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Which New England ski mountain is right for you?

Veronica Grech for the Boston Globe

New England resorts all boast improved snowmaking, varied terrain, friendly service, mountain views, and quality lessons. But, when it comes down to it, certain ski resorts are better at some things than others. Looking for the best snow? Want a family-friendly place? Need a challenge? Here’s the ultimate guide to skiing in the region, on your terms.

ADVENTURE

Sugarbush (Warren, Vt., 802- 583-6300, www.sugarbush.com) has 2,000-plus acres of backcountry and the only Cat skiing in the East. If you want adventure, this six-peak mountain resort has it. Take a heart-pumping tour of the backside with extreme skier John Egan, who has starred in Warren Miller films. The tour may include tree skiing, cliff jumping, or back-country ski mountaineering. You can also sign up for Powder Morning First Tracks to be the first on the mountain, or hike up to Allyn’s Lodge for a multicourse fireside dinner, and then ski down under the stars. For an all-out good time, get a group of friends together to rent the Lincoln Limo Cat for a day of private spring skiing at Mount Ellen; you own the mountain for the day, complete with a barbecue at Glen House.

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Honorable mention: Get your thrills at Okemo (Ludlow, Vt. 800-786-5366, www.okemo.com ) on the Timber Ripper Mountain Coaster. The roller coaster-like ride reaches speeds of up to 30 miles an hour as it careens through the woods, making corkscrew turns and loops along the way. While your adrenaline is still pumping, head to Sawyer Sweep’s Zipline, with suspension bridges and seven segments rising 40 to 50 feet above ground, ending with a 30-foot free fall into a giant inflatable airbag.

FAMILY-FRIENDLY

There’s a reason SKI Magazine readers have named Smugglers’ Notch (Jefferson, Vt., 802- 644-8851, www.smuggs.com) number one for families for 15 years running. Off-slope winter activities cover everything from artists’ classes to zip line canopy tours; there are teen centers, arcades, indoor pools, rope courses, ice skating, and nightly entertainment. Lessons for all ages and abilities are topnotch, and this season a new program gives children, 2½ to 3 years old, a fun introduction to snowboarding.

Honorable mention: Waterville Valley (Waterville Valley, N.H., 800-468-2559, www.waterville.com) has a self-contained village with enough going on to keep everyone happy, family-friendly skiing and lodging packages, and trails funneling to a friendly base lodge. Jay Peak’s recently-opened Mountain Kids Adventure Center (Jay, Vt., 802-988-2611, www.jaypeakresort.com) features “Toy Story” characters, indoor and outdoor learning areas, a moving carpet, and a dedicated learning slope. The ever-expanding resort also has a waterpark, ice skating rink, and a slew of activities.

GROOMING

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Do you dream of downy soft, smooth runs? Head to Okemo (see Adventure), where a fleet of high-tech Snocats perpetually scratch wide carpets of corduroy. Ego-boosting runs like Jolly Green Giant, Timberline, and Lower Limelight are clawed to perfection. The twisting, finely groomed, perfectly pitched Tuckered Out intermediate trail is one of our favorite cruising runs in the East.

Honorable mention: Stratton (Stratton Mountain, Vt., 800-787-2886, www.stratton.com) added three shiny new Cats to its already impressive fleet this season. A tiny army of groomologists work all night to produce buttery smooth trails. Hit Sunriser Supertrail early to catch morning rays, and don’t miss the impeccably groomed Polar Bear Trail, with great views, a steep start, and a smooth, winding finish.

SNOW

Set in northern Vermont, near the Canadian border, Jay Peak (see above) lays claim to receiving the most snow in eastern North America, averaging nearly 400 inches a season.

Honorable mention: Sunday River (Newry, Maine, 207-824-3000, www.sundayriver.com) has its eight peaks covered; what Mother Nature doesn’t provide, 1,900 state-of-the-art snow guns do, with 30 miles of hose and 72 miles of pipe.

EXPERT TERRAIN

Sugarloaf (Carrabassett Valley, Maine, 207-237-2000, www.sugarloaf.com) boasts the only lift-serviced, above-treeline skiing in the East, some of the steepest terrain, and the longest continuous fall line in New England. Before your legs fail you, head to the 4,237-foot summit to play in the Western-style, open snowfields, and then to Brackett Basin and Burnt Mountain for double black diamond glade skiing in more than 300 acres of backcountry terrain. Like the steeps? Earn your turns on legendary trails like White Nitro, Bubblecuffer, and Skidder.

