Mt. Washington/Bretton Woods, New Hampshire
Story and photos by Larry Turner
HighOnAdventure.com April 1, 2009
The drive from Loon Mountain Ski Resort to the Omni Mount Washington Resort was more like the New Hampshire which I had imagined as a child growing up in Oregon—a land of virgin forests, alluring mountains, pure streams, and space to dream—instead of the quintessential New England picturesque villages, rolling hills, small farms, and country roads. The wildness of the White Mountain National Forest reminded me of drives in the central and southern Oregon Cascade Range where people are few and nature rules.
Admittedly, I had been to New Hampshire before—years earlier—crossing the Connecticut River to watch a performance of the opera Don Giovanni at the Lebanon Opera House. I’d been to Saint Gaudens National Historical Site and the Cornish Colony of Maxfield Parrish fame, but they were summer forays into bucolic country where wildness is rare.
Mount Washington Hotel Sunset Entry to Mount Washington
Presidential Range Sunset Room with a View
HIGHEST PEAK IN NEW ENGLAND
The Omni Mount Washington Resort and Bretton Woods are located in the northeast region of New Hampshire. As the northern crow flies, it is less than 30 miles from Maine’s border. The lungs get a more vigorous workout here with nearby Mount Washington at 6,288 feet, the highest peak in the northeastern United States, surrounded by 800,000 acres of magnificence and grandeur. Washington is the crown of the Presidential Range, aptly named after the nation’s first president. Included among the dozen peaks are Jefferson, Adams, Eisenhower and Monroe but also notable non-presidents Franklin (Ben) and Clay (Henry). Mount Washington also has the distinction of withstanding the highest wind speed ever recorded (231 mph in April of 1934) and hence, the moniker: “World’s worst weather.” However, do not let this deter you from a visit. Wildness does reign supreme but in a good way.
Insert 4 Photos: Robert Frost’s Home; Bretton Woods Skiing; Skiing Bretton Woods; Bretton Woods
Robert Frost’s Home Bretton Woods Skiing
Skiing Bretton Woods Bretton Woods
POWDER/ ICE/BODE MILLER/ROBERT FROST
My arrival at this enchanting zone was in early spring last year to attend our annual meeting of the North American Snowsports Journalists Association. It was a long-sleeved-shirt-sunny-and-cold day when I arrived. However, over the course of the next five days, the weather brought a mix of everything but rain—and most importantly, fresh snow to Bretton Woods. Powder, light and fluffy, in the first hours after the lifts opened. More like the kind you find at Alta, Utah, but rare for the northeast. Being skiers, we were in maple syrup ski heaven. The northeast ski gods do have compassion after all!
I must digress and state here: New England sometimes gets a bad rap for icy skiing conditions, but hey dude, we know about ice in Oregon, too. