With each passing winter, it becomes more difficult to find a New England ski area, or a ski town, that has remained true to its skiing roots. Things change, and often for the better (after all, we want our high-speed lifts). But oftentimes, something is lost in that progression, a sense of time and place that, once gone, can’t be restored. For those of us who still love the experience of a genuine slice of ski history, our choices are dwindling. But they still exist.
We can find it at Mad River Glen in Vermont, or Bousquet in western Massachusetts. But for the best combination of historic ski hill and town, Cranmore Mountain Resort in North Conway, N.H., stands a cut above. Cranmore is celebrating 80 years this winter. Let that sink in for a minute. Eight decades.
In 1938, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the rest of the country were still recovering from the depths of the Great Depression. Europe was a tinderbox, with countries bracing for the inevitability of a Second World War. Heavyweight boxing champ Joe Louis KO’d German Max Schmeling in their famed rematch at Yankee Stadium, and American financier Harvey Dow Gibson, a Conway native, opened a new ski area at Lookout Mountain, later renamed Cranmore Mountain.
Driving into Cranmore today, regardless of which direction you come from, it’s all but impossible to avoid the overwhelming sense of nostalgia that pervades this ribbon of the Mount Washington Valley. The time-period train depot, preserved storefronts, rustic ski clubs and old-fashion hotels all speak to a bygone era. Standing at a corner of North Main Street in downtown North Conway, you can almost sense the benevolent ghosts of skiers past, hauling their oversized boards from the Snow Train to their accommodations for the weekend.