FRANCONIA, N.H. -- The smaller the town, the crazier the hours.
Say you wanted to visit the Franconia Heritage Museum; that would be Thursday and Saturday afternoons. To check out the library on Main Street, you have a four-hour window Monday through Wednesday, a split shift on Thursdays, three hours on Friday, or you would have to make a Saturday-morning stop.
Pick up bread at the bakery? That's open three days a week in winter. The outlet store in town is open three days a week year-round, though not the same three as the bakery next door.
About 150 miles north of Boston, in the western White Mountains, Franconia is a small town of about 1,000 people. For nearly two centuries the community has been taking in travelers headed for the majesty of Franconia Notch State Park and Mount Lafayette and Cannon Mountain.
Franconia is quiet in winter. The Frost Place, the poet's home-turned-museum, is closed for the season as are warmer-weather favorites like Polly's Pancake Parlor, next door in Sugar Hill.
The state park, the final resting place of the Old Man of the Mountain, is prime territory for this season's activities. Though the Flume is closed, skiers and snowboarders have the slopes of Cannon Mountain, while ice climbers head for Cannon Cliffs. Below the dangling ice, the bike path is transformed into a snowmobile corridor. Snowshoers and winter hikers trek to frozen Lonesome Lake.
Though the Old Man is no more, Franconia has another famous face: Bode Miller, the Olympic double silver medalist who made World Cup history in November by becoming the first skier to win the first three races in a World Cup season. He has rock-star status in Europe, where skiing is king of winter sports, but back in Franconia he's just Bode (BO-dee), and in summer he teaches tennis at the Tamarack Camps.
Cannon is a big mountain, at least by New Hampshire standards, and it's where Miller got his ski legs barreling down trails such as the Front Five: Gary's, Rocket, Zoomer, Paulie's Folly, and Avalanche. Cannon has history. It has the first ski-racing trail cut in North America, the Taft Slalom of 1933. In 1938, North America's first aerial tramway, replaced by another in 1980, shuttled skiers up the mountain. Plans call for a three-phase project, starting in the spring, to rebuild the north side of the summit's lift stop and mountain station.
Cannon is known for its fickle weather and challenging terrain, topping out at 4,186 feet with a vertical drop of more than 2,100 feet. That's prime material for thigh burners, starting from the winding summit trails such as Upper Cannon and Upper Ravine. Feel the heat on those Front Five, which seem to drop into Echo Lake (Gary's and Rocket don't have the bumps). On sunny days, there's nothing like the view on Vista Way across the notch over to the knife-edge ridge.
Want it tamer? Stick to the shelter and lower elevation of the Brookside and Tuckerbrook areas with their seven trails that are billed for beginners and up but also attract mature skiers. There are big mountain views out to the valleys of New Hampshire and Vermont, and a Brookside-only ticket (which gives you access to the seven trails from three lifts) goes for $20 compared with $49 for the weekend and holiday ticket.
The New England Ski Museum is next door to Cannon's base tram station. The free museum pays homage to legends such as Toni Matt, who skied over the Tuckerman Ravine headwall to first place in the dazzling 1939 Inferno Race, and Hannes Schneider, the Austrian considered by many to be the father of modern skiing. It's filled with art and memorabilia from the World War II ski troops of the 10th Mountain Division. From wooden skis to ski pins to an old Miller racing suit, it's all there. A winter-long display titled ''Winter Work: The CCC and New England Skiing" chronicles early ski-racing trails cut by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1933. Watch a ski movie there on a rainy day.
Closer to town, cross-country skiers and snowshoers have the 40 miles of trails of the Franconia Village X-C Ski Center that run on both sides of Easton Road. The center is based at the comfortable Franconia Inn, where there are also a tubing hill, skating pond, and horse-drawn sleigh rides. Just outside the inn and surrounded by a mountain panorama, barns, and wonderful woods, the Flat Track Circle out to Vista Way might appeal to fledgling skiers. Those wanting a workout can do a 12-mile loop that connects the inn to two others, Lovetts and the Horse and Hound. Or consider a short drive to Bethlehem and a romp through the easy trails of the Rocks Estate, a hillside Christmas-tree farm.
Inns, bed-and-breakfasts, hotels, motels, and cabins are all found here. Sleepy Main Street, which is sandwiched between the Gale River and Interstate 93, is the heart of the town, with Kelley's grocery store on one side and the Franconia Village Store on the other. A castle-like iron furnace stands along the river. Overstocks and discounted bedding and clothing items are for sale at the Garnet Hill outlet in the Franconia Marketplace next to Grateful Bread, which specializes in organic whole-grain breads.
Main Street is also a magnet for hungry visitors. You won't look at a Reuben the same way after a visit to Dutch Treat. One Reuben is served like a burger; another is a breakfast dish that comes between pancakes. Ignore the Yankees photos in the lounge with its pool table and chairlift. Red Sox and ski items fill the walls at the Franconia Village House bar. It's a fun ski bar, complete with changing specials like 50-cent tacos and half-price appetizers.
In September, Above the Notch Restaurant and Tavern opened next to the Cannon Mountain View Motel. The tavern is neat and homey, with a wood stove and lots of ski paraphernalia. Sandwiches, pasta, chicken, and stone-baked pizzas are on the menu. Among the decor is a skier mannequin on the outside wall with its head inside, making it appear that it has crashed through the wall.
If cheese wrapped in newspaper for insulation sounds intriguing, take a trip back in time to Harman's Cheese and Country Store in Sugar Hill. They don't take credit cards, but checks are OK. And if you want to spread the smoked cheddar on a fresh Grateful Bread bran sunflower loaf, you had better get there on a Wednesday or Friday. In winter, those are the only days both places are open at the same time.
Marty Basch is a writer living in New Hampshire.