Incorporated in 1829, Waterville Valley is a New Hampshire village at the end of a winding scenic road just 15 miles off I-93, 2 hours from Boston surrounded by over 40,000 acres of White Mountain National Forest under a dramatic backdrop defined by 4000 foot mountain peaks.
You're as far as you want to be from anything resembling the hectic everyday world. The skies are dark enough at night to rediscover the constellations, a characteristic that served Curious George authors Margret and H.A. Rey well when summering here and revising their bestseller "The Stars".
Before visiting New Hampshire's Waterville Valley, preconceived notions are likely to skew towards assuming that if the snow isn't flying, there's not much to do. But staying here couldn't be further from the truth especially when checking into a property that offers the Freedom Pass built into your room rate. But first, about the skiing which undeniably defines the village.
Organized skiing got its start here on Mount Tecumseh in the 1930s with two Civilian Conservation Corps constructed ski trails. Ideal snow conditions kept growing numbers heading to hike-up-ski -down areas well before the early 1960s when mechanized lifts gained prominence.
1964, Waterville Valley's banner year, witnessed former Olympic skier Tom Corcoran expanding Mt. Tecumseh into a professional grade resort hosting numerous celebrity races and World Cup events. This challenging and now accessible terrain attracted the earliest pioneers of aerial and acrobatic skiing leading to Waterville Valley's moniker "the birthplace of freestyle skiing".
Other growth years occurred in 1977 with a $1.2 million upgrade to the entire snowmaking system and the addition of new trails while 1986 ushered in the development of Town Square, now Waterville Valley's car free hub of activity and center of village life.
Staying with the Freedom Pass
Waterville Valley lodging options are plentiful and diverse ranging from spacious condominiums large enough for an entire family to cozy country inns perfect for incurable romantics. Upon checkin, many guests are given Freedom Passes, a veritable passport to a wide array of mountain activities like access to golf, tennis, canoeing & kayaking, mountain biking, and chairlift rides without pulling out your wallet for each activity. You also get access to the White Mountain Athletic Club's indoor and outdoor pools, 2 super-size whirlpools, saunas, steam rooms, indoor jogging track, and strength & cardio centers. My favorite perk was the 2-hour standard mountain bike rental each day of your stay, perfect for exploring nearly 100 miles of off-road trails accessible from the village.
For the kids and kids at heart in your party, The Freedom Pass also gains you access to family story time at the Margret and H.A. Rey Center, a non-profit commemorating the Curious George book authors who owned a home in Waterville Valley which is now open to the public as the Curious George Cottage.
Best Places to Dine
Out of the 5 remarkably excellent onsite dining options besides provisions and gourmet treats found in the Jugtown Country Store, here are two can't-miss places to grab a bite where you can shed that out-of-towner feel and connect with local character:
Wild Coyote Grill
Built from the lumber of a 200 year old local barn, this rustically constructed restaurant overlooks spectacular Mt. Tecumseh, Mt. Osceola, and Corcoran Pond in the foreground matched with a menu featuring fresh regional dishes served up by Chef Sean Stout like buffalo meatloaf made from all natural ground buffalo from Yankee Farmer's Market in Warner, NH and cornmeal crusted flash fried Point Judith calamari served in a light sauce of white wine, hot cherry peppers and garlic butter.
Blue Moon Café
Located on Town Square's 2nd floor, quirky mountain decor like a bicycle clamped on the wall festooned with lights, a canoe hanging from the ceiling, and the bar capped with an upside down toboggan remind you that outdoor fun in Waterville Valley doesn't stop at the restaurant door. Their eclectic scratch made dishes range from classic down home comfort food to internationally inspired dishes.
Breakfasts are substantial like thick-cut French baguette toast, Fillerbuster breakfast sandwiches, and warm fluffy biscuits while dinner entrees range from Lobster Pie, a New England classic made with Maine lobster, a dash of sherry, and buttered Ritz crumbs to a noodle bowl filled with lo mein noodles tossed with fresh stir-fry veggies in an orange-ginger soy sauce.
Coverage made possible by participating in a sponsored visit. Photos: Steve Mirsky, Blue Moon Café, and Nancy Griswold