Firsthand Report
The Granite State and Lou: Mount Sunapee, New Hampshire 3
Author thumbnail By Lou Botta, DCSki Columnist

Mount Sunapee Ski Resort in Newbury, New Hampshire is my home mountain, just a scant 12-minute, door-to-door drive. It is easily accessible from several exits on I-89, and its access to motorized transportation has been noted in several ski publications. It is an hour away from the Manchester-Boston Regional Airport, and about two hours each from Burlington International Airport and Logan International Airport in Boston.

Mount Sunapee Ski Resort is completely located inside Mount Sunapee State Park, a much larger plot of land that comprises several mountains. It is one of the best and most popular hiking areas in the central part of New Hampshire, with trails dotting the place inside and outside the ski reservation. Nearby trails include a spectacular hike to Lake Solitude, a natural and pristine lake in the middle of two of the resort mountains, as well as climbing trails that start in the town of Bradford.

Above the Clouds. Photo by Lou Botta.

Mount Sunapee is also a part of the Sunapee/Ragged/Kearsarge Greenway (SRKG), a 75-mile long loop of hiking trails that combine these three mountains (https://www.srkg.org) and as well, a terminus for the Sunapee/Monadnock Greenway (https://www.msgtc.org), a 48-mile long trail between Mount Sunapee and Mount Monadnock. In the back side of Mount Sunapee, experienced hikers may bushwhack their way to the wreckage of the November 20, 1949 crash site of an AT-6 airplane. The resort also has snowshoe trails for winter use.

Although the first downhill trails were cut in 1933 by the Civilian Conservation Corps, the 1948-1949 ski season serves as the official inauguration date for the Mount Sunapee ski area. For the next 40 years, it remained a state-run ski area along with Cannon Mountain. In 1998, the State of New Hampshire leased Mount Sunapee to the Mueller family, owners of Okemo and Crested Butte, with the up-front lease payments used for the total upgrade of Cannon Mountain, which remains as a state-owned and managed resort. Under the Mueller family, the resort underwent a complete upgrade, but twenty years later, the Mueller family sold their lease and assets to Vail Resorts, beginning a new era for the mountain.

Abutting the mountain is Lake Sunapee, a pristine glacial origin lake covering a surface of almost 7 square miles with over 70 miles of lake shoreline. Three communities, New London, Newbury, and Sunapee, share lake shoreline with the state park, holding a large beach and boat dock just off the resort.

Killington viewed in the distance from Mount Sunapee. Photo by Lou Botta.

Getting there is fairly easy by car, although there is little public transportation and the nearest Amtrak station is in Claremont, NH, 40 minutes away.

Mount Sunapee is a ski resort located within a state park. There is a campground but there are no commercial lodging facilities within the resort. The closest hotel-type lodgings are the Sunapee Lodge, now owned by Bluebird Hotels, and the Mountain Edge Suites, an Ascend Hotel Collection resort. Both are steps from Lake Sunapee and at the end of the Mount Sunapee Access Road.

In addition, several B&Bs and Inns are located within close proximity to the resort. Fifteen minutes away is the town of New London, a tony and dignified community with the New London Inn, which predates the U.S. Constitution. New London also hosts The Inn at Pleasant Lake, honored as one of America’s Select 50 Registry. Several restaurants, including fine dining, dot the Lake and Mount Sunapee area.

Mount Sunapee has four main parking lots. Parking Lot 1 is between the main Sunapee Lodge and the older Spruce Lodge, offering easy access to the learning area at the South Peak. On weekends, it fills by 8:00 a.m. Parking Lot One also has “The Beach.” It’s been a long-time custom at Mount Sunapee for guests to use about a 100-foot wide strip of the groomed area between the two main lodges as a “beach.” Cars and trucks arrive at 5:30 or 6:00 a.m. to secure a spot in Parking Lot One that will allow them to back up towards the snow, bringing out their grills, flags, outdoor ovens, tables, camp chairs, and rugs. Towards the end of the day, it becomes a site of eating, cheer, music, and general merriment, all with an extremely friendly crowd. It’s the easiest way to get a free lunch.

Parking Lot One. Photo by Lou Botta.

Parking Lot 2 is on the northern side of the older Spruce Lodge. This lot is preferred by many locals, as the lodge is more quaint and old fashioned. The parking area is also a hundred feet from the Spruce Lift and a scant three hundred feet from the North Peak triple, which is often a favorite to start the day at the Sun Bowl on the other side of the mountain. On a weekend, Parking Lot 2 fills by 9 a.m. and the parking is then directed to Lot 3.

Parking Lot 3 is an overflow parking lot accessible by a long walk or by a shuttle bus. And on busy days, it also gets full. So the overflow of the overflow is placed about a mile and a half away by the lake.

Since Vail Resorts took ownership of Mount Sunapee, the parking situation, especially on weekends, has become increasingly complex if not chaotic. Several times, we arrived even before opening time, only to turn around and go to one of its competitors. Five mile long lines to park have not been an exception. My recommendation is to come early or arrive after noon, after the morning crowd has departed.

