Ever had one of those ski trips when everything seems to go wrong? We were solidly on track for a major letdown one weekend last winter. For weeks, we'd been excited by the prospect of a multigenerational getaway to Waterville Valley, N.H., the secluded wintersports Shangri-La only two hours from Boston. The extended family, though, decided to make other plans (the nerve of them, having their own lives), so our vast accommodations at the Eagle Lodge would be all ours to rattle around in.
My husband, John, doesn't alpine ski, but Waterville Valley's nordic offerings are phenomenal. If anything, the 110 kilometers of cross-country trails, fanning out through untouched White Mountain National Forest, tend to outshine the somewhat gentle downhill area—so for once he'd get a fair bargain.
Or a way better deal, as it turned out, because by the time we arrived, midway through the Winter of the Unending Eastern Deep Freeze, the mercury had plunged in inverse proportion to the already Le Mans—level wind velocity, and the resort was forced to shut down the lifts.
So there we were, at a premier family-oriented ski resort, with no family and with skiing limited to the cross-country variety. The "resort part of the equation suddenly became all-important, and as it turned out, we were in the right place.
Here's what you can do on those extremely rare occasions when Waterville Valley's 100-percent snowmaking doesn't ensure blissful verts: Cross-country ski, to start. It won't kill you—in fact, it's good for you—and it's also a guaranteed way to warm up, whereas the more logical choice, curling up in an armchair with a good book, would more likely just leave you chilled.
Alternate on-mountain activities include skiboarding (in a dedicated park below the Quadzilla lift), tubing (with special K2 tubes that steer and brake) and other toys, including snowscoots and skibikes. The surrounding woods make for idyllic snowshoeing. Get equipped at the Nordic Center, and inquire about moonlight tours. Indoors, the gargantuan Athletic Club has everything a fitness buff could require, including a running track and cardio/weight room.
We covered just enough cross-country ground to feel virtuous (half a kilometer, maybe?), before repairing to the Athletic Club for a superb massage, a swim in the deserted 25-meter pool and a couple of long private soaks in a pair of jacuzzis that, when last visited, had been absolutely crawling with kids and the adults they allow along as meal tickets. Where was everybody? Apparently, they'd actually heeded the weather report.
Speaking of weather, and how to avoid it, that evening we were delighted to find a good New American café, the Wild Coyote Grill, right inside the club. We dined on spring rolls and calamari and watched the snowcats buzz like fireflies on 4,004-foot Mount Tecumseh. Surely tomorrow would dawn brighter and perhaps a bit warmer.
Incredibly, it was even colder—the minus teens now a pleasant memory. One step outside, en route to score lattes in the cute little Graham Gund—designed Town Square, and I gave up any notion of alpine activity. Instead, we headed back to the nordic shop for a decades-overdue equipment upgrade (rental fees can be credited toward purchase) and headed out for more cross-country.
The green trails circling the center of the village are conveniently bi-groomed to accommodate both striders and skaters. I wish I could say we ventured farther afield this time around, but just breathing was like inhaling ice, so a thorough thaw back beside the roaring fire at the Nordic Center and some overstuffed rollups at the Jugtown Sandwich Shop seemed a preferable course. We could have skated, too, at the indoor Ice Arena, or played tennis at the sports center, but in the end a novel and a nap won us over. Dinner, at the cavernous Diamond Edge North, was delicious and exotic: The Thai specialties, quite a departure for provincial New Hampshire, helped to warm an ottherwise frigid night.
The next morning, I knew I hadto ski no matter how cold it was, soI hopped a complimentary SchussBus. (Two Waterville Valley pluses: The slopes are set scenically away from the lodging, yet once you arrive you can ditch your car for the duration).On board, an urbane lawyer type laughingly claimed bragging rights—"Or perhaps I should say idiot rights, he amended—for having braved the previous day's sub-subzero conditions. Today, however, we were lucky: The scouring winds had finally died down, leaving just enough groomer-churned powder on Tecumseh's old-style, meandering trails. Only a handful of hardy youngsters (locals, perhaps?) were plying the various terrain parks. It would have been the ideal time to drop in,for anyone so inclined. But I was quite happy cruising mellow intermediate runs like Oblivion and Tippecanoe with perhaps a few dozen fellow skiers to keep me company.
Part of my mission in visiting Waterville was to scope out tactics for crowd evasion—a recurrent skier concern, especially in the East—and I'd accidentally hit upon the best strategy of all: Head up when no one in their right mind would want to be out skiing. My fellow geniuses and I enjoyed the kind of day you mostly only dream of.
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