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NH (Sunapee, Loon, Wildcat), Sunday River after Whiteface - Early Dec 2014


Angel Diva
For my early season ski safari after spending Thanksgiving in Lake Placid, I decided to check out New Hampshire and finish meeting up with Divas at Sunday River. First day of the season was at Whiteface the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Dec. 1-6 I skied at Mount Sunapee, Loon, and Wildcat before heading to Bethel, ME and Sunday River. Overall, conditions were quite good for the first week of December. Definitely have a better appreciation for variable conditions and weather for areas closer to the northeast coast, meaning snow and rain that comes with the same storm system.

This trip was the first time I made use of RCI Points (timeshare) for lodging. Stayed at the Villages of Loon and the Bethel Inn Resort. Always nice to have the extra space and a full kitchen during a ski trip. Was hoping my nephew could join me from Boston at Sunday River but he had to be away for work that weekend.

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Angel Diva
First day of the season was at Whiteface. I went with my daughter and her roommate, plus my niece. I was in Lake Placid of the Thanksgiving events held by North Country School (boarding middle school) for parents. Got several inches of snow on Wed, which made things look very pretty. We spent the vacation days at the Golden Arrow in Lake Placid. Conditions were quite nice because of all the snowmaking Whiteface had been able to do in November. We skied the blues off the gondola after a couple warm up runs on greens. Hadn't skied with my niece since she was a teenager. She doesn't get to ski much as a Yale law student but did pretty well and seemed to have a good time.

NCS is just down the road from the Mount Van Hoevenberg Olympic Complex (bobsled, luge, cross country)
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Campus is just below Pitchoff, with a view of Cascade (off to the right of picture). 200 acres complete with a ski hill serviced by a rope tow. That's where I learned to ski long ago. Daughter is learning telemark. Kids also get to ski/board at Whiteface a few times.
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Having fun at the top of the Whiteface gondola
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Angel Diva
After dropping off my niece in New Haven, I headed north into New Hampshire. Most of the traffic the Sunday after Thanksgiving was headed south, so I had little trouble getting to Sunapee. I picked Mount Sunapee for the start of my NH explorations partially because it is on the way to Lincoln, NH when driving north from New Haven. I stayed at the Sunapee Lake Lodge, which is very close to the ski area. There was no need to have a reservations since there was only one other person there that night. Sunapee is a NH state park.

At Sunapee, I met up with an EpicSki Bear who is an older and very experienced instructor. He teaches at the Dartmouth Skiway. It was his first day of the season so we took it easy. Stayed on the lift that went to the summit. There were two ways down, an easy blue and a harder route that was only steep at the very beginning. Both had good coverage from snowmaking. As expected, not many other people around.

His students, usually children, get a kick out of his horns. He also works with adaptive skiers. Uses CADS for extra support for his knees. Interesting to see how they work.
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Black strap is part of the Dry Cheeks. Definitely helpful for keep a warm seat. The Bear uses them too. The velcro strap keeps them in place, unlike the flap variation where it's just loose at the back.
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View of Lake Sunapee
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Angel Diva
From Sunapee, I headed to Loon. The drive took about two hours. The original idea was to ski at Loon and somewhere else the next day. But neither Cannon nor Bretton had much open, so I skied Loon for two days. It was plenty cold for day time snowmaking the first day. It snowed a bit overnight but luckily didn’t rain the second day. Only the gondola and North Peak Express Quad were open, but that was more than enough. I like Loon, although like any place it's far more fun midweek when there are few people around.

I stayed at the Villages of Loon, which is a timeshare resort across the road from Loon Mountain. There is a lot of lodging available around Loon and the town of Lincoln. Also several ski shops, including Rogers that has one of the largest selections of skis I've seen anywhere. From Boston, the drive to Loon is apparently about 2 hours. Cannon is about 20 min away. Bretton Woods, Attitash, and Wildcat are about an hour away. I can understand why it's a popular place for weekend getaways.

