A weekend spent cross-country skiing through northern New Hampshire's pristine forests may well have you recalling long-forgotten verse. The poetry of Robert Frost—who owned a farm in Franconia—is infused with the dramatic, sometimes harsh, beauty of the Granite State. As December snows begin in the towns of New London, Jackson, and Bretton Woods, it's easy to see why the White Mountain winter landscape was perhaps his greatest muse. Cross-country skiing's measured pace provides ample opportunity to view the majestic peaks, woods, and fields that inspired Frost. By day's end, the sport's stealth workout will have you snoozing in front of a fire. The poet himself said it best: ". . . And miles to go before I sleep."
Where to Stay
Eagle Mountain House Carter Notch Rd., Jackson; 800/966-5779 or 603/383-9111, fax 603/383-0854; doubles from $79. A 125-room grand hotel established in 1879, right next to cross-country trails. Guests can stash their skis in racks on the beautiful wraparound porch.
New London Inn 140 Main St., New London; 800/526-2791 or 603/526-2791, fax 603/526-2749; doubles from $110, including breakfast. This staid-looking Federal-style inn has a bit of rock-and-roll history: local lore has it that Mick Jagger once stayed here and passed out guitar picks to the chambermaids.
Mount Washington Hotel & Resort Rte. 302, Bretton Woods; 800/258-0330 or 603/278-1000, fax 603/278-8838; doubles from $269, including breakfast and four-course dinner. Opened in 1902, this 200-room classic mountain house is quite formal (gents, wear a jacket at dinner). Order a hot toddy in the Cave Lounge, a stone-walled Prohibition-era speakeasy downstairs.
Adair Country Inn 80 Guider Lane, Bethlehem; 888/444-2600 or 603/444-2600, fax 603/444-4823; doubles from $150, including breakfast and afternoon tea. This scrupulously tidy inn, not far from the center of Bethlehem, was a favorite getaway of the urban rich before World War I. Request a room that faces the White Mountains.
Notchland Inn Route 302, Hart's Location; 800/866-6131 or 603/374-6131, fax 603/374-6168; doubles from $180, including breakfast. A cozy inn run by Ed Butler and Les Schoof with help from their Bernese mountain dogs, Coco and Abigail. Soak in the outdoor hot tub, or borrow a board game from their vast collection and take part in a Scrabble showdown by a blazing fire.
Where to Eat
Millstone Restaurant 14 Newport Rd., New London; 603/526-4201; dinner for two $50. A high-end dining room that caters to parents visiting their progeny at nearby Colby-Sawyer College. The menu runs to fresh seafood and traditional American cuisine, but a funky collegiate vibe occasionally emerges from the kitchen (a recent "Serengeti on the Bayou" special paired grilled ostrich sirloin with Louisiana-spiced alligator tail on a bed of Jack Daniel's—soused onions).
Cold Mountain Café 2015 Main St., Bethlehem; 603/869-2500; dinner for two $30. Inventive casual cuisine in the heart of the mountains. Five different entrées are prepared nightly; a recent sampling included salmon-and-mussel bouillabaisse, chicken with spicy Thai peanut sauce, and wild-mushroom ravioli with polenta, Gorgonzola, and red bell pepper sauce.
Inn at Thorn Hill Thorn Hill Rd., Jackson; 603/383-4242; dinner for two $70. Renowned for the best fusion menu in the region, the restaurant offers a three-course dinner of seasonal ingredients each night. Seafood is a standout here: don't pass up the braised Atlantic salmon with mussels, potatoes, and fresh tarragon in a saffron shellfish broth with freshly smoked Gouda cheese. The restaurant's excellent wine list was recognized by Wine Spectator as one of the best.
White Mountain Cider Co. Rte. 302 (one mile west of Rte. 16), Glen; 603/383-9061. If your energy is flagging but dinner is still a few hours away, refuel at White Mountain. It sells a fantastic apple cider (refreshing when cold; intensely soothing when warm) and perfect apple-cider doughnuts—crisp on the outside, cakey on the inside, with just a hint of cinnamon. Antiques fill the store, adding to the down-home feeling, and proprietor Chris Brown has been known to break out his banjo from behind the counter when the mood strikes.
