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Corduroy Is What’s In Fashion At Bretton Woods

Dialing back the adrenaline and soaking in the views at the White Mountains' corduroy capital.

Majestic views of Mount Washington are the backdrop to Bretton. Photo: Adam Kaufman

As I raced between the trees in Wild West Glade, bouncing from bump to bump through the inch or so of snow that coated the refrozen crust beneath, I asked myself, “Why am I doing this?”

Our co-founder, John, often chides me for chasing superlatives—always seeking out the steepest, toughest, most technical terrain at a given ski area to check off my bucket list—and I realized maybe he was right. Here I was at Bretton Woods, a resort widely acclaimed for its groomed terrain, hurtling through the glades in dust-on-crust conditions and missing out on the resort’s best features. Following two consecutive days of deep powder skiing in the steeps and trees at Burke and Smuggler’s Notch, my legs and back weren’t exactly at 100 percent anyway. What was I doing?

I hopped back on the lift and headed for Waumbek, a wide black-diamond groomer punctuated with steep rollers, and I settled into relaxed, smooth carve turns on luxurious corduroy, building up speed effortlessly. “Now you’re doing it right,” I thought as I swooped across the slope and took in the distractingly picturesque view of the historic Omni Mount Washington Hotel with its namesake peak looming behind it, like a snowy giant, pushing the clouds out of the sky. “This is how you’re supposed to ski this mountain.”

Craig Clemmer, the Director of Marketing for Bretton Woods, agreed with me when we met later that afternoon. “We do have some great ungroomed terrain and glades,” he told me, “but most of our skiers are looking for that classic Bretton Woods corduroy.”

It's may not be terribly steep, but there are plenty of thrills to be found at Bretton. Photo: Adam Kaufman

The resort has been recognized five times by Ski Magazine for having the best grooming of any Eastern ski area, and they wear it as a badge of honor. You won’t find jaw-dropping steeps here to challenge experts, but there is an abundance of green and blue groomed trails with consistently great snow that cater to children, novices and intermediates, and elderly skiers. “We take care of people as they come into the sport and as they leave the sport,” Clemmer says.

Bretton Woods’ 464 acres of skiable terrain, the most of any ski area in New Hampshire, can be separated into four distinct pods, each with their own unique features that warrant a visit. In total there are sixty-two trails and thirty-five glades, so there is plenty of terrain to explore over the course of multiple days. And with ten lifts—soon to be eleven with the opening of their new gondola in the 2019-2020 season—there are plenty of options to get around and escape the crowds, even on a busy weekend.

On the far right of the map is West Mountain, accessed by a high-speed detachable quad that spans just under 1,000 feet of vertical. For beginners or those seeking a worry-free warmup run, Avalon is a wide and windy green trail that squiggles down the fall line towards the valley below. Aggassiz and Jacob’s Ladder are fun blue trails that run parallel to it, albeit with slightly steeper pitch. Between these trails are a myriad of glades—thirteen to be exact—that range from wide open, gentle beginner glades to moderately pitched, narrower runs speckled with short drops, natural obstacles and even a few cliffs. Nothing on this face of the mountain is particularly steep or scary though, so it’s a great place to progress to steeper terrain or make your first foray into tree skiing.

The middle of the resort is accessed by two high-speed quads and, beginning in the 2019-2020 season, a brand new eight-passenger gondola (the first of its size in New Hampshire). While this pod is home to a smattering of glades and some headwall steeps like Dave’s Drop, the primary attraction here is the huge assortment of green and blue groomers that meander down the main face of Mount Rosebrook with a minimal number of intersections.

Because most of Bretton's visitors come for the cord, the trees often hold fresh powder well after a storm. Photo: Adam Kaufman

I enjoyed coloring in the lines from Coos Caper to Sawyer’s Swoop, enjoying each trail’s unique dips and bends, each with the impressive Mount Washington posing in the background. This is also where you can find the resort’s terrain parks, which, while they are no match for the jumbo features at places like Mount Snow's Carinthia or Killington, pack plenty of challenge for the majority of skiers and riders and were more than enough for a stiff-kneed park novice like me. What every trail in this section (and the others) does have in common is notably good snow quality, thanks to Bretton Wooods’ award-winning grooming, and its proximity to the Presidential Range – which results in an average of over 200 inches of snowfall each year. “People are looking for the best snow in the East, and that’s what Mount Washington does for us,” Clemmer said. “The convergence of five different weather patterns congregating right there gives us beautiful upslope flurries that collect and cover the slopes every night.” On the eastern side of Mount Rosebrook’s summit, things take a turn for the steeper and more untouched. Accessed by the Rosebrook Summit Express, another high-speed quad (they are everywhere here!), this area has a series of legitimately steep black-diamond trails, like Firetower and Bode’s Run (the Olympian and World Cup medalist has had a longtime affiliation with Bretton), the aptly-named Two Miles Home, and the Rosebrook Glades; a dozen routes that descend through dense trees and funnel down to the main base below. In the dust-on-crust conditions on the day of my visit, these glades were plenty challenging with their rolling slopes and narrow chutes, and on a powder day they would absolutely be my first stop. There are even some cliffs and very steep drops under the liftline that, in good snow conditions, would be fun spots for freestyle skiers looking to show off their skills.

On the far-left side of the map is the resort’s strangest, perhaps most charming section; the Mount Stickney Glades. Accessed by an old-school T-bar that pulled me along in spurts like a mother dragging a difficult toddler across a grocery store floor, Mount Stickney is home to five glades (three blue, two black) that descend about 400 feet down a gentle pitch (albeit there are some surprises in the black diamond glades). Other than a warming hut at the top of the T-bar, there is little if any infrastructure to be found here, resulting in a natural, backcountry feel. Those who prefer their skiing in Nordic fashion will find the Mount Stickney High Country Loop here, which circles near the peak’s true summit (a large network of Nordic trails is also maintained on the valley floor).

The historic Omni Mount Washington Hotel sits just across the street from the ski area. Photo: Adam Kaufman

Bretton Woods also shines when you take a break from the slopes, whether for midday lunch at the scenic mountain-top restaurant, Lattitude 44, or for the swankiest après-ski in New England, grabbing a cocktail across the street at the historic Omni Mount Washington Hotel, a national landmark that was built in 1902, and which is most famous for hosting the 1944 conference that helped create the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. I opted for a grilled chicken sandwich with chipotle aioli and a pint of locally-brewed Tuckerman Pale Ale at the Slopeside Restaurant and Pub, located at the base. Construction of a new event space is also underway at the summit of the new gondola, which will serve as an on-mountain venue for weddings, galas and other parties with postcard views of Mount Washington.

It may not be the steepest or scariest ski area in the White Mountains, but most skiers and riders aren’t looking for hair-raising, heart-pounding terrain. And even for those of us who often are, it can be nice to sit back and enjoy some mellow terrain with great views (especially on tired legs following an epic powder weekend). If you like fast lifts, great grooming, spectacular views, and tree skiing that won’t impact your life insurance premiums, Bretton just might be your neck of the Woods.

© 2018 by ICE COAST MAGAZINE.

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