The view from the south-facing slopes of Black Mountain in Jackson, NH is pretty sweet, taking in a range of mountain peaks from Doublehead to Kearsarge, the Moats to the Tripyramids. The ski trails of Attitash and Cranmore, two other great Mt. Washington Valley ski areas, are visible amongst the scenic jumble, as are the upper heights of the village of Jackson.
If you stopped for a moment to re-read the first sentence, I can’t blame you. Yes, I did mean “south-facing.” While most every ski area one can think of faces north or northeast or northwest to hold the snow longer, Black is just the opposite. But the mountain seems to make this unusual geographic aspect work just fine, opening in mid-December each year and going until the end of March. In fact, Black Mountain has been serving skiers continuously for 80 years, so I’m figuring they know what they’re doing.
“When other mountains are closed due to windhold, Black Mountain is wide open owing to its sheltered location,” said Genn Anzaldi, the mountain’s marketing director. “And we have the best snowmakers and groomers who make lot of big snow piles and move it around good. The mountain holds the snow really well.”
GREAT MIDWEEK VISIT
This skier visited Black Mountain on a bluebird Tuesday a couple weeks back, my first visit ever. Tuesdays are relatively quiet times at any ski mountain, but on this particular day we pretty much had the slopes to ourselves. A handful of cars in the lot and maybe a dozen other skiers and that was it, so in addition to some pretty darn fine skiing we enjoyed zero lift lines.
We made laps on the East Bowl Triple Chair all morning and well into the afternoon, enjoying the blue cruisers on skier’s left—Juniper, Galloping Goose and Runaway—as well as the steeps on Jackson Standard. It took a hundred feet of easy herringboning to make the start of Maple Slalom Chute on skier’s right, which led Big Dipper and Upper Speedwell, Bob-A-Link, David and Jubilee. Just for fun we mixed it up some on the Poma lift affectionately called the Platter Pull.
Late December and early January presented New England ski areas with some pretty challenging weather conditions. Black Mountain was making snow bigtime when I visited in hopes of opening the double chair to the summit as well as the upper trails by MLK weekend. Everything is open now, some two weeks hence.
The skiing was wonderful and we stopped often to soak up the sunshine and enjoy the great views; no particular agenda in mind but to savor each run.
PLENTY OF TERRAIN FOR EVERYBODY
“It’s a fun place and it’s bigger and more challenging than you think,” Anzaldi said.
Black Mountain does indeed have something for every skier type—never mind the incredible southern exposure sunshine and dearth of wind—with its nice mix 45 trails and glades on 143 acres and 1,100 feet of vertical drop. Snowmaking covers 98% of the mountain. Four lifts include a triple and double chair, a Poma lift and a J-bar.
Kids and families especially appreciate Black Mountain for its single base lodge and one bathroom area, and the Platter Pull lift that provides terrific access to lots of kid-friendly terrain.
“Kids have independence here. You’re not going to lose them. There’s a parent every 10 feet,” noted Anzaldi with a smile.
Another big plus to note about Black Mountain are the very affordable lift ticket prices, just $40 for adults on weekdays and $55 on weekends. Awesome specials help save even more green: Tuesday is $25 Ladies Day, Wednesday afternoon you can ski 12:30 to 4 for $17, and on Thursdays hit the slopes for $25 if you’re over 55. And for families, well, try the Family Passport for just $159 and get an entire season of midweek skiing for two adults and two kids.
80 YEARS OF HISTORY AT BLACK MOUNTAIN
Black Mountain is steeped in skiing history, having marked a number of significant firsts. A rope tow was installed in 1935 in hopes of attracting more guests to Moody’s Inn. In 1936, the first ski school in the U.S. started right here with the idea of drawing more people into the sport (it worked!).
Also in 1936, Bill and Betty Whitney bought Moody’s Inn and renamed it Whitney’s Inn. The rope tow was modified into an overhead cable lift, the first in the U.S. Whitney bought 75 shovel handles from Sears Roebuck and attached them to the cable for skiers to hold on to as they rode up the sloping fields on Whitney’s Hill. This surface lift remains today as a J-bar, the oldest operating lift in New England.
During the winter of 1957-58, the first snowmaking system in the country was installed at Black Mountain. Lights were added for night skiing in the winter of 1959-60.
Upstairs in the throwback Black Mountain base lodge, there’s a cafeteria on one end and the Lostbo Pub on the other. The cafeteria serves up plenty of fine lunchtime chow, while the pub has many of the same items and more, as well as table service (plus you can get a beer, of course). We opted for the chili and a big cookie each for our lunch break, and a PBR tall boy and Tuckerman’s Pale for après ski.
Weekend and holiday afternoons after the skiing is done (but before you settle in to your après ski brewski), take a groomer ride up the mountain; just $20 for 30 minutes of good fun (reservations needed).
APRES SKI & SKI AND STAY
The adjacent Whitney’s Inn is a nice place to hole up for the night, a weekend or a week. Reasonably priced ski and stay packages are available. The inn’s Shovel Handle Pub is open for après ski with live entertainment Thursday through Sunday evenings from 5 to 9.
Since it was Tuesday, we headed down to Jackson village proper and the venerable Wildcat Tavern. We’d been told (warned?!) of the Tuesday night “Free Pasta Night” extravaganza and just had to take a look-see for ourselves.
Every Tuesday night from 5:30 to 8:30, any ski area-related employee eats for zippo. Ski that day and show your lift ticket and belly up to the food bar for just $6. Everybody else gets in the chow line for $9. This deal is AYCE, so we were advised to come hungry. We did and were not disappointed, getting our fill and then some of lasagna, pasta and veggies, salad, soup, bread and deserts. Throw in a few pints of good beer and you have the makings for very festive Tuesday evening.
“There’s a reason we’ve been here [at Black Mountain] for 80 years,” said Anzaldi. “If you haven’t been to ski here, you’ve got to try it.”
Make your way to Black Mountain in Jackson, NH for a most excellent ski day and experience the place for yourself. The mountain is 80 miles or 1.5 hours driving time from Portland via ME 25, US 302 and NH 16.