Fabled New Hampshire two-lane is a celebration of skiing.
Is there any road with a greater connection to New England’s rich ski history than Route 16 in New Hampshire? With a nod to Vermont’s Route 100, which certainly deserves consideration, Conway, North Conway, Intervale, Glen, Jackson and Pinkham Notch can make a persuasive argument to lay claim to the title of the region’s original ski highway.
For starters, the road and its many tributaries (such as 16A and Route 302) are littered with old ski clubhouses that date back generations. North Conway, with its sepia-toned images of ski trains bringing hardy souls to the Mount Washington Valley during the 1930s and ’40s, is routinely voted one of the Top 10 Ski Towns in the country by national ski publications. And then there are the hills.
Visitors have five outstanding and diverse ski areas, all within a 30-mile radius, to choose from: Wildcat, Attitash, Black, Cranmore and King Pine. None qualify as a mega-resort, but they’ve all got an abundance of personality. With the added bonus of the iconic Tuckerman Ravine in springtime, and a number of top-flight cross-country systems, plus a dizzying array of inns and restaurants (not to mention outlet malls), Route 16 is in a class by itself during the winter months.
Like almost any ski destination, there are a few caveats. With Route 16, those primarily have to do with the road itself. And traffic. At peak hours – Friday afternoon heading north, and Sunday evening heading south – Route 16 can be a painfully slow ride. To maintain your sanity, and a proper ski frame of mind, try to work around those times when this two-lane can get congested.
SKIING ROUTE 16
Wildcat Mountain, Pinkham Notch, NH
I have two good friends who ski once – and only once – every season. And the slopes they trek to for their annual pilgrimage are found at Wildcat. I can’t think of a better endorsement. This windswept mountain, with its unrivaled views of Mount Washington across the valley, is a New Hampshire legend. It’s a serious ski hill, the quintessential “If you can ski here, you can ski anywhere” area. Short on frills, Wildcat’s got 2,112 feet of vertical, including some terrific pitch, and only 20 percent of its 225 acres is considered “novice.” Which means one thing: Wildcat isn’t for wimps.
That’s especially true if the cruel Mount Washington winds are howling. Admittedly, Wildcat’s been a favorite of mine since my highs school days – the wild and crazy 1970s – and memories of Wildcat’s famed two-person gondola (complete with the infamous cinder block on breezy days) still stoke the fire in my skier’s soul. My friends and I cut our ski teeth here, and became better skiers for those bone-chilling outings.
Over the years, though, the mountain has made huge strides to improve grooming, which keeps both man-made and natural fluff (more than 200 inches annually) on the hill, and keeps ice to a minimum. We won’t lie – the odds of finding classic New England boilerplate at Wildcat are still good. But on those mail-order days when the planets align and the weather gods are smiling down on Pinkham Notch, there are few New England ski areas that can match Wildcat.
In all, 48 trails and 80 acres of glades tumble from the Wildcat’s 4,062-foot summit. Newer trails – Leo’s Leap and Sphynx – are welcomed additions along with acres of newly mapped gladed areas. The base lodge, which has maintained its rustic ambiance despite a few recent facelifts, enters the cyber age by offering WiFi for guests. And now that Wildcat has been brought under the Vail umbrella, expect even more improvements to all the area’s amenities.
Cranmore Mountain Resort, North Conway, NH
Many resorts boast a family friendly environment. The key is proving it under duress. A decade ago, my eldest daughter (then 13) caught an edge on a relatively easy run out to the Skimobile Express, spun and slammed into the snow with enough force to knock her into La-La Land. The response from the Cranmore ski patrol was quick and courteous. For that reason alone, Cranmore is still one of our favorites. Having a great selection of terrain, and a rollicking history that warms my Old School heart, doesn’t hurt either.
In many ways, Cranmore is the definitive Rout 16 ski area. At 81, it’s one of the oldest. First opened as Lookout Mountain, Cranmore’s place in ski annals is unmatched. It is home to George Morton’s “skimobile,” and Hannes Schneider (immortalized by a bronzed statue at the base area). It has toiled through the peaks and valleys that many surviving New England resorts have weathered. Fortunately, through its stellar location and dogged Yankee perseverance, the resort has survived tough times and enjoys a well-deserved reputation as a superb family mountain (family, in this instance, encompasses every generation).
Atop the 2,000-foot hill, the Meister Hut is as warm and as inviting as it was more than 70 years ago (and looks like it hasn’t been updated during the same span, which is a compliment). I can’t think of a better place for a hot chocolate or microbrew. The views overlooking North Conway, as well as Cathedral Ledge and the White Mountains to the west, are simply stunning. From the summit, Cranmore boasts 1,200 feet of vertical with 56 trails over 170 acres, with a breakdown of 16 beginner (28 percent), 25 intermediate (44 percent) and 15 most difficult (28 percent), which includes seven glade areas, and five terrain parks. In truth, all but absolute beginners can handle most of Cranmore’s blue-square terrain, while the glades are tight and challenging but not super steep.
The Snowsports School has upheld Schneider’s legendary instructional reputation, offering an outstanding variety of group and private lessons. If you have children, you definitely should consider Cranmore’s KidsRule Mountain Camps. If you need gear, the fast and friendly rental team will make sure you’re properly fitted with high-quality skis, snowboards, and boots. As an added bonus, you can take your multi-day rentals to other areas, allowing one-stop shopping.
At the base, the Arlberg Lodge has been converted into a state-of-the-art children’s center. Zip’s Pub & Grill is another New England ski institution, with a bar that recognizes some of Cranmore’s best-known personalities (yes, that’s Hannes Schneider on the menu cover) and a wall dedicated to Cranmore Ski Patrol Legends and Snowsports School Hall of Fame. Plans are also moving along on a new 92-room Marriott hotel on Skimobile Road.
Attitash, Bartlett, NH
If variety is the name of your game, Attitash has got you covered. More than any other mountain in the Route 16 corridor, Attitash has grown to meet the varied demands of its clientele. Today, the resort’s two peaks offer 68 trails (totaling 23 miles) and 310 acres of terrain. This fall, Vail Resorts assumed ownership. Simply put, this is not the Attitash of my youth.
To be perfectly honest, I loved the original Attitash, with its inspired trail architecture and 1,750 feet of vertical. Wilfred’s Gaum, Tightrope and Ptarmigan are seared into my muscle memory. But the expansion of a second mountain – the 2,050-foot Bear Peak – is undoubtedly a value-added proposition, with exceptional glade routes and top-to-bottom burners like Avenger, Illusion, and Mythmaker. Both peaks get the full attention of one of New England’s finest snowmaking and grooming crews.
Another benefit to Bear Peak is you can park the car and lock it, since the resplendent Attitash Grand Summit Hotel is the only slopeside hotel found the Mount Washington Valley. Talk about your all-inclusive experience. Apres ski, guests can enjoy heated outdoor pools and spas, not to mention steam rooms and saunas, at the resort’s fitness center, before refueling at Crawford’s Pub and Grill or the Black Diamond Grill. That’s a good day in my book.
Want something really different? Attitash offers a Mountain Coaster. Open year-round, the coaster allows riders to descend more than 2,800 feet of twin stainless steel rails through dips, banked turns and straight-aways at rider-controlled speeds of up to 25 miles an hour. Just in case you didn’t get your adrenaline fix on the hill.
Black Mountain, Jackson, NH
Given Cranmore’s well-publicized history, it’d be understandable if you guessed it was also the oldest ski area in New Hampshire. But you’d be wrong. That honor goes to Black Mountain, an underrated jewel tucked away in the steep hills behind Jackson.
Black is opening its 85th year this season with 1380 feet of vertical spread across 45 runs and 145 acres of skiable terrain. To ensure a great experience on the slopes, Black’s snowmaking system covers 120 of those acres.
Though it sounds cliché, Black is truly one of the Granite State’s best-kept secrets. This slope promotes itself as “classic New England skiing,” and backs up the claim. For starters, Black’s surroundings – primarily rolling farmland – appear to be pilfered straight from H.G. Wells’s Time Machine. Plus, the design of the hill itself is a nostalgic tour de force. Instead of wide-open corduroy carpets, Black offers tight, twisting trails over 143 acres of terrain. If you take the Summit chair, you better be able to handle your boards, as there’s no escape route from the top. Instead, you’ll uncover a tree-skiing delight, with Carter Notch and Lostbo glades.