Loon is managed by Boyne. The head snowmaker won the award by SAM for best snowmaker for the 2013-14 season. That was one of the reasons I was curious to check it out. I have the impression that for the blue groomers, one side may be left ungroomed at times. Apparently there is a club for women over 50 at Loon. I talked with a woman who is a member. She is heading out to Big Sky in March with a trip organized by the club. They may overlap with Diva Week West.

The first day I explored almost every trail that was open. Snow guns were on for only a couple trails. Those had snow whales that were quite fun. The groomers were on the hard side but nothing was icy.

The second day was great fun, much more than I expected. Temps stayed in the low 30s so it was like spring skiing. There were clouds and some fog at the top but visibility was really not that much of a problem. I did a couple runs with a local on a teleboard (narrow alpine snowboard mounted with tele bindings). Wasn’t planning on going that fast but had to in order to keep up if I wanted to watch him. He grew up racing and likes to go fast. Only the back heel lifts a bit on turns. Interesting to chat with him on the lift. He’s done it all . . . alpine, telemark, snowboard, tele board.

Looking down towards the top of the gondola, which goes to Loon Peak. Sunset is a blue trail from the top of North Peak. Can also get back to the Octagon Lodge from North Peak by taking the green Brookway from Camp III. Brookway has enough pitch that it's easy to keep up speed so no poling or skating required.
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Snowmaking towers on Flying Fox
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Overnight snow
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4-passenger gondola to top of Loon Peak. There is a green route down, in addition to blues, blacks, and some trees. The blues on the lower 2/3 of the mountain are pretty wide. With snow whales and snow guns on, Flying Fox and Upper Pickled Rock seem more black than blue.
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Early morning view from Villages of Loon
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Angel Diva
After getting in a fair amount of skiing at Loon, I headed over to Wildcat prepared for harder terrain. I was curious after reading about the new snowmaking capabilities installed over the summer. Wildcat opened much earlier than usual this season. The other option was Bretton Woods, but they only had a few green runs open. Attitash was not open. I liked the fact that Wildcat was quick to answer a question I sent via email the day before driving over. Early season lift tickets were $49.

The drive to Wildcat from Lincoln is about an hour. I was a little worried when going through Franconia Notch near Cannon. It was snowing quite hard and the road was snow covered even though the plows were clearly working steadily. At that point, I-93/US3 is only a 2-lane highway. But shortly after US3 goes north away from I-93, there was no more snow to worry about.

It was pretty cold when I pulled into the parking lot around 10am. Wildcat is a simple set up. One lodge at the base of a ski area with 2112 vertical right across from Mt. Washington. Mt. Washington is the highest peak in NH at 6288'. Known for very high winds. Wildcat is a steep mountain that includes an express quad that reaches the 4062’ summit in 6 minutes. Also a couple triples to mid-mountain and a beginner triple. Only the quad was running. I doubt there were more than 50 people who skied at Wildcat that day.

There were three ways open from the top on Thu, Dec. 4. The long green cruiser called Polecat (Upper, Middle, Lower) that has lots of new, quiet pole snowguns, Upper Catapult (blue), and Lynx (Upper, Middle, Lower; blue). While Polecat is a green, I think there are parts as steep as some blues at mountains in the northeast of comparable size that don’t have as much vertical. Polecat is 2.75 miles long, said to be the longest novice trail in New Hampshire.

For my first run, I followed an older couple down Polecat. They were locals I’d chatted with in the lodge while booting up. I don’t think they were expecting the snowguns to be on. They headed home after the one run. The next run, I followed another local on Upper Catapult. The first part was more like a traverse than a trail because it’s relatively flat and narrow and had big snow whales that weren't groomed. The payoff was that after the turn that separates Upper Wildcat (black, closed) from Upper Catapult, there was ungroomed soft snow that was quite fun, 4-5 inches deep with few tracks. The local was very friendly. He grew up in the area. He was a Lifetime passholder before the recent change in ownership and has been skiing Wildcat for 30+ years. Now enjoying the place midweek after retirement. He appreciates the improvements even though he now has to pay $250 for a pass. That’s quite a discount off the regular season pass cost. It was his first run of the day, so he was checking conditions out carefully by stopping every so often. He was like a mountain host since he would explain what to expect. That was a perfect introduction for me. Skied the rest of the morning with him.

