With their sense of place and sheer immensity, the best of New Hampshire's historic grand hotels can make your jaw drop. More than 200 of these sprawling architectural treasures dotted the White Mountains at the turn of the 19th century. Long before anyone dreamed of skiing as a pastime, Gilded Era city folk arrived by train or carriage—servants and steamer trunks in tow—to spend the entire summer. Today, the vast majority of grands are history—many lost to fires, most simply to neglect and the unsentimental wrecking ball. But a handful survive, renovated and, more recently, winterized. Today's guests arrive in SUVs instead of carriages, with skis and boots instead of steamer trunks.
The siren song of these historic hotels is hard to resist. Warm and welcoming, they can make a ski vacation sing with their emphasis on service, comfort and ease. Modern lodging may offer similar amenities—spas, fine dining, fun nightlife and sumptuous rooms. But they can only attempt to replicate, usually with unconvincing results, the aura of history and the richness of architectural detail.