Looking for scenery, endless activities, few crowds, and family fun? New England’s ski resorts may be the best summer and autumn destinations around. And the best bargains. Here is a sampling of ski resorts that have transformed into summer destinations. Remember to look on your favorite ski resort’s web site for summer and fall packages.
Smugglers’ Notch, Smugglers’ Notch, Vermont
Smugglers’ Notch Resort has long defined how a winter playground transforms itself in summer. In the summer of 1976, when Montreal hosted the Olympics, the adults who owned ski condos at Smugglers’ wanted to go to the events, only two hours distant. The resort staff said they could watch over the owners’ children. They hiked, played games, went swimming. The kids loved it. Their parents loved it. A kids program was born and became the envy of resorts everywhere, both in winter and summer.
Smugglers’ in summer is a shirt-tail out, sneakered style village. Joggers and walkers and bike riders criss-cross the meandering paths. You hear the shouts of children and grownups as they plummet down waterslides into blue pools. On any given week there may be from 200-400 children in organized camps, divided by ages.
If you are a child Smugglers’ looks like this: You step out of your condo shortly before 10 a.m. You roam freely because walkways and grassy lawns connect wherever you need to go — a neighborhood where all paths lead to other kids. Depending on your age you hook up with either Adventure Rangers (ages 6-10), The Notch Squad (11-14), or Mountain Explorers. (15-17). If you’re a little tyke, your parents bring you to Discovery Dynamos (3-5). And if you’re still getting your legs under you you’ll go to the spanking new “Treasures” for ages six weeks to two years. You explore the resort, swim, hike, play games, and hang out with new pals, all the while you are parent free.
And if you just don’t want to join a group (Smugglers’ week long packages make it hard to resist joining up) then you can light out on your own Huck Finn style to see what strikes your fancy within some 1000 acres: hiking, swimming pools, driving ranges, tennis, mountain boarding, or simply just hanging out and watching all the other children and teens. You make friends. If you’re in camp it ends at 4, but more likely than not, you make plans to hook up in a few hours at the waterslides, or at one of the centers devoted to kids and teens.
If you are a grownup Smugglers’ looks like this: You drive four miles through the steep and winding Smugglers’ Notch pass and drop into lovely Stowe. You bike the Stowe Bike Path, one of the biking jewels of New England, that hugs the West Branch River for five miles. Or have lunch along the bike trail, perhaps sitting on an outdoor patio.
Or maybe you climb Mount Mansfield watching Vermont’s valleys spreading below. Or you play golf. Or you head into Burlington and stroll along Lake Champlain, or browse the shops in the pedestrian mall. You have all day. And when you come back to Smugglers’ you’ll find your kids, their faces flushed with news of their day. Maybe you’ll take a short family trek to Rum Runners’ Hideaway to see the sun setting. As twilight settles in you’ll smell dozens of barbecues grilling steaks and burgers. Kids again spill onto their private campus playground. You hear their laughter rising into the sky.
Smugglers’ Notch Resort, 4323 Vermont Route 108 South. Smugglers’ Notch, VT 05464-9537.800-451-8752.
Waterville Valley Resort, Waterville Valley, New Hampshire
This may be the most beautifully situated summer-ski resort of them all. The little town of Waterville Valley waits 15 miles north of Plymouth at the end of an 11-mile road that skirts the Mad River. The resort lies burrowed deep in the White Mountain National Forest. Rising above the valley are four 4000-foot mountains. At the hub of the resort lies Town Square, with its shops, restaurants, athletic center, ice skating rink, and shuttle busses picking vacationers up and taking them home. This is a place where town ordinances say businesses must mute their lighting at night so the star light can pierce the night.
So much scenery begs to be used.
Begin with hiking. More than 100 mils of marked trails wind deep into the forest and along the flanks of mountains. Want more adrenaline? Mountain bikers can choose from 60 miles of marked trails. Some trails follow the cross-country ski network, or old logging roads; others plummet from mountain peaks (you put the bike on chair lifts to get up) down thrilling single tracks. Do your teens want to bring their skateboards or BMX bikes? The Waterville Valley Super Park near Town Square has what they look for: 10-foot high, 24 foot wide halfpipe, a vert ramp, and pyramids, banked ramps, handrails — all the stuff that makes parents look away and make teens say “yeah!” Want to play tennis? Waterville Valley has evolved into one of New England’s tennis meccas. The red clay courts number 18, and its adult and junior clinics draw vacationers who come just to improve their game.
Need more physical exertion? Corcoran Pond, named for former Olympic skier Tom Corcoran who developed the resort, gives you canoeing, kayaking, paddleboats or just a long, lazy swim. And when all those muscles say “pamper me” then the saunas, whirlpools, steam rooms and massage therapists in the Town Square Athletic Center await.
Waterville Valley Resort, 1 Ski Area Road, P.O.Box 540, Waterville Valley, NH 03215 . 800-468-2553.
Sugarloaf/USA, Carrabasett Valley, Maine
You drive north on Route 16 from Kingfield and you come around a curve and then you want to stop. Rising in front is Sugarloaf, Maine’s second highest mountain, and it seems to loom right into your windshield. Locals call this” Ohmygosh Corner” for its ability to make drivers stop in astonishment at the view. Maine’s western mountains have always been one of New England’s secret spots. Its rugged isolation keeps the casual vacationer further south, but for decades fly fishermen, canoeists and hikers sought out the rivers and lakes of the region.
