BRETTON WOODS, N.H. — There’s something special about off piste, backcountry skiing. Heading into the mountains, bypassing well-traveled, groomed trails, gets our hearts pumping and adrenaline flowing. We love forested hideaways where the crowds are thin, untracked trails aren’t exhausted by noon, and the way down becomes an adventure.
But there’s a trade-off: This type of skiing usually involves more risk, stamina, and skill, and a lot of uphill climbing to get to the top of the slope. That’s why we were excited when we heard that Bretton Woods in northern New Hampshire opened a natural glade skiing area this season, complete with a T-bar dumping you into the backcountry. We couldn’t wait to check it out.
We admit: The T-bar was a little intimidating. Hiking, we can handle, but grabbing hold of one of these contraptions as it pulls you up the side of the mountain? When was the last time you did that (if ever)? The 2,000-foot Doppelmayr T-bar is new, purchased from a maker in Austria, and despite our worries, was easy enough to maneuver. We rode it to the top with no problem, where we stopped to take in the million-dollar view.
The newly thinned-out glades cover some 30 acres on the northern slopes of the White Mountains, with far-reaching vistas. There were few other skiers at the top, and we saw no one in the glades below. Though we were only a short distance from the popular Two Miles Home trail — you access the Telegraph T-bar from this intermediate trail — it felt remote and wild, and very quiet. We’d left the hum of machinery — snowcats, blowers, and high-speed chairs — and the chatter of the crowds behind.
A small, 600-square-foot cabin sat a few glides from the T-bar. We stopped in to warm up with a cup of hot chocolate, enjoyed in front of a wood-burning stove. The modest, hand-built cabin opened this season and adds to the rustic, backcountry feel.
There were no trail signs, but plenty of point-your-skis-down-and-go choices. An intermediate-level trail dropped in front of the cabin; the wide swath of snow was the easiest way down. Gravity’s tug and the lure of uncut runs sent us into the untrammeled glades. We worked our way down a tight, twisty, skinny route around snow-capped trees, and before we knew it the run was over way before we wanted it to be. We headed back up for another try.
We lingered at the top again, striking up a conversation with a couple of young guys from Rhode Island. “The further away you get from the Two Mile Home trail — that way,” one of them told us, pointing beyond the back of the cabin, “the better it gets.” We took “better” to mean steeper and snowier. After a few more up-and-down runs, with waning sunlight and plummeting temperatures, we were ready to call it a day.
The folks at Bretton Woods have been talking about expanding Mount Stickney for years. Original conversations included a more complete, modern approach, with the addition of a high-speed quad, but a different idea took hold. “We wanted it to be a more rustic, backcountry experience, harkening back to the original era of the hotel,” said Craig Clemmer, director of sales and marketing.
We liked the old-fashioned, back-to-nature feel of the new area. But no one really has to rough it here. (Unless you want to: The resort offers a variety of rugged backcountry trips into the White Mountains, including winter ascents of Mount Washington. Next year, as phase three of the Stickney project, they plan to open a top-of-the-mountain Nordic loop.) Across the street, the Omni Mount Washington Resort & Hotel, has received an $80 million sprucing, including a re-do of all the rooms, and refurbishing of the main dining room, grand hall, and lobby area. The grande dame was looking great. Also completed this season was the renovation of the 34-room Omni Bretton Arms Inn and dining room.
We splurged with treatments in the resort’s spa (a full-service, 25,000-square-foot oasis in the grand hotel’s modern Presidential Wing, built into the side of a hill), followed by dinner at the intimate, four-diamond restaurant at the Omni Bretton Arms Inn.
The next morning, as the sun rose over the mountain peaks, we made our way back to Mount Stickney. It may not be as rough-and-tumble as a winter ascent into the rugged White Mountains, but it was a sweet taste of backcountry skiing, with enough untracked snow and solitude, and a great effort-reward ratio.
Omni Mount Washington
Resort 603-278-1000, www.omnihotels.com/FindAHotel/BrettonWoodsMountWashington.aspx. Bretton Woods alpine and Nordic ski center, 800-314-1752 or 603-278-1000, www.brettonwoods.com