Border War! Vermont vs. New Hampshire Skiing Part 6 – Cannon Mountain

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MIGHTY CANNON MOUNTAIN, ITS TRAILS A TWISTED GORDIAN KNOT OF ADDERS, LOOMED MENACINGLY OVERHEAD…

Border War! Vermont vs. New Hampshire Part 6 – Cannon Mountain

—by Jay Flemma
Special to Slave to the Traffic Light Adventure Magazine—

FRANCONIA, N.H. – Today is the second anniversary of my father’s passing, so to honor the occasion, I’ll tell you a secret. No matter how much my Dad – a world class skier who skied in the European Theatre during and after WWII as a corporal the U.S. Army – no matter how much he loved Whiteface and Sugarbush, he was most impressed with New Hampshire’s mighty Cannon Mountain.

Dad loved to challenge himself with the toughest tests he could find. Golf courses, crossword puzzles, double black diamond lift lines – he sought out the hardest of everything to see how he measured up. And when it came to ski runs, Dad invariably won. His wedeling a model of chronometer precision and his form so graceful and balletic Baryshnikov himself would be envious, 5-foot, 6-inch Dad on his 210 cm K2s was like Obi-wan wielding a light saber, an elegant skier, from a more civilized age.

And of all the far-flung places Dad skied – from the Dolomites and the Alps to the Long Trail and the White Mountains – he always reminisced with wide-eyed wonder about Cannon, “the Living Legend” as they call it.

“They have this 80-person tram that takes you up to the top!” he’d gush excitedly. (There are two actually: one red, one yellow – “Ketchup” and “Mustard” as they’re called.) “It’s steep double fall lines, and reverse camber, and drop-offs everywhere you look!” he’d exclaim excitedly, his sky blue eyes sparkling like gemstones as he recalled.

“And it’s cooooooooold…,” he’d intone, almost like an incantation. “It is mighty cold in the shadow of Mt. Washington.”

Sadly we never got to ski it together, but a year after he passed on to That Great Above-the-Treeline Run in the Sky, where he catches first chair every morning, I finally made to Cannon.

It was everything Dad said and more.

THE LIVING LEGEND

THE CANNON TRAIL MAP, CIRCA 2019

Cannon is spoken of in holy whispers by the skiing intelligentsia and with good reason. Sure the big corporate resorts have plenty of bells, whistles, and buzzers – restaurants, bungalows, and cutesy animal mascots. But it’s the terrain that ultimately defines the quality of a ski area, and Cannon Mountain is the final examination of the expert skier.

Until you’ve actually been to Cannon to experience it yourself, you’ll still not be fully prepared for the ferocity of the mountain. Coming from the south, you approach from behind, so there’s a moment where you turn a corner along Echo Lake and ***POW!*** There it is looming over you ominously. (Cue the music from The Shining…the scene when they’re driving to the hotel…) Its trails a Gordian knot of adders reflected eerily in Echo Lake and sinister mare’s tails of spin drifts swirling off the summit cone, you can’t help but feel a twinge of intimidation along with exhilaration. I was reminded of Rick Ridgeway in 1975 when he first saw K2, the second highest mountain in the world. He said “How the hell are we ever going to climb that thing?” Similarly, I said to myself, “Dude, I’m in for a rough ride…”

And then there’s the weather. Like Whiteface Mountain, near Lake Placid, New Hampshire’s White Mountains are one of the coldest places in the entire Western Hemisphere, sometimes recording temps more frigid as Antarctica. Worse still, hurricane force winds often lash the summits of the Presidentials. (They are deep within what’s known as the “Roaring 40s” latitude after all…) Storms brew like steam from a witch’s cauldron with frightening alacrity. So Cannon is nearly always cold, windy, and – again like Whiteface – is prone to be icy.

Still, those same Presidentials are among the most breathtaking views offered from atop any peak, with Lafayette Mountain on one side, Franconia Notch on the other, and Echo Lake waiting below. It seems Dad’s assessment – made 40 years ago – is still dead solid perfect. Nowhere on the east coast can you find such an electrifying synergy of beauty and challenge. Old school, primal, and eminently natural, Cannon has been an American stronghold of winter sports for over eight decades and home to some of the most accomplished skiers and boarders in our country’s winter sports history, including Bode Miller, arguably the best Olympic skier ever.

