A Mt. Washington Valley Skiing Trifecta

Mt. Washington on a rare clear day (Donny Noble photo)

With my sweetheart about to go back into classes until she finally gets her MSW in May (and, with any luck, gets a job where she can support me!), we decided to escape and get in a little more play time before the insanity hits again.  We’d had so much fun on our day trip to Purity Spring/King Pine, where we were able to do multiple things in a day, that we decided to expand that to a two day trip.  I needed to go to Attitash anyway to meet with the snowmaking people for “The Guns Of Attitash”, so the Mt. Washington Valley seemed to make sense.

With that in mind, we headed up early one morning to Conway.  There’s a place called “Bea’s Cafe” at 50 White Mountain Highway that’s one of our favorite breakfast places.  I like to use a day of skiing ahead as an excuse to get the chicken fried steak with sausage gravy…it’s as calorie-intense as it sounds, and tastes fantastic.  They serve breakfast all day…hmm.  Oh, never mind.  Anyway, on the way through North Conway to Attitash, we stopped at Eastern Mountain Sports, where I rented a pair of Black Diamond telemark skis.  I’d had fun doing tele at King Pine; I had to wonder what it would be like on the steep slopes of ‘Tash!  With my equipment ready, on we went.

On arriving at Attitash, Doug Tulin, their PR guy, took us under his wing, and dragged us around to show us the changes in their snowmaking system.  I guess “dragged” isn’t quite the right word…more like “skied our legs off”.  And this was in the morning, on alpine gear!  Doug’s got a bit of a history as a skier; he’s a 4 time world synchro ski champ, and the 2005 New England Powder 8

Doug explaining where the $3 million in snowmaking went (David Shedd photo)

champion. Translation…he’s a hell of a skier, and way beyond my skill level.  His idea of relaxed skiing is my idea of wide-eyed fear.  Luckily, he loves to teach, so spent his time working with Susan, which gave me a break.  Not a bad start to the adventure…free downhill lessons from a real pro!  The snow was wonderful, firm without any boilerplate across the entire mountain, and we all had a great morning.  Clearly, the effort (and money) that Attitash has been putting into new snowmaking equipment has paid off; early January had conditions that I’d expect in February.

At lunchtime, I caught a break…Doug had to actually go work.  So, we grabbed a bite, then pulled the telemark gear out of the car.  Okay, I’ll admit…this was a bit scary.  Only my third day on telemark skis, and I’m going to do the steep slopes of Attitash?   Maybe I’m starting to think I’m

Tower fans everywhere...but don't forget the views! (David Shedd photo)

Doug.  To make matters worse, he reappeared…oh, great, I have to try to chase him with tele skis on???  But, once again, his teaching nature came to the fore.  Of course he’d done tele before…and of course he was good at it.  Sometimes, I hate people like that…but hey, if he wants to give me pointers, all jealousy is gone!  With his comments building on Robin Roaf’s lesson of the previous week, I found myself feeling remarkably controlled, even on the diamonds.  Speaking of diamonds, the Black Diamonds performed beautifully…EMS  had clearly tuned them well, and they carved cleanly and snapped me in and out of corners the few times that my technique happened to be good enough to hit a corner right.  They’re already on my short list for when I go shopping for telemark skis!  I’m definitely hooked on telemark…there’s a freedom to it that’s very different from alpine.  I’ve got a long way to go, but I’m finding that in some ways, it’s actually easier to handle steep terrain due to the low center of gravity the turn provides.

