By David Schissler – It’s really not my habit to ski on weekends for obvious reasons but some events literally leave me no option. Such an instance occurred recently at Mt Cranmore in North Conway, NH. The New England Ski Museum was hosting the 23rd Hannes Schneider Meister Cup ski and snowboard race at Cranmore. Hannes Schneider was a ski pioneer from Stuben, Austria, near St Anton. He was a guide, an early ski film star, and an instructor. In fact, he helped train the fabled 10th Mountain Division during WWII. In 1939 he moved to Cranmore and became their ski school director. Some of my associates from the North American Snowsports Journalists Association where in attendance too and we wanted to ski with them.
This trip presented an interesting opportunity. To get to Cranmore and home again I decided to circumnavigate the White Mountains. I began my day in Lincoln, NH in the western White’s on the 32-mile southern portion of my drive along route 112, the Kancamagus Highway, (pronounced “cain-kah-MAW-gus”, meaning “Fearless One”), better known by locals as “the Kanc”. This is a truly historic mountain road. In fact, it’s been designated a National Scenic Byway. It’s named after Chief Kancamagus of the Penacook Confederacy of Native American tribes.With the exception of a couple of scenic areas along the way there’s nothing on this road but trees, rocks and water comprising some of the best hiking and mountain vistas in the northeast. After all, these are the highest peaks east of the Rockies. The road itself is a gas with its switchbacks and numerous frost heaves but the views steal the show. Its highest point is on Kancamagus Pass at nearly 3.000 feet.
After a spectacular ride we arrived at Mt Cranmore. Like any ski area on a Saturday, it was organized chaos. This particular Saturday was even more so considering it fell on the last weekend of Presidents Week and included 157 entrants to the 2-run Schneider Cup race. Parking was an accomplishment in itself. On our way to the lodge to boot-up we passed condominiums as well as several restaurants and shops in the base area which has the feel of a small village.
Once geared-up we stepped out onto the mountain. What a scene. There were people of all sizes and shapes having fun skiing, boarding, on the mountain coaster, sitting by an outdoor fire, chowing down good eats and doing God knows what else. There’s no shortage of activities at Cranmore.
After taking all of this in we headed to the primary lift, a high-speed quad. Of course there was a long line but we expected as much so took it in stride. Wherever Ann and I ski we make a point of riding from one end of a mountain to the other not only to experience the terrain and lifts, but to find the best snow and least busy trails. This day we lucked out and escaped the long lines and crowds on Cranmore’s Schneider lift on skier’s left on the mountain. We stumbled onto several nicely groomed, nearly empty blue squares there and could ski right on to the lift. We stayed there for a while.
Eventually we made our way to the race trail, also named Schneider. At the top we spoke to a few competitors and watched some starts. The comradery and up-beat vibe was universal. Everyone was there simply to have fun racing friends and family. Given the size of the field and the 2-run aspect of the race, they we’re still racing when we left that afternoon. I have no idea who the winners were in their various classes but except for the hard cores with something to prove, it’s not the kind of race where that matters much.
After a frenetic day at Cranmore we pointed the Team White Book van down route 302 toward home. This is the eastern/northern route of our trip around the White’s. It’s truly a skier’s road in that it nears northeast heavyweights Wildcat and Black Mountain and passes right by Attitash, Bretton Woods, and Cannon Mountain. It also presents spectacular vistas of Mount Washington and the Presidential Range. The highlight of this route is Crawford Notch, the eastern pass through the White Mountains with a summit of 1,900 feet.
Should you ever have the chance to make this ride take it. It’s only 2 to 2.5 hours on a good day (which is difficult to predict on the Kanc) and unveils the most impressive peaks in the Northeast.