Northeast Cross-Country Ski Roundup
Jackson Ski Touring Foundation
P.O. Box 216
Jackson, New Hampshire 03846
(800) XC-SNOWS, (603) 383-9355
Trail System: 90 km (90 km classical, 60 km skate, 75 km backcountry)
Our Estimate: Infinite length, infinite variety.
Grooming: Excellent - but check at the touring center before skiing the far out loops
Scenic Beauty: 5
Touring Center: Lessons, rentals, several restaurants across the street, wax room, full retail, and a good wall map of trail system. The touring center has very little lounging space!
Favorite Trail: Ellis River Trail
Payment: MC and VISA
Lodging: Eagle Mountain Resort-Trailside (800-777-1700, $$$); Carter Notch Inn-Jackson (603-383-9630, $)
Local's Tip: For a shortcut around the frustrating traffic of North Conway on the way home, take a right at the lights just before EMS. Turn left onto West Side Drive after about 1/2 mile. West Side Drive will bring you straight into Conway.
The way ski area managers sing Jackson's praises, they sound eerily starstruck: they're impressed, they're jealous, and they're nervous - and with good reason! The Jackson Ski Touring Foundation siphons upwards of 60,000 ardent admirers per year from lesser areas further south. With each subsequent winter, there emerges an even more finely tuned cross country ski area, created by flawless grooming, an extensive trail system, and a storybook mountain setting.
The tiny town of Jackson is so pretty and quaint so disgustingly perfect for cross country skiing - that it is hard to believe it was designed by anyone other than a publicity agent given free reign. Imagine, for a moment, what the perfect cross country ski town would look like. Is it set in a narrow river valley, high in the mountains of northern New England? Does an old, wooden covered bridge lead to a quiet main street lined with inns and restaurants? Do the rolling greens of two golf courses stretch through the valley, joined by a magnificent set of cascading falls? If not, a visit to Jackson will help to stretch your imagination.
Your entire skiing career was no more than a prelude to a visit to Jackson. The skiing is intoxicating and seemingly limitless, with trails tangling the various backroads of Jackson like the relentless tendrils of a crazed vine. Wherever Jackson goes, trails follow in close pursuit. They chase the town up river valleys, across hillside meadows, and over ridges. Then they strike out on their own into miles and miles of lonely wilderness. If you have ever struggled with the concept of infinity, a few days at Jackson will clear things up. You could easily ski for a week here without a hint of boredom.
Jackson Ski Touring Foundation, founded in 1972 to consolidate several loosely-organized trail systems in town, has quickly blossomed into a world-class skiing center. The center currently commands three powerful pisten bulleys, publishes a monthly newsletter, and regularly hosts national and international ski races. All it needs now is a large, comfortable lodge. The little building behind the Jack Frost Ski Shop looks like it was designed for a 1972-sized crowd. A few picnic tables, a wood stove, and warm drinks - the bare minimum requirements for a welcoming touring center - are conspicuously absent from this Spartan little annex.
The network is set up in several different sections, with many loops beginning and ending far from the touring center. The artful use of an automobile might enhance your skiing by eliminating road crossings and bringing you more quickly to your favorite trails.
For those with casual intentions, simply leave your car in the touring center parking lot. The adjacent Wentworth Resort Course provides plenty of fun, flat, sunny skiing, with more adventurous loops reaching into the woods on all sides. A natural snow bridge crosses the Wildcat River, and a small covered bridge built especially for skiers crosses the Ellis River.
The Ellis River Trail, one of the most popular and populated in New England, carries skiers gently five kilometers (one-way) upriver through park-like national forests. The trail quickly enters the woods and winds slowly uphill along the icy waters of the Ellis River toward the Dana Place Inn. (For a small fee, you can take a shuttle up to the inn and enjoy five kilometers of easy, downhill gliding.) A cabin a few kilometers along the trail provides an ideal destination for those unwilling to make a ten kilometer out-and-back commitment. Be sure to arrive early on weekends; over 1,000 skiers have skied this trail on busy Saturdays! A veteran patroller calls the Ellis River Trail hills"Yugo" hills, because courteous skiers stand at either end and shout "You go" at one another.
On clear, sunny days, park your car next to the Eagle Mountain Resort and explore the nearby fields. (You can ski there on the Yodel Trail, but be prepared for a moderately difficult descent on the way home at the end of the day.) A stately, nineteenth century hotel stands guard while you ski over the open hills of its golf course and across the narrow strip of farmlands of the Wildcat River Valley. Skiers looking for a surprise should try The Wave. After sneaking out of the valley and through an overgrown, hillside meadow (with terrific views of the golf course below), The Wave squeezes between boulders and ducks into an evergreen forest. The final descent to the golf course will toss you over a few crazy bumps which, if taken fast enough, become a pair of small ski jumps! Some of the best views at Jackson look out from the top of the Betty Whitney Trail, which climbs relentlessly from the top of The Wave toward Black Mountain. Ski up to Whitney's Inn for a good, hearty lunch!
Early season skiing can be found on the 13 kilometer East Pasture Loop - a short drive from the Black Mountain Alpine area. Don't come expecting gentle meadows: East Pasture is a blatant misnomer for an expert trail that begins by climbing straight up several kilometers (1,000 vertical feet) of mountainside and sees only a few hundred meters of pasture along its length. After the climb, it doodles along the east side of Black Mountain before dropping through wild S-turns and into a long, pole-dragging, open-mouthed coast. Intermediate skiers eager to ski East Pasture's early snow should make a counter-clockwise attempt of the first few kilometers.
For expert backcountry artists, the legendary Wildcat Valley Trail drops precipitously down the backside of the Wildcat's Alpine mountain. Try it only after a generous snowstorm and a consultation with the JSTF patrollers. The western-style glade skiing, the fabulous view from Hall's Ledge, and the wild speed make this a favorite powder trail for locals.
Finding Your Way: Take either the Everett Turnpike or Route 93 and the Kancamagus to Route 16 north. Follow Route 16 through and beyond North Conway (see Local's Tip for an alternate route). A few miles after North Conway, Route 302 splits off to the left. Stay right on Route 16. 2.2 miles later, take a right onto Route 16A, cross the covered bridge, and the ski center is 1/2 mile ahead on the left (behind the Jack Frost Ski Shop).
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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