Honorable mention: Jay Peak (see above) has 22 glade runs, close to 3,000 acres of backcountry, and the gravity-defying, knee-crunching Face Chutes. The still untamed Mad River Glen (Waitsfield, Vt., 802-496-3551, www.madriverglen.com ) has some 800 acres of backcountry and some of the gnarliest, ungroomed terrain you’ll find anywhere.

VIEWS

Stand at the 4,062-foot summit of Wildcat Mountain (Pinkham Notch, N.H., 603-466-3326, www.skiwildcat.com ) and you may almost forget that you came here to ski. The yanked-from-postcard views include a panorama of the Presidential Range and slopes of Mount Washington. When you stop gawking, work your way down the narrow, twisting trails that draw a near cult following to this few frills resort.

Honorable mention: Sweet and small Camden Snow Bowl (Camden, Maine, 207-236-3438, www.camdensnowbowl.com ) has eight marked trails spilling down the sides of Ragged Mountain. Take the Big T-bar to the 4,100-foot summit, where you’ll have views of Camden Harbor and the Atlantic Ocean. Snow Bowl is also home to the old-fashioned Jack Williams Toboggan Chute, one of the last of its kind in the country. Of course, you’ll be too busy holding on and careening too fast to notice the pretty views on this ride. The toboggan drops 70 feet, zooming through the woods, at speeds reaching 30 miles an hour, before sliding across frozen Hosmer Pond.

OFF-MOUNTAIN PAMPERING

If your idea of a ski vacation includes fine dining, plush digs, and spa treatments, head to Stowe Mountain Resort (Stowe, Vt., 800-253-3000, www.stowe.com). No one pampers you more than this see-and-be-seen destination, with more than 45 on- and off-mountain restaurants, elegant accommodations, and boutique shopping at some 75 unique stores. Indulge with an après ski treatment at Topnotch Resort Spa (800-451-8686, www.topnotchresort.com), ranked as one of the best spas in North America, and dinner at award-winning Solstice restaurant (Stowe Mountain Lodge, 802-760-4735, www.stowemounttainlodge.com ).

Honorable mention: For luxury, a stay at Bretton Woods Omni Mount Washington Resort (Bretton Woods, N.H., 800-314-1752, www.brettonwoods.com) is hard to beat. Take a horse-drawn carriage ride through snow-covered woods, dine in the gracious and historic main dining room, float in heated indoor and outdoor pools, and soak up the stunning mountain views. Skiing on easy-does-it cruisers makes you feel pretty good, too.

BEGINNERS

Wachusett Mountain (Princeton, Mass., 978-464-2300, www.wachusett.com ) has a staff of more than 300 professionally trained instructors, eager to share their knowledge and passion for the sport. The highly-regarded ski and snowboard school teaches more than 10,000 beginners each season, and a newly-developed beginners’ area, complete with a four-passenger chairlift, sits at the base of the lodge.

Honorable mention: Free is good: At Attitash (Bartlett, N.H., 603-374-2600, www.attitash.com ), a complimentary ticket gets you lift-service access to designated beginner terrain. This season, get free skis if you sign up for the four-day Learn to Ski package at Killington (Killington, Vt., 802-422-3333, www.killington.com). The package costs $249 and includes a two-hour lesson, rental equipment, and a lift ticket each day, and when you finish, you’ll receive a new pair of Elan eRise skis and bindings, along with a discount voucher for new boots and poles. Family-friendly King Pine (East Madison, N.H., 603-367-8896, www.kingpine.com ), located at the Purity Spring Resort, offers free lessons for first-timers, with the purchase of rental equipment and lift tickets. The resort’s widely popular Ski and Snowboard Camp for Kids is the longest-running ski camp in the nation. This year’s camps, for kids age 8-16, will be held President’s Day week, Feb. 17-23, and New Hampshire school vacation week, Feb. 23-28.

