New England resorts and thrill seekers singing praises of more mountain fun
by Eric Wilbur/
Finding the right line has never been easier.
Yes, we’re still in the mountains, but no, we’re not talking about plotting the most efficient way down the fall line while navigating your skis or board properly into turns most sufficient for the environment. That’s already been taken care of for you.
While it’s not exactly a revelation that New England ski areas constantly are seeking different attractions with the goal of becoming year-round destinations, the ante lately has been upped from mere golf courses, horseback rides and alpine slides with the understanding that skiers and riders who seek thrills on the mountain in the winter are probably going to want some adventure on it the other three seasons as well.
What we now have is a constant influx of zip lines, mountain coasters and other attractions geared to active lifestyles three — if not four — seasons out of the year. No longer are ski areas and resorts primarily about skiing, riding and tubing; today, they are year-round destinations that cater to families and individuals seeking a variety of different activities.
“What we really did is focus on gravity-based fun,” Gunstock Mountain Resort spokesperson Bill Quigley said. “It was to give (guests) that raison d’être, a reason to come back up here.”
Canopy tours have become a chic addition at many area resorts. In addition to Gunstock, canopy tours (the general term for touring an established route via zip cable, through wooded and mountainous landscapes) also can be found at New England ski resorts such as Bretton Woods Resort, and Sunday River in Newry, Maine, where six lines, ranging from 100 to 300 feet, take guests riding at a speed of up to 25 mph. Now in its third year, the tour has become an increasingly popular component to the Sunday River experience.
“It’s just one step closer to becoming that four-season, destination resort,” Sunday River spokesperson Darcy Morse said, noting that each season brings a new experience on the tour, whether during the emerging spring or the kaleidoscope of fall color.
“It’s just a beautiful time to immerse yourself with the foliage,” she said.
In the case of Gunstock, the Gilford, N.H., resort, the ambitious ZipTour Canopy Tour is a 2½-hour adventure that is, in fact, the longest of its kind in the continental United States. The tour features speeds up to 60 mph — or as fast as you want to go — as you travel from the summit of Gunstock to the summit of Pistol Mountain over some 3,981 feet of cable. After that, hook up again and you’re off for another 3,809-foot ride — hovering over Blundersmoke Park, the base area, and the snowmaking pond. Noting that Gunstock boasts one of the most scenic summits in the Granite State, you can imagine why you might want to slow down aplenty and breathe in the views of the surrounding lakes.
“It’s a different way to play on the mountain,” Quigley said. “There are tons of zip pulls across New Hampshire. We tried to do something different.”
Across the state, in the face of the majestic Mount Washington, Wildcat Mountain also has managed to do something different with its zip line, which runs spring through fall each year. Instead of your typical “canopy tour” of sorts, the “Ziprider” takes guests on a half-mile trip at speeds up to 45 mph from the mountain to the base, with spectacular views of the Presidential range in plain focus.
“It’s a summer attraction that has been very successful for Wildcat Mountain,” said Thomas Prindle, spokesperson for Peaks Resorts, which also owns nearby Attitash Mountain in Bartlett. “It is quite popular, and I think you see a lot of resorts exploring these year-round attractions.”
Wildcat’s zipliner also differs in that there’s no need for additional equipment. You won’t need a helmet, backpack or any other sort of safety device to ride this zip.
“It’s a chair harness,” Prindle said. “You sit in it, we strap you in, and you go.”
The ride proved so popular since its inception four years ago that the mountain operations team decided to double up on rider capacity, adding two more lines last year, now with a total of four. This, however, was the first winter that Wildcat did not operate the zip line, which returns to weekend operation over Memorial Day weekend.
“It is quite popular,” Prindle said. “I think you see a lot of resorts exploring these year-round attractions.”
At Attitash, that includes the implementation of the mountain coaster, a top-to-bottom thrill ride somewhat similar to an alpine slide but on rails. Attitash was just the latest to build a coaster on its property, joining nearby Cranmore Mountain Resort, Okemo Mountain in Ludlow, Vt., and Jiminy Peak in Hancock, Mass.
“It really has increased our summer visits exponentially,” Prindle said.
According to Prindle, a future attraction at the Bartlett resort may include the addition of a year-round U.S. Air Bag, a large, soft platform that provides a safe landing for skiers and riders performing tricks and jumps. Attitash featured the bag one weekend in January, and the resort was “super impressed” with its usability, according to Prindle, who sees multiple possibilities with its use, including mountain bike tricks and offseason training.
Gunstock already features a similar attraction — its Big Air Bag — and even offers a special season pass for its use, but come summer, it is the area’s Mountain Adventure Park that is perhaps most unique among New England ski resorts. It is the largest zip, rope and aerial obstacle course in New England, and visitors can swing, soar and navigate their way through the tree-lined course. According to Quigley, the ability for families to work together in conquering the course, provides a certain bond.
“It’s something the family can do that doesn’t take the entire day but makes memories and connects people forever,” he said.
There was a time at ski resorts, remember, when that meant merely skiing with your family, enjoying smooth turns with important chatter on the chairlift. Now, no matter where you go it seems, there is a wealth of attractions to keep you coming back for more, no matter what the season might be. That’s the ultimate intent of the area’s ski resorts, and frankly, they’re making it pretty attractive to not stay away until the snowmaking guns start whirring, or the flakes start falling months from now.
This article originally appeared in the Spring 2012 issue of New England Ski Journal.
Eric Wilbur can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org