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Town, gown, downhill are visitors' delights

Email|Print| Text size + By Patricia Harris and David Lyon
Globe Correspondents / December 18, 2005

HANOVER, N.H. -- When the Rev. Eleazar Wheelock founded Dartmouth College in 1769 to educate the children of English colonists and Native Americans, he probably thought it clever to adopt the motto Vox Clamantis in Deserto, ''a voice crying in the wilderness."

Fast-forward over the centuries. Genteel Hanover, where the town common is called Dartmouth Green, has sloughed off its furs and buckskins and assumed the mantle of cultural capital of the Upper Connecticut River Valley. We humbly suggest that the poet Juvenal's epigram in his 10th Satire, ''mens sana in corpore sano," might make a more fitting college motto today. There's hardly a better spot for students -- and visitors -- to cultivate ''a sound mind in a sound body."

From the green, it's only a three-quarter mile sprint out North Main Street and Rope Ferry Road to the Dartmouth Outing Club, which in winter becomes the Dartmouth Cross Country Ski Center. The facility sits on the bank of Occom Pond, making for groomed skating out the back door as soon as the pond freezes hard.

The center also grooms 25 kilometers (about 15 1/2 miles) of trails for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in several locations. The easiest trails trace the contours of the adjacent golf course, the Hanover Country Club, founded in 1899 by Dartmouth College. (Dartmouth has a long tradition of encouraging exercise.) The gentle slopes at the edge of the course are a favorite sledding hill for youngsters.

Farther north of town along Route 10, the roughly 3-mile loop at Garipay Field is the choice of skate skiers, although classic Nordic skiers also enjoy the mix of easy and moderate terrain. The most challenging trails lie farther up Route 10 at Oak Hill. The approximately 8.5-mile Silver Fox Trail starts out easy, progresses to moderate, and works up to difficult as it passes through what is called ''the roller coaster." Skiers can get a real workout by choosing the difficult Back and Outback loops off the main trail -- or circle back instead on moderate terrain.

There wasn't enough snow in the woods for us to test the hard-core trails last time we were in Hanover. But once we learned that Oak Hill used to be a Dartmouth downhill facility and that cross-country trails were cut as recently as the 1960s, we were just as happy not to join the members of Dartmouth's Nordic ski team on their training runs.

Dartmouth's downhill skiers practice another 12 miles north off Route 10 in Lyme Center at the Dartmouth Skiway, a public facility opened by the college in 1957. In this age of mega-resorts, swift lifts, and luxury dining and drinking at base lodges, the Skiway seems almost rudimentary. A vertical drop of 968 feet and 32 trails (rated beginner to expert) make the 104 acres of skiing modest by comparison with New England's big mountains.

But don't sell the Skiway short. Since calling the Skiway home, the Dartmouth team has produced about 100 All-Americans, more than 30 national champions, and several Olympic contenders, all of whom honed their skills on these slopes.

For visitors who would rather watch than participate, Dartmouth has men's and women's hockey teams who play at Thompson Arena on South Park Street. If neither is on the ice, check the schedules for the basketball, track, squash, and swim teams.

There's also a good chance that there will be a performance or a film screening at Hopkins Center, the Dartmouth performing arts facility at the end of the green next to the Hanover Inn. The winter series is heavy on music, with touring artists as well as performances by the Dartmouth College Glee Club, Gospel Choir, Wind Symphony, and Symphony Orchestra. The Dartmouth Film Society's winter lineup mixes independent new releases with classic silent, documentary, and foreign films.

There's plenty to keep you busy until nightfall. In addition to the Dartmouth Co-op Bookstore, Hanover is replete with the usual mix of college-town shops, including the latest in anti-fashion and the sorts of boutiques where prepsters have outfitted themselves for generations.

Glassblower Simon Pearce (10 South Main St.; 603-643-0100) also has a small outlet.

Along with custom knives, Swarovski optics, and Orvis fly-fishing paraphernalia, Lyme Angler (17 Lebanon St.; 603-643-1263) sells the oh-so-fashionable waxed-cotton Barbour coats.

We're partial to Left Bank Books (9 South Main St.; 603-643-4479) with its mix of fine collectibles, paperback novels, and intelligent nonfiction.

The shop is on the second floor, but leaves a rack of books on the sidewalk next door to Dirt Cowboy Cafe for those who want to grab something to read while sipping one of the cafe's own freshly roasted coffees and munching on a plate-sized cookie. Corlan Johnson, Left Bank's proprietor, must be a bit of a philosopher. A sign above the sidewalk rack reads: ''Please pay for books before sitting down to read them (stealing wreaks havoc with your karma)."

On the other side of the green, students often hunker over books in the reserve reading room at Baker Library, surrounded by one of Dartmouth's greatest artistic holdings. When Mexican muralist José Clemente Orozco was a visiting professor between 1932 and 1934, he covered the walls of the reading room with his expressionistic vision of ''The Epic of American Civilization." The 2,200-square-foot mural, considered one of his masterpieces, is the largest work he created in the United States.

Dartmouth's artistic holdings of more manageable size are housed in the Hood Museum of Art, connected to the Hopkins Center. The current quarters, completed in 1985, are streamlined and modern, but the museum itself is one of the oldest on an American college campus. Shortly after Dartmouth was founded, a gift of ''a few curious elephants bones" from the Ohio River Valley started the college on the path of collecting art and artifacts. The Hood's entry hall gives a preview of the diversity of the art inside: A 1990 Sol Lewitt wall painting covers the walls, while a doorway frames 9th-century BC Assyrian reliefs in the adjacent gallery.

American works by such artists as Rockwell Kent, John Sloan, Frederic Remington, Maxfield Parrish, and Thomas Eakins are displayed on deep terra-cotta-colored walls. A 1913 New Hampshire landscape by Willard Metcalf captures the anticipation of spring. ''The First Thaw" depicts a stream running through woods as ice recedes from the banks.

Even the museum shop pays homage to the Dartmouth ethos of well-tended mind and body. Along with books, notecards, and jewelry, it sells carved wooden walking sticks.

Contact Patricia Harris and David Lyon, freelance writers in Cambridge, at harris.lyon@verizon.net.

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