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Blueberry Hill

Blueberry Hill

Travel East
By Moira McCarthy
posted: 02/02/2006

First, a disclaimer: there's some history between Attitash and me. I've skied there almost since its inception. As a competitive freestyle skier in the crazy 1970s, I used its trampoline to train at night-in the base lodge, mind you. (Imagine what liability attorneys would do with that today.) As a teen, I skied Tightrope hard, doing my best to impress the boys. During college, I partied on the sundeck each spring. I fell in love there, had my heart broken there. I skied tree lines no one else knew. We were that close, Attitash and me.

At first, as a reviewer, I thought that was a bad thing, until I headed up to Attitash to find out what was new. There, it became instantly clear that I was not alone in my bias. Lift ride after lift ride, I met folks who, for reasons as unique as they were themselves, shared the same affinity. There's just something about Attitash, relatively small at 1,750 vertical feet and 70 trails, that inspires devotion. Once you've been there, you're connected.

Take Peter Dolphin of Hingham, Mass. Dolphin skied Attitash as a boy, just about every weekend from 1969 to 1977. Once grown, he wandered. Other resorts caught his eye. But when it was time to get his three young girls skiing, he knew just where to take them.

"This place has good steeps, good intermediate and good beginner terrain all close together," he says, riding the chair with two of his daughters. "I can disappear to take a burner and end up right back with them again. I like that it's a little bit old New England, too. For me, it's about memories. For my kids, it's about being part of what I was a part of when I was their age. It's perfect. There's no place in the East I'd rather take them."

That kind of homeyness probably came from the way Attitash was born. When it debuted in 1965, Attitash was a place where the owner's friends could come, not only to ski but to feel pampered and comfortable. The thick red carpet in the original base lodge was symbolic: warm, soft, inviting and (at the time, anyway) hip. With the blessing of a Native American medicine man, they named the resort Mount Attitash-from the word for blueberry, after the bushes that covered the area-and opened to rave reviews.

Almost from the start, Attitash became a mover in the industry. Because its focus was taking care of friends and family, it had sophisticated ski school and racing programs from the start, making its mark not only on how teaching should be done, but on how races can be won. The very origin of freestyle skiing can be traced to its slopes: The 1966 Ski Master's Competition was the first freestyle event in documented ski history. But most of all, the people who built Attitash carved out great trails that make sense. It's been that base, albeit larger now as Attitash/Bear Peak, that's won ski-hearts for life.

The 2004 season has been challenging in the East-a miserable mix of bitter cold and scant snow-but on this March day, you wouldn't know it. Just the day before, the trails were sketchy, partly due to high traffic brought in by Junior Olympic races. But a dusting of snow fell overnight, and the grooming crew has worked a miracle.

I'm on the first chair of the day with Sam Egbert, an Attitash legend who gets first chair every day. He's a member of the Attitash Old Goat Association, and explaining how the group got its name takes about half a lift ride.

"One day, my gang of ski buddies are in the base lodge and Pete Davenport (a well-known Mt. Washington Valley developer) comes in and dumps out a bunch of pins that say AOGA on them. We say, 'What's that stand for?' and he says, 'Well, I don't know. It's whatever you want it to be. But you could say it stands for Attitash Old Goat Association.' I suspect he had them left over from some business venture, but I guess we'll never know for sure."

AOGA's mission is simple: Ski Attitash every day of the season, and ski it well. And that's the nice thing about Attita: Its design, from its conception at just four trails on two slopes to today's two peaks, gives skiers a way to ski it well no matter their level, no matter the weather, no matter their mood.

Because it faces north, Attitash doesn't bake in the sun all day long, and that can be a good thing. The surface holds up longer, giving skiers a good base all day long and groomers something good to work with at night. The two peaks-Attitash to the east and Bear Peak to the west-arc toward one another, making access between the two a breeze. On either mountain, skiers can dig their edges into some true steeps (at a 45-degree pitch, Ptarmigan is said to be among the steepest trails in the East), or cruise along taking in the views and never worrying about building up too much speed (Pinball Alley was a favorite of my youngest child way back when). Each peak plays a role: Attitash has the classic New England feel; Bear Peak is newer, more open and playful. In the middle are wonderful high-speed cruisers like Northwest Passage and Snow Dancer.

But best of all are the glades, tucked in the middle. Toward the far side of Bear, they're fun and forgiving. In the middle, experts looking for gnarlier stuff will find plenty, and while they're easily accessible, the trees are thick enough that it really feels like an adventure.

The two peaks make it easy to work with the weather as well. No matter which direction the wind blows, you can always find trails that are protected. Old-timers know how to read it; newbies will figure it out fast. It's an easy mountain to embrace.

Egbert is all business on this perfect morning, so along with his gang of hootin' and hollerin' men-"a bunch of third-grade boys at heart," he admits-we head first to Idiot's Option, where we cut fresh tracks on the steep, narrow and, today, ungroomed trail. Next up is Ptarmigan, where the groomers have worked their magic. We fly down, feeling the steep turns in our legs-and loving it.

From there, Egbert and his gang head down each run like a football team: Egbert calls out the play in words only his team would understand. "Cut over to the high way, then head down past rainbow. We'll meet up just past the spider web." It's AOGA slang for a nice cruiser over to Bear Peak where, every day, they pound out their just-before-lunch runs.

For me, Bear Peak is new, even though it's 10 years old. Added to Attitash as a second peak, it was actually the first site on which the original developers wanted to cut trails, though permit problems sent them to Attitash instead. Bear has a newer feel, with wider trails, some interesting bump choices and double fall lines that you don't always find in more traditional Eastern trails.

The Grand Summit Resort and Hotel anchors Bear Peak, easily accessible yet tucked away well enough so as not to disturb the views nature provides. Flowing in and out of it are the families that keep Attitash alive and well. With a ski school meeting place at each base and a shuttle to take you to and from, you don't need to worry about getting around with the kids. With convenient cut-overs, parents can ski all day and check in on the kids easily. The two peaks lend a sense of variety, but mostly Attitash is cozy. The red carpet may be gone, but the feeling is still there.

So what's in the future? Loyalists aren't blind, and they're quick to tell you the place needs a high-speed quad to the top of Attitash and then few more trails to support any new uphill capacity. Until that happens, Attitash will do what it's always done: make everyone feel like it's their special place, no matter their age, their level, their hometown.

"I've only been here since '87, but there's no place else I'd rather be," says Egbert. Check it out any day at 8:45 a.m.: The first chair is his, and everyone else goes along with it. That's Attitash. You find your spot-whether it's my secret tree run or the Dolphin family's return to ski school-and it's yours. And that's what loyalty is all about.

DECEMBER 2004

hat loyalty is all about.

DECEMBER 2004

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