Mount Sunapee has three lodges to provide for guest comfort. The Sunapee Lodge is the main lodge near the main Sunapee Express to the mountaintop. It is a modern, two-story building that houses a a customer service office, a ski apparel store, a large cafeteria, and an equally large dining area. The second story is all dining tables. The basement floor is storage cubicles and a changing area. It also has the bathroom facilities.

Spruce Lodge, to the north of Sunapee Lodge, is located along the base area between parking lots 1 and 2. Locals often prefer this lodge as it is older, smaller and cozier. However, Spruce Lodge also has seasonally rented ski lockers on the outside walls, a smaller ski shop, the main customer service offices, and the ski rental shop for the resort. Spruce Lodge also has the resort’s only pub on the second floor. Management offices are on the second floor. The pub has a large wraparound deck that allows sights of the mountain, the resort’s races, and the base area.

View of Okemo Resort from Mount Sunapee. Photo by Lou Botta.

It is worth noting for families with children or elderly members who want to eschew stairs, that the Spruce Lodge is the only one where ski day prep, cafeteria, ticket sales, bag storage, shop and bathrooms are all on the same level.

On top of the mountain, the Summit Lodge is extremely popular as a warmup center, a cafeteria-style dining area, and, when the fireplace is operating, the only lodge in the resort with a fireplace. The second floor of the Summit Lodge has an overflow dining space and offers monumental views of the Green Mountains of Vermont and a partial view of the White Mountains to the North. On the second floor, guests will find a large clock-like instrument that points out to the mountains surrounding Mount Sunapee, from Mount Washington to nearby Boston. The Summit Lodge deck is oftentimes the site of resort-sponsored barbecues during late ski season.

A notable policy of Mount Sunapee is that bags are not allowed to be left on, or under tables. Bags left on dining tables will be brought to storage, which makes for an organized feeling where guests have ample room to sit down, eat, and relax.

Mount Sunapee has been under Vail ownership since 2019. Before that, it was owned by Tri Peaks Corporation, a local family enterprise that also operated Vermont’s Okemo Resort and Colorado’s Crested Butte. Virtually all the physical plant improvements, new lifts, and trail upgrades were done by the previous owners under an ambitious master plan that included a state-approved expansion. But, once the resort changed hands, this master plan remains incomplete and, perhaps, forgotten.

Flying Goose run. Photo by Lou Botta.

The resort’s 67 trails are scattered on four peaks: the main Mount Sunapee summit, North Peak, Spruce Peak, and South Peak. The latter is the beginners area and almost totally segregated from the rest of the resort. Mount Sunapee has snowmaking coverage over 97% of the mountain, providing for the ability to maintain skiable conditions until April.

The base of the mountain is at an altitude of 1,233 feet, with a summit elevation of 2,743 feet for a total vertical of 1,510 feet. The South Peak has its own fixed quad at beginners speed, as well as magic carpets and the Learning Center just steps away. The area has around 12 runs of beginner to easy intermediate difficulty, including a magnificent learner’s glade area.

The main mountain features a high-speed quad with access to primarily intermediate terrain. A single black diamond, Blastoff, goes right off the top and continues down to the base area. Ridge, the longest run with snowmaking, is two miles long and connects to both the Sunapee base area and the South Peak learning area.

On weekdays, I arrive about 25 minutes before opening, park as close as I can to Spruce Lodge, and proceed to the lodge to don ski gear, enjoy coffee, and greet some friends. At 9 a.m., I am ready to ski to Spruce Lift. Spruce gives access to the terrain park, and also to my first morning run, Eggbeater: a short but wide run to gauge the terrain conditions and get my first leg workout. From Eggbeater, I can almost ski into the North Peak Triple.

Mogul day at Flying Goose. Photo by Lou Botta.

The North Peak Triple allows access to the lower part of the main mountain, the Sun Bowl, and the North Peak terrain itself. While less vertical height than the Sunapee Express, it is perhaps the most versatile lift at the resort. The North Peak area has the most challenging of the Mount Sunapee runs, such as Goose Bumps, a triple headwall, high-angle run that — although usually groomed — is nonetheless the steepest run at the resort. Flying Goose and Lynx are also on the North Peak access, two excellent, almost straight shot, fairly steep black diamonds. Lynx is oftentimes used for races.

From the North Peak, there is also access to the main Sunapee Express via Toboggan Chute, the least steep way to access the main face, and through Hansen Chase, also a great Black Diamond leading to the Sunapee Express.

My morning routine, however, is heading from the North Peak direct to the Sun Bowl, the first recipient of morning sun and less trafficked than the main face. Accessing the Sun Bowl from the North Peak can be done through a challenging but fun glades run, a groomed black diamond, or a beautiful cruiser that traverses the Sun Bowl runs. I normally take Upper Cataract, a delicious groomed black diamond leading me to the Sun Bowl high-speed lift.

