They don’t all have to be big bruisers from the north, you know. Every time we’ve set out to sample some smaller areas, it’s about the same: The experience is as good as the snow and weather on the day we go.
So it was our luck to have sampled Pats Peak on a ringing January morning with plenty of firm snow, the kind that squeaks under your boots but lets you knife in an edge.
The area is in southern New Hampshire (Henniker) not far from the University of New Hampshire, and you’ll find the college kids here to prove it, including the race team from nearby New England College.
This matter of size does come up. Pats offers 770 feet of vertical drop, covering 103 acres with 28 runs, the longest 1.5 miles, serviced by six chairs, two magic carpets and three tows. There’s enough here to get some fine ski days.
With a separate beginners area serviced by the longest magic carpet in the state, Pats Peak is a wonderful spot to take the new or very young skiers who can work on their skills without intimidation. Don’t forget, at a certain stage of development in the sport, both surface and chairlifts can be pretty intimidating.
I spent time with the 7-year-old in our group, then left him in a group lesson while I explored the area. First run was Tornado (most trails are named for winds here). It’s a straightish steep run, rated double X, but remember that trail difficulty ratings are relative to that particular area.
Both Tornado and Hurricane are pleasingly steep, with Cyclone more of a outward bow, a bit flatter with more bend. I took the longest run at the area, Breeze to Zephyr to Blast, and found some excellent low/intermediate terrain, a kind of road with plenty of length to practice turns and explore edge-to-edge traversing.
When the young man in my charge showed up, we tried some of these runs, but because he was feeling quite masterful at this point, he wanted to try a blue run. That put us on East Wind, a sidecut just inside Zephyr.
From the top, the first look down took his breath away — a perfect first real trail, because it was manageable, yet it put the pressure on to make the turn after a 45-foot traverse, the first of which was a slow descent to the backside. But he was ready for more.
The trail takes a low swoop to the right, changing pace. But it didn’t phase him, and soon he was up to cruising speed as the trail joined Zephyr for a long outrun with a couple of tree islands that he had fun with.
Once off the beginners area, East Wind is a nearly perfect run for the learning skier to tackle on day one. Of course, just to reiterate the fact that you can slide on snow without really working at it, we finished the day in a lively tubing park.
Pats Peak, now in its fifth decade, has been in continuous ownership of the Patenaude family when Merle first developed it in 1963. A great alternative to the long drives north, Pats Peak is about 90 minutes from Boston.