Winter sports are among the only things that make living in the frozen Northeast bearable in the cold season. All that snow you have to shovel isn’t so bad when you think of the fresh powder that’s waiting for you at ski resorts just a little farther north.
Sunapee (just 90 minutes from Boston) holds such promise. Because it’s so close to Boston, it attracts tons of day trippers, but there’s plenty to do, whether you’re there on a romantic retreat or family vacation. Here are some of my favorite highlights:
Mount Sunapee is the star attraction of the region, and is very popular with people from Boston and other nearby cities. Thanks to its close proximity, most people come up for just for the day. This means if you stay overnight or make it a long weekend, you’ll have the mountain to yourself early in the morning, late in the afternoon, and on most weekdays. Sunapee has plenty of variety, with 10 lifts and 66 trails. The resort also excels at snowmaking, so there’s plenty of snow all season.
And there are plenty of trails for intermediates and beginners, making this a good family mountain.
But there’s something else that sets Sunapee apart: It’s one of the friendliest mountains I’ve ever skied at—the staff here is so passionate about their jobs and truly want to help you have a good time, something you’ll see in small details like the fun trivia questions the liftiees post on white boards to entertain you while you wait in the lift line.
If you’re visiting later in the season, be sure to pack a grill. Yes, that’s right, a grill. Because one of the fun, unique traditions at Mount Sunapee takes place on the “beach”, the nickname for a flat stretch of snow at the base between Sunapee Lodge and Spruce Lodge. Excited skiers park their trucks and cars here and tailgate all day long, cooking up food and just enjoying the day.
Love the mountain? Come back after ski season, when the park becomes an outdoor adventure park with a bike park, zip-line course, and more (including a fun warm-weather use for the giant air bag that’s used in the winter to help daredevils practice their jumps).
Where to Stay
Sunapee isn’t about the chain hotels—you won’t find one for miles. Instead, get an authentic New England experience by booking into a charming bed and breakfast like Dexter’s Inn. Dexter’s Inn is just minutes from the slopes (you can see the mountain and ski trails from some of the rooms). When you think “inn”, you probably think of a smaller property, but Dexter’s is designed to host big groups, from retreats to family reunions. It has 17 ensuite rooms plus a two-bedroom cottage, as well as a full-service kitchen, dining room, and multiple sitting rooms. Relax by one of the inn’s fireplaces with a drink (it’s BYO, with glasses and ice provided, which is a great way to save money on vacation) and get to know the other guests, or enjoy a chat with innkeeper John Augustine, who dropped out of the corporate rat race to run the property. The hotel is popular with locals as well, who swing by to use to tennis courts in the summer or to host their milestone events/weddings here.
The rates are affordable for a ski town, and you’ll save even more money thanks to the included full hot breakfast, which is hearty enough to last you well into the afternoon.
For those who aren’t downhill skiing or snowboarding, Dexter’s Inn Trails by Norsk offer an easy way to get outside and enjoy the area’s natural beauty. The cross-country ski and hiking trails start right at the inn’s back door and wind through the 20-acre estate and then out into conservation land, for a very peaceful workout. Gear is available to rent if you don’t have cross-country skis or snowboards.
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Looking for a fun, casual night out? Salt Hill Pub, an authentic Irish pub named after a neighborhood in Galway, is where the party’s at for locals and visitors alike. This family-run bar and restaurant is the perfect spot for apres-ski, thanks to live music shows and happy hour specials. Although there’s other stuff on the menu, you won’t go wrong by picking the Irish classics to eat or drink: think Shepherd’s Pie or Fish and Chips (fried in a Smithwick’s beer batter). Beer lovers will be happy here with the Irish and local New Hampshire drafts at the bar.
For a more romantic evening, make a reservation at the Coach House Restaurant, where you can admire gorgeous views of the snow-covered town green and ice skating rink as you warm up by the fire. I was tempted by the stellar reviews online into ordering the truffle fries topped with a Meyer lemon aioli and served with a side of roasted garlic creme fraiche, and this decadent dish certainly lived up to its reviews. My recommendation: start your meal off with the green garbanzo bean hummus, a homemade dip that puts prepackaged hummus to shame. (The grilled naan flatbread is good enough to eat on its own, but pairs even better with the hummus.) The main dishes have so much variety that it’s tough to choose from, but vegetarians will go nuts for the thai peanut pasta, whereas carnivores can’t go wrong with the seared pork tenderloin, which is served with a homey pretzel spatzle and topped with a bourbon and grafton cheddar mustard sauce. The dessert menu holds just as many tempations—after all, you can’t say no to a maple creme brulee made with fresh New Hampshire Maple syrup when you’re in the Granite State, can you?
Bubba’s Bar and Grille is a great spot to sit and admire Lake Sunapee (and the dishes here rival the scenery). Since you’re in New England, you’ll want to start your meal with the award-winning seafood chowder. Get an order of Bubbas’ Honey Cornbread to share as well—it’s served up in a hot skillet with a side of maple butter. The pizza oven is put to good use, and the Bubba’s menu offers nearly any kind of topping combination you can imagine, so this is a great place for families. There’s plenty for adults too, like the “adult drink specials” including custom martinis and other thirst-quenching combinations.
Skiers and snowboarders need look no further than Mount Sunapee for good slope-side eats—a welcome change from the usual ski-resort greasy pizza or hamburgers under a heatlamp. Goosefeathers Pub is a full-service restaurant where you can enjoy a hot spiked drink after (or during) a cold day on the slopes. There are plenty of healthy options here (I kept going back to the Kale and Romaine Caesar salad that I’m going to have to figure out how to recreate on my own because I loved it so much). But there’s also plenty of heartier fare here, like hot spinach-cheese dip and nachos. At the top of the mountain, you can warm up after a chilly lift ride at the Summit Lodge, which not only has a gourmet grilled-cheese bar, but a toasty fireplace. For a faster, cafeteria-style meal, you can grab something quick and easy, or stop in for a well-made espresso, at the Spruce Food Court.
Here for a multi-day ski trip? That’s enough time to get a massage at the Spa at the Mountain Edge Resort. After a hard day on the mountain, a restorative Swedish massage here was the only thing that could bring my aching legs back to life—and best of all, my quads felt totally fresh for the next day of skiing. A custom facial here will also soothe your wind-burned face and make you presentable before you head back to the real world. Your treatment includes access to the resort’s sauna, salt water pools, and hot tubs, which are worth the price alone.
More from SmarterTravel:
- Rustic Ski Lodges Even Nonskiers Will Love
- 10 Must-Haves for Winter Trips
- Eight Rules for Winter-Weather Travel
(Photos and video: Caroline Morse)
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