One of the persistent knocks against Mount Sunapee is that this delightful mid-sized hill in central New Hampshire doesn’t have any slopeside accommodations. Interestingly enough, you rarely hear the same complaints about a place like Waterville Valley. Maybe that’s because the village at Waterville Valley has plenty of beds and restaurants, and a dedicated shuttle system to ferry skiers and boarders to and from the ski slopes.
In reality, the sprawling Mountain Edge Resort & Spa at Sunapee is literally minutes away from the ski hill and runs a convenient shuttle that gets you to the slopes before your morning coffee can cool off. Much like Mount Sunapee itself, the Mountain Edge is a family-friendly resort, featuring 47 suites, ranging from 650 to 1,500 square feet, that can sleep anywhere from six to 10 people (seven suites are timeshare units, part of the RCI Resorts Worldwide system).
Combine the Mountain Edge’s easy access to the slopes with cozy accommodations, a fitness center, a pool center with lap pool and hot tub, a lighted sledding hill, an in-house restaurant (open Wednesday to Sunday, 4 p.m. to close), a full-service spa and a general store for incidentals, plus a nearby ski shop (Bob Skinner’s Ski & Sports), and you’ve got a ski family’s dream escape.
“That’s the experience we want,” said Mountain Edge owner Tom Behrens. “You arrive and can just park your car. The shuttle can bring everyone up to ski. About half the people use the shuttle, and half will drive up later in the day with the rest of the family.”
The Mountain View is Behrens’s second property in Newbury. Across the street (Route 103) is his Sunapee Lake Lodge, first opened as a Best Western in the mid-1990s. Somewhat ironically, Behrens, a local builder and developer, was stymied by local banks that employed upside-down logic to deny funding for the project. It was like the inverse of Hollywood’s “Field of Dreams,” when gentleman farmer Kevin Costner heeds a mystery voice — “If you build it, they will come.” — to erect a baseball diamond in the middle of a cornfield to lure the ghosts of baseball past. In Behrens’s case, bank officials were effectively saying just the opposite.
“We tried to get financing for several years,” he said. “I bought the property in 1991. We couldn’t get financing because the attitude of the bank was, ‘If there needed to be a hotel here, there would already be one here.’
“We finally got a bank that could see that there wasn’t a hotel of any quality for 30 miles in any direction, and you had a summer resort and a ski area,” said Behrens. “So we built it and opened in 1995, and by 1997 it had already blown out their five-year projections, and was sold out all the time.”
To secure financing, Behrens had to franchise with the national Best Western chain, but be brought the lodge — with 55 rooms and 90 beds — into private ownership by 1998. About the same time, the Mueller family was negotiating with the state to buy out the lease for Mount Sunapee. With the blessings of then-Gov. Jeanne Shaheen, the Muellers took control of ski area, and Behrens’s lodge didn’t have enough rooms to meet the demand.
“It became apparent in 1999, or 2000, that the Muellers were drawing (at Mount Sunapee), and wanted a bigger variety of product,” said Behrens. “So we bought the property across the street, which was an old motel that went back to the ’50s, the Mount Sunapee Motel. We tore it down and started the process of financing and developing a $10 million property.”
The first portion of the Adirondack-style Mountain Edge Resort opened its doors on Christmas Day, 2004, while the finishing touches were put on the spa and the remaining suites the following year. The place, built into a hillside, is rock solid, featuring a post-and-beam construction with 200-year-old fir timbers brought from a salt warehouse on Chesapeake Bay.
“I spent way too much on the building,” said Behrens with a laugh. “The building is all poured concrete. The walls between your unit, below your unit, above your unit, are all poured concrete. It’s a bunker.”
Walking into the cavernous main lobby, visitors are greeted by a marvelous vaulted ceiling and a taxidermy collection of local wildlife including black bear, red fox and fowl. To the left is a small “general store,” with essential items ranging from cereals, energy drinks and soups (plus Alka-Seltzer and headache remedies) to earbuds, phone chargers, hand-warmers and hot coffee. At the back of the lobby is the Mountain Spirits Tavern, a terrific spot to unwind with an adult beverage after a day skiing or snowboarding.
