Firsthand Report: Bretton Woods, New Hampshire
By Connie Lawn, DCSki Columnist
March 23, 2006 — It loomed up before us in the fog - the Majestic Mistress of the Mountains. The 202-room Mount Washington Hotel is magnificent. The dedicated scientists who brave some of the coldest temperature on earth must see it from their frozen and windswept weather station, perched on the top of Mount Washington. They might wish for its warmth and luxury. Yes, it is the same hotel where the foundations for the World Bank and IMF were established in 1944. I recommend it highly for anyone who shares a sense of history. It is an especially interesting destination for any of the thousands of World Bank and IMF employees who may want to vacation “where they were born.” Perhaps combine it with a study and business trip? It is a natural for conventions!
There are also less formal accommodations at Bretton Woods and all have easy access to the Bretton Woods Nordic Center on the grounds and the Alpine Center just a few minutes away on the other side of the road. You can get to the Bretton Woods Alpine ski area by car or a free shuttle bus provided by the hotel. It is listed as New Hampshire’s largest ski area, and voted number one in New Hampshire for snow quality, grooming, family programs, service, and lots of other things. We won’t dwell on the fact it is also the home area of Bodie Miller. Although he came back from the Torino Winter Olympics without medals, he is still one of the best downhill skiers in the world. He honed his skills at Bretton Woods, has built a home there, and is heavily involved in the ski activities. Everyone in the region feels badly about what happened, but expects he will remain active in snow sports and try for the US Team again in 2006.
Bretton Woods has 101 alpine trails and 48 Nordic ones. Unfortunately, all the Nordic and some of the blue and black alpine trails were closed during the short visit we had on March 13, 2006. The weather was mild and began to rain steadily after we had been out just two hours. But, there was such a firm base, the trails held their snow, even after a day and night of rain. After we left, there was natural snow in the area, and the weather was cold enough for snowmaking. So the base was rebuilt in time for a number of fun activities over St. Patrick’s Day, and into the spring season. Sadly, a host of cross-country activities had to be canceled - maybe next year.
It is always best to ski with someone who knows the area, and Chuck Devine from Snowcountry.com in Lebanon, New Hampshire drove up to be with us. Yes, he is the same man you hear on WTOP and hundreds of other radio ski reports around the country. Chuck knows every inch of the areas, and took my husband Charles and I across sweeping, panoramic trails - just the way I like them! None were too challenging - most of the really tough ones were closed anyway. That was fine with me - I like to cruise, dance, and view the scenery. We covered quite a bit of territory in a short time - taking both the Mt. Rosebrook Summit Express Quad and the Bethlehem Express High Speed Quad Chair. Both were efficient and, unlike some Western areas, had safety bars! I understand many of my friends are also freaked out by high, steep chairlifts with no bars. The trails we took were largely easy - Bretton’s Woods, Outer Bounds, Down ‘n’ Under and, on the West Mountain, Jacob’s Ladder, Oscar Barron’s, and Little Tuckerman. The Rosebrook Canyon Glades were closed - they offer trails with such colorful names as Dark Star, Hemlock, Inferno, and Mr. Moose. Can’t beat the New England Yankees for their names! Hope I can return and try some of those double blacks in the season, if I can handle them.
The runs were the New England I remembered; each trail bordered by fragrant, beautiful pines and birch trees. I did not see or smell any maple syrup made from trees in these forests (as I remembered in Sugarbush Vermont) but you knew you were back in New England. The trails were great, the lifts efficient, and the snow soft and forgiving. I could kick myself for not starting earlier - before the heavy rain drenched me and ruined my vision.
But the rain gave us a chance to spend some time inside, and learn about the Bretton Woods Adaptive Ski program. Charles and I are learning to coach adaptive skiing, and try to visit each adaptive center. Bretton Woods has a modern and well-equipped center, and does something better than many of the others we have seen; the Bretton Woods Adaptive Program is in the day lodge, fully integrated with the other services. You can’t miss it when you head downstairs for ski school or rental equipment on the lower level. Most ski areas have a separate building for adaptive, as do the centers we visited at Wintergreen, Snowshoe-Silver Creek, or Park City. But, I think that gives adaptive skiers and snowboarders a subtle message they are outsiders or an afterthought. At Bretton Woods, it is easy to stop in, say hello, find out about the program and perhaps offer to help or make contributions, if you want.
