Border War! Vermont vs. New Hampshire Skiing Part 1 – Waterville Valley
—by Jay Flemma
Special to Slave to the Traffic Light Adventure Magazine—
WATERVILLE VALLEY, NH – It all started with a snarky T-shirt worn by a local skier at Waterville Valley in New Hampshire:
SKI NEW HAMPSHIRE – WE’RE LIKE VERMONT, JUST NOT AS STUCK UP
“Bro, them’s fightin’ words!” joked a fellow skier in a Mad River Glen hat. “I’m gonna make my own shirt! ‘SKI VERMONT – IT’S LIKE NEW HAMPSHIRE, BUT WAY COOLER,” he replied, and the trash-talking was on. Vermonters, on the one hand, championing Killington, Sugarbush, Mt. Snow and the like. And the New Hampshirites (that’s the demonym – the noun you use for people from New Hampshire) New Hampshirites on the other hand praising the likes of Cannon, Attitash, and Loon. It’s the Long Trail against the White Mountains, and your loyalty depends on what side of the border you live.
It’s a worthy question to explore. Along with Whiteface Mountain in Lake Placid, the White Mountains and the Long Trail are the east coast’s definitive ski resorts, and their contributions to the American skiing culture are impossible to overstate. This series will explore the New Hampshire and Vermont scene in depth, but along the way we’ll review the latest gear, meet some of the interesting people who color our sport and, of course, talk about where to play golf and ski on the same day.
[Editor’s Note: 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]
WATERVILLE VALLEY RESORT, WATERVILLE VALLEY, NH
Opened in 1966, Waterville Valley Resort, in the eponymously named New Hampshire town, lies in latitude 43 degrees, 57 minutes North, and longitude 71 degrees 30 minutes West. Comprised of two connected peaks – Mount Tecumsah and Green Peak, facing northeast and north respectively – it stands at a highest altitude of 4,004 feet above sea level, and its 46 miles of trails descend a 2,020 foot vertical. Mount Tecumsah is the larger of the two by far, but they are cleverly interconnected by a high speed quad chair, moving skiers back and forth across the terrain with ease. This greatly eases congestion on the mountain and translates to short lift lines.
Snow in the White Mountains is always KILLER, but they are also known for some of the most frigid temperatures on the planet. After all, we are only about 75 miles as the crow flies from Mount Washington Observatory. Happily, on this weekend, the Snow Gods were kind. Two different winter storms dumped close to four feet on the region, and Waterville in particular was glorious. Moreover, temperatures stayed in the 30s, and the wind howled only intermittently, so skiing was quite comfortable. 90-95% of the trails were open and well covered – there were sparingly few icy spots, even well into the day.
The overall trail plan of the resort is excellent. Skiers of all levels except beginner can ascend to the summit and ski all the way down in any of three different directions, all enjoying the stunning panoramic views. The aforementioned quad chair – called Sunnyside – connects the two mountains, making traversing across the mountain easy. High winds sometimes close certain lifts, such as the Sunnyside and the tiny High Country chair servicing Mount Tecumsah’s three short summit runs, (there is talk of replacing it with a ground lift, perhaps a T-bar). For the two hours of high winds, there were long lines with the Green Peak and White Peak Express Quad doing the lion’s share of the work. But the rest of the weekend saw almost no lines at all.
“We had one really long line Saturday morning, but once they got the Sunnyside chair open, the lines vanished,” praised regional snowboarding star Mike Mosely, a dead ringer for Mickey Dolenz of the Monkees. “The rest of the day there were no lines except for beer!”
Well that’s no problem if you’re a first chair to last call skier like me. Booze can wait, fresh powder can’t, and with almost 70 trails to choose from, Waterville Valley gives you 70 reasons to ski till you drop. Varied terrain top to bottom with both good vertical drop, yet plenty of room to maneuver? Check! Fast lifts and ample snowmaking coverage? Check! A ridiculous volume of high quality snow including fresh powder? That’s a big check!
Favorite trails of Your Author and His Wingman include Periphery or Tangent -> The Boneyard, (Featuring the best moguls on the mountain that weekend). True Grit and Psyched, two other quintessential black diamond runs, were covered in fresh powder, making for exhilarating skiing. Gema and Ciao rumbled fiercely down the side closest to Green Peak, while Set’s Choice, Upper Abandon, and World Cup Run explored the other side of the white Peaks Express Chair. Finally Lower Bobby’s Run, (the steepest terrain on the mountain, named after Bobby Kennedy, who skied here often), is a favorite of both locals and ski patrol, as is the colorfully named Wong Way.
Waterville Valley is also renowned for three more things: it’s the birthplace of freestyle skiing, its ski schools are all but unparalleled at any level, and its always packed with families and kids, especially tykes. As soon as they can walk, parents are putting them on skis; it’s a beautiful thing.
“Lookit Daddy! Lookit Daddy! I ski! I ski!!!” a bubbly little blonde girl shrieked joyously, as her proud parents beamed. The Mom hugged the Dad, who looked just as delighted as she did. The family that plays together stays together, indeed.
Equal parts free-wheeling racing/freestyle venue Waterville Valley has something for everyone…and whatever that is, they do it so well, people keep coming back. The season is long, there’s plenty of inexpensive lodging available, and with enough varied terrain for everyone, it’s no wonder Waterville Valley has been both a World Cup stop (from 1969-1991) and a family vacation Mecca. And now it hosts the United States Alpine Championships on a rotating basis.
If there are any drawbacks, it’s that some trails (No Grit and Oblivion, for example) intersect in crowded places or at the base of headwalls with sharp turns, so you have to be careful not to get creamed by skiers bombing down from the trail above. The only other issues are food and parking. Get there early and park next to the mountain. Get there late and you park in Timbuktu and arrive at the base lodge in an open-air motorized chicken coop that passes for a shuttle.
Quality of Snow/Grooming – 9.25
Variety of Terrain – 9.25 (Some glades, some moguls, some freestyle, some piste – there’s plenty for everyone)
Lifts – 9.25
Snow coverage – 9.25
Natural Setting – 8.5
Lodges – 7.75 (There’s so many lodges and shacks, you can’t spit without hitting a concession stand. The apres ski is excellent. We’re in New England there’s snotty beer everywhere! Food, however, is average at best)
Kid/Family Friendly – 10
Character – 9.25
Challenge – 9
Dining on Mountain – 7
Overall – 9.056
(With Guest Panelist Dawn-Marie Jackson of Sport Thoma Ski Shops)
A skier is nothing without his gear, so when in Waterville, you want to talk to Dawn-Marie Jackson of Sport Thoma Ski Shops. Sport Thoma actually has six locations (and two at Waterville), with more than 100 different skis to choose from, along with boots, bindings, poles and any other accessory you might need.
Dawn-Marie is basically skiing’s proper rejoinder to James Bond’s armorer Q.
“Now pay attention Agent Jay,” she said. “These ordinary-looking Rossignols have been specially modified to release either a smoke screen or oil slick from behind the bindings, your choice. They have retro rockets fitted in the rear for quick escapes, and behind each front toe: stinger missiles. Especially handy for clearing out the riff-raff loitering at the edge of headwalls at Whiteface.”
Okay, I took a little creative license with that last quote, but make no mistake: Dawn-Marie’s raison d’etre is to painstakingly marry each skier with the perfect pair for their skill level and choice of terrain, and she’s among the best in the country. Together, we tested four models: Fischer Pro Mtn 80 Ti, Rossignol Hero Elite HP, K2 Supercharger, and Head iSupershape Rally
Fischer Pro Mtn 80 TI
Incredibly versatile, offering advanced skiers real freedom to explore all areas of the mountain….popular choice for those looking for a fantastic companion on piste. An excellent all mountain carver, it especially excels on groomed terrain, but is also a solid all-around ski for anywhere on the mountain.