A few hours of that fun, and my legs were turning to jelly.  Susan was feeling the same way…she’d never skied as much steep terrain in as short a time.  Two legs of my trifecta…alpine and telemark…in excellent conditions, beautiful weather, great views, and good company.  Life was good!  And it was about to get better, as we were headed to our lodging.  Being as this was an escape before Susan’s next descent into scholastic hell, we wanted to splurge…and we’d been told about suites at The Wentworth in Jackson Village that had private outdoor hot tubs.  That’s just an irresistable idea…after burning our legs out, to soak in that kind of luxury sounded divine.  Since it was mid-week, they’d had rooms available, so we booked ourselves there.  The Wentworth is a

The Wentworth lobby sets the stage for elegance throughout (David Shedd photo)

throwback to a more elegant time; like the Mt. Washington Hotel, it has a gracious charm that made us feel like F. Scott & Zelda Fitzgerald.  Beautifully maintained, the modern updates have been done in ways that don’t diminish that sense of being transported to a different world.  Our suite, in the Fairlawn building, was stunning…varnished wood trim, a gas fireplace, marble bathroom…oh, and that hot tub room!  Open to the outdoors, it’s still perfectly private…an ideal place to sit and sip a glass of wine while relaxing before dinner.  Susan, ever the charmer, reminded me that I was due back at Attitash to learn about the workings of the fan gun, but assured me that she’d test the hot tub out for me.  Great.

Off to Attitash I went, with Susan sending me text updates on her decadence.  I didn’t feel that bad

Head snowmaker Kevin Kasten giving me lessons (Doug Tulin photo)

about it, though…the time learning how the fan guns work was fascinating.  But, a couple of hours of that was enough to have me frozen solid (bare hands work best for shooting video, but not for making it comfortable to be out there on the slopes!).  Back I went, and directly into the hot tub.  Ah, bliss…and yes, I had brought a bottle of something with bubbles in it to sip while we soaked and chatted.  We still had plenty of time before our dinner reservations, so we thoroughly relaxed.  The room has a sense of peace to it; we actually sat on the bed and stared up at the patterns the cut-glass overhead light made on the ceiling!  We probably could have fallen asleep right then, but with a dining room headed by a graduate of New England Culinary Institute, we felt it was our duty to make sure we tested it.

And testing, it was worth.  The service was country inn impeccable; everything done just right, but very friendly and down-to-earth.  The food was sort of nouvelle-cuisine-meets-the-mountains (wild boar rib appetizer, anyone?), beautifully prepared, fragrant, and tasty.  The chocolate bomb dessert that we took back to the room (well, we DID have to get into the hot tub again, didn’t we?) was sinfully rich and worth every calorie.  One last comment on the dining room…breakfast, even if you aren’t staying there, has to be the best value in Jackson.  $10 gets you their continental breakfast with tons of fresh fruit AND a full breakfast plate from the menu!  Even if you stay somewhere else, you owe it to yourself to get over there in the morning and enjoy it.

After all of that decadence, we really needed to work off a week’s worth of calories.  Luckily, The

World class XC and country charm all in one! (David Shedd photo)

Wentworth just happens to be next door to the Jackson XC facility, allowing me to complete my trifecta without even driving anywhere.  For those who haven’t heard of it, this is one of the top cross country trail systems in the country.  148 kilometers of trails means a great variety of terrain to suit everyone, from open fields to gliding along a river to challenging twisty descents in the woods.  And starting this year, they’ve partnered with Gorham Bike & Ski to bring in a retail and service shop; if you need your skis waxed or need a new jacket, gloves, or whatever, there’s a great variety there.  So, on with our skis and off we went.  The grooming was perfect, and while there were a surprising number of people out on the tracks, we were able to get into our groove and enjoy the scenery while we worked out.  Nordic skiing is a wonderfully intense activity; within a

Jackson's impeccable grooming makes for easy skiing (David Shedd photo)

few hours, we’d beaten ourselves up as much as we had the day before, and were happy to get back in the car and head back home.  Yet again, we’d found that mixing up our types of skiing gave us a great workout, a lot of fun, and a desire to do it all again.  And clearly, the Mt. Washington Valley is a great place to do it…the trifecta was more like a perfecta!  We only began to sample the options…there’s other alpine mountains, other cross country facilities, and certainly other lodging and food options.  We’ll be back, if we can ever get Susan out of school!

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About David Shedd

David Shedd is a lifelong resident of New England, and has been skiing, kayaking, mountain biking, and trying anything that anyone throws at him for most of his life. A 2001 Maine Mountain Bike Association State Champion, his current goal is to learn to break fewer bones.