The Bretton Woods Adaptive program is run by Cris Criswell. In addition to being a skilled instructor and administrator, he is an ordained minister and was an advisor to the World Bank. Guess they could use some prayers. Cris has post-polio syndrome and has monoskied for 10 years. In a prayer he wrote for other adaptive skiers, he said “we commit to ski and ride everybody … there are so many ways to become disabled, by birth, disease, accident and war,” and asks, “will we ever be ready enough?”
The adaptive skiers are excellent athletes, and can give the “regular” skiers a run for their money. Most were intensely interested in the Para Olympic games underway in Torino in March, and many knew and trained with the participating athletes.
After the skiing, we returned to our sumptuous suite in the Mount Washington Hotel, thanks to our host Martha Wilson. It is too magnificent to describe. We were given one of the Presidential suites - one of the many nice touches are the plaques posted on the outside of each room. Ours told us that the first President Bush and his wife stayed there - imagine, we shared their giant bed! The rooms also have other gold plaques, listing the names of the international delegates who stayed there during the 1944 Conference. How’s that for a touch of class. That, combined with the fascinating photos on the walls throughout the giant hotel, make Bretton Woods a living history museum.
Our suite had a modern whirlpool and one of those special fireplaces that light automatically with a wall switch (like the ones they have at Snowshoe). It also had a sitting room and kitchenette. Since so many people work as they travel (as we do) there were adequate high-speed connections for laptops. There was also no charge for the 800 calls, which is so important for long-time use on the computers. Bretton Woods is a vacation and business convention destination, so it is important to have these touches. The businessmen who bought and modernized Bretton Woods a few years ago knew what they were doing.
From our window, we could wake up and view Mount Washington. It is so high, the clouds cut through the middle of the mountains - very spectacular! We could view the steep Cog Railway, which is an adventure to take up in season, and ski down from the top. And, we could see the high towers of the Mount Washington weather station. It clocks temperatures of far below zero at times, and winds in excess of 100 mph. (The highest wind speed in the world was recorded here, at 231 mph.) Kudos to the scientists up there - they are truly dedicated. The public can hike up in the summer, and visit their museum and parts of the Observatory. Many skiers and boarders also hike and ski up the ultra expert Tuckermans Ravine, but are advised to wait until May, when there is less avalanche danger. Tuckermans is wild, dangerous, ungroomed, and unpatrolled. Only the hardiest need consider a run down it, but many of the local residents are tough, fit, and skillful enough to do it often.
One more word about the Mount Washington Hotel - it is worth a special visit for the food in the sumptuous formal dining room, even if you are not a hotel guest. Proper attire is required, especially in the evening. That means dinner jackets for the men, nice women’s clothes, and no ski boots! Clothes must be respectful for the breakfast buffet, but it is not quite as formal. For dinner, I chose the New England clam chowder and the Yankee pot roast. Delicious! Boy, did that bring back memories of my college days in New England. My husband had the seafood cocktail, special salad, the pan roasted halibut, and the ornate “great White Mountain Moose” for dessert. There was ice cream, chocolate, and a hint on maple syrup. The dessert is sculptured to look like Mount Washington - it was nearly too beautiful to eat.
In short, a wonderful experience at Bretton Woods. I urge our readers to take a visit - in the summer as well as the winter. From the Washington - Baltimore area, it may be best to fly to New Hampshire or Canada and then rent a car. It is a long drive, and only 175 miles south of Montreal. We broke the drive into two days each way, because we had other stops to make. But, flying is best, unless you want to take a beautiful drive through New England. But, to do so, you still hit the traffic and the big trucks on the highways - especially when you pass near New York and Boston. So, enjoy a short, economical flight, rent a car, and appreciate the scenic part of the drive through wonderful New England. Enjoy your visit to the Mount Washington Resort at Bretton Woods, and travel safely! Remember, it is a business and learning trip!
About the Author
Connie Lawn is an avid skier. In her spare time, she has covered the White House as a reporter since 1968. To read other articles by Connie, click here.
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