Stowe, Vt., and North Conway, N.H., were ranked as two of the top 25 ski towns in the world by National Geographic Magazine in February, the only two New England towns that made the list. Both offer great skiing, gorgeous mountain scenery, and an outdoor-lover’s vibe.
Small-town Stowe has authentic New England charm, with plush amenities, upscale lodging, and world-class dining, while sprawled-out and bustling North Conway has nearly limitless activities at price points for all. Here is your guide to getting the best out of each of these all-star ski towns.
Surrounded by the nearly 800,000-acre White Mountain National Forest, and in the shadows of New England’s highest peak, North Conway has seven ski mountains and six cross-country centers within a 30-minute drive. Choices abound, with more than 75 restaurants, 150 lodgings, 200 stores, and a slew of outfitters in the area. In 2011, TripAdvisor named North Conway the number one most affordable ski town in the Northeast and number two in the country.
Inn for the night: You won’t want to leave your plush suite at the lovingly restored 1869 Wentworth Inn (1 Carter Notch Road, Jackson, 800-637-0013, www.thewentworth.com, $298-$578). There is a fireplace and a four-poster bed covered in luscious linens. The lace-covered door in the bathroom leads to a private hot tub, and the steam shower feels nearly decadent after a day on the slopes. The elegant, 50-room, “baby grand” hotel also has one of the best special occasion restaurants in the region.
Kid-spoiler: It’s a touch of Disneyland in New England at Adventure Suites (3440 White Mountain Highway, 888-626-6929, www.adventuresuites.com, deluxe suites $259-$499, economy suites $109-$239), with 17 individually-themed rooms, including the Cave, with tunnels, a sleeping cavern, and large animal replicas; the Treehouse, with gnarly branches, trunks, and a kids’ hideaway; and Showtime, with a giant, wall-size movie screen and popcorn machine.
Home-style digs: The casual, friendly, and tranquil Riverside Inn B&B (372 Route 16A, 603-356-7044, www.riverside-inn-bed-breakfast.com, $109-$225), along the banks of the East Branch Saco River, has rooms with floral wallpaper, four-poster beds, and private baths; some have whirlpool tubs and gas fireplaces. The spacious, light-filled living room in the 1906 Victorian house is a great place to enjoy afternoon tea and the innkeeper’s homemade cookies.
Splurge-worthy meal: Subdued candlelight and gas-light lamps, hand-hewn beams, original wood paneling, roaring log fires, and linen-topped tables set the stage for a memorable meal at the historic 1785 Inn (3582 White Mountain Highway, 800-421-1785, www. the1785inn.com, entrees $17.85-$28.85). Delightfully old-school tableside preparations and flaming desserts and drinks, add show quality. But, it’s the meat and game offerings that really shine, like the elk tenderloin, applewood smoked rabbit loin, and marinated lamb served with rosemary goat cheese.
Start your day: Locally owned Peaches (2501 White Mountain Highway, 603-356-5860, www.peachesnorthconway.com, $4.95-$8.95) is the go-to place for breakfast. Fuel up with the signature cream cheese-and-fruit-stuffed French toast or the hefty Italian omelet with ham, tomato, and asiago cheese.
Climb out of your comfort zone: This part of New England has some of the best ice climbing in the country. Sign up for lessons with one of the two renowned climbing schools: Eastern Mountain Sports Climbing School (1498 White Mountain Highway, 800-310-4304, www.emsexploration.com) or International Mountain Equipment (2733 White Mountain Highway, 800-356-7013, www.ime-usa.com),owned by one of the first New Englanders to summit Everest.
Après-ski: The come-as-you-are, stay-late Red Parka Pub (Route 302, Glen, 603- 383-4344, www.redparkapub.com), with decent steaks and better-than-average pub grub, is the longtime local watering hole, celebrating its 40th anniversary this season. Live bands play on weekends.
Skip skiing, go shopping: No sales tax: Let’s start with that. There are about 100 name-brand factory outlets at Settlers’ Green Outlet Village (2 Common Court, 888-667-9636, www.settlersgreen.com) and along Route 16, and another 100 or so independently owned shops near the village.
Closest runs: For local flavor, no lift lines, and the cheapest ticket prices in town, head to decidedly retro Black Mountain (603-383-4490, www. blackmtn.com). Kid-centered and fun-loving Cranmore (800-786-6754, www.cranmore.com), has been a favorite with families for 75 years. Attitash (800-223-7669, www.attitash.com) has two connected mountains, big snow guns, and plenty of variety. On a sunny, midweek day, you can’t beat it. Classic New England-narrow trails, old-school charm, and some of the best views in New England, make Wildcat (800-754-9453, www.skiwildcat.com) popular. It also has the longest summit-to-base novice run in New Hampshire.Continued...