Despite getting a sterling recommendation from a ski buddy as well as from Dawn-Marie, I found the Fischers a rough and squirrly ride. They turned smoothly, but they chattered a bit while traversing. Mogul work was only good, but not great as they didn’t plow through the snow as aggressively as I like when attacking the bumps. Good…but I need something more stable and aggressive.
Rossignol Hero Elite HP
A recreational ski designed for technical on trail skier and groomer enthusiast….adaptive torsional flex for improved edge contact and enhanced control while power turn rocker speeds turn initiation with the versatility to carve long and short radius turns with power and ease.
An outstanding ride. Buttery-smooth turn carving, great mogul response, solid through the icy spots: as usual Rossignol is the apex of craftsmanship and quality. Perhaps no pair of skis feels more like a natural extension of your body than these. The honkin’ orange-red color scheme leaves a little to be desired (at night, I think they’re visible from space) but who cares? You ski beautifully, and that’s the object.
Interestingly, as I was getting fitted a father and young son came in and provided some impromptu entertainment. The father looked at the ski and commented, “It’s German, so you know it’s good.” Meanwhile, (as we all know) there’s a red, white, and blue rooster on the skis right above the words “Made in France.” Dude, what planet are you from? Then his kid – somewhere between 4-6 years old – picks a pair of skis off the wall…which was about to fall into the rest of the display and send them all tumbling over like dominoes. Fortunately, I intercepted the falling skis in the nick of time and whispered, “hi-tail it outta here, kid, before someone sees,” and he vanished beneath his father’s legs in a heartbeat. His dad was never the wiser.
No holds barred, pedal to the metal, let these skis run, and hang on for the ride of your life. Best on medium to long turns on groomed terrain, while a little less agile when turning on bumps or ice, it makes for a great beer league or cheater league racing ski.
I must confess myself a little disappointed. I’ve skied K2s for the last 30+ years, and with their supercool black and acid green color scheme, I thought the Superchargers might be my next pair…until I rode them. They turned well, but not as well as the Rossignols or Heads. The ride was bumpier than I would have preferred, and I didn’t have the control in the moguls that I like.
Head iRally Supershape
A lightweight turning machine! Made with grapheme, a derivative of graphite, these are ultra-light, giving you the smoothness and stability of a full metal ski in a lighter-weight material. Excellent for groomers and bumpers alike, and a terrific tool for the part time ski instructor.
“Are you loving your Rallys? I love mine!” said Gerhard, a German skier who I shared a chair with up to the summit. I do love them, in fact. They were the all-around winner today. A slightly heavier and stiffer ski compared to K2s, but still wasp-waisted like the Rossignols, the Rallys turned crisply, responding to my every whim. They shredded the moguls with ease. They stayed under control on ice, and they rode smoothly in the straightaways. Perfect for an all-purpose skier who needs a little speed, pin-point turns, and stability when shredding bumps.
OTHER ARTICLES IN THE SERIES
PART 2 – MAGIC MOUNTAIN
PART 3 – SMUGGLERS’ NOTCH
PART 4 – ATTITASH MOUNTAIN
PART 5 – MOUNT SNOW
PART 6 – CANNON MOUNTAIN
PART 7 – STRATTON MOUNTAIN
PART 8 – MOUNT SUNAPEE
PART 9 LOON MOUNTAIN
GOLF AND SKI IN THE SAME DAY
Manchester Country Club (Private) and Mt Washington (public)
Both courses are outstandingly well-preserved Donald Ross designs. Manchester, just 23 miles from Waterville Valley, is lovingly preserved and stewarded by a devoted and altruistic membership, duty-bound and only too proud to protect and promote Ross’s legacy. All of Ross’s masterful green contours are intact, and the playing angles require careful planning off the tee as they test both accuracy and distance control.
Similarly, Mt. Washington is a 1916 Ross, painstakingly renovated by master architect Brian Silva. Silva restoring a Ross; you can’t go wrong with that combination.