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By Elizabeth Gehrman
Every New Englander knows Mt Washington Valley is a spring skiing mecca with seven alpine resorts, and the latest storms are sure to stretch out the skiing season into April. But as New Englanders also know, there’s something equally special about the springtime thaw, when white powder gives way to green grass, we swap sweaters for short sleeves, find an extra bounce in our step, and seem to let out one giant collective, relaxing ahhhhhh.
It’s transition time. Mt Washington Valley’s 11 golf courses open up for putting, not sledding, hiking sticks replace ski poles, farmers’ markets reappear, the historic Conway Scenic Railroad starts rolling again, flowers bloom, and spring becomes the next great season to visit the region.
That’s certainly what Paula and Larry Frost of Taunton discovered almost by accident in 2012.
“We were just looking for places to go where we could bring our dogs,” says Paula, a training manager for a mortgage company. “We didn’t really know anything about the area at the time but we fell in love with it.”
Now, the couple comes back multiple times a year, always staying at the Old Red Inn in North Conway. And as they’ve discovered, just about anything is possible from April through June here. They’re never bored, with endless opportunities to explore the abundance of arts and culture in the area, from the annual Strawberry Festival to Art in Bloom — not to mention enough outdoor adventures to fill a lifetime.
“After a long winter, the sun is high in the sky,” says Bob Tagliaferri, president of Saco Bound Outdoors in Conway, which specializes starting in May in rafting, kayaking, tubing and canoeing trips. “The days are warmer and you feel like you’re coming out of hibernation from the cold.”
You can ski, paddle, and hike all in one day if you want. Or just enjoy a lazy morning sipping great coffee, before strolling from an arts festival, to an independent bookstore, to an outdoor market, and then enjoy a self-guided scenic bike loop around the valley or a gentle walk up to a spectacular waterfall.
Blooming flowers, rushing waters
If you can be there on April 7, go hungry. At the 15th annual Chili Cookoff at the Community Center in North Conway, nonprofits, individuals, and restaurants will be serving up their signature chili and cornbread recipes to see who takes away the grand prize.
A week later, there is a totally different kind of competition. Tuckerman Ravine fever peaks with a couple hundred elite athletes running, biking, whitewater kayaking, hiking, and skiing at the 18th annual Inferno Pentathlon.
Looking for something a little less strenuous? The same day as the Inferno, Wildcat hosts its pond skim, where competitors, often costumed, fly down the slope and across — or into — a shallow 40-yard-long pool, creating all sorts of amusing mayhem for spectators.
If peace and quiet, instead of mayhem, is your thing, no problem. The 4th Annual Independent Bookstore Day at White Birch Books in North Conway is for all ages, a chance to meet authors, explore new titles, and encourage a new generation of readers.
One of the real perks of springtime in Mt Washington Valley is there are so many shoulder-season lodging deals available. One particularly gorgeous spot is the Bernerhof Inn in Glen, N.H., which is having a Spanish cultural package weekend in late April.
But if you’re tired from the winter and you just want to unwind and unplug, there is something else for you to enjoy: the colors.
“I really enjoy when the flowers come up,” says Craig Clemmer, who works in Bretton Woods and lives in nearby Lancaster. “Tulips, daffodils; I’m a big enthusiast of the various colors of lupine, fields of it. The greenness is coming back to the mountains, it’s breathtaking just to sit out on the veranda.”
One more thing: Don’t forget your camera!
All of the melting snow has a beautiful benefit unique to the valley: It generates a spectacular waterfall season — as winter trickles become gushing, rushing falls. Grab your camera, hike up Sherburne Trail from the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center and you’ll eventually come to the beautiful Crystal Cascade less than a half mile up. It’s worth the short walk.
Memorable May Days
By the end of May, family-friendly Black Mountain starts offering guided one-hour trail rides as well as an overnight horseback ride with a campfire, lodging, and meals served at the chairlift mid-station three-quarters of the way up the mountain. ATVs are available for rent at Northeast Snowmobile in Gorham, and hiking is perhaps most spectacular in spring, with the waterfalls strongest as the snow melts in the higher elevations and caps of lacy ice drape the torrents.
“The trails might be a bit muddy but the rewards are worth it,” says Greg Fisher, director of marketing at Attitash. He especially recommends Crystal Cascade, a two-tiered 60-footer just off “Tuck’s,” as locals call the ravine, and Glen Ellis, which is just two-tenths of a mile off Route 16.
And once the snow really does disappear, ski resorts become adventure parks, with ziplines high above the canopy, mountain coasters, and even, at Attitash, a luge-like Alpine Slide.
And as thrilling as it is to hike up Mount Washington, it’s just as cool to relax and experience the Auto Road. Why not do it in style? The first of three Sunrise Drives is scheduled for June 24 this year, with the road opening at 3:30 a.m. for a 5:01 daybreak. You may never see a more incredible view.
Finally, no matter how much you enjoy relaxing, if you are one of those people who just can’t let go of your skis, if the weather cooperates you’ll be able to extend the ski season well into spring—sometimes even May—if you’re an extreme skier who can handle the backcountry.
For beyond-experts, hiking up Tuckerman Ravine and skiing down the crazy drops—which were once likened to “going down an elevator shaft”—is a rite of passage. If you’re not quite ready for the black-diamond-plus sides of the ravine, you can still enjoy the party by hiking up to Lunch Rocks to observe.
“People bring in grills, beer, sleds, inner-tubes, kids, and dogs,” says Peter Nelson, executive director of Friends of Tuckerman Ravine. “They make a day out of it.”
Then again, the view looking up at the ravine, from a relaxing pub or coffeehouse, is just as beautiful as the thrilling view from the ravine looking down into the valley. It’s just a matter of preferences.
As those who live in Mt Washington Valley say, anything is possible here. “Spring is a great time to come,” Tagliaferri says, “because you have more space to do what you want to do.”
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Your guide to shopping tax-free in the unique boutiques and bargain outlets of Mt Washington Valley
Mt. Washington Valley: New England’s outdoor winter playground
You know about the great skiing in this New Hampshire region. But do you know about the chocolate festival? The ice sculpting competition? Ice fishing with the Fish Nerds? And the fatbiking, tubing, trekking, and ice climbing? The list goes on.