Slopeside with James Patrick: Little areas make skiing here special

New Hampshire Union Leader |
March 22. 2013 12:39AM


The skiing at Storrs Hill in Lebanon will not blow you away with its statistics. There is one Poma lift that pulls skiers up 300 vertical feet. The lift is a series of metal rods that dangle from a wire. Skiers and snowboarders stand in a groove, grab one of the rods, hold it between their legs and get pulled up the hill.

At the top, on skier's left, is the back trail. Down the middle is the main trail. There's a snowboard park on the right. That is the extent of the options.

There are plenty of hills just like Storrs throughout New Hampshire, and they are what makes the state unique in the ski world.

In the West, there are gigantic ski areas, but there are few, if any, little ski areas with low lift ticket prices. It's a detriment to people learning to ski when the mountains are harder to access and cost too much money.

Manchester has McIntyre Ski Area, with its 147 vertical feet of skiing and snowboarding. Generations of city residents have taken their first turns on one of McIntyre's 10 runs in its 42 years of operation. It costs $14 for a beginner's lift ticket. An adult can get a half-day lift ticket for $22 in the middle of the week.

Storrs Hill is even cheaper. A lift ticket is $10 for adults; a family season pass is $175. Storrs is run by the Lebanon Outing Club, which relies on volunteers to run the area. If you volunteer for a weekly shift running the lift or working concessions, you earn a day pass for the entire family.

It's all about access, which New Hampshire and northern New England have in spades over anywhere else in the country. A trip to the local ski hill out West can mean an hour-long trip up a canyon and hassles galore. In Lebanon - or Andover or Claremont or Lancaster - it might take you 10 minutes from the other side of town to the hill.

Big resorts are great fun. More vertical footage means longer, winding runs. Sunapee offers easy blue runs that a beginner could learn to cruise in a day. Loon Mountain and Cannon have a mixture of steeps and easy-going runs to keep you entertained all winter.

But you're paying for all that acreage. High-speed chairlifts and new trails all come at a cost. A ticket at Loon Mountain costs $79, if you buy it at the resort, and the runs can ski like interstate traffic on a busy weekend. The more people that ride up on a high-speed chairlift means more people skiing down.

So this is one for the little guy, the underdogs that ski snobs craving big mountains like to tease. There's no Starbucks at the chairlift? How could you possibly ski there?

Skiing is a part of New Hampshire towns' DNA. This is who we are. It doesn't matter if it's 10 below zero, raining sleet or a bluebird powder day. We ski here regardless of conditions and terrain. And the little municipal ski areas of New Hampshire don't have to impress any ski snobs. We know who we are.

This is the final Slopeside column of the season.
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