Winter Notes: Go off the beaten path to find ski area sweet spotsBy MEGHAN McCARTHY McPHAUL March 01. 2018 11:52PM
Spend enough time at any ski area and you’ll figure out some of the coolest places to chill, trails to ski, and events to check out.
At Cranmore you can snag first tracks and coffee at the Meister Hut with the area’s general manager a few times each season. At Crotched you can ski all night and into the next day on Fridays and Saturdays. And some areas, like Loon and Sunapee, host mountaintop religious services on weekends throughout the winter.
There are countless secret stashes and hidden treasures at New Hampshire’s ski areas. Here are a few I’ve discovered and enjoyed along my ski travels — places off the beaten track, away from the central lifts and most crowded trails.
Feeding the birds on Loon
There’s a lot happening at Loon Mountain Resort. It’s easy to get caught up in the hubbub surrounding the gondola, or watching jibbers go big in the parks, or heading over to South Peak to ski the steeps away from the main mountain.
Tucked away on North Peak, though, is what I consider the coolest spot at Loon: the bird sanctuary.
A friend tipped me off to this little forest enclave a few winters ago, and I make sure to duck into it whenever I get the chance. While it’s not on the trail map, there’s a sign marking the spot near the top of the Sunset trail.
To get there, take the Gondola to the summit and head toward North Peak. A right off the top of the North Peak Express Quad brings you onto Sunset. Look for the bird sanctuary sign at the left edge of the trail, ditch your skis there, and take a short walk into the woods. The chickadees and nuthatches will be waiting, and they’ll eat right from your hand if you stand quietly holding birdseed.
I’ve tried this trick unsuccessfully with the chickadees who frequent my feeder at home, but the birds at Loon have no qualms about alighting on human fingers, at least briefly enough to snag a tasty morsel before fluttering off again.
So if you’re Loon-bound, remember to add a bit of birdseed to your ski bag inventory.
Hiking the Saddle at Cannon
I grew up skiing at Cannon Mountain, and hiking the saddle was a childhood rite of passage. It seemed a long haul back then, when Mittersill was a separate ski area. For the many years the Mittersill slopes were closed, hiking the saddle was the only way to access the trails there.
Although the Mittersill trails, now part of Cannon, are again alive and thriving, the short bootpack bridging the two mountains is still a worthy adventure.
To get to the saddle, take the Cannonball Quad to the top of the mountain, then hang a right toward Taft Slalom. Carved from the forest in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, Taft was the first trail in the country created for down-mountain skiing. Carry as much speed as you can at the bottom of the slope and straight across the flats.
The hike from there is just a few minutes, and the view from the top of the saddle on a clear day is incredible, taking in the slopes of Cannon, the jagged lines of Mount Lafayette and Franconia Ridge across the Notch, and several Vermont ski areas in the distance to the west.
Follow the narrow, sometimes-groomed track through the trees to arrive at the top of the Mittersill Double. From there, you can go left onto Skyline to explore some of Mittersill’s glades or arrive at the T-bar, or right to Baron’s Run, which will bring you to the bottom of the chairlift. A right onto Way Back after the steeps of Baron’s leads back to the main base area of Cannon.
Stickney Cabin at Bretton Woods
The Mount Stickney Cabin is not exactly a secret, but its slightly off-the-beaten-trail location makes it a great place to sneak off to for some fortification — and some glade skiing laps off the Telegraph T-bar. Even better is that this tucked-away spot is accessible by both alpine and cross-country skiers.
A woodstove keeps the cozy cabin warm. Hungry skiers will find cookies, soup, and other good eats, depending on the day. There’s also cocoa — with or without a shot of Bailey’s — and a selection of local beers. One note here: the cabin is cash only.
Kids (and grownups, too) may roast marshmallows at the outdoor fireplace, and picnic tables offer a place to rest those weary ski legs — and great views of Mount Rosebrook, the hub of Bretton Woods’ ski trails.
Nordic skiers may access the cabin via the Mountain Road from the Nordic Center or ride the Bethlehem Express Quad and come across the Mountain Road Traverse. The Mount Stickney High Country Nordic Loop winds through the woods above the cabin.
Alpine skiers may prefer to ride the Rosebrook Summit Express Quad and arrive at the cabin via the Two Miles Home trail and the Telegraph T-bar.
However you get there, it’s a sweet spot to visit.
Winter Notes is published on Fridays during ski season. Contact Meghan McCarthy McPhaul at firstname.lastname@example.org.