Sugarloaf offers a self-contained mountain village with a hotel, hundreds of condos, restaurants, shops, 50 miles of marked mountain biking trails, hiking and even moose watching (this is prime moose country), but its greatest lure for summer travelers is its 18 hole golf course. Robert Trent Jones, Jr., son of the fabled golf course architect, completed Sugarloaf’s course in 1986, and from its opening day it has consistently been ranked among the three or four elite New England public courses. Golfers come to this mountainous, challenging course knowing they will lose countless balls into the Carrabassett River or into the dense woods. No matter. It’s like losing your heart to a beautifully beguiling woman. Playing this course is like being in the center of a work of art. You appreciate the work. The first seven holes on the back nine that play along the river have been dubbed “The String of Pearls.” The “Loaf’s” golf school packages are increasingly popular as golfers of all ages and abilities come to test themselves, hoping that the Pearls’ secrets will magically be revealed.
Sugarloaf/USA. RR1, Box 5000, Carrabassett Valley, Maine 04947. 800-The-LOAF.
Killington Resort, Killington, Vermont:
Killington has always helped transform Vermont. It was from Killington Peak in 1763 that the Reverend Samuel Peters broke a bottle on its rocks and declared the land below “Verde-Mont.” (Green Mountain) Some of the state’s first true summer tourists came here to the original Summit House where they embarked on nature treks to the surrounding summits. When the ski area opened in 1958 it grew to become what it is known as today: the “Beast of the East.”
This “beast” spreads across seven mountains, with 200 trails, 31 lifts and over 80 miles of skiing terrain. It’s as though several New England ski resorts got tucked into this single resort. The access road with its five miles of inns and hotels , restaurants, shops and clubs bustles with adrenalin charged energy. Young energy.
Family time rules the summer here. Over at Killington’s sister mountain, Pico, you’ll see parents hugging their children as they swoop down the twin alpine slides, twisting and banking their way downward to the valley floor. At Killington’s “Adventure Center “a waterslide, skateboard park, and a mountain bike center provide a home base for families to disperse while staying together. At the base of Killington, the Killington Golf Course rivals Sugarloaf’s for sheer mountain beauty. When you play this 18 hole course you don’t know whether to hit the ball or just pause and look around. Perhaps take photos. With 20 golf courses within an hour of the resort, you can spend a week playing a different course each day. Many do just that.
The K 1 Express Gondola rises from Killington’s base to Killington Peak. Both the Gondola and the summit chair have been equipped to carry mountain bikes. From the summit the biker has what seems like an entire mountain universe to explore. Before heading off to what I some of the prime black bear habitat in Vermont have a bite in the Peak Restaurant where the sun streams through and from the windows you can see brightly helmeted mountain bikers beginning their descent.
The access road is still quiet in summer. A waitress at The Gristmill who is accustomed to overflowing crowds in winter called it “a ghost town.” Not quite, but in summer and fall when nearby destinations like Woodstock and Grafton fill up there is almost always room at the inn — and room at the top of Killington Peak.
Killington Resort, 4703 Killington Road, Killington, VT. 05751. 800-621-MTNS.
Sunday River Ski Resort, Newry, Maine
When you come to Sunday River, in the western mountains of Maine you get a bonus — the sweet town of Bethel only six miles away. Bethel is one of those towns that drew summer “rusticators” in the 1800s, who came for the healthy benefits of mountain air, then all but faded from public view until the resurgence of a obscure ski mountain called Sunday River. Under the prodding of ski mogul Les Otten, Sunday River expanded across eight mountains with 128 trails until it rivaled even Killington for skier visits.
Sunday River in 1990 became the first New England mountain to welcome mountain bikers on its chairlifts, and adventure bikers throughout the east flocked to its slopes where over 60 miles of trails waited their daring. Some riders ride from the top 10-15 times a day, until they stop exhausted and as exhilarated as if they had skied double black diamonds all day.
This summer they can relax on Sunday River’s own Robert Trent Jones, Jr. 18 hole course. Designed to take advantage of its Jordan Bowl setting with the Mahousac Range as a backdrop, Jones compared his latest creation to courses in the west. The two resorts, Sugarloaf and Sunday River, have competed for skiers for years, now it is obvious they will both tout the prettiest and most challenging golf course in the state. Golfers will love coming here because in the heart of Bethel is the venerable Bethel Inn and Country Club’s own famed 18 hole course.
But if you never swing a club, nor wish to fly down a mountain on a bike, Sunday River can still entice with its setting. A short drive away is Evans Notch, a mountain pass cut by the Wiuld and Cold Rivers that offers spectacular views around every bend. On the return you may stop at the Artists’ Covered Bridge in Newry, beneath where locals have bathed in the cool Sunday River for generations, long before the rest of discovered how refreshing ski country beneath blue skies and summer sun.
Sunday River Ski Resort, P.O.Box 450, Bethel, Maine 04217. 207-824-3000.