SMALL AND WONDERFUL

Granite Gorge (Roxbury, N.H., 603-358-5000, www.granitegorge.com ), just outside of Keene, is celebrating its 10th anniversary of full operation this season. The sweet, throwback ski resort, with its down-home, friendly atmosphere, draws a loyal following. There are about 20 alpine trails spread across the face of wind-protected Pinnacle Mountain, a terrain park, tubing park, and cross-country and snowshoe trails.

Honorable mention: Berkshire East (Charlemont, Mass., 413-339-6617, www.berkshireeast.com ) packs a wallop in its off-the-beaten-track space. There are 400 acres, six lifts, and 100 percent of the trails are covered with snowmaking equipment. Beginner and intermediate trails wrap around the side and crisscross the lower mountain, while a handful of steeper runs tumble down the front face. Families love Cranmore Mountain Resort (North Conway, N.H., 800-786-6754, www.cranmore.com ) for its friendly, easy-to-navigate on-mountain experience and off-mountain activities, including a tubing park, mountain coaster, zip line, and indoor adventure center. Plus, restaurants, lodging, and other activities in bustling North Conway are just around the corner.

UNDERRATED

Saddleback (Saddleback, Maine, 207-864-5671, www.saddlebackmaine.com ) doesn’t get the same hype as some of the other big resorts, but it should. This is a laid-back, simple resort offering a big mountain experience. The summit is 4,120 feet high, with a 2,000-foot vertical drop. The double black diamond Kennebago Steeps are guaranteed to get your heart pumping and legs shaking; a small low-mountain beginner area and several blue cruisers make up the rest of the 66 trails and glades. Added bonus: The views are enough to make the long haul up here worth it.

Honorable mention: Under-the-radar Bolton Valley (Bolton Valley, Vt., 802-434-3444, www.boltonvalley.com ), less than 30 minutes from Burlington, pretty much has it all: three mountain peaks crisscrossed by 70 trails, an annual average of 300 inches of snow, sweeping Green Mountain views, and value-packed pricing. It was also the first in Vermont and the second in the country to implement wind power as an energy source.

CHARACTER

State-owned Cannon (Franconia Notch State Park, N.H., 603-823-8800, www.cannonmt.com ) is one of the oldest ski resorts in the country, and still retains its charming, rustic vibe. What it lacks in amenities (there’s no lodging at the resort, only a handful of casual dining options, and scattered snowmaking and grooming), it makes up for in character and soul. It’s home to the New England Ski Museum, the first passenger tramway in North America, and some jaw-dropping views into Franconia Notch and across the Cannon Mountain Range. A trip on the tram is a must, rising to the 4,180-foot summit, at a speed of about 1,500 feet per minute. If you’re an expert skier, consider a jaunt over to the reopened Mittersill area, but only if there’s been a good deal of snow, as it relies entirely on Mother Nature for its cover.

Honorable mention: Mad River Glen (see above), with its absence of condos and high-speed chairs, is so yesterday, and so proud of it. It’s the only ski area in North America that’s on the National Register of Historic Places, where the narrow, steep trails have changed little since they were hand-carved nearly 70 years ago.

SNOWBOARDING

Mount Snow (West Dover, Vt., 800-245-7669, www.carinthiaparks.com ), home to US Open Rail Jam winner Shaun Murphy, devotes an entire mountain face to its Carinthia Terrain Park System, filled with jumps, jibs, pipes, and parks. There are eight parks in all, a massive superpipe, and nearly 5 miles of trails through trees and natural terrain.

Honorable mention: Snowboarders love the shred-centric, casual vibe at Loon Mountain (Lincoln, N.H., 603-745-8111, www.loonmtn.com ), with seven terrain parks and a 425-foot superpipe, with 18-foot-high walls.

ADAPTIVE

Mount Sunapee (Newbury, N.H., 603-763-3500, www.mountsunapee.com ), home to the New England Handicapped Sports Association, has lessons, racing programs, and a host of services for skiers with a wide range of disabilities.

Honorable mention: Vermont Adaptive, the largest nonprofit in Vermont to provide year-round, daily sports and recreation to people of all disabilities, will open the new Andrea Mead Lawrence Lodge at Pico Mountain (Mendon, 866-667-7426, www.picomountain.com ) this season.

Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at bairwright@gmail.com.
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