I’m thankful to say that I just had the privilege of skiing at Waterville Valley this past weekend, right in the heart of the beautiful White Mountain National Forest. For my first time at this resort, I don’t think I could have picked a better day. I didn’t see a single cloud in the sky and the mountain received a sweet 7″ of snow just two days before my arrival. OK, yes, another 7″ or even 3 feet of the fresh stuff would have made the experience even more memorable, but this writer knows he has no room to complain, especially with the rather poor snow accumulation that the east coast has been dealt so far this season. Thankfully, Waterville Valley has 100% snowmaking and almost all of the terrain was open, so I didn’t have to duck any ropes to lend the area a full, thorough review.
At the base:
Upon arriving at the resort at 8:45, we parked in a lot near the base and had an easy 2 minute walk to bottom of the slopes. Unlike some of the larger ski mountains in New England Waterville Valley has one base area and this baby was already bustling. WAAF Radio welcomed us with good pump-up tunes from their van parked inbetween the base lodge, Sport Thoma retail, demo, and repair shop, rental facility, and T-Bars Restaurant & Apres-ski. The outdoor gas fire pit next to the ticket counters also injected more energy and excitement into the scene as I geared up for my first run of the day.
On the mountain:
I kicked off the skiing with a few quick warm up runs down some green circles. The resort has two beginner areas, one serviced by two T-bars, and the other by a chairlift. When you first look at a map of Waterville Valley, it’s surprising how few green circles you see within the main section of the mountain. For beginners looking to step up to longer, more challenging trails though, there is one big cruiser off of the Quadzilla high speed quad called Valley Run that is not to be missed. It’s the widest run on offer and this baby is also a blast for more advanced skiers and snowboarders looking for some good carving territory.
Once you’re done with the greens, a multitude of blue squares, black diamonds, and even some double blacks await you. Serviced by another high speed quad in addition to Quadzilla, as well as several other chairlifts, there are minimal traversing areas that snowboarders dread and a healthy variety of pitches, chutes, glades, and cruisers to satisfy anyone’s preferred terrain.
While on the mountain and looking for a break, a bite, a beer, or a bathroom (or all simultaneously) Waterville Valley boasts two quaint lodges. I met my girlfriend for lunch at the Sunnyside Timber Lodge just off Valley Run and Quadzilla and we couldn’t have asked for more. While sitting outside with the sun on your face, music playing, and yet another outdoor gas fireplace cranking out the heat (even though the air temperature was just right on its own) are all great for a dining experience while encased in your ski gear, the food here completely sealed the deal for me. When you’re eating on the side of any ski resort, you obviously have to accept whatever quality of food is being served unless you’d rather partake in a meal of bark and snow in the adjacent woods, but I was VERY happy to consume the offerings of Sunnyside Timber Lodge. My girlfriend ordered a very filling make-you-own “loaded baked potato” and I pulled out all the stops and treated myself to a huge braised pork shank served over rice and vegetables. It was one the best meals I’ve ever had on a mountain, and given that I’ve been lucky enough to ski and snowboard all over the Rockies and Alps, that’s saying a lot!
The second mountain-side lodge is called the Schwendi Hutte and its just below the peak of the resort where three chairlifts converge. From its large deck offering the best views of anywhere on the mountain including those of the Tripyramids, Mt. Whiteface, Jennings Peak, and Sandwich Mountain, this stop is not to be skied past. The side of the lodge advertizes “Alpine Afternoon Dining & Dining Under the Stars” and in keeping with its European theme, ales, wines, grogs, strudels, sticky buns, and stews are all on the menu for your guilty pleasures. Good luck trying to consume even one of each item and then make it down the mountain in one piece with your ski pants still fitting and being able to see straight! I’d recommend trying to bribe the lift operator at the nearby high speed quad to let you have a ride back down to the base, where the rest of the crowd that’s incapable of enjoying the slopes and/or preferring to indulge in good food and drink will welcome you with open arms.
