US slopes do skiers a powder of good ...
With 17 ski resorts in one area, it's not just the food-portion sizes that gave Alison O'Riordan an appetite to zip down the pistes of New Hampshire
Comparing skiing in America and Europe is a lot like tasting two different ice-cream flavours. Each has a different taste. I'm a veteran of the European slopes and I'd hardly hit the American ones when I realised that virtually all they have in common are snow and the general practice of sliding down the trails.
A five-hour flight to Boston followed by a two-hour road trip to New Hampshire brought us to our destination -- an American winter wonderland. We were told on the transfer journey that New Hampshire is a destination for many Irish school groups due to the gradual, soft slopes for beginners and the strict liquor licences, which means alcohol cannot be served to those under 21.
Mind you, you'll need a clear head to cope with the staggering degree of choice open to visitors. Imagine having 17 ski resorts to pick from in and around where you're staying. International customers visiting the state to enjoy a ski holiday can have access to five of the 17 different mountains all in a one-day pass.
Our first port of call was Loon Mountain, one of New England's classic slopes. The lack of skiers compared with Europe's jammed slopes meant that we had the necessary space to roam around in the clean, crisp air and find our skiing feet.
Getting into the American way of life immediately, we started to use the words like "powder" instead of snow, which got a giggle from our tour guide.
Loon Mountain, with 49 runs over 336 acres, is the biggest of the resorts, and the snow condition is like freshly served whipped cream -- which means a cushy landing if you fall.
What really impressed was the New England Disabled Sports, where year-round programmes for people with disabilities are on offer. Skiing and snowboarding with adaptive instruction is offered within a safe, supportive and fun environment.
New Hampshire, dotted with small towns and villages, boasts some of the most picturesque skiing in the world. Our first night was spent in the Woodstock Inn, the centrepiece of which is a Victorian home restored to its original beauty. Each of us had our own log cabin and we were all very eager to put our feet up in our room on our return from the slopes. Then it was dinner with a difference that evening at the Woodstock Station, a restored train station which serves food of epic proportions.
The great thing about Woodstock is that three of the mountain resorts are within a 15-minute drive. So, day two saw us hitting Cannon Mountain, which has the most challenging slopes and where American Alpine ski-racer Bode Miller honed his skills.
I notice how American skiers seem to be intent on racking up the most amount of skiing hours possible. The talk on the lifts was about how many runs we each accomplished in the day and how we found them. The focus was far more on the competitive side of the sport. In Europe, skiing with friends, we would spend an equal amount of time gossiping, sipping coffees and hot chocolates, and enjoying the panoramic views.
With plenty of activities for the non-skier, the area is perfect for families in which one or two members do not want to hit the slopes. Instead, for instance, they can take part in a 300-year-old ritual, maple tapping, which is an art form in this part of the world. Maple producers have a six-week period to tap their trees and it coincides with the last few weeks of the ski season. Nigel Manley came from England 20 years ago to help save the maple forests. He now shows people how to tap for maple syrup at the Maple Museum on the Rocks Estate in Bethlehem.
Zip-lining was the highlight of the trip for me. This may not be everyone's idea of fun, but for the daring it also allows two passengers to race against each other through the tree tops at speeds of up to 55mph. The big finish is a boomerang zip ride, where you go past the finish, stop and then come back, gathering speed all the time. Breathtaking, to say the least.
On day three, there was gloom and doom amongst the male contingent as we set off for an outlet mall, but the women were happy. In an hour's dash around the shops, I purchased three pairs of Nike, rather akin to the Nike high-top sneakers Jedward so eagerly jump around in on stage. Then it was on to stay at the North Conway Grand Hotel, a much larger hotel than the Woodstock Inn, where the waiters soon realised I had developed a certain fondness for chowder, a New England speciality.
The remaining two mountains on the New Hampshire trail were Cranmore and Wildcat, which have long winding runs, and one can achieve piste perfection.
Our final night was spent at Jeff Woodward's restaurant, which represents itself as the best steakhouse in the valley, and a favourite of the Irish. Portions are huge but a good session on the mountain had built up large appetites.
It's a New England thing and one you should check out.
ALISON travelled to New Hampshire, via Boston, with Topflight, Aer Lingus and the New Hampshire Tourist Board. Topflight’s new winter ski brochure is out now, featuring the five mountains of New Hampshire. Prices with Topflight start from €549, including Aer Lingus return flights to Boston, and seven nights’ accommodation. Airline taxes are extra.
Topflight can also organise accommodation in Boston at the beginning or end of your stay. Call Maurice in Topflight Tailormade on 01 2401701 or visit www.topflight.ie. Aer Lingus operates daily direct flights between Dublin and Boston, and five weekly direct flights between Shannon and Boston.
Aer Lingus also offers daily flights between Cork and Boston via Dublin, in conjunction with Aer Arann. Flights from Dublin to Boston start from €209 each way, including taxes and charges, subject to availability. See www.aerlingus.com. Visit www.visitnh.gov for New Hampshire details.