USA East Coast Adventure
Ski Adaptable has grown by over 100% in the last couple of seasons, and this means we have a wider client base looking for a wider variety of school ski tours. With this in mind we took to the skies to head over to New England, USA to play my part in setting up our new US East Coast school ski trip program – let’s just say we were impressed with whom we met and what we saw!
Any cautious pre-conceptions about the US resorts were quashed, and all positive pre-conceptions were massively enhanced. We fell in love this region and what it offers. I have visited over 50 ski resorts across Europe, each European resort having their own appeal and nuances for school ski groups, however despite some substantial pre-trip work, I was unsure what to expect of the five US ski resorts I would be inspecting.
After four feet of snow in 24 hours the day before I was due to fly, I had an anxious wait. New England was recovering after the record levels of snow had seen Boston Logan Airport closed for two days. However, we timed it just right and arrived into Boston on time to start an adventure that would see me drive over 1000 miles across Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine. First stop was three fantastic resorts in New Hampshire, with a 2 hour drive leading me to the Snowy Owl Inn located in Waterville Valley.
After minimal sleep, our jet lag soon departed after a warm welcome from our host for the morning, and hotel owner Steve. We toured the Snowy Owl Inn, a cosy and welcoming accommodation in a quiet spot next to the Town Square. I could not believe the amount of space allocated in the hotel for students to socialise in, plus a stunning indoor pool. Steve then gave us the tour of Waterville Valley Town Square – again what a fantastic place for students! Traffic free, quant yet with lots of shops, cafes and activities for school groups to enjoy, not least the indoor ice rink and nearby snow tubing centre. We then headed to the ski slopes of Waterville Valley. Our host here was the equally welcoming, Conrad who looks after all UK groups in the resort. Resort orientation and lunch with Conrad at the T-bar restaurant was followed orientation of the ski area. Top Dog ski rentals are located right next to the ski school, with ski lifts in front, ensuring a slick transition from ski rentals to skiing. Waterville is one of the smaller resorts I have visited, however I quickly realised I should not be fooled by stats. This great little resort is home to many an Olympian, and host of FIS World Cup ski events. After sampling the slopes for myself, I could argue that this resort is possibly one of the best I have ever visited for beginners for a number of factors including quiet slopes, manageability, type of terrain and more, with some excellent intermediate and advanced terrain as a bonus.
Enroute to my next stop, we visited accommodations Ski Adaptable offer for your group. First stop was Woodwards Resort located on the edge of Lincoln. This fantastic accommodation offers huge rooms and an even huger conference room that can be used for student group activities. The swimming pool and Jacuzzis looked immensely inviting and the fantastic James Bond style tunnel connecting this to the accommodation was intriguing. We then visited Indian Head Resort just a few hundred metres up the road, and opposite the famous ‘Indian Head’ mountain, which as the name suggests is shaped like an Indian head. We spent the night at this large hotel and were greeted by the joyful Heidi. It has indoor and outdoor swimming pools and hot tubs (which of course we had to sample), an events room available for student events such as discos and karaoke and spacious bedrooms. There was even an onsite gift shop. We departed the following morning after even more snow (another 2 feet), and headed 10 minutes along the highway to the resort of Loon. Upon arriving at Loon, snow was falling acutely however this only added to the resorts appeal! Loon is New Hampshire’s largest ski resort. We were met at Loon by Adam, in charge of UK groups in the resort, and he gave us a tour of this great resort - the ski rental, the eateries and ski school meeting point. The main base houses a huge eating area for lunch and next door is the ski rental and ski school meeting point. Adam then guided us around the ski slopes, and we visited the beginner area and it was easy to see the progression runs many school groups would progress onto during their week skiing. Loon has a fantastic variety of slopes and I could understand why it had such a great reputation locally. The customer service was very welcoming and I left confident that any Ski Adaptable groups would have a great time in Loon.
After warming up with some hot food, we made a short journey up the Interstate to the resort of Cannon to meet up with Julianne. Julianne looks after UK groups in resort and showcased what Cannon had to offer. Locals had told us Cannon had some superb intermediate and expert skiing, however it was the Tuckerbrook area that grabbed our attention. Tuckerbrook is a huge beginner’s area, with long, gentle slopes ensuring this is the perfect setting in which to learn to ski, with four lifts and 13 trails dedicated to ‘relaxed’ and ‘family’ skiing. Cannon did live up to its promise of excellent intermediate and advanced runs though which are possibly best showcased by the famous ‘Front5’ runs atop the Cannon Mountain. As with Waterville and Loon, Cannon has the setup sorted for beginners and school groups alike, with the Base Lodge home to the ski rental, with ski school and main lifts right outside. With all three New Hampshire resorts we had toured, it struck me this would be an immensely easy to manage region to bring a school group, yet it was the warm welcome and incredibly friendly locals that really set New Hampshire apart. in addition, Ski Adaptable are offering the option to combine two of these great resorts during your school ski trip at no extra cost.
Our tour of New Hampshire had come to an end and now it was time to head to US state number three – Maine. The day had seen continuous snow falling, so we made the tentative 1.5hr journey (which turned out to be almost 3hrs with my cautious driving) to Sunday River to meet up with our next host, Troy.