MOUNTAIN GAZETTEER

One of the three crown jewels of America’s eastern skiing diadem, (the others being New York’s Whiteface and Vermont’s Killington), Cannon Mountain lies in scenic Franconia Notch State Park, deep in the heart of the White Mountains, 44 degrees, 9 minutes north, 71 degrees, 42 minutes west of Prime Meridian. It is one mile off Interstate 93, a major northeastern thoroughfare. Continuously owned and operated by public body since 1938, Cannon has some of the richest history of any North American winter sports venue. In skiing terms, Cannon’s history is ancient, even pre-dating the Golden Age of Skiing in America.

In the early 1930s, the Peckett family, owners of the popular Sugar Mill Inn winter resort, saw potential in Cannon as a ski resort began pursuing ski trail development. Old logging roads on the mountain had been used for skiing since 1929, and in 1931-1932 one “Duke Dimitri von Leuchtenberg” is credited with designing perhaps the first Cannon Mountain trail partially cut in the summer of 1932.

As an aside, don’t be overly impressed by that. “Duke von Leuchtenberg” is actually a ceremonial title that Bavarian royalty give their lesser family members. The title does not come with lands nor is it hereditary. A mere “saber and a braid thing,” as the great Dan Jenkins might call it, it’s not quite the way we Italians use “paesano,” but it’s not that far off. There’s even a Duke von Leuchtenberg of the Bahamas, (real name: Gene Rose). How surreal is that? Anyway, the Duke, (in this case old Uncle Dmitri), carved one of the first trails, and it ultimately became a race course known as the Richard Taft Trail, partially debuting in February of 1933.

ALMOST 100 YEARS LATER, SKIERS STILL USE THE DUKE’S TAFT TRAIL TO ACCESS PARTS OF THE MOUNTAIN

That was a good start, but it was the Tram – the first ever built in North America – that lit the fuse on the fireworks. U.S. Olympic ski team star Alexander Bright got the idea for it during his trip to Europe as a member of the team.

“In Europe, Bright had seen passenger-carrying tramways and recognized that building one in New Hampshire could foster the growth of skiing and summer tourism in the White Mountains,” writes NewEnglandSkiHistory.com. “At Cannon, it was possible to build a tramway with only minor cutting of forests and without marring the scenic beauty of Franconia Notch. In addition, the area was already a major route for tourists in the White Mountains….In the spring of 1934, after estimating construction costs, completing research on operating costs and potential income, and examining seven promising sites for a tramway, a committee appointed by Governor John G. Winant unanimously recommended Cannon Mountain.”

Proving once again that if you build it, they will come, the original Tram opened in 1938 and delivered almost 7,000,000 people to the summit of the mountain before being replaced by “Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway II” in 1980. To this day the tandem of Ketchup and Mustard is still one of the coolest, easiest, and most iconic ways to get to the top of any mountain in America.

SKIERS LINE UP FOR THE TRAM AT CANNON FOR A SHORT 7-1/2 MINUTE RIDE TO THE SUMMIT

ON THE MOUNTAIN

Cannon is divided into five parts: 1) the “Front Five” and the Tram; 2) the summit cone; 3) mid-mountain; 4) the Tuckerbrook/Brookside learning area; and 5) the Mittersill face. From the summit to the Peabody Base Lodge, Cannon boasts New Hampshire’s longest vertical descent top to bottom at 2,180 vertical feet, with 97 trails spread out over 285 acres of terrain. The vertical increases to 2,330 feet if you use the Mittersill base elevation (1,850 feet) instead of the Peabody’s. The summit stands at 4,081 above sea level, taller than any other resort in New Hampshire.

There are two ways to reach the summit. From the base lodge, your best bet is to take the nearest chair, the Peabody Express, to a point just below the summit cone. The Cannonball Quad then connects to the summit.

The other way to reach the summit is the Tram, but the Tram station is a long trek from the Peabody Base lodge, so it’s best to ride the Peabody Express, and then take one of the Front Five to the Tram, (I recommend Avalanche). The Tram has its own mini-lodge, right next to the New England ski museum, featuring a small quickie-mart and warm-up area, while you wait no more than seven-and-a-half minutes for the next Tram. You can even see Bode Miller’s five Olympic gold medals there.

From left to right, the Front Five are – in descending order of difficulty – Avalanche, Paulie’s Folly, Zoomer, Rocket and Gary’s, the last two of which are intermediates, the others rated expert. Cannon does not rate any trails as double black diamond, so it’s best for rising skiers to be ready for a challenge as your mileage may vary from trail to trail and from day to day depending on conditions.

Avalanche is one of the two iconic, indeed quintessential runs at Cannon, (along with Hardscrabble, off the summit cone). At almost a 35 degree pitch, it’s a tough test whether studded with moguls or shimmering with crusty ice. On Avalanche every turn matters. Will you ski an aesthetic line? You don’t have much of a choice, because you’re plummeting straight down, so embrace the send. Zoomer also has its own chair, so you can lap the Front Five to your heart’s content.

“The front five are short, but steep. Better still, Avalanche gets bumped out, sometimes the most rugged ride on the mountain,” said one local Cannon regular, who spoke on condition of anonymity since they work for a regional rival. “In that regard, it’s a good thing it’s short,” they said thoughtfully. “You could tire out pretty quickly if it were too much longer, and believe me, there are some long top-to-bottom runs at Cannon.”

As an aside, as you look at the Front Five, you’ll ask yourself, “Wait a minute…Why are there seven trails?” And you’ll be right. As you face the mountain, there are two more trails – both intermediates – to the left of Avalanche: Jasper’s Hideaway and Banshee. They apparently were once serviced by a lift of their own. They cryptic answer I got from locals was a perfunctory, “They don’t count,” as if that settled the matter. Attempts at further inquiry got a polite brush-off.

“Apparently they can’t count past five in New Hampshire,” quipped one irreverent wag from Vermont. Sounds like some of my old golf buddies too.

After disembarking the Tram you can lap the summit cone, almost ten different ways, using the Cannonball Quad Chair – from intermediates like Vista Way, Ravine, and the Taft Slalom trail to expert runs like the aforementioned Hardscrabble, Skylight, or the summit chair lift line, Profile. Below the summit cone, a twisted coil of intermediate trails connects the summit cone with either the Peabody Base Lodge or the Front Five. In particular, Paulie’s Extension and Lower Cannon lead to the Front Five. The rest eventually feed into the easier and novice runs on the lower slope above the main lodge.

THE SUMMIT CONE OF CANNON. THE BROAD FOREGROUND LIFTLINE IS CALLED “PROFILE.”

There is one other, rather direct way down from the summit to the Tram base: DJ’s Tramline. Similar to Organgrinder at Sugarbush (the lift line for their Gondola) DJ’s – the Tram’s lift line – is ludicrously narrow, (it’s barely two skiers wide in places), formidably steep, (as much as 40 degrees pitch sustained vertical), and features numerous cliff jumps and boulders, (cowabunga, Dude…). Without snowmaking it’s rarely open, but it’s the stuff of legends when it is. Easily a double black diamond at any other mountain, DJ’s has been included in Vermont Sports Magazine’s “Gnarly 10 Toughest Trails in the East,” as well as several other top ten lists for difficulty. Looking up the mountain, just to the left of the Tramline is the famous Kinsman’s Glade. At 1,400 continuous vertical feet, Kinsman’s is one of the longest and gnarliest glade runs in the eastern U.S.

The summit also accesses what was once New Hampshire’s only side-country skiing, the Mittersill area. Essentially a satellite peak on the north-northwesterly face of the mountain, Mittersill was, for decades, the secret skiing speakeasy the locals kept as a private hangout. From the summit, they would take the old Taft Trail along the saddle of the mountain – sometimes having to carry their skis for a short way – but they would arrive at what seminal winter sports writer Moira McCarthy Stanford called “a kind of ghost ski area, just a peak hike away from Cannon…their special escape.”

One can see why. The views of the valley from the saddle are captivating, and the terrain is rugged and worthy as the rest of the mountain.