Three beautifully groomed Sun Bowl runs are available from this lift: Wingding, Skyway, and East Side, along with two glades runs, and my favorite at the resort, Williamson. It is not particularly challenging, it is not often groomed, very few people venture out there, and it has no snowmaking. But Williamson meanders out about a third of a mile away from the resort, and then comes back to the Sun bowl through a ravine back to the lift. It is a spectacularly beautiful and scenic run. Once in a while, I see groups of people meditating or doing yoga on the huge boulders lining the run. The sensation of being out in the forest is magnificent.

The views from the top of the Sun Bowl are jaw-dropping beautiful, with the entirety of the White Mountains and Lake Sunapee visible in the distance.

View of Lake Sunapee from Ledges, a blue run. Photo by Lou Botta.

After a half morning in the Sun Bowl, I head over to the Sunapee Express terrain. To the west, Ridge is the most manageable of the main face runs, with an access trail to the South Peak, the learner’s peak. Next to Ridge is Blastoff, a superb intermediate run with a black diamond headwall and a groomed surface that is both challenging and fun. Bonanza and Ledges also complete the repertoire of groomed runs from the Sunapee Express. Several wonderful gladed runs are also in the main face.

Just off the Sunapee Express and into Bonanza trail, there is what locals call “the million dollar view” spot. It is a beautifully scenic spot overlooking Lake Sunapee, the White Mountains, and the northern part of Vermont’s Green Mountains. Expect a delay at that spot as people invariably stop and take pictures.

Heading on Ridge to the South Peak, Mount Sunapee sports a large, segregated learning mountain with four runs, including a beginner’s glade. The Clipper fixed quad is lower to the ground than the rest of the lifts at Sunapee to accommodate children and beginning adults, so watch your calves. The South Peak also has a direct connection to the Sunapee Express.

Two other important facilities at Mount Sunapee deserve mentioning. The first is the Training Center. The resort has a first-rate ski school with a kid’s starter program and a dedicated adult learning program. It is located in its own building steps away from the South Peak Clipper Quad.

The second facility worth mentioning is the New England Healing Sports Association (NEHSA), also in its own building next to the Training Center. NEHSA hosts a first-rate adaptive program for physically, vision, or psychologically challenged athletes, and is staffed primarily by a dedicated cadre of volunteers. They also hold clinics for veterans and a Wounded Warrior Weekend.

The author at the Sun Bowl. Photo by Lou Botta.

While the idiosyncrasies of corporate ownership may be irritating and decisions made two thousand miles away often seem at odds with common sense or Eastern ski culture, Mount Sunapee is a gem of a mountain. The staff is first rate, period. From the greeters that one sees upon arrival, to the parking people, the food service workers, snow makers, groomers, and Ski Patrol, in short, everyone is at their best. It is still a wonderful mountain.

Mountain Stats from the Mount Sunapee website:

Slopes & Trails

Terrain Parks

Lifts:

Average Snowfall:

Season:

Snowmaking:

The Granite State and Lou:

Lou Botta is in the process of profiling every ski area in the state of New Hampshire.

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About Lou Botta

While actually born in the tropics (Cuba), Lou grew up in New England and went to College in Vermont, where he initially took up skiing. He then embarked on a twenty-two year Air Force piloting career that took him to over 50 countries. He has skied in Europe and America (both North and South). His second career as a senior officer with the Federal Government spanned thirteen years and in 2010, Lou retired to pursue a more leisurely life style.

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Reader Comments

oldensign - DCSki Columnist
March 14, 2023
Member since 02/27/2007 🔗
499 posts

Sunapee is a lovely hill. I skied there many a time when I was stationed in Rhode Island. It is an easy drive from most places near Boston. Great views of the lake from the top. It has some length off the main chair so it skis a bit longer than the vert. The "backside" bowl offers some diversity. The two high-speed quads can move the crowds. Still, It does get crowded. So I liked to go downhill in the morning and nordic in the PM. The Nordic Skater is a great ski shop by the lake! 

snowsmith - DCSki Supporter 
March 14, 2023
Member since 03/15/2004 🔗
1,576 posts
Lou -nice write up. I did an Epic tour of Mt. Snow, Okemo and finally, 2 days at Sunapee at the end of Jan/beginning of Feb. . Nice mountain. Skis bigger than it looks. Some nice long runs. Kind of reminded me of Okemo. They were making snow on several trails during the first week of Feb. So conditions were pretty good.   also really enjoyed the area. I highly recommend the restaurant, Suna. I ate there all 3 nights and I felt like a local(so friendly).I wish we could have met up. I hope to return one day. I would imagine today's storm has been kind to the mountain. 
johnfmh - DCSki Columnist
March 15, 2023 (edited March 15, 2023)
Member since 07/18/2001 🔗
1,986 posts
Enjoyed the article Lou. I skied Sunapee quite a bit when I was a kid but have not returned since. Need to go. Thanks for reminding me of its greatness. Can you comment on the snowmaking since Vail took over the resort?

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