‘So this is what you Yankees think of as fun!” cracked the tourist from Virginia at the summit of Mount Washington, official home of the world’s worst weather. Even some Yankees were not amused. “We came up for the view, but it’s foggy and freaking freezing,” said Paul Kelley from Marstons Mills, who traveled up the Mount Washington Auto Road in September and quickly realized that winter arrives way early here. It was 32 degrees at the top, with a wind-chill factor of 18 degrees. Pity the poor hikers who trekked to the top wearing shorts — but hey, it was 65 degrees down in the Mount Washington Valley!
With winds that often reach hurricane-level force, New Hampshire’s Mount Washington is the definition of “fierce.” And that’s why a trip to its 6,288-foot summit is a must-do for many New Englanders. (Tip for weather wimps: You can escape inside the summit’s cafeteria/lodge and small museum.) Reachable by car, coach, or foot, Mount Washington is, of course, the highest peak in the Northeast. And although it is often foggy at the top, there are gorgeous vistas to behold on the way up. It’s like a living geography lesson as you watch the environment change with the rising elevation, morphing from mixed northern forest to boreal areas to an alpine zone with tundra flora like that in the Arctic Circle. (There are no trees. The climate is too harsh for them.)
After this experience, a warm beverage in front of a crackling fire is practically a requirement. Happily, that can be arranged at the Glen House, the new 68-room hotel that sits at the base of the mountain. Although this incarnation of the Glen House opened in September, it is actually the fifth iteration of a Glen House. The original opened in 1852. When the Mount Washington Auto Road (then a carriage road) opened in 1861, guests made the 7-mile trip in stagecoaches, drinking whiskey to dilute the effects of the toxic vapors in the clouds (according to our tour driver, Dave Roy). Fast-forward to 1967, when the fourth Glen House closed. It wouldn’t reopen for 50 years.
While past versions of the Glen House varied in size and included a fancy, 600-guest grand hotel, the new hotel is attractive — think clapboard and painted trim — but not flashy. Surrounded by the White Mountain National Forest, the hotel lets its surroundings take center stage — and boy, do they! Thanks to numerous, oversize windows, mountain vistas great you at every turn. One side of the hotel overlooks the Carter-Moriah range, while the other faces the Presidentials.
The hotel’s great room, extending from the lobby to an outdoor deck, features a stone fireplace with an eye-catching patchwork moose head, an open bar, and windows that frame the peaks of the Presidential Range. A cathedral ceiling and oversize couches create a lodge-like ambience. Posts and columns are made of reclaimed wood. A walk out to the deck reveals more seating and a stone fire pit, a cozy gathering spot after a day of outdoor adventure. Artwork speaks to the hotel’s history, with vintage photos and, in the great room, a multimedia mural that captures the profile of the Presidentials.
Public areas include a dining room open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, an indoor saltwater swimming pool, and a small exercise room. People use the latter, but you might wonder why, when the property is surrounded by 11,000 acres and includes the Great Glen Trails Outdoor Center. Owned by the same families who own the hotel and the Mount Washington Auto Road, Great Glen Trails offers 40 kilometers of walking and hiking trails, trail biking, and guided kayaking trips. In winter, trails are groomed for cross-country skiing (classic and skate-skiing), in addition to snowshoe routes, fat biking, snow tubing, and winter tours up the mountain (but not all the way to the summit) on the Mount Washington Snow Coach. For the downhill crowd, Wildcat Mountain Ski Area is a short drive away. Oh, and the hotel is pet-friendly, so you can bring your dog along to romp in the snow.
“People have been coming up here for generations. They tell us, ‘I want to show my children and grandchildren what I experienced, and share it with them,’ ” says Howie Wemyss, general manager of the Mount Washington Auto Road and Great Glen Trails. “We hear that every day.”
Guest rooms are decorated in warm earth tones (lots of orange, gray, and taupe). Industrial-style light fixtures add a touch of modern style. There’s Wi-Fi throughout the property, and no shortage of places to plug in. Speaking of powering up, the Glen House aims to be energy self-sufficient and carbon neutral by the end of the year, using a geothermal system for heating and cooling plus two offsite energy-generating projects to harness hydro and solar power.
Count on burning plenty of energy yourself once you get up here. There’s the obligatory visit to the Mount Washington summit by car, coach, or foot, the outdoor activities at Great Glen Trails (including guided moonlight snowshoe hikes), not to mention the shopping and dining in nearby North Conway. Mix it up and make it a DIY sampler of the Mount Washington Valley. “This area has retained its authenticity,” says the Glen House’s sales director, April Jacobs. There’s a feel-good vibe, she says. “But we really want to get people outside, enjoying this amazing environment.”
THE GLEN HOUSE 979 N.H. Route 16, Greens Grant, N.H., 603-466-3420; www.theglen
house.com. From $229.