Mittersill officially became a part of Cannon in 2009, with its own lift and a spider’s web of trails. There’s even a convenient connection, Barron’s Run->Way Back, for a quick and easy return to the Peabody Base area. Mittersill is also known for its Peregrine falcons some of the most majestic and noble birds on the planet, and their majestic cries ring throughout the valley on clear days.

Today, Mittersill has its own chair. Typical of Cannonites and their altruism, once they realized lift access didn’t detract from Mittersill’s magic, the locals banded together to raise funds to add snowmaking capabilities to the area. “Their personal playground, they realized, was worth sharing,” wrote Stanford.

As an aside, the Mittersill logo of a rampant lion looks like a label for Lowenbrau beer or the sigil of House Lannister from Game of Thrones.

Finally, located conveniently between the Peabody Lodge and the MIttersill area, the Tuckerbrook Chair and Brookside Learning Area are a mini “mountain within a mountain,” segregated from the rest of the facility and expressly for beginning skiers. Cannon’s instructional school is first-rate, the equal of almost anywhere in the country, with an especially high quality, dedicated beginners area.

If there is one drawback, you have to keep your head on a swivel at Cannon more often than normal, especially in mid-mountain. Trails occasionally converge suddenly and in tight places, and between the catwalks and drop-offs, crisp focus and concentration on every turn are critical; there’s no mailing it in at Cannon. Moreover the infamously stern weather means storms can conjure themselves out of nowhere, turning conditions icy and reducing visibility. A fellow did get killed there last year when he fell at the end of the summit lift line (Profile) and skidded over the edge of a drop-off and fell 40 feet onto another skier on a trail below. He also was not wearing a helmet.

MINIMALIST, YET FOR DECADES “THE PINNACLE OF EASTERN SKIING”

Calling it “The cold heart of New Hampshire skiing,” blogger Tim Peck of a website called Powder 7 writes, “At Cannon, perceived negatives of freezing weather, challenging terrain, and brown-bag lunch sentiment conspire to form a quintessential East Coast ski experience.”

That’s just how the locals like it. In this age of mega-resorts, globalization, and skyrocketing costs in an already expensive sport, it’s nice to still have steep and cheap. There’s no glitz, but that keeps the costs down. You don’t come to Cannon to preen in your new outfit. You’re not here to drink a $400 bottle of wine with your beef Wellington dinner. And you’re not going to sip martinis in the slope-side Jacuzzi of your condo. You’re at Cannon for one thing only: to do battle with the mighty mountain…and win. So, game on.

As a result, old-schoolers an diehards revel in Cannon because the good ol’ days of the Golden Age of American skiing are still alive and well, and in a bit of synergy, their unquenchable spirit is part of the draw. After all, it was locals – and in particular Mittersillians – that helped pay for the snowmaking installed on the Mittersill side. Indeed, wise winter sports enthusiast are advised to make their trip a local immersion from start to finish. Franconians are among the nicest folks in America. If you don’t come back with ten friends or get appointed an “adopted New Hampshirite,” you’re doing something wrong.

“There is a palpable sense of community here at Cannon and Franconia Notch in general. They take pride in the cold, the challenging terrain, and the Spartan-ness. In fact, they embrace it. Who needs a bubble lift? We’ve got the Tram!” our anonymous local stated energetically.

Simple, beautiful, classic, and historic, Cannon is a true taste of skiing Americana. SKI Magazine calls it one of the seven or eight greatest indie mountains in the U.S., a sterling accomplishment for a state-run facility. It’s great to see that smaller operations and municipal facilities can still be run with the quintessential skier’s ethos of being both inclusive and inexpensive.

As of this writing, Cannon has skyrocketed to the top of the rankings in this Border War series between New Hampshire and Vermont, achieving top marks in nearly every ratings category. In the music industry we call that “number one with a bullet,” meaning it reached the top, but it’s still got plenty of momentum.

So as usual, Dad was absolutely right. Whiteface has always been my home, and I loved our week-long Sugarbush vacations. But one weekend at Cannon has me thinking that’s it’s a good thing for Whiteface that Cannon is two hours further away. Otherwise I’d be there every weekend instead. Don’t worry, Whiteface: You’re still my best girl. But I’m definitely keeping Cannon as my side chick.

