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When it comes to ski resorts, smaller can be better

Check out these five little gems that have been teaching New England families to ski for decades.

Skiers and riders make their way down the mountain at Cranmore Mountain Resort in North Conway, N.H. in 2015.
Skiers and riders make their way down the mountain at Cranmore Mountain Resort in North Conway, N.H. in 2015.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff/file

This is the time to go small. Don’t get us wrong; we love skiing the giants, the sprawling mountain resorts with tons of amenities. But sometimes, especially now, smaller feels better. Check out these five little gems that have been teaching New England families to ski for decades.

Note: Resorts are implementing COVID-19 safety protocols and procedures, including limited capacities in lodges and on the slopes, mask requirements, online reservation policies with limited or no walk-up ticket purchases, and adapted lesson offerings and reduced class sizes. Be sure to check the resort website for up-to-minute guidelines.

Cranmore Mountain Resort

This North Conway gem has a rich history going back 83 winter seasons, when in 1937 local businessperson Harvey Gibson opened with a single rope tow. The resort has long been touted for its top-notch ski school. This is where Hannes Schneider, the celebrated Austrian ski instructor, dubbed the father of modern skiing, opened his first ski school, drawing skiers from Boston and beyond. During the 1940s, Cranmore was one of the largest ski resorts in the country, when weekend snow trains operated, bringing outdoor recreationists from the city.

Today, Cranmore may be dwarfed in size by other big New England resorts, but it remains a favorite among East Coast families. The compact mountain includes 200 acres, crisscrossed with 54 trails, serviced by seven mountain lifts and two tubing lifts. Skiing the south-facing slopes on a sunny day is especially delightful, with colorful skies and White Mountain views.

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Off slopes, families love the Mountain Adventure Park Center, with up to 10 lanes of tubing, a mountain coaster, giant swing, and zipline ride. 800-786-6754, www.cranmore.com

Ski Butternut

Easy-does-it is the vibe at this friendly mountain in Great Barrington, which dubs itself the place “where families go to play in the snow.” The area, located on 1,770-foot Warner Mountain in the northern section of the East Mountain State Forest, is leased from the state of Massachusetts, but its history dates back to the 1936-37 winter season, when two trails were cut by the Civilian Conservation Corps.

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It’s a pretty area, surrounded by protected forest, that Ski Magazine has called “An Environmental Showcase.” It’s also a great place for beginners, or anyone looking for a relaxed run through snow-blanketed woods. (The resort has snowmaking capabilities on 100 percent of its trails.) There are 22 trails spread across 100 acres, with five chairs and five carpets. All trails lead to the base, so parents don’t have to worry about losing track of their hot-shot kids. Even beginners can hop on the Top Flight quad chair to the top of the mountain and ski the winding Crosstown green trail down. We like this area best midweek when it’s utterly serene. 413-528-2000, www.skibutternut.com

Those in the know head to Black Mountain for uncrowded slopes and virgin snow.
Those in the know head to Black Mountain for uncrowded slopes and virgin snow.Black Mountain

Jiminy Peak

This midsize ski resort in the Taconic Mountains in the Berkshires (Hancock) offers some big-time amenities, like ski in-ski out accommodations, base and summit lodges, and the six-person Berkshire Express chair that whisks you to the 2,380-foot summit in five minutes. Yet, it manages to maintain a down-to-earth ethos.

The resort spreads over 167 acres with 45 runs, serviced by nine lifts. There are plenty of beginner and beginner/intermediate trails — more than 50 percent of the ski area — including the two-mile Left Bank trail, circling the eastern slopes. Intermediate to advanced intermediate trails make up 29 percent of the terrain. We like the aptly named Westway trail, an easy-on-the-knees, blue cruiser, meandering around the western side of the mountain. But your Sage Kotsenburg wanna-bes will find thrills here, too, like Upper Whitetail, plunging down the face of the mountain. Love bumps? Check out Cutter, a straight, narrow shot often filled with moguls.

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Perhaps, one of the best things we like about Jiminy Peak is its dedication to environmental preservation. It’s one of the first ski resorts in North America that operates with 100 percent renewable energy, with a wind turbine and a 12-acre solar panel field. 413-738-5500, www.jiminypeak.com

All ages enjoy skiing Black Mountain with 45 trails and great views of the Presidential Mountain Range.
All ages enjoy skiing Black Mountain with 45 trails and great views of the Presidential Mountain Range. Wiseguy Creative/Black Mountain

Black Mountain

We’ll get some flack from locals and in-the-know skiers and snowboarders for this one, pointing Globe readers to one of their favorite small ski mountains, offering fresh powder and no crowds. Located in Jackson, N.H., this under-the-radar resort is overshadowed by the area’s better-known biggies (Wildcat, Attitash, Bretton Woods). And that’s just fine with us.

The mountain, the oldest lift served ski area in New Hampshire and one of the last remaining independently owned ski areas in the state, eschews pretension, offering straight-up classic New England-style skiing for all abilities. There are 45 trails spread over 143 acres, and five lifts that get you up the mountain quickly. The something-for-everyone cliché applies here, and while beginners and intermediates have plenty of trails to try, the expert terrain is the biggest surprise to newcomers: steep chutes, glades, and a cliff or two. No wonder it’s been around since 1935, with a fervent, loyal following. 603-383-4490, www.blackmt.com

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Snow Guns at Nashoba Valley Ski Area.
Snow Guns at Nashoba Valley Ski Area.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

Nashoba Valley

Local boards, a.k.a. people who snowboard, have a fond affinity for this ski resort less than an hour’s drive from Boston. It was one of the first in the country to allow snowboarding, and during the 1980s, the resort hosted several large snowboarding events and competitions.

Today, it still welcomes boards and two-planks, a.k.a. people who ski, seven days and seven nights a week. One hundred percent of its terrain is open for night skiing, and 100 percent is covered with snow-making capabilities. You’ll find 17 trails, including a handful of short drops from the 440-foot summit, and a few curvy intermediate runs. A beginner area, with three conveyors and three rope tows, sits at the base. The terrain park, with its own chairlift and sound system, is considered one of the best in southern New England and is wildly popular with the younger set. Also popular: Nashoba Valley’s snowtubing park, located just up the road, is the largest in New England, with four lifts and up to 16 lanes. 978-692-3033, www.skinashoba.com


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