What if Canaan Valley was twice a high? And had a 80-passenger tram? What if the area was in the White Mountains of New Hampshire and not the Allegheny Mountains of West Virginia? Well if all of this did happen then you would pretty much have “The Living Legend” of Cannon Mountain Ski Area, located in New Hampshire — a place that could pretty much claim to be the home of old school East Coast skiing.
Just like Canaan Valley, Cannon Mountain Ski Area is located within a state park, Franconia Notch State Park. Unlike Canaan, Cannon boast the largest vertical drop in its state at 2,330 feet. Like Canaan Valley it is in a mountain snow belt resulting in an average snowfall of 160 inches per year. It helps that the White Mountains of New Hampshire top out at 6,822 feet — a couple thousand feet higher than the Alleghenies of West Virginia. Oddly, Cannon Mountain itself tops out at 4,080 feet while the top of Cabin Mountain that Canaan Valley is located on is higher at 4,280 feet. But the nearby surrounding higher elevations and higher latitude bring higher snow totals to Cannon. They also bring higher winds and more variable weather. Like most East Coast ski areas, Cannon can boast powder one day, rain the day after, and ice the next — or all three in the same afternoon.
The day I skied was typical of Cannon. There had been a storm earlier in the week that dropped 7-10 inches, but most of the good stuff had been skied or blown off by the wind that can be an issue here. The area boasts excellent snowmaking as 191 acres of the total 285 skiable acres is covered by snowmaking. So efforts earlier in the season had given the area a strong base. Thus it was close to 100% open with 95 out of 97 trails open the day I was there. Like the Canaan Valley’s neighbor Timberline, Cannon likes to leave its snowmaking “whales” on the trails. As one person said to me on the lift, “this is New England — we like our whales!” Thus many trails had a whole pod’s worth of whales!
The weather started out with light snow, then fog, then wind, then sleet, then rain and then I got out of the car… Just kidding but close to it! The terrain at Cannon is as varied as the weather: wide cruisers, and short pitches mixed with twisting narrows through the trees. Glades abound and folks kept popping in and out of the woods all over the place. I guess that is where the powder from earlier in the week was hiding.
Cannon has 11 lifts including an 80-passenger aerial tramway. The tramway was built by the Conservation Corps in the late 1930s. The version running today is the second generation of tram that was dedicated 1980. It is classic old school, made even moreso by the wood and concrete tram barn that it operates out of. Even more fun, there is a large open room with benches that looks like a 1950s train station at the base station. When I rolled in at 7:30 a.m. to catch the 8:15 first tram, the room was packed with folks changing into their ski boots. Then they just pushed their boot bags up against the wall and headed for the tram line, leaving the bags in the room for the day without a care. Talk about old school!
Another interesting feature of Cannon is the Mittersill area. Originally an independent area, the Mittersill area became a “lost” area in 1980s. Following its closure, the lifts were removed and it became a semi-backcountry “earn your turns” area for awhile. Then in 2009 it was incorporated into Cannon and a double lift was added. This being the heart of New England ski racing country and Cannon being the “home” to Olympic ski racer Bodie Miller, the Mittersill area has become Cannon’s ski racing complex. A couple of the trails were widened to make it more useful for racing, catch fencing was added, and a T-bar was opened solely for racer use. The day I was there, future Olympians were flying down the mountain practicing their craft.
Overall I enjoyed my day at Cannon. I was able to get in 25,000 vertical in just about five hours of skiing. The mountain is old school but in a good way. There are old slow triple and double chairs, but also a high speed quad in the mix. There is an old train/tram barn on one side but a pretty normal day lodge on the other. Some slopes are wide cruisers, while others are narrow tree runs. It is just like Canaan Valley but bigger. What is not to like!
Robbie Allen is an avid small hill skier. He has written several articles on the many small hills he has sought out.
Beautiful review! We're a scant hour from Cannon and we enjoy its view, as well as Mt Lafayette across the ravine, from Mt Sunapee's summit which is, by the way, just over ten minutes from our door.
The mantra today is that anything government does, doesn't seem to work. However, Cannon is one example that when it does, it does it quite well. The State of New Hampshire made an excellent deal when they leased out their other state park ski area, Mt Sunapee, and used the proceeds from the leasehold to improve Cannon beyond anyone's expectation, including a major infrastructure remake. At the same time, the Mt Sunapee lessee remade Mt Sunapee into an amazing mountain with improving and expansions still being made.
As you remarked, Cannon IS history. The first dedicated downhill mountaintop ski trail in North America, the Taft, was cut at Cannon in 1933, and is still in use. The first passenger aerial tramway in the US was also at Cannon. The first professional (paid) Ski Patrol was also at Cannon, a year after its founding at Stowe. The first World Cup races in North America were also held at Cannon. It is definitely a place of fun and great skiing/boarding but also a place of reverence for the sport.
The other significant attraction of Cannon is their discounts. NH resident seniors (65+) get to ski/ride for free on weekdays. Their military rates are also amazing, applying to current, retired, reserve, veterans and their families. And for next season, my NH military senior season pass is an amazing $176 for the whole year. Not bad...
There is another CCC trail from the 1930s, the Tucker Brook Trail. It begins in Mittersill and drops 3000 vertical feet to a trailhead on a country road. You must spot a car, of hitch a ride. It’s about 4 miles back to the tram base. The New England ski museum in Franconia notch is worth a visit. Bode Miller, who grew up there, has donated his medals and other things to the museum.