Lower on the hill, from the East Bowl triple, intermediates and beginners have a treasure trove of trails to choose from (Galloping Goose is a favorite blue, while my girls love Sugarbush and Black Beauty). Black’s southern exposure means chilly mornings but relatively balmy afternoons. True, the conditions at Black are somewhat weather dependent, and it does takes a little more effort to find it. The effort, though, is worth the experience. An added bonus is the revitalized Whitney’s Inn, located next door, and the top-notch Christmas Tree Farm Inn down the road.
King Pine and Purity Spring Resort, East Madison, NH
Just a few miles east of the outlet malls in Conway is this oasis for families. King Pine, with 350 feet of vertical, doesn’t pretend to be a big ski area. But if members of your clan have varying abilities, they’ll appreciate King Pine’s 17 trails and two terrain parks spread over 48 acres, ranging from the gentle Pokey Pine and the Slow Pokey to the double-diamond Pine Brule and Pitch Pine. If you’re feeling strong, the resort offers night skiing on 23 acres.
Visitors will also appreciate recent improvements to King Pine’s snowmaking system. Other improvements include new food service equipment, additional rental shop inventory and upgrades to the lodging facilities.
On the hill, take a moment before you point the boards downhill. King Pine has outstanding views to the north, overlooking Purity Lake (and the resort’s cross-country trail network) and the cozy Tokho Dome skating rink. Three triple chair lifts keep the skiers moving up and down the hill. Boarders will love the air-inducing elements in the Twisted Pine Terrain Park along the hill’s eastern rim. Two of the resort’s most popular events – the cardboard box derby and the King Pine Splash Pond contest – are typically scheduled for late March.
For more variety, the resort offers dedicated snowshoe and cross-country ski trails, the Pine Meadows Tubing Park (with its own tow), and the aforementioned skating rink. You may need a trailer just to bring all the necessary gear.
The Riverside Inn, Intervale, NH
This gem of an inn alongside the East Branch of the Saco River on Route 16A (the original Route 16!) is well worth a detour off the main road. And it’s not much of a detour at all, although you’ll feel worlds away in this elegant bed and breakfast. The inn has five beautifully appointed guest rooms, and one two-bedroom suite (great for families!), all with private baths. Don’t even think of leaving before you’ve had breakfast.
Bernerhof Inn, Glen, NH
With excellent access to Attitash, and only a short drive to Black and Wildcat (and Cranmore, if you know the backroads), the stately Bernerhof is mission central for any Mount Washington Valley ski vacation. Dating back to the early 1880s, this magnificent structure on Route 302 has been restored beautifully. Each of the dozen rooms are well appointed, yet manage to have their own distinct character. You’ll enjoyed the whirlpool baths (each room has one!), and relaxing with a nice glass of wine in the pub at night.
Red Jacket Mountain View Resort, North Conway, NH
I’m not typically a fan of big-box inns, but I’ll make an exception for the Red Jacket. The location is great, with a nice variety of restaurants close by, and while the rooms aren’t anything special, they’re clean and tidy and generally quiet. Plus, they have several pet-friendly rooms, which can be a huge plus, and a super breakfast spread. The adjoining 40,000-square-foot Kahuna Laguna Water Park (kahunalaguna.com) is a terrific diversion for youngsters who still have energy to burn after they get off the hill.
The Inn at Jackson, Jackson, NH
This idyllic inn on the corner of Thorn Hill Road and Main Street was built in 1902, and still captures the Victorian charm and character of yesteryear. The 14 guestrooms, all with private bathrooms and many with fireplaces, simply ooze romance and relaxation. So does the intimate bar and living room. For those looking for an escape, instead of the mad-capped après ski scene, this cozy bed and breakfast a perfect retreat. For something a little more luxurious, consider the Inn at Thorn Hill (innatthornhill.com; 603-383-4242) just up the road.
The Glen House, Pinkham Notch, NH
Just two miles from Wildcat, situated at the base of the Mount Washington Auto Road, the Glen House is one of the region’s newest additions. And one of the best. This sprawling, 68-room hotel opened in September 2018. It’s clean and crisp, standing in stark contrast to the backdrop of the ancient Presidential Range. The moment visitors walk into the main lobby, they’re treated to the dramatic great room, with a fieldstone fireplace and breathtaking views of Mount Washington and the Presidentials out the back of the property. Along one side of the great room is the hotel’s bar, named “The Most Beautiful Bar in New Hampshire” by Architectural Digest, while the deck outside offers a blazing alfresco fire pit for more hardy après ski connoisseurs.