Cross-country—or Nordic—skiing dates back to the Middle Ages in Scandinavia, where long winters made traveling on foot difficult. The sport hasn't changed much since then. Strapping long, straight skis to one's feet distributes body weight over a large surface, enabling the skier to skim along on top of deep (and not-so-deep) snow. Cross-country skiing is easy to learn, and even at moderate speeds you can burn more than 500 calories per hour. John Chiarella—the director of eastern Nordic skiing for the U.S. Collegiate Ski Association, and co-owner of the Norsk Cross-Country Ski & Winter Sports Center in New London—shares his wisdom on Nordic neophytes, equipment, and, most important, how to stop:
Beginner's luck "Starting out right is what makes or breaks a skier. If you've never been around snow, the best place to start is on snowshoes. The first skis should be a pair of slow, easy-to-kick, wide touring skis, with a boot that has plenty of ankle support. Start with a lesson, too, from a resort with a learn-to-ski program. Beyond that, the flatter the terrain, the better."
Well-equipped "People new to winter exercise need to learn about appropriate layers and materials that work best in these layers. Moisture-wicking long underwear with a middle layer of breathable fabric such as polypropylene—and a windproof shell of some type on top—are recommended. Hats, gloves, and good sunglasses are a must."
Stop! "The best advice on hills is to stay within your limits. If you start to go too fast, you have a few options: first, don't panic. Try snowplowing—angling the tips of your skis inward—with one or both skis. Try to slow as much as you can and ride out the hill. If you can't safely negotiate the slope in these ways, just squat down and slide. Make sure that your hands are forward so that your poles and skis don't injure you."
Where to Ski
Norsk Cross-Country Ski & Winter Sports Center Country Club Lane, New London; 800/426-6775 or 603/526-4685; skiing $14 a day per person. A Nordic skier's paradise, this center is run by John Chiarella. On weekends and holidays, you can ski Norsk's groomed trails to Robb's Hut and warm up by the woodstove with a hot drink.
Franconia Village Cross Country Ski Center Franconia Inn, Rte. 116 S.; 800/473-5299; skiing $8 a day per person. The single-lane tracks of the center's Ham Branch Loop, one of the center's 24 trails, wind through peaceful vales and evergreen glens filled with birds.
Bretton Woods Nordic Ski Resort Rte. 302, Bretton Woods; 603/278-3322; skiing $15 a day per person. The trails, set on the grounds of the Mount Washington Hotel, are superb—beautifully kept, with a wide assortment of difficulty levels and scenery that ranges from wide-open fields to deep, dark woods. (Indeed, one trail is called Dark Forest.) Take the B&M trail out to the new warming yurt for an unobstructed view of the Presidential Range.
Jackson Ski Touring Center Rte. 16A and Main St., Jackson; 800/927-6697 or 603/383-9355; skiing $14 a day per person. Some of the trails wind through the village of Jackson, so it's possible to snack, rest, shop, and even stop by your hotel while skiing.
Great Glen Trails Outdoor Center Rte. 16, north of Jackson at the Mount Washington Auto Road; 603/466-2333; skiing $14 a day per person. Professional competitions are regularly held on these top-notch trails, and the center's sport shop carries an impressive range of Nordic equipment and accessories. The ski resort is at the base of Mount Washington Auto Road—if you've spent any time in New England, you've surely spotted those ubiquitous this car climbed mount washington bumper stickers that mark veterans of this vertiginous route, open May through October. In winter, the only way up the mountain is in the Snowcoach, a converted van with bulldozer-like tracks instead of wheels.
Nansen Ski Touring Center Success Rd., Berlin; no phone. There's no fee to ski here: the trails are maintained by volunteer members of the Nansen Ski Club, the country's oldest, founded in 1872. The center is very simple—no warming hut or other facilities—but the mostly track-groomed trails are lovely.
Dutch Treat Main St., Franconia; 603/823-8851; lunch for two $20. Order the excellent tomato Florentine soup and a pint of River Driver, made by the Franconia Notch Brewing Co., and relax after a day on the trails.
Moat Mountain Smoke House & Brewing Co. 3378 White Mountain Hwy. (Rte. 16), North Conway; 603/356-6381; lunch for two $20. If you like smoky flavor on everything you can imagine—from barbecue to pizza—this is your place. The house-made beer, luckily, is the one thing they haven't thought of smoking—yet.