“For me, the Mountain Edge Resort was a throwback to the condos or lodging my family would stay in when vacationing in Colorado during the mid-1970s, a combo of hunting lodge with a ’70s aprèsski fondue vibe,” said my wife, Lauri.
The Mountain Edge suites are smartly designed, with comfortable, body-hugging mattresses, crisp linens and fluffy pillows, and most of the amenities you expect from a ski condo. Our two-bedroom, two-bathroom suite on the third floor featured high ceilings to create a sense of spaciousness, sturdy rosewood furnishings, free WiFi for all our personal electronic devices, a gas fireplace that provided a warm ambiance, a large flat-screen television (perfect for the playoff football games being aired during our visit) and two smaller flat-screen TVs in each bedroom.
“The beds in the lodge made getting a good night’s rest easy, but very difficult to get out of bed in the morning,” said my daughter, Brynne. “Both days of our stay, I was fighting the time and kept pushing back the start of our day.”
Given that Brynne is an early riser, that’s high praise. However, there are some caveats, to be honest. For us, the main issue was the noise at night. Our third-floor unit was located directly above a loud generator, which was barely noticeable as we settled in for dinner, or to catch a game on TV. But at night, once the lights went out, the generator’s erratic buzzing felt intrusive in our bedroom (though not in the loft where Brynne was sleeping). Fortunately, Lauri and I have stayed in enough thin-walled inns (not the issue here) that we always pack earplugs on our ski outings. Those came in handy during our stay.
Also, the kitchenettes are small and offer limited cooking area. For example, the stoves have only two burners, and no oven (though there was a toaster oven and small microwave). The second night, we opted to stroll down the long driveway to the Salt hill Pub (sic) for dinner. Like the ski area, the pub has great history. Originally called the Shanty Pub, owned by Tom and Judy Tuohy, the tavern was purchased by Behrens when he acquired the land for his Lake Sunapee Lodge. The pub came full circle when Behrens sold the restaurant to brothers Joe and Josh Tuohy, the sons of Tom and Judy Tuohy.
The Salt hill Pub is the quintessential Irish tavern, with comfort-food staples like beers, burgers, whiskey steak tips, fish and chips, pot roast, mac and cheese, and the intriguing Irish poutine (hand-cut fries topped with shaved corned beef, Guinness gravy and cheddar cheese curds). A sole guitarist at the bar added a fun touch.
Back at the Mountain View, Lauri and Brynne took full advantage of the hot tub and sauna to help loosen any tightness that lingered after a full day of skiing. The resort also offers a nicely equipped fitness center, with two treadmills, two elliptical trainers, three stationary bikes, a universal weight machine and squat machine, plus two televisions.
The spa, also located in the basement, is open Wednesday through Sunday, has eight treatment suites and a full menu of “wellness therapies,” including massages, facials, nail care, waxing and body treatments. The spa, said Behrens, is a big hit due to the many weddings that the area hosts. And it’s that wedding business, in addition to being a yearround destination, that made Sunapee so attractive to Vail Resorts, which recently acquired Sunapee (along with Okemo and Stowe in Vermont).
“We have a huge relationship with all the wedding venues in the area,” said Behrens. “Last year, we had close to 55 weddings in the area. Of all of Vail properties right now, Sunapee is number two in the number of weddings they host.”
The Vail connection also is drawing an entirely new clientele to Mount Sunapee to ski and snowboard, thanks to the company’s Epic Pass. “We’ve seen people staying here this year who have never stayed here, never skied Sunapee,” said Behrens. “They live in the Boston/Hartford area, and they have an Epic Pass because they go out west — because one trip pays for the pass — and now they’re telling us that they’re coming here because they have the pass.”