BRADFORD — When we started this series, an alert reader wrote to tell us that you can ride the T to go skiing. We thought she meant Wachusett Mountain Ski Area in Princeton, which every television viewer in the Greater Boston market knows from its earnest, slightly goofy commercials and annoyingly catchy theme song. But no — she had Ski Bradford in mind. We’d call it a well-kept secret, except that the slopes are heavily populated with folks from northeastern Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire who’ve kept a lid on the ski area lest we Bostonians realize that it’s only an hour north on the Haverhill line of the commuter rail.
There’s nothing terribly special about the trains on the Haverhill line. The bench seats begin to feel pretty hard at the end of the 68-minute ride from North Station to Haverhill, but the train was punctual on our recent trip. There is a Bradford stop, but unless you’re planning to walk to Ski Bradford (about an hour), continuing to Haverhill makes more sense. Since this is commuter rail, more trains run on weekdays than weekends, but who doesn’t want to sneak off for a midweek ski break? It’s even feasible to head out right after work and ski a few hours under the lights before catching the 10:15 p.m. train back to Boston. Weekend choices are fewer, but there are still four trains to Haverhill on Saturday and Sunday that let you get in anywhere from a full day to a few hours on the slopes. For the complete schedule, see the MBTA website, www.mbta.com.
The Haverhill MBTA/Am-trak station sits about 20 yards uphill from Washington Street at Railroad Square. It’s about a 10-minute taxi ride (around $12 plus tip) to Ski Bradford. Cabs often meet the trains, but if one isn’t there, dial A Family Cab at 978-373-3511. It’s a bit cumbersome to bring your own gear, but you can rent skis, boots, and poles at the slopes for $30-$35.
If you missed breakfast, stop in at Mark’s Deli (2 Railroad Square, 978-374-9402, breakfast $2.99-$9.95), one of the unsung treasures of Haverhill. With just 12 stools, four booths, and two tables, seating can be tight, but everyone is so friendly at this Greek-American diner that you’ll soon be chums with staff and customers alike. Mark’s is open 6 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday through Saturday for breakfast and lunch, and Sunday 6 till 1 for breakfast only.
WHAT TO DO
Owner Neil Sawyer’s family created what is now called Ski Bradford (Cross Road, Bradford, 978-373-0071,
www.skibradford.com, adult lift tickets $24-$45 ) in 1949, and Sawyer’s father took over in 1956. Today Sawyer is owner, manager, and chief snow maker. “We make enough snow on every trail that we don’t shut down,” he says, noting that even when the ground is bare in Boston, the slopes will be white in Bradford.
That’s not to say that Ski Bradford’s 48 acres of skiable terrain matches the drama or variability of the big ski areas in Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. It’s a small ski area for the intermediate skier where the wholesome family-friendly vibe is a big part of the appeal. The spacious lodge has a big fireplace, lots of tables for warming up, and a snack bar with grill and fried food. There’s no alcohol, but the bar does serve good hot chocolate.
More than 40 area schools participate in lessons at the ski hill, and Ski Bradford has around 250 certified instructors who teach would-be skiers of all ages. “Learn-to-ski — that’s our business,” says Sawyer, who notes his black diamond slopes wouldn’t be rated that difficult at a north country resort. “They’re just our most challenging trails,” he says.
There are almost always a lot of junior skiers on the slopes, especially since Ski Bradford hosts school races almost every day. But on Tuesdays, especially warm and sunny Tuesdays, “the over-80s club comes in and skis,” says Sawyer. Many teen skiers like the terrain park, which has a dedicated chairlift and features a half pipe. The owner himself prefers skiing Hugh’s Run, which is steeper and narrower than most of the trails. “It’s like skiing back in the ’50s,” he says.
The round-trip fare between Boston and Haverhill is $18.50 and the ride has a certain contrarian appeal, especially on weekdays when you’re going the opposite direction from the office-bound commuters. It sure beats the four-hour drive to Sugarloaf, or three-hour slog to Stowe. You can get a solid fix of winter exercise and be home in time for dinner.Patricia Harris and David
Lyon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.