One thing I found odd was reaching the summit. Next to Schwendi Hutte is a SLOW two-person chairlift that is powered by a loud, old engine. I’m not sure why one of the three lifts that terminate at the base of this clunker wasn’t simply extended to bring customers right to the pinnacle (especially because there are only harmless blue squares coming down from it), but after reaching the top and skiing it, with better views and terrain below this area, one trip up there was just enough for me.
Trails worth noting and exploring:
In addition to Valley Run described above, here are a few other runs that you need to hit up if your skill level permits, unless, of course, you’re completely fearless on the snow:
True Grit: This double black diamond reminds me of White Heat at Sunday River, only its wider and the really steep section lasts far longer, giving that adrenaline we all love more time to flow. Waterville Valley’s Black and Blue Trail Smashers (www.wvbbts.org) freestyle team also holds their events on the side of this trail and it is an impressive course (I know from my 5 years on a freestyle team), especially during a competition, which I was lucky enough to catch.
Sunnyside Glades: I loved this glade the most because it starts out quite steep and challenging given that it’s on the same pitch as True Grit It later finishes with a nice, gradual run out with some natural jumps that you just have to hit.
Oblivion: Awesome blue square that starts with a nice chute below Schwendi Hutte with some fun lips to pop off and it turns into a sweet cruiser along a ridge line. There’s also a few 5-10′ cliffs to drop up on the side of the trial, but don’t tell ski patrol I said that!
Tangent/Periphery: This one’s a tight chute from start to finish and really gets your heart racing. I hit it with no one else on it and had a thrill tearing it up. It doesn’t get much sun, so it can be icy, but that only makes you go faster!
White Caps/The Chute/Lower White Caps: This bad boy is a dream for any racer, especially one that likes super GS, or anyone that lives to cut up a trail with multiple pitches and catch some air off lips, all while getting to show off to everyone on the high speed quad. I’m a member of the later crowd, no offence racers.
Exhibition Park and Superpipe: The superpipe was just receiving its finishing touches, so I wasn’t able to ride it, but the park was a thrill. Serviced by a poma lift for the park rats and offering a wide variety of kickers, boxes, rails, and stairs, I couldn’t get enough of it, especially the final kicker.
After my day was over, I met up with my girlfriend again for a couple beers at the base. We kicked back at both Buckets, Bones, and Brews and T-Bars Restaurant & Apres Ski, and would have happily spent hours at either one, but we had dinner reservations in town. The former was especially fun with its cozy wooden feel mixed with big skylights, good tunes, $4 microbrews, and an outdoor patio with, you guessed it, another outdoor gas fireplace! From there, my girlfriend could see me throwing my D-spins in Exhibition Park while sipping on a Shipyard Export Ale. OK, so I was only dropping 360s, but if she had had a few more beers, I could have convinced her that I was training for my aerials routine for the upcoming winter Olympics with the kickers Waterville Valley has built!
Lodging and other ammenities:
We stayed at the Silver Fox Inn ( www.silverfoxinn.com ), a quiet, warm Best Western branch with plenty of character and charm to distinguish itself. Nestled right in the town area, it was a short drive to the slopes (a free shuttle service is also available), and an even shorter walk to restaurants, shops, and other facilities. We dined at the Coyote Grill (wildcoyotegrill.com) on delicious seafood, steaks, and cocktails and I would return there in a second. My best meal of 2010 to date. My girlfriend also unwound at the Sugar Maple Spa (www.sugarmaplespa.com) with a deep tissue massage for the perfect remedy after a hard day of skiing.
Overall, Waterville Valley proved itself to be a fantastic resort to spend a winter weekend in New England. Even if you’re not a die hard skier or rider, the town offers plenty of other activities for all of the family to enjoy. I highly recommend you check this place out!
I would like to thank Deb Moore for her generosity in allowing me to review Waterville Valley. ( www.waterville.com )