including mountains at breathable heights, the most expansive snowmaking systems in the nation and some of the best managed ski resorts in the world.
Ski resorts in the Northeast, for the most part, are not spread out over more acres than you can convert from kilometers to miles, so that alone can make them family-friendly. But, it’s really the special programming focused on kids that makes a difference.
The undisputed leader in family programming (drum roll) in the Northeast, most likely the whole country, is Smugglers Notch, high atop Vermont in the little town of Jeffersonville. Just a few examples: The Smuggs’ Snow Sport University takes in kids as young as 2.5 years of age and starts with the basics. All kids are outfitted with a Flaik GPS, as is the recent trend across the country for tracking them on the mountain. Everyone loves the Smuggs’ karaoke, Fun Zone, Friendly Pirate sing-a-longs, bingo, Hungry Hungry Humans, talent shows, glow tubes, tubing and ga ga ball. And, so much more.
But, Smuggs’ isn’t alone. Bretton Woods, N.H. families can check out the Canopy Tour's nine zip lines and two sky bridges or go sledding on the speedy snow tubing hill. Sugarbush, Vt. holds themed parties, glow light parades, fireworks, dinners with local mascots — a favorite among kids — like Amos the Moose, Pierre the Logger and Blueberry Bear. Jay Peak, Vt. has a massive, 60,000-square-foot indoor waterpark called The Pump House with multiple swimming pools, water slides, a lazy river and even a flow rider.
Last, but hardly least, is the weather consideration for kids. That brings us to Bromley again, one of the most iconic New England ski areas. Bromley sits above the shopping mecca of Manchester, Vt. and is perfect-sized, just enough challenge for everyone, comfortable and – wait for it – south facing slopes, giving it the identity of “The Sun Mountain.” Warmer kids mean happier ski trips .
Let’s start at Stowe where the infamous Front Four trails have long had skiers second-guessing if they really want to call themselves experts: National, Goat, Starr and Liftline. Killington claims 43 percent of its trails (including 16 glades) are “most difficult” and then you can psyche yourself up for double black diamond trials like Cascades, Downdraft, Double Dipper and Big Dipper Glade.
Attitash in N.H. covers two connected mountains with 68 trails, one of which, The Ledges, is the steepest in the state. That trail, alpine race trails, and more than 60 acres of glades make it popular with advanced skiers. Gore Mountain, New York's largest ski area, spans four different mountains in the Adirondacks: Gore, Little Gore, Burnt Ridge, and Bear Mountain. This is a resort cherished by experienced skiers, with 27 glades and 40 percent of its 119 trails designated black diamond.
Then there’s Cannon Mountain in Franconia, NH. This historic mountain is the former site of the Old Man of the Mountain which crumbled a while back. Cannon Mountain has some incredibly steep trails and challenging terrain throughout. The most daunting is DJ’s Tramline, a steep, rocky line that runs under the tram. There’s also tree skiing. Need a word to describe Cannon? Go for “steep.”
They don’t call Killington “The Beast of the East” for nothing. The Central Vermont behemoth and it’s close by sibling, Pico Mountain, put 2,000 skiable acres on your plate. The K-1 gondola takes you to Killington Peak’s 4,241-foot summit and you’ve got all that vertical on the way down. Killington’s Bear Mountain resort will give your legs the ultimate bump-burn with its Outer Limits run. The resort has a village of its own and an access road lined with lodging, bars and restaurants for big-time nightlife. There are plenty of motel-like accommodations in nearly Rutland as well.
It’s all a matter of choice. Ask any Easterner and they’ll give you a different answer. New Yorkers would probably choose Hunter Mt., Gore or Whiteface Mountain. Connecticut skiers would likely pick their way to Vt. on Interstate 91 as much of that route follows the Connecticut River, traveling from Hartford northward to St. Johnsbury. But Boston skiers will probably tell you they like what they get near home at Wachusett, Nashoba Valley and Jiminy Peak, but when they want it even bigger, they head north to New Hampshire’s Waterville Valley, north to Cannon Mt. and to the big-time skiing at Maine’s Sunday River, Sugarloaf and Saddleback. So, it depends on where you hail from.
Can you sneak out during the week? Pull that off and you won’t find many, if any, lift lines at all. That’s another difference as the big Rocky Mountain Resorts are jammed with destination guests during the week. Know that weekends and holidays are going be very busy in the Northeast and be sure to make lodging reservations early. Or, what the heck, buy a condo. A final tip: With the big resort combos like the Epic Pass, Ikon Pass, Mountain Collective and Indy Pass, you now have so many choices, your skis and boards could spin to a new challenge every ski trip you plan.