Winter is no longer coming. In fact, it’s already overstayed its welcome, and the warmth of the sun seems like a fantastical scientific anomaly that only exists in distant memories. Welcome to February in New England. Winter is likely to stay long past Groundhog Day, whether the infamous spring-predicting critter sees his shadow or not.
It’s only appropriate, then, that we bundle up and celebrate. New Englanders have learned to embrace the season of snow and ice with festivities and general merriment, so only one question remains: Where can you go to find a bubble of joy in the doldrums of winter? New Hampshire’s White Mountains region is the clear choice.
Cheerful happenings, sporting fun and cozy, quaint establishments await in the towns surrounding the micro cordillera of the Granite State. Skiers and snowboarders can tell you all about the allure of the White Mountains. The region has hundreds of slopes on popular mountains like Loon, Attitash, Cannon, Wildcat and more. This hub of snow sports provides everything from bunny slopes to black diamonds to the terrain parks that blend Alpine sports with skate parks.
Crotched Mountain hosts Midnight Madness—trails are open deep into the night and there are concerts and bonfires. In a similar vein, but a bit more upscale, the Starry Nights program of events at Waterville Valley Resort combines skiing with fine dining at Sunnyside Timberlodge and acoustic entertainment from local musicians. This month’s Feb. 24, 2018, event starts with a ride up the mountain then a torchlight ski trail back to the lodge where a roaring fire, wine, gourmet food and souvenir socks await revelers. The night is capped by a Torchlight Parade.
Winter wonder is not exclusive to the evening or the slopes. One of the most anticipated happenings of the season is the Ice Castles exhibit in Lincoln, New Hampshire. These grand sculptures, built every year, are a spectacle to behold, their glistening surfaces rising high above the snow to fairytale effect. Performances by fire-breathers add to the unreal sense of wonder every Friday and Saturday evening.
February also brings winter carnivals to the White Mountains region. Dartmouth College has been celebrating winter since 1911. The 108th Winter Carnival (Feb. 8-11, 2018) promises the same merriment and an ice sculpture contest. This year’s theme is “Snow Wars: May the Frost Be with You.”
Over at the Remick Country Doctor Museum & Farm in Tamworth, February brings the annual Ice Harvest & Winter Carnival (Feb. 3) and there are additional events covering a range of interests, from ice-block cutting and herbalism to baking, historic snowshoe exhibits and fiber arts. If artisanal crafts are not your cup of tea, there is still plenty to do in this region of the state comprised of towns like Plymouth, North Conway, Woodstock and Lincoln.
Popular outdoor pastimes include snowmobiling, winter camping, snowshoeing and dog sledding—local favorite Muddy Paw Sled Dog Kennel runs a selection of Winter Adventures.
Food and Drink
Indoors, quintessential New England charm can be found with a stay at the cozy Common Man Inn in Plymouth. The rustic rooms have an old-tavern feel that is modern enough for a very comfortable stay in a prime location. The Common Man brand is well-established in the Granite State, with multiple restaurants dotting the mountains and southern parts of New Hampshire. At the Lincoln location, you’ll find bespoke cocktails and traditional New England fare like pot roast, Nantucket pie and lobster corn chowder.
A little further up Interstate 93 the Horse & Hound Inn in Franconia is another picturesque place straight from the past, located on the site of an 1830s farm. The dining room characterizes the Inn’s charm and hospitality, offering classic dishes including scallops in cognac cream, a French chicken stew with red wine or a succulent filet mignon.
For a more laid-back vibe, the Woodstock Inn Station & Brewery located in an 1800s railroad station in North Woodstock, New Hamsphire, serves signature beers and plenty of nosh-worthy menu options. Try an Old Man Oatmeal Stout—a nod to New Hampshire’s former geological phenomenon, known as the Old Man of the Mountain, where a man’s profile naturally occurred on a mountainside before collapsing in 2003—and chow down on duck wings, a pulled-pork and brie sandwich or fish and chips.
Whether you celebrate with revelers at one of the many traditional wintercentric happenings or simply relish in the beauty of the surrounding towns with a pint at a brewery or a farm-to-fork dining experience, the White Mountains of New Hampshire will recast winter in a new light. The snow-frosted villages, whitecapped peaks and crystalline castles of ice make for an unforgettable visit and capture a delicate seasonal beauty that is easily forgotten when gazing at the black, crusted remains of snow that hug the sides of the roads.
In this neck of frozen New England, springtime can wait.