When I arrived at Cranmore Mountain in North Conway, New Hampshire, I stared in awe at the peak, which seemed to tower above the Mount Washington Valley. As a 14-year-old southern New Jersey native who spent most days skateboarding with the neighborhood kids, I had never tried skiing or snowboarding, save for a few attempts at riding my sled while standing up on a nearby 15-vertical-foot slope. They were mystical sports, present in my life only through movies and photos.
But on that bluebird day in 2002, the trajectory of my life changed. As soon as my first lesson concluded and I was set free, knowing little more than how to strap my boots into my snowboard bindings, I was attempting turns, throwing myself off drops and bumps, frequently landing face-first in the snow. And I was always smiling.
Eighteen years later, living just minutes from Cranmore Mountain, I’ve learned my experience isn’t unique, although most valley natives had their first Cranmore experience at a much younger age.
“I started going to Cranmore with my grandmother when I was 3 years old,” said Parker Haynes, a Mount Washington Valley native who now has 28 years of skiing at Cranmore under his belt. “It had a super local feel — there was a big community there. Cranmore was really like a family. And I felt like I was a part of that family.”