North Conway, NH – Winter is gearing up in Mt Washington Valley as ski resorts and XC Centers open, ice forms, and backcountry hiking and skiing plans get underway. The recent snowfall really put the icing on the cake with up to 7” of new snow. The White Mountains surrounding the Valley offer seemingly endless recreational opportunities within an easy drive for much of the East Coast. This winter will be unlike others, however, as the pandemic is still in place. It’ll be more important than ever to “know before you go” to the Valley as Covid restrictions include mandatory reservations at some ski resorts, social distancing and mask wearing by all, plus limited access in some cases. Be sure to have a plan and complete gear for your winter adventure before you come, and that starts with checking the place you plan to play. The Granite State Safe campaign helps educate those visiting New Hampshire this year with the basic tenants of travel to the region, yet all visitors should take their planning a step further by contacting the business(es) they plan to visit and checking their safety protocols so each person coming to the Valley will be fully prepared.
With so much to do in and around Mt Washington Valley this winter, social distancing is entirely possible. Here’s a list of ways to enjoy the outdoors and still maintain your distance from others.
Snowshoeing – The best thing about snowshoeing is that it’s easily accessible and if you can walk, you can snowshoe. Choose to head to the trails at any of the six XC centers, or head out into the woods to create your own trail. Snowshoe rentals and sales are available at most of the XC Centers plus through REI North Conway or Eastern Mountain Sports – both in North Conway. You can often access clinics via these rental locations too. Another great option is for all those staying at the AMC’s Highland Lodge, you can borrow snowshoes (and any other winter gear) from the LL Bean Gear Room found there.
Fat biking – Your days of biking no longer must be confined to spring, summer and fall. Both Great Glen Trails and Mt. Washington Ski Touring & Snowshoe Foundation have opened their trail networks for fatbikes. Need gear? Stan and Dan Sports plus the Great Glen Trails rental shop offer fat bike rentals and equipment to purchase, and both have geared up their fleets for the 2021 winter, expecting strong interest this season.
Skiing – There’s a good reason that North Conway – at the center of Mt Washington Valley – has been named the #1 ski town in North America. With 13 ski resorts and XC Centers, there is more skiing terrain here than anywhere else in New England. From steeps and deeps, glades to groomers and easy peasy for first-timers, you’ll find the kind of terrain you seek in the Valley. Plan to enjoy winter with plenty of room for social distancing at the seven ski resorts and six XC Centers. Need lessons? They’re available for all levels. Would you like to rent or purchase ski equipment or apparel? You’ll have multiple options at Mt Washington Valley’s tax-free ski shops on and off the mountains. Be sure to check with the ski resort or XC Center where you plan to go. Reservations may be needed and limits on ticket sales may be in place to insure adequate space for safe social distancing.
Tubing – Another reason that Mt Washington Valley makes the ideal winter destination with plenty of opportunities for social distancing is the alternative activities for non-skiers at the ski resorts. Look for lighted tubing hills at King Pine Ski Area, Cranmore Mountain Resort and Great Glen Trails Outdoor Center. While Mom and Dad are skiing, the non-skiers in the family can enjoy going up and down the hill on inner tubes made for snow sliding. Masks are required and tickets may be limited to allow for distancing to ensure that this will be a safe and fun activity for the whole family this winter.
Winter hiking – With 700,000 acres of White Mountain National Forest surrounding Mt Washington Valley, the options for winter hiking are seemingly endless. It’s best to join a guided tour or go with an experienced winter hiker and bring all the necessary gear. The AMC Highland Center, Eastern Mountain Sports, REI and many of the winter hiking tour guides offer guidance, gear rental and ideas for the best places to go. This is one winter activity where it’s important to know before you go, and be prepared before hitting the trails.
Snowmobiling – From Pelham to Pittsburg and right through Mt Washington Valley, New Hampshire offers 7,000 miles of snowmobile trails and not one leads to your office! Corridor 19 trails surround and wind through Mt Washington Valley. These snowmobile trails are made possible through the partnerships with thousands of landowners who generously open up their land for the recreation of snowmobiling along with State Parks throughout New Hampshire. Countless club volunteers work tirelessly to construct and maintain this vast trail system, including the Mountain Meadow Riders, who groom and maintain the Corridor 19 trails surrounding Mt Washington Valley. In addition, Northern Extremes Snowmobiling rents sleds, clothing and gear and provides guided tours from their location in Bartlett. Northeast Snowmobile & ATV Rentals offers snowmobile and ATV rentals plus guided events too. Both offer expert trail advice and guidance.
Trail running – Trail running has increasingly become a popular sport in the Valley, as the Mt Washington Valley Trails Association is dedicated to the creation of a sustainable off-road non-motorized trail network in the Valley. Focused on trails designed for mountain bike, trail running and backcountry (non-groomed) cross-country ski use, the MWV Trails Association and the White Mountain Milers – the region’s dedicated running club – offer both events and terrain perfect for those dedicated to outdoor trail running. This is an ideal way to enjoy nature while staying distanced from others too, even in the winter.
Dog sledding – During the pandemic getting up close and personal has been a no-no. However, when it means getting to know the amazing sled dogs at Muddy Paws Sled Dog Kennel that’s a whole different story. Enjoy a winter adventure from their kennel in Jefferson, NH. You’ll get instruction then have the chance to drive the sled yourself or simply sit back and take in the beautiful scenery.
Guided winter tours – Hoping to get out into the mountains this winter, but not sure of your ability or gear for winter adventures? Choose from a number of guided programs and instructional workshops from outfitters like Northeast Mountaineering, Redline Guiding, or White Mountain Woman’s Adventures. With programs adapted to meet all Covid protocols, learn everything from basic winter hiking and backcountry skiing skills to frozen waterfall rapelling, ice kiting and other mountaineering adventures. They can even perform an outdoor winter wedding officiated by JPs that are also guides!
Ice climbing – Mt Washington Valley is considered one of the best ice climbing destinations in the East Coast. The abundance of terrain coupled with the number of ice climbing schools and outfitters in the Valley make it the perfect place for ice climbers from beginners to expert. The International Mountain Climbing School and its HQ store in North Conway offers everything from new and used gear to the yearly IceFest festival and instruction throughout the winter. Other outfitters like Ragged Mountain Equipment, Eastern Mountain Sports, and REI are ideal places to shop for gear and get great advice. Also, many of the winter guiding companies mentioned above offer day-long or multi-day programs to introduce those interested to the world of ice climbing in the Valley.
For more information on planning a safe and socially distanced trip to Mt Washington Valley, be sure to check the chamber’s website at www.mtwashingtonvalley.org. Full contacts and resources for trip planning are found there. In addition, to learn more about your visit to New Hampshire, go to www.VisitNH.gov.
Bretton Woods skiers courtesy of Bretton Woods
All other photos by WiseguyCreative.com.