Due to the snow, Troy offered to meet us at Sunday River and then have us jump in the ginormous suburban to continue the journey onto Sugarloaf in northern Maine – we dully obliged! Arriving at Sugarloaf after continuous snow for two days (making it over 5 feet within 4 days) the Sugarloaf Mountain Hotel looked splendid, covered in deep hotel. The lobby to the hotel is impressive and immediately gives you a sense of the quality of this hotel, and the resort as a whole. Groups can stay at the Sugarloaf Hotel, and I highly recommend it. Rooms are again, huge and with fantastic facilities. The hotel itself has swimming pool and outdoor hot tub, and is right next door to the Base Lodge, from where ski school, ski rental and main lifts can be found. Sugarloaf had a slightly different feel than what I had seen in New Hampshire, being more of an all-encompassing resort with lodging onsite, right near the skiing and evening activities such as ice skating, tubing, snow shoeing and even the ‘Anti Gravity Centre’. You can see why this resort works so well for school groups. Other accommodation options at Sugarloaf include a wide range of Condos which offer apartment style lodgings right by the ski trails. In addition, there is the Sugarloaf Inn, again near ski trails and somewhere in the middle of the Condos and Sugarloaf Mountain Hotel in terms of budget. All options blew me away, with so much space, amazing amenities and great locations.
I then had the opportunity to sample the slopes, and followed the journey from beginner area where our groups would start up the mountain onto progression runs, and eventually to the top of Sugarloaf. Its fair to say it was a cold day…in fact it was an unprecedented cold spell that meant I had to add lots of layers. After asking Troy to take a picture, I decided not to ask him to take off his glove again for fear of frosbite! After a sampling a few unbelievable runs, I was considering calling it a day as jet lag was still lingering, however I skied possibly the most enjoyable slopes I have ever experienced. This was enough to convince me to continue in the powder a little longer. Runs were lined with thick forest with splendid views across the mountain range; skiing between trees is not something many European resorts can offer with much European skiing taking place above the tree line. It suddenly clicked - the reasons why we had enjoyed the skiing so much in New England was in part due to the trees, in addition to wonderful open views ahead across mountain ranges. Furthermore slopes tend to be wide, uncrowded and very powdery. Before embarking on my last run, I encountered what would be my first real lift queue of the trip to date – about 1 minute long! I was amazed at how orderly it was, certainly no cutting across skis, elbows or pushing in here, more like “you first, sir” and a general feeling that everyone followed the rules.
After a fantastic couple of days at Sugarloaf, we jumped back in the gigantic suburban with Troy and headed back down through Maine to Sunday River. Sunday River is a partner resort to Sugarloaf, and the setup is very similar with everything your group could ever need located onsite. This time we were staying at the Jordan Hotel, which is the highest altitude hotel at Sunday River and is the resorts signature hotel along with the sister property the Grand Summit Hotel. Both hotels are grand and impressive with fantastic amenities which range from spas and outdoor swimming pools to games rooms, conference facilities (available for group use) and gift shops. The Grand Summit Hotel sits lower down and closer to the Base Lodge. Other accommodation options I inspected include the Snowcap Inn, a cosy lodging where I was greeted by a manager who “loves British school groups”, even threatening to make extra popcorn for them! Adjacent is the Snowcap Youth Lodge, the budget accommodation option within the Sunday River resort, yet still of a fantastic standard. These two options even have their own ice rink, in addition to ample other facilities onsite!
The motto at Sunday River is “Find your happy place…”, so it was my turn to find mine on the slopes. Much like the other resorts, the Base Lodge is where the ski rentals, ski school and main lifts all depart. Sunday River is split over eight mountain peaks, all interconnected by runs and lifts. The beginner area sits next to the tubing run, with superb, long progression runs right by this. After exploring these runs, we headed higher up the mountain for spectacular views, with Sugarloaf in view way in the distance. The skiing here was phenomenal, fresh powder, uncrowded slopes and no lift queues despite it being a weekend, supposedly the busy period. Sunday River left an enduring mark on my memory, fantastic people, amazing, vast slopes to explore, stunning and varied accommodation options and more to do than any group could fit in within a week.
One feature I will not forget about this point of the trip onwards is the Super Bowl, or to the point the New England Patriots involvement against the Seattle Seahawks. With gameday on Sunday, Saturday on the slopes saw the excitement building, with enthusiastic locals skiing past in Tom Brady (star quarterback) jerseys and occasional cheers of ‘Let’s go Pats’. It was great to be in situ with this excitement building with the local team involved. I of course had to watch the game, which was regarded as one of the best in history – I was hooked! New England Patriots won and this ensured the locals across New England certainly were in their #happyplacefound for the remainder of my trip. This reached a fever pitch when we visited Boston for the final stretch of our trip. A stopover in Boston is logical for a school ski trip to New England and we had a little time to explore the city after checking into the Mid Town Hotel, where our groups will stay in Boston. What great timing, the New England Patriots victory parade was taking place the next day, with over 1 million excited Pats fans embarking upon the victory parade route. The atmosphere was electric across the city. It was a fitting end to what was a great adventure across some of the most amazing resorts I have ever visited, and encountering the friendliest bunch of people you are likely to find anywhere.