Quality of Snow/Grooming – 9.5
Variety of Terrain – 9.5
Lifts – 9.5
Snow coverage – 9.25
Natural Setting – 9.5
Kid/Family Friendly – 9.5
Character – 9.75
Challenge – 9.75
Dining on Mountain/Base Lodge – 7.5
Overall – 9.327

OTHER DIVERSIONS

Cannon is reasonably close to most of the other major New Hampshire ski resorts including Loon, Attitash, and Wildcat. Better still, Cannon is also right near legendary Tuckerman’s Ravine and myriad other backcountry adventures.

The first and last name in New Hampshire backcountry skiing is Andrew Drummond, owner and operator of SKI THE WHITES. (www.skithewhites.com) Based out of Jackson, New Hampshire, Drummond started a back country gear company that blossomed into thriving community. Backcountry adventurism has exploded in recent years, creating its own cottage industry.

“It really is a completely different set of gear that you need to outfit yourself with and a different mindset you have to adapt to,” Drummond explained. “Remember, if something goes wrong on the mountain, the ski patrol is right there. But if something goes wrong on the backcountry, it could be hours before help arrives, and the consequences are much graver. So not only do you need specific skiing gear tailored to backcountry, you need survival gear too, and training or at least expert guides to start you out. It’s a big step moving from front side to backcountry, and there’s a lot to learn – from reading the terrain to planning a route, safety plans, gear, even prepping an emergency plan.”

While not a guide, Drummond is one of the northeast’s most iconic adventurers, his YouTube videos garnering hundreds of thousands of hits cumulatively. Brilliantly produced with stunning visuals, they are a solid gold time waster – “Skier porn,” if I can be allowed a colorful turn of phrase. Better still, the dazzling views from atop Tuckerman’s or the other Granite Backcountry Glades inspire people to get out and try backcountry adventures themselves.

Drummond also owns and operates RUN THE WHITES, (www.runthewhites.com) an adventure outfitting company and grassroots community devoted to long distance running through the region.

FRANCONIA NOTCH HALF MARATHON

IT’S JUST AS BEAUTIFUL RUNNING THE WHITES AS IT IS SKIING THE WHITES

Speaking of distance running, there’s another reason to make the pilgrimage to mighty Cannon – a new destination half marathon that should command the attention of every skier as well as every runner. Starting at the Peabody Base Lodge, the Franconia Notch Half Marathon may be in only its second year of existence, but it’s already developed a national reputation as a run as beautiful and demanding as the mountain whose shadow it runs beneath.

Held in early November, the race traverses every nearby iconic White Mountain landmark: idyllic Echo Lake, the frowning “Old Man” rock formation, Profile Lake, Boise Rock, the Basin, and the Flume while also winding along the edge of the Pemigewasset River, before returning you to the Cannon base lodge with hundreds of well-wishers cheering you on gleefully.

The course follows the state park system’s paved bike and walking paths through the forest – safely secluded from any cars and traffic – and then emerges from the woods at strategic times to take in the broad, majestic vistas. The forest canopy also offers protection to runners should the weather turn, and believe me, the White Mountains can generate storms with frightening speed, especially as autumn dies and winter looms ominously.

True, the race course never stops bucking like a bronco, incessantly tumbling up, over, and around the knobs, hills, and valleys of the Whites, but it’s not just “hard for hard’s sake.” The trail the runners traverse is smoothly paved – there are no sections of uneven or broken ground like in many typical trail runs. Moreover, in order for the race course to include such indelible geological marvel as it does, you have to climb some hills. Besides, we all love the achy burn after a successful half marathon. It makes that medal gleam just a little brighter. With over 1,300 feet of elevation change, nothing else speaks to how meteorically fast the race’s profile has risen than its ability to draw a national field in only its second year of existence.

“We came all the way up from Decatur, Georgia!” gushed one of a pair of women both wearing matching purple outfits. “We were looking for a half marathon on this particular weekend – the last Sunday in October. We found this one, saw how gorgeous the race course looked, and booked our plane tickets.”

