After two retirements from both military and follow on civil service, we embarked on our quest to make Northern New England our permanent home. Returning to this blessed patch of land has been my dream since before attending St. Michael’s College in Vermont, and embarking on both a 22-year military and 13-year federal civil service career. The variety of scenery in New England, the numerous ski areas dotting the landscape, its deep sense of history, its high standard of living and educational attainment and many other social factors won out and we started looking nearby the New England snow belt with easy access to lakes, ski mountains, hiking and culture.
We finally settled on a home in New London, New Hampshire, located between two exits on Interstate 89, halfway between Manchester NH and White River Junction VT, a half an hour from Manchester International Airport, and less than one and a half hours from downtown Boston. New London is definitely an upscale New England town, nestled in the midst of the New Hampshire Lakes region, on the Northeast side of Lake Sunapee, to the South of Little Sunapee Lake, and to the West of Pleasant Lake, providing for world-class boating, touring, sailing, and kayaking.
New London is home to Colby Sawyer College, numerous arts and music venues, and the New London Barn Playhouse among many other nearby cultural features. And just twelve minutes South of town, Mount Sunapee’s 2,743-foot summit invites the skier and boarder to enjoy some outstanding snow sports, snowshoeing, hiking, and snowmobiling. Mount Sunapee is also one of the three mountains within the 75-mile hiking trail loop that covers Kearsarge Mountain at 2,936 feet and Ragged Mountain at 2,286 feet. It is an outdoors person paradise.
Despite a later than normal start to the ski season at Mount Sunapee, the conditions improved substantially within a few weeks, assisted by the massive snowmaking capabilities in the resort. As of New Year’s Day 2014, it was 90% open with only a few of the glades still to have the ropes come down.
Mount Sunapee is a skier’s mountain. It required a bit of getting used to, having owned a home in the shopping-rich Snowshoe Mountain for fourteen years. During the Winter, snow sports are the life and reason for the mountain, period. No mega shopping, no Starbucks, no high-end retail stores. It exists for skiers, boarders, snowshoers and winter hikers.
Mount Sunapee is located within leased land on a state park, and therefore the Intrawest mega development model is non existent. To top it off, even in a relatively libertarian state as New Hampshire, its population base is keenly conservation-minded and would be aghast at huge development in the mountain.
If traveling for an overnight visit, Mount Sunapee has nearby lodging facilities, ranging in price and comfort from numerous bead and breakfasts, to a Best Western on the lake, to upscale historical lodging in New London. Other than the lodge’s three dining facilities, there are no restaurants on site, but there are numerous budget and fine dining establishments in the area.
Mount Sunapee’s location allows a diverse crowd to use its slopes. A sizable portion of the consumer base hails from Massachusetts, primarily from the Boston area, and the non-rhotic pronunciation of Bay Staters permeates the air, as is the use of the word “wicked” to season the conversation, usually preceding the words “good snow”, such as wicked good snow… The guest clientele is also dotted with guests from the Manchester/Concord area, many locals, Vermonters, and even Down Easters. It’s a congenial bunch.
On the subject of congenial, a salient feature of skiing in New England is that snow sports are part of the folk culture. As a result, snow etiquette and behavior are noticeably different than one finds in the Mid Atlantic with its large percentage of first-time skiers and boarders who have never had access to or been near winter sports and are not aware of the necessary courtesy. Line cutting is all but non existent. Boarders seldom block the entire trail sitting on a perpendicular line. Chairs are generally full if the resort is crowded. People ski or board in control. All of which makes life much more pleasurable for every one.
Mount Sunapee is a 12 minute ride from Interstate 89 on routes 103A or 103B which skirt the Eastern and Western shores of Lake Sunapee. The base mountain is a mile from the state road past a giant roundabout. As one drives closer to the base, three large parking areas in succession abut the trail base to the left, leading to the main base facilities.
