Good Times Skiing Waterville Valley’s High Country
by Amy Patenaude Outdoor/Ski Writer
Last Friday morning I jumped in the car at 8am and drove straight to Waterville Valley to meet a friend for just a couple of hours of skiing. I was clicking my ski boots into my bindings at 9:15. Waterville Valley Resort is surrounded by the White Mountain National Forest and is an easy drive up Interstate 93 (the resort is less than an hour away from Concord, NH). Nearing Campton you’ll see the big bare ledgy peaks of Welch and Dickey, take exit 28 then follow Route 49 East for 11 miles to the resort.
I don’t have to warn you to obey the speed limit because everyone knows that skiers and snowboarders are the most safe and courteous drivers. But because Route 49 is a wonderful wide and smooth state maintained road and, along with its lovely scenery, it is understandable that one might be easily distracted and not notice the posted speed limit varies between 30 and 50 mph. The road follows the banks of the Mad River below steep mountain ledges as it leads deep into the National Forest.
Please note that Tripoli and Sandwich Notch Roads are gravel forest roads that are not open to traffic during the winter and aren’t much of a good idea even in the summer even if your GPS says to use these roads.
Yours truly always sets her cruise control and enjoys the sights. Anyway, there wasn’t much traffic on an early season Friday morning and it was a smooth cruise.
There were about a dozen cars in the upper parking lot when I arrived. I parked next to my friend and he was just putting on his ski boots. I moved quickly and got ready too.
As one might expect, there was no line at the ticket booth and it was a quick deal. We took the stairway up to slope side and there wasn’t a whole lot of snow in sight.
Thanks to their hard working snowmakers. Waterville Valley opened for the season way back on November 27th. There was just enough snow at the base of the lift so we could ski up to load the White Peaks Express Quad. Looking down on the lift ride up the mountain I could see mostly brown grass beneath us. Only High Country, the top slopes on the mountain, were open but I noticed that snow guns were already set-up into position and they were ready for cold weather to return.
At the top I was surprised how chilly the wind felt on my face; it was cold. Snow guns were blasting away near the cheery Schwendi Hutte. I liked seeing the European flags flapping in the wind, especially the German flag that reminded me of my good friends I hope to be visiting later this winter.
We skied over to the High Country Double Chair and got ready to load. The lift attendant was smiling and told us to have a good run. There were a few dozen people already on the slope. The majority of them were skiers and snowboarders from the Waterville Valley Academy and their coaches.
This would be my third day on snow this season and my friend’s first. We took right off at the top and down the middle of the wide open slope we skied. The snow and terrain were terrific. We turned our boards over the slope’s rolls on nice groomed granular snow that had a good mixture of packed powered.
The next time we stood on the summit a few moments and soaked in the grand vista. The day wasn’t sunny but it was nice and clear to see the many 4,000 footers that surround the Valley and many more in the distance.
On the skier’s left side of the trail, the coaches set a short race course for their aspiring racers. Instead of using the tall plastic solid gates they used bright red brush gates. The brush gates are made of plastic fibers and are less than a foot tall so they can easily be skied over in case a turn is not made in time.
The snowboarders also had set up a small terrain park near the bottom of the slope. They had a couple features to jump, hit, spin and slide. Many of them would do their tricks and then take off their boards and carry them to the top of their park so they could do it again.
After five runs, we took a break and went inside the warm and cozy Schwendi Hutte. Hot chocolate with a tower of whipped cream was a sweet delight. The drink warmed my hands as I held the cup and I was happy we decided to come skiing even if it was only for a couple of hours.
We kept our break short so we could try to double run count before we had to head back to our responsibilities. We didn’t quite do it, but it was a very satisfying ski outing on good quality snow.
To return to the base we had to down load on the quad. The lift attendant slowed the lift and with our skis in our arms we walked out to the loading platform and loaded the chair. This is a view I am not used to seeing and it was fun to ride the lift down the mountain.
I look forward to coming back to Waterville later this winter to ski all of their 2,000 feet of vertical top to bottom and to go cross country skiing too.
On the drive back home I thought about how many slow starts to winter I have endured in my lifetime. I am wishing for a big snowstorm. I am thankful that the snowmakers are working as hard as they can to provide us with great snow covered slopes even if Mother Nature isn’t as cooperative as she was last winter.
See ya on the slopes.