Much of the race’s success is due to the tireless energy of a young rising star of an event director named Grace Cisler, (pronounced “Sizzler,” like the restaurant…). Though just 18 years of age, she already operates her own race event company, Get Racing Now, while also nordic skiing competitively for California’s Sugar Bowl Ski Team.
Grace alpined for Cannon for years before “switching to the dark side” as her friends put it. She’s currently in training camp in Cranmore, Canada and contemplating adding a second event to Get Racing Now’s calendar, a run around the Mount Washington hotel, but that’s far in the future.

Still, it’s a remarkable start. The race course is certified by U.S. Track and Field, and runners from not just New England are adding it to the yearly calendar. It’s only a matter of time before Runner’s World gets wind of it, and we’ll start seeing the Franconia Notch Half Marathon added to countless “Top Half Marathons in America” lists.

GOLF: OMNI MOUNT WASHINGTON RESORT –
MOUNT WASHINGTON COURSE

Remember how we wrote earlier this year that at Mount Snow’s golf course was harder to play golf at than the mountain was to ski? You don’t have to worry about that at Mount Washington Golf Resort. Whether you’re here to explore Cannon Mountain or the resort-affiliated Bretton Woods, or take in all the summer activities the White Mountains have to offer, for once we found a Donald Ross course that won’t beat you up worse than the mountain.

An Omni resort, the stately hotel has been a hot spot for jet-setters for decades, and who can blame them? Its reputation for cultured refinement has been unparalleled since it opened in 1902, and the setting is almost cathedral-like, with the white hotel gleaming brightly amidst the hunter green forest, a diamond in an emerald setting. God’s Country, indeed.

The golf course was built by Donald Ross in 1915 and was restored in 2008 by Boston-based architect Brian Silva. The greatest compliment we can pay both the resort and Silva is that the course looks and plays like it did in 1915. That’s the hallmark of a great restoration – accuracy.

Now Ross was particularly fond of insidiously cunning green contours, severe false fronts, ferocious bunkers, and steeply uphill, all-carry approach shots. Thankfully for the resort guests, Ross dialed it down a notch here. With the exception of one creek (at nine) and one wetlands (at 18), a bogey golfer could play his entire round with one ball. Better still, an expert golfer can grab a fork and knife and tear into the course like a steak dinner.

You know the old expression “It’s second shot golf course?” We all understand that to mean a course where you can spray the ball off the tee a bit, but accuracy is paramount, indeed critical, on the approaches. But if you’ve ever wondered what the heck a “First shot golf course” might look like, I present the Mount Washington course for your consideration. Seminole…Irondequoit…Pinehurst…you miss the green at any of those, and you’re ten to twelve feet deep in a bunker, or forty yards back down the fairway, of pitching over a knoll. Miss the green at Mount Washington, and you might be looking at chipping in. There isn’t a lot of danger guarding the greens, and the putting surfaces are not as wildly contoured as at many Ross courses. Better still, frequently, the miss is short, another nod to bogey golfers and resort guests.

Instead, much of the interest at Mount Washington is off the tee. The front nine is almost completely flat, but that does not mean it is without strategic interest. The routing is charming; the first four holes meander through randomly-sprinkled bunkers turned perpendicular to the line of play, so that golfers must play over or around them. Though they are all par-4s and all of a somewhat similar length, they all play in different directions. But there is a common theme that continues throughout: avoid the bunkers off the tee, and you can fire at the flag. Put the ball in the fairway, and the worst of the hole is behind you.

Moreover, the course is relatively short. There are four sets of tees, and they come at odd distances: 7,000, 6,400, 5,700, and 5,300. From the 6,400 yard tees, there is only one par-4 over 400 yards, and the longest par-5 clocks in at 522. All three par-3s, however, measure between 186 and 204, though they all play differently: one flat, one uphill, and one downhill, a nice mix.

Move down to the 5,700 yard tees, however, and the course becomes a pushover, with three par-4s under 300 yards and none longer than 395. From the 7,004 yard tips, obviously it’s more fearsome.

The best stretch on the golf course is 9-14. The ninth features a creek that bisects the fairway diagonally, forcing the player to play short to the left side or carry the stream on the right side. The back-to-back-par fives at ten and eleven ascend, then descend the highest point on the property. 11 is particularly strategic with its S-shaped fairway swerving around bunkers.

