Maine and New Hampshire

FasterSkierMarch 5, 2003

After our road trips around the west, my girlfriend and I decided to head east.
(Side note: I have been told that I should refer to my girlfriend by name. A
valid point, but while I don't mind sharing my life with you, it is not my choice
to share hers. So lets just call her Linda). Linda and I flew to New Hampshire
on August 15. Our plan was to see family (hers in Vermont, mine in New Hampshire)
and explore some of the places we might like to live. We were going to be in
the region for five weeks, so we took end-of-season jobs at a summer camp on
Squam Lake (my favorite place on earth – but not for the skiing). This allowed
us to make some money and have room and board while we took road trips on our
days off.

We used this time to revisit many of my favorite places in the east. I would
love to tell you about all of them, but I need to focus here. Instead I will
talk about best places to live and ski, and specifically where you can do both.

The Northeast has the greatest concentration of cross country ski areas in
the country. If you combine northern New England and northern New York State,
you have an area that is roughly the same size as many of the western and midwestern
states by themselves. According to the Cross Country Ski Areas Association's
website, there are close to 80 xc ski areas/touring centers in this region of
the Northeast. The most I could find in any other state west of New York is
16 (in Colorado).

The choices are overwhelming. From almost any point in New Hampshire or Vermont
you are within 2 hours drive of at least 25 different places to ski. And when
I say 25 places, I am not talking about 25 4K loops that Joe Nordics groom in
their backyard. I am talking about places like Bretton Woods (100 K), Craftsbury
(100 K), Mt. Van Hovenberg (50+ K), Jackson (150+ K), Sugarloaf (100 K),
Trapp Family Lodge (50+ K), Waterville Valley (over 80 K), the list goes on
and on. Most New Englanders probably have over 1000 kilometers of groomed skiing
accessible on a day trip from home.

If the snow is good, the options for cross country skiing in the east
can not be beat. Ahh yes… the big IF. Mother Nature is not always very
generous with her snow in the Northeast. Any one who is familiar with skiing
in the East knows that snow is always an issue. Even when the skiing is great
(as it has been all winter this year), all it takes is one good rain storm to
wipe it all out. But having said that, the east is no worse off in the snow
department than the midwest has been the past few years. And the east is doing
much better than almost anywhere else in the country this year. There are very
few places in this country that you can be sure to have good snow for most of
the winter, so I try not to hold the unpredictable weather against New England
too much.

So finding a great place to ski in the east is not hard. The problem is finding
a great town near the great ski trails. When one pictures eastern skiing, they
think of a quiet trail meandering through the woods, next to a babbling brook,
nestled in the rolling hills beyond a country inn. Very rarely is there a town
nearby. In many ways this is a good thing. But for my job search, it was a limiting

I could go on and on about how much I love to ski at places like Waterville,
The Balsams, Trapps, etc. But since I am searching for a Ski Town. I will focus
this article on towns with good skiing nearby. So we will start in Maine and
head west.

Nina Kemppel racing in Rumford in January 2003

Maine's best ski facilities are no where near any major towns: the Sugarloaf
area is pretty small, and the Maine Winter Sports Center (Presque Isle and Fort
Kent), and Rangeley Lakes area are all both in the middle of nowhere.

The Bethel/Rumford/Farmington area is an option. Still very small, but there
are a number of good trail systems (Troll Valley, Black Mountain, Sunday River,
Gould Academy). Bethel is very close to the White Mountain National Forest for
summer and winter adventures. Both Farmington and Bethel are fairly small towns,
and would be nice places to live. Finding a career job could be hard, but one
could find work if you were willing to put some effort into it. Rumford has
one of the most dedicated and experienced race crews in the country. But Rumford
is not Ski Town USA. I will not discuss this.

One Maine option I hadn't really considered until a reader brought it up, is
Portland. Portland is a great town with excellent recreation options for both
summer and winter. It is a young, vital city and I have a number of friends
who love living there. But I never realized that there was skiing so close by
until Peter Hall wrote in:

"One area to look at is here in the Portland Maine area.  Although
the mountains are ~2 hrs away there is good xc skiing (we have 2 John Morton
designed trails w/ piston bullies with snow making) and great ocean activities
in the summer, sea kayaking, sailing etc.  Portland is small (~60,000)
but has a lot services/activities etc. "

The main drawback to Portland is that, as Peter mentioned, it is two hours
to get to the mountains. I know I have said it before, but it is worth repeating:
I love mountains. So for me at this point in my life, Portland would be the
best Maine option, but I'm still looking.

On to New Hampshire.

I grew up in New Hampshire so I am sure my bias is going to show through (as
if it hadn't already…). Many of the criteria I set for Ski Town USA are based
on what I prized most about where I grew up. Mountains, lots of ski trails,
lots of lakes and rivers, etc; basically a big outdoor playground. I still let
out a deep sigh and get a far-away look in my eye every time I think of northern
New Hampshire. So you know that some place in New Hampshire is going score high
on the list. In fact, there are probably 10 places that could be up there, but
I am going to focus on two of my favorites.