After lunch, I headed out for a few more runs. With the express quad, I was getting a lot of skiing time relative to the 6 min ride up. Lynx turned out to have a pretty solid surface, so I was happy to be on carvers. Finished the day with another run under the guns on Polecat. Essentially first tracks . . . fun!

Upper Catapult around noon. The first time down around 11:00 there were only a couple tracks.
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Mount Washington in the background.
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View of Mount Washington from Upper Polecat
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Upper Catapult still fun at 2pm. All the locals were gone by then.
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Looking up Wildcat from the parking lot. Lodge is one of the few that has an entrance directly to the lower floor where the restrooms are located.
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Clouds hung around the top of Mount Washington all day
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Angel Diva
The last stop for my safari was Sunday River. I explored on my own on Friday and met up with Divas on Saturday. The first day was good for seeing the views and checking out most of the open trails. Saturday was about good company and a few runs in fresh snow before the rain started around lunch time.

I stayed at the Bethel Resort Inn because I could use RCI Points. While the place is probably a lot of fun during the summer, it’s not set up the best for winter stays. If I were to go back to Sunday River in mid-season, I would be inclined to stay at the resort.

Sunday River has 8 peaks. Four were open: North, Spruce, Barker, and Aurora, with blue and green trails. I rode all the open lifts, which included the North Peak Chondola. It’s nice to have the option of either keeping on skis or getting a break from the weather riding in the gondola. The Spruce Peak triple is a long ride without company. I was very glad someone at the desk suggested checking out Aurora. Had to start with the top of Spruce to get to Aurora because there was only one way over that was open. The two trails open over there (Airglow, Northern Lights) were fun and empty. Also meant that I knew what to expect when we went over on Sat morning after several inches of fresh snow. Airglow was ungroomed with snow whales all over.

Saturday I met up with @MissySki , @lisamamot , and @Swamp Dog first thing in the morning. On weekends, the lifts open at 8am. It snowed several inches over night but it was clearly warming up. On Friday morning it was 4 degrees at 9am and 21 degrees when I left. It was something like 27 on Saturday morning at 7am. We got in several good runs as the snow continued until about 11am. After an early lunch, it was starting to be too warm when we headed back out. Once it started raining even up top, it was time to call it a day. Plus it was getting a bit crowded for the limited terrain.

There are a lot of young racers who train at SR. The Gould Academy is a well known co-ed prep school that’s been around for quite a while, founded in 1835. Gould has made ski racing part of their special attraction, not only for full-time students but also for those attending race camps. I recently talked to a father from DC who has kids on the Massanutten ski team who will be driving up to SR for a race clinic in Dec. Gould has race camps every weekend in Nov and Dec.

My overall impression of Sunday River is that it’s well done. Boyne does a good job both on the slopes and off. I can understand why people from Boston drive a little farther to spend their ski weekends at SR. Especially since a season pass is also good at Loon . . . and Big Sky. When all the peaks are open, pretty clear that advanced skiers can get away from the crowds and racers pretty easily. The advice from missyski was to park at White Cap first thing in the morning on weekends once that lift is open.

Snowmaking all day Dec. 5 on the trail used for race training
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Chondola with gondola line on left and chairlift loading on right
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Looking down from Spruce Peak at top of North Peak where chondola unloads
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View from Spruce Peak triple, a long ride. Conveyor loading was added for 2014-15 so probably will stop less often than in the past. Locals weren't used to conveyor loading yet.
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Snow whales that were groomed out for the weekend
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A couple more inches fell Sat morning after 7am. There were several inches of fluffy snow on my minivan when I was heading out from Bethel Inn.
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