Length of stay: 2 days
Visited: January 2017
New Hampshire is home to a network of over 150 mountains where the majority of which have an elevation greater than 3,000 ft. The White Mountains range alone covers around a quarter of New Hampshire where many of these high peaks are located. And while there are plenty of opportunities for alpine (downhill) skiing, this area is also home to some of the best cross-country ski trails in all of New England.
Day 1: Learning to Cross-Country Ski
We’ve cross-country skied once before a few years ago at Blue Mountain back home in Ontario. And there were some definite struggles. Probably because we decided to forgo lessons since we thought we were experts after watching a few YouTube videos on how to cross-country ski. This turned out to be a terrible idea. And while gliding over relatively flat terrain was easy enough, it was them hills – both uphill and downhill – that were particularly challenging. So this time we decided not be dumb and sign up for legit lessons. And we’re glad that we did.
We drove up to the Jackson Ski Touring Foundation from Boston earlier in the morning. The ski centre offers small adult group lessons throughout the morning that last an hour. We signed in with the ski shop to pick up our trail pass and get fitted for our boots and skis and then headed on outdoors for our lesson. Our group consisted of six adults (thankfully they offer separate lessons for children). Our instructor went over all the basics – skiing, turning, how to get uphill, how to go downhill, where to put your poles, how to place your body if you spin out of control and, if all else fails, how to fall if you can’t regain control.
At the end of our hour of practicing our skills we were unleashed onto the main beginner trails. Our instructor recommended the Ellis River Trail (8.8km) to start. We first had to ski along part of the Wentworth Resort Course Loop (1.4km for the entire loop), then through this awesome covered bridge followed by a tunnel, and then take off our skis off to cross the road before reaching the starting point of the Ellis River Trail.
The Ellis River Trail is marked green for beginner. It leisurely winds through the woods alongside the (as the trail name suggests) Ellis River. There are some hilly sections. But midway through the trail there is a Cocoa Cabin where skiers can pull over for a drink of hot chocolate and rest around a fire pit. The Ellis River Trail also connects with a series of other trails. We went along the Riverbank Look as it was rated easy and covered an additional 1km. We didn’t end up completing the entire Ellis River Trail as partway through the terrain turns (blue) into a medium level of difficulty. We figured our skills weren’t nearly at that level. Yet. Instead we backtracked the way we came, crossed back over the road, went through the tunnel and the covered bridge and completed the Wentworth Resort Course loop to the Jackson Ski Centre.
At this point we were getting hungry. And let’s be real, we were pretty exhausted. We returned our gear and headed over to our accommodations. We may have wiped out on a few of the hills, but hey, you gotta start somewhere. And it was all in good fun.
Day 2: More Cross-Country Skiing & Ice Castles
Wow were we sore the next day from using muscles I didn’t even know existed. After a quick breakfast we checked back in at the Jackson Ski Touring Foundation to pick up another trail pass and rental equipment. After consulting with the staff about advice on which beginner routes to try, we loaded our skies into the car and drove to a parking lot located on Carter Notch Road where the trail for Woodchuck Fields starts.
The Woodchuck Fields Trail (2.4 km) pretty much consists of gliding through a small wooded area before emerging in an open field. It is entirely flat. I don’t think we had to navigate up or down a single hill. It was a good way to ease our aching bodies back into another day of cross-country skiing.
This trail intersects with Eagle Mountain Fields, which as the name suggests, cuts through another (or the same) open field. And this trail connects with another trail that, big surprise, goes through another open field and is called the Wildcat Valley Fields (0.7km)
From there we made a detour along Alice’s Alley (0.8km). This was probably one of our favourite trails of the day and probably the most challenging trail of the day. It wasn’t until afterwards when we were consulting our trail map that we realized that part of the trail is rated more difficult. But we managed to navigate through it like pros. Well, not entirely. But we did manage to (mostly) stay on our skis through the downhill portions.
The Alice’s Alley trail loops back to the Wildcat Valley Fields, which loops back to the Eagle Mountain Fields, which loops back to the Woodchuck Trail, which brings us back to the parking lot. We loaded our skis back into the car, drove to the Jackson Ski Centre, and returned our gear.
We then piled back into the car and drove along the super scenic Kancamagus Highway towards the Ice Castles in Lincoln New Hampshire. These ice castles were worth the detour. They are man-made and are constructed entirely of ice. They look straight up from a fairy tale. Frozen actually. We purchased our tickets online in advance (there are standby tickets you can purchase in person, but these seems like a terrible idea since these tickets are more expensive and are not available to purchase if the tickets are sold out online, which is usually the case). We selected a time slot that would guarantee a viewing of the Ice Castles pre-dusk and post-dusk.
There are a number of different ice structures erected within the walls of the Ice Castle. There’s a tower, a cavern with some pretty freaky icicles hanging from the ceiling, various tunnels for children (and adults – and yes we went through them) to slither through, and there’s even an ice slide. That’s right. An ice slide. And sure, we waited in line for nearly 30 minutes to go down some ice slide that was over in under a minute. But it was worth it.
And by the time we made it through the ice slide the lights within the ice walls were starting to light up.
After spending over an hour inside the Ice Castles, we reluctantly hobbled back into the car with our aching bodies, and begun the two-hour drive back to Boston.
L & K