Racing in Jackson in 2001

First, the Mount Washington Valley. This area, in the shadow of the Presidential
Range, encompasses the eastern edge of the state, including Conway, North Conway,
Glen, and Jackson. Jackson, NH is my idea of paradise. The Jackson Ski Touring
Foundation has 150 kilometers of trails, all of which radiate from the quaint
town center. The terrain is picture-perfect New England, right down to the red
covered bridge that you can ski through. Beyond skiing, I have not found another
place that has such a wide array of outdoor activities within a 10 minute drive.
Great mountain biking, rock climbing,and kayaking are all there. Want some of
the best roads in New England for road biking? How about the best hiking in
the East in the Presidential Range and the rest of the White Mountain National
Forest? They've got all that too. Looking for something a little more extreme?
Try Tuckerman's Ravine on your skinny skis in April or May.

I like Jackson so much that I have even picked out exactly which house I am
going to buy when I make my millions. It has a beautiful view of Mt. Washington
and the ski trails pass 10 feet from the front door.

Because Jackson is an idyllic New England village, finding a place to live
or work in the village is nearly impossible. But that is okay, because less
than 15 minutes down the road is North Conway, which is the business hub for
this region. It is a very touristy town, overrun with Factory Outlets, but it
still has its charm and even has ski trails at Whitaker Woods within walking
distance of Main Street.

The Mount Washington Valley is close to perfect. But for me, it is also a little
too close to home for the time being. I think that some time in the next few
years I will be ready to move back to Northern New England, but for now I want
to keep exploring the parts of the country I am not that familiar with. I know
how great New England is, so I want to see if the rest of the country measures
up before I move back. So until then, the Mount Washington Valley will have
to wait.

My other top choice in New Hampshire, is Hanover. The Upper Valley region of
New Hampshire and Vermont, of which Hanover is the centerpiece, is a great mix
of academia and outdoor playground.

Hanover's Oak Hill on race day

The skiing in Hanover is good, but less than perfect. I love the trails at
Oak Hill, but there is only about 20K. There are a number of other small ski
areas in the nearby towns, but if you want the trail options of a big touring
center, you have to travel an hour or so to Trapp Family Lodge or Woodstock,
Vermont. Not bad for a weekend trip.

Hanover might not have the best skiing, but they do have the some of the best
"culture" for a town of its size. Dartmouth College is the cultural
hub of the valley, with plenty of concerts, lectures and presentations. I love
the atmosphere of a small New England college town. The Dartmouth Outing Club
is also very active in organizing outdoor activities and maintaining many of
the trails in the area. The Appalachian Trail goes right down main street in
Hanover. Hanover is small, so there aren't a ton of job opportunities. But with
the college, there are a lot of small professional firms and it could be a good
place to start a career.

Because of the lack of a major trail network, Hanover is not Ski Town USA.
But I lived in Hanover for four years, and I would welcome the chance to go
back and live there once more. But again, maybe not right away.

So, having looked at the first half of the Northeast ski scene, here are the
updated rankings. I debated for a long time whether the Mount Washington Valley
had what it took to leap to the top of the rankings. In the end I decided that
it did. The area has everything that the other top towns have, plus an increased
opportunity for jobs.

Stay tuned for a look at Vermont and New York.

Place The
Mt. Washington Valley,
Beautiful ski trails,
tons of other outdoor activities, decent jobs
Snow is variable, a
little too close to home right now
Methow Valley, Washington Unspoiled area, no
people, 200K of trails
No jobs 8.5
Hayward/Cable, Wisconsin Home of the Birkie,
lots of trails, lots of skiers and skiing history
Not many jobs, not
much snow the past few years
Marquette, Michigan Most snow in the midwest,
good trails, blueberries
No big mountains 8.5
Sun Valley, Idaho Beautiful town, beautiful
trails, beautiful people
Expensive 8
Tahoe, California Tons of trails and
snow, the Great Ski Race, small town but has city nearby, the lake, 4 hours
to San Fran
high altitude, similar
to Park City, not many professional jobs in Truckee area
Duluth, Minnesota Good skiing within
city limits, college town
not much snow recently,
no major xc races
Bend, Oregon Great outdoors town,
skiing at Mt. Bachelor is very good, the best crust skiing in spring, nice
town with many nice "local" spots
No skiing in town,
housing can be expensive, few jobs


Bozeman, Montana Great outdoors/college
town. Strong xc communtiy.
Lack of a superior
ski facility
Bellingham, Washington Has a little bit of
everything, actually make that quite a bit of everything
Ski trails are an hour
Hanover, NH Great small town, with
lots of outdoor activities
Not a lot of ski trails
in town, snow is variable
Paul, Minnesota
Lots of skiers, lots
of career jobs
Not much snow recently,
not much backcountry nearby
Portland, Maine Great outdoors city.
Young active people.
Lacks a superior ski
facility, mountains two hours away.
Salt Lake/ Park
City, Utah
Great dryland trails,
"greatest snow on earth", spectacular mountains, nearby city,
close to Moab, Jackson, Sun Valley, Colorado
high altitude, no water/forests,ski
trails aren't great, lived there for 6 years already

Only towns rated 7.0 or higher are listed


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