The New England Inn & Lodge, Intervale, NH
But there are times when we all crave a little “me time,” whether it’s a romantic getaway with that special someone or a family retreat. One antidote is the New England Inn & Lodge, tucked away in tiny Intervale, NH, wedged between Glen and North Conway. First established as an inn called the Mountain Rest in 1809, more than a century before skiing made it’s way to the region, the New England Inn has been in operation since 1906. The inn takes full advantage of the sprawling property, which straddles both sides of Route 16A (which is thankfully removed from the noise and congestion of Route 16). The New England Inn & Lodge has a variety of accommodations – 31 units in all – that can fit almost any vacation getaway, short- or long-term.
The Red Fox, Jackson
There usually a line to get into this restaurant situated right across from the historic covered bridge in Jackson, and for good reason. Few dining establishments can match the combination of value, variety, and service that you’ll find at the Red Fox, and nothing makes for a better atmosphere than a roomful of happy diners. The mouth-watering creations produced by the wood-fire ovens and grills range from bourbon steak tips to fire-roasted chicken and seafood dishes to inspired pizzas (such as the “Unusual Pair,” featuring grilled pear slices, bacon, garlic and gruyere cheese!). You simply can’t go wrong at the Red Fox.
Margarita Grille, Glen, NH
The menu is a mix of southwest delights, ranging from gringo, Native American, Hispanic, cowboy, chuckwagon, and Mexican, with a sampling of Creole and Cajun to boot. Two Mexican platters that really get me salivating are the Seafood Chimichanga (scallops, shrimp, and fresh fish) and the BBQ Pork Chimichanga. True, the latter isn’t “traditional” Mexican, but who cares? It’s delicious. But avoid the house tequila. In a word, it’s horrible. Ask for your tequila – what else would you drink at the Margarita Grille – by name (the 1800 Oranges margarita is a fave!).
Red Parka Pub, Glen, NH
This north country institution, now in its 47th year, just keeps getting better with age. No matter where you’re making your turns, all roads eventually lead to the Red Parka, near the intersection of Routes 16 and 302 just above North Conway. That confluence creates a bit of a traffic jam at the pub’s front door. Don’t worry, though. The Red Parka chefs will make certain your growling belly will be rewarded once you’re seated, with a wonderfully eclectic menu, including a number of iron-rich red meat offerings. Add an all-you-can-eat salad bar for only $1.95, and loosen up your belt.
Tuckerman’s Restaurant and Tavern, Intervale, NH
Wedged behind the New England Inn & Lodge on 16A, Tuckerman’s offers a great pub atmosphere. The wide-ranging menu features reasonably priced appetizers, sandwiches, pizzas, and burgers for light eats, and rib-sticking entrees for those with a serious hunger. The pasta dishes, and St. Louis style ribs, are a personal favorite. Great cocktails too, such as the anti-oxidant Pomegranate Martini (which is just what those fried thighs need after a day on the hill!) and a well-crafted Manhattan. Weekend visitors will want to check out the prime rib specials on Friday and Saturday.
Wildcat Inn & Tavern, Jackson, NH
This hole-in-the-wall sized dining room shares the same roof as the rowdier pub next door, but you won’t notice. Seating feels either crowded or comfy, depending on your perspective. But the service is attentive and upbeat, and the food is exceptional. Not to be outdone by their neighbor, the Inn at Thorn Hill (innatthornhill.com; 1-800-289-8990), just around the corner and up the hill, is another exceptional dining option in Jackson.
Horsefeathers, North Conway, NH
A snowball’s throw from Cranmore, Horsefeathers has been a ski-county institution for more than 40 years, and for good reason. “Serving up Sustenance, Merriment & Cheer since 1976,” Horsefeathers offers outstanding soups and salads, inventive sandwiches, and a number of fancy-if-somewhat-pricey main entrees (the tenderloin steak au poivre is simply to die for). And the atmosphere will make you feel right at home. The kids’ menu could be expanded, but that’s a minor quibble. My clan has never left Horsefeathers disappointed.