12 is one of those uber-short par-4s we described earlier. At a paltry 313 yards, (273 from the resort tees), you’ll have a short iron or wedge to the green, and even a drive sliced into the 11th fairway doesn’t get punished. It’s a breather after the back-to-back par-5s at 10 and 11 and the stern test of the ninth. But at 13 and 14, it’s back to serious strategic golf. 13 is one of the few holes that plays uphill – a diagonal fairway presents itself off the tee, then an approach to the green that requires a careful check of wind and yardage. 14 is a gorgeous Reverse Redan, with the fairway and green sloping away from the player and steeply to the right.

The highlight of the front nine is the par-3 fifth, which turns the golfer directly into the shadow of the hotel, so close that you might catch a glimpse of the ghost of Princess Caroline Stuckney watching you through the windows of room 314.

By the way, just to debunk a myth – NO, Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation of Stephen King’s The Shining was NOT filmed at the Omni, and the resemblance between the Omni and the Overlook Hotel in the movie is remote at best when you bother to notice that the Omni is pearl white and the Overlook (the Timberline Lodge in Mt. Hood, Oregon for those of you scoring at home), is slate grey. (It doesn’t help when locals spread that myth knowing full well that it’s not true.)

The hotel is haunted, however, by the ghost of Princess Caroline Stuckney. (Not to be confused with Princess Caroline of Monaco, the daughter of Grace Kelly.) When resort founder Joseph Stuckney died, Caroline married Prince Lucinge of France. Upon the prince’s death, she returned to live in room 314 of the Omni. Often, her ghost is seen brushing her hair on the end of the bed in that room or looking out its balcony window at the golfers playing below. Guests staying in her room may even catch a hint of her perfume, or find the bathtub filling itself on its own. Ghost Hunters did.

In short, she may be the scariest thing about the golf course. Warm and welcoming fairways with bunkers featuring mild faces and open routes to most greens make for an enjoyable, low impact round, a nice breather for a Ross course. The par-5s are all majestic showstoppers, especially when you stand on the sixth tee box and see Mount Washington wreathed in cloud in the distance behind the green, and the fairway peppered randomly with bunkers.

The out-and-back routing, featuring just three par-5s and three par-3s never feels boring or monotonous as the course builds to a crescendo as the round progresses.

Just an idea, but please lose the candy stripe posts in the middle of the fairway. I hit two of them off the tee in the first seven holes, and the ricochet off that hunk of plastic rocketed the ball backwards once and sideways the other. (So that old excuse of “No one actually hits them” won’t fly…) Even resort players don’t need an arrow and a honking sign that says “GREEN THAT-A-WAY” in the middle of those beautiful, old school fairways. What would Ross say?

While in high season on weekends, greens fees can be as high as $130, in shoulder season the rates drop dramatically, as low as $42 during the week, a solid bargain for what you get. The course bears more than a passing resemblance to the Links Course at Lake Placid Golf Resort, another course of Golden Age vintage in the shadow of one of America’s greatest ski resorts: mighty Whiteface Mountain.

There is also a short 9-hole course designed by Alex Findlay (of Moraine Country Club fame) built in 1895 and restored by Geoffrey Cornish and Brian Silva in 1989.

[Editor’s Note: This is the sixth article in our series analyzing the battle between Vermont and New Hampshire ski resorts. As the series progresses, here are the places we’ll visit:

For New Hampshire: Attitash, The Balsams, Bretton Woods, Cannon, Gunstock, Loon, Sunapee, Waterville Valley, Wildcat

For Vermont: Jay Peak, Killington, Mad River Glen, Magic Mountain, Mt. Snow, Smuggler’s Notch, Stowe, Stratton, Sugarbush/Sugarbush North]

Other articles in this series:

PART 1 – WATERVILLE VALLEY
PART 2 – MAGIC MOUNTAIN
PART 3 – SMUGGLERS’ NOTCH
PART 4 – ATTITASH
PART 5 – MOUNT SNOW
PART 7 – STRATTON MOUNTAIN

Author Description

Jay Flemma