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Mt. Washington Valley, New Hampshire

If anyone wants skiing and a whole lot more, Mt. Washington Valley is the place.

For people familiar with the Mount Washington Valley, there is an aura that is difficult to explain. It is a state of mind, a sense of community. For those who have never experienced it, there is a memorable family ski trip awaiting in the towns of Bartlett, Jackson and North Conway, New Hampshire. The Valley, as locals call it, has many tangible attributes that beckon vacationers during all four seasons. These include spectacular scenery, a long history of hospitality, extensive shopping, diverse nightlife and plentiful choices in skiing, dining, lodging and just plain stuff to do. There are many more intangibles, not the least of which is the overwhelming sense of history that is visible on the walls of places like the Red Parka Pub.

People that frequent the Valley have a sense of community that makes the area special. Even the ski resorts are less competitive than they are fraternal in their co-existence here. This allure also makes the area popular, and almost always crowded. Accordingly, reservations are always recommended, and savvy use of back roads, such as the West Side Road and the North-South Road, will make the trip more enjoyable (see resort chapters for details).

Home to the main ski areas of Cranmore, Attitash and Wildcat, the Valley also has the smaller, but great beginner/family resorts of King Pine and Black Mountain within its confines. On a clear day, all but King Pine offer spectacular views of the Northeast’s highest peak, the 6,288-foot Mt. Washington, and the surrounding Presidentials. And, if you need more skiing choices, just an hour’s ride reaches Bretton Woods and Shawnee Peak. As if these choices weren’t enough, some of the Northeast’s best cross-country ski centers are here.

These include the Jackson Ski Touring Foundation and Great Glen Trails, with many more kilometers of gliding or snowshoeing at the Mt. Washington Valley Ski Touring Foundation, Bear Notch Touring Center, the Appalachian Mountain Club and King Pine. The few remaining grand old hotels attest to the fact that Mt. Washington Valley was a summer destination resort long before anyone came here to ski. In the 1930s, the variety of terrain in what was then called the Eastern Slope region was a magnet to early skiers.

Depression-era work crews cut trails (the Wildcat Trail was one of the first), and enterprising young men started ski schools bringing Austrian instructors and the famous Arlberg method. If this ski history means nothing to you, no matter, Mt. Washington Valley has the best of now, too. Wide fall-line cruisers complement the classic, narrow winding trails of yesteryear at each of the areas. Modern condos, motels and hotels mix with country inns and B&Bs throughout the region, which encompasses the Conways, Bartlett, Jackson and extends through Pinkham Notch. Outlying towns, from Gorham to Snowville, N.H., to Bridgton, Maine, figure in the mix. ATTITASH | WILDCAT | CRANMORE