The main base consists of three large buildings that house the infrastructure and most of the guest requirements. The Sunapee Lodge is the main comfort lodge, housing a large cafeteria, shops, lockers and downstairs storage and comfort facilities. Across the parking lot, Spruce Lodge houses the rentals and repair shops, the main ticket sales and guest services, and additional storage and comfort facilities. Both lodges provide free storage and are equipped with large cubicles on the walls to suit families and groups.
Unlike some of the ski areas in the Mid Atlantic, where groups commandeer tables, put their belongings on and under the tables, and create chaos by preventing others from using cafeteria tables, there are employees clearing tables from unattended personal belongings, creating a pleasant and orderly atmosphere. The second floor of the Spruce Lodge is a sit-down restaurant offering a varied menu and a full bar. In addition, between the Sunapee and Spruce Lodges, an outdoor Waffle Shack serves very good kiosk food.
Another interesting idiosyncrasy is “The Beach,” a stripe of land between the two lodges immediately adjacent to the main parking lot, where groups and families can erect shelters and engage in family cookouts. It’s definitely one of the most congenial ski areas ever.
The resort sports 66 trails (for comparison’s sake, six more than Snowshoe), with the learning area greenest runs separated from the rest in the South Peak, behind the Sunapee Lodge, with its own fixed quad. The South Peak runs comprise four nice, gentle groomers, with an additional learning glade area aptly called Paradise Glades, a must have for a New England resort, and a learning Freestyle Terrain run, with a number of cross trails making the total number of trails at thirteen. The gentle groomers also connect to the Sunapee Lodge. The learning area is made complete by three magic carpets and a rope tow. The five lift devices promise a totally uncrowded atmosphere for beginners and children.
The main mountain begins from the North, with a the Spruce Triple lift servicing four exquisitely groomed runs that are also carved into intermediate to advanced terrain parks used primarily by snow boarders. These connect to the next lift, the Duckling Double, one of the last remaining historical wooden chairs in the East and an old timer’s favorite, totally renovated this year at considerable expense. It is slow, but riding on the polished double as it slowly makes its way up to Spruce Peak is reminiscent of the older genteel days of skiing… The Spruce Peak runs are about 500 feet vertical and end in the vicinity of Spruce Lodge, connecting among each other at the top via catwalks.
The Spruce Peak runs also connect to the next chair to the South of the Terrain Parks, the North Peak Triple. This chair goes about 500 feet higher than the two previous ones, and offers the steepest run of the resort, Goosebumps, as well as three other exquisitely groomed top-to-bottom runs, ideal for speed work, NASTAR races and team training. The runs from the North Peak Triple connect to the Terrain Parks, the high speed runs, and in addition, the one High Speed Quad in the resort, the Sunapee Express Quad. Lastly, the North Peak Triple offers one of the access trails to the back side of the resort, the Sun Bowl, with its like named Quad. The Sun Bowl provides an alternate access to the top, and although it is not a high speed lift, it nonetheless facilitates access to the mountaintop on windy days, which would be all but impossible if the detachable quad was down due to winds.
The Sunapee Express Quad is, although the fastest lift, also the most crowded. I learned to avoid it whenever possible on weekends by taking the North Peak to the Sun Bowl and the Sun Bowl Quad to the top. But on weekdays, it was a fast, non-stop run to the top.
The top of Mount Sunapee provides breathtaking views of the ridge of Vermont’s Green Mountains. On a clear day, one can see from Haystack and Mount Snow on Vermont’s South, continuing to Magic Mountain, Stratton, Okemo, Killington, and Sugarbush. And way in the distance, Vermont’s Mount Mansfield is barely visible on the horizon. To the North, the views of New Hampshire’s Presidential Range with Mount Washington’s prominent peak on the horizon are spectacular. And to complete the view, the amazing view of the frozen Lake Sunapee is in the foreground. It is definitely an unforgettable view.
