The Balsams doesn't awe with size. Rather it caresses, delivering intimacy and service, anticipating each guest's very need. The grounds are nevertheless impressive—a 15,000-acre private estate crowned by the towers, turrets and wraparound porches of its confection-like hotel. Getting here isn't easy. It's a long, albeit beautiful haul to this craggy notch at the tip of northern New Hampshire. But it's worth it.
The resort dates to 1874, when the modest Dix House opened with 25 rooms. In 1917 it earned "grand" status with the opening of the "new wing" (it's still called that). The Balsams is the hotel other grands look to for a road map to winter success. It was the first to be renovated and winterized, opening its Wilderness Ski Area in 1966.
As at the Mount Washington, the public rooms are endless, elegant and delightfully old-fashioned. Unlike the other grands, though, only a few guest rooms have televisions. The Balsams, too, has earned a place in history: Every four years, residents of tiny Dixville Notch gather at midnight in the Ballot Room of the hotel to cast the first votes in the New Hampshire Primary. The results are broadcast around the world.
The Balsams operates as a classic American-plan hotel. The daily rate isn't cheap, but do the math: Everything except lunch is included, from multi-course breakfasts and dinners to lift and trail passes, recreational programs and even childcare. And the food alone is worth the price. Dinner is a formal enough affair that men must wear jackets—a charming throwback, like The Balsams itself, to more cordial times.