The Sunapee Express provides five top-to-bottom runs with branches that easily triple the top-to-bottom repertoire, making for some delicious 1,500 vertical foot runs. In addition, there are numerous glades and steeps branching out of these main runs. There is something for everyone. Only drawback is that the glades are not capable of snowmaking, so it takes a massive snow dump to get these ready to ski or board. On the long cruiser category, however, two runs, Upper Ridge and Outer Ridge run in parallel to allow for superb long cruising. And on the steep and fast, Blastoff, Bonanza and West Side provide the skier and boarder with amazing runs.
My favorite part of the resort is the Sunbowl. The base of the Sunbowl Quad does not connect directly to the base, so it is off by itself, a bit higher than the base of Sunapee. It is served by four top to bottom runs with several branching trails, one of which connects to the Sunapee Express Quad territory on top. As this terrain is off by itself, the runs are totally uncrowded and on weekends, skiers and boarders can actually ski right into the chair. The several runs there are a sheer pleasure. My favorite is Kartwheel, a narrow, winding run, very New England, that leads to the chair base. The top-to-bottom Winding Liftline and Skyway trails meander their way down over 1,200 feet in classic New England fashion. And with no lines to speak of quality skiing is all but guaranteed.
The three dining cafeterias at the resort are well stocked and complete. The Sunapee Lodge has a huge upstairs sitting area that serves the clientele. The Summit Lodge is also a double-decker and best of all, it commands amazing views. In addition, Spuce Lodge has a sit-down restaurant atop the lodge that hosts a full bar and is open shortly before lunch time to closing. It does get unbearably crowded, so eating early is a must.
After skiing at Mount Sunapee over 20 times, it is no wonder why Ski Magazine rated it as No. 1 in grooming in New England for 2010 and No. 4 in the East for snow quality in 2013. For a medium sized mountain, the resort is managed extremely well. The slopes are meticulously groomed, ski patrol, safety patrol and Mountain Ambassadors are everywhere, and the staff is obviously well trained in customer etiquette and courtesy. The only downside of the entire resort is the lack of efficient WiFi service and the spotty cell reception. However, considering all factors, that is a minor problem.
For a local mountain, or for a weekend, or a side trip in New England, Mount Sunapee is optimally located. Its infrastructure is superb. A true sports person mountain with friendly and efficient service, exquisite snow conditions and unbeatable trail grooming. We are fortunate to have this mountain so close to our new home.
While actually born in the tropics (Cuba), Lou grew up in New England and went to College in Vermont, where he initially took up skiing. He then embarked on a twenty-two year Air Force piloting career that took him to over 50 countries. He has skied in Europe and America (both North and South). His second career as a senior officer with the Federal Government spanned thirteen years and in 2010, Lou retired to pursue a more leisurely life style.
Nice story, thanks. Sunapee was a favorite of mine as a college student in the early 60s. I haven't been back in almost 50 years now. I have skinned up and skied down mt. cardigan nearby. I recommend it as another great NH ski experience. There is a nice AMC lodge there as well.
Great article about Sunapee, Lou. I grew up in the Berkshires and skied several Vermont areas, too, but never ventured across the Connecticut River into NH until a couple of years ago. Sunapee sounds ideal in so many ways, lacking only the 2000-foot vertical that entices those of us vacationing from places where the ski mountains barely crack the 1000-foot mark. More importanl to me than your engaging and detailed descriptions of the skiing are your comments on your family's decision to return to New England and your choice of the Sunapee area. As much as I'd like (at least in my imagination) to live again in my home region, coping with the long winters -- delightful as they are -- and the higher cost of living have helped me realize how comfortable I've become in the Shenandoan Valley. You seem to have found the ideal situation for your family, though, and I wish you all the best in your return to the Northeast. Great insights into the differences in ski culture b/w NE and Mid-A, brought on, as you indicate (and I'd agree) largely by the greater pervasiveness of winter and outdoor winter sports in New England. Your report gives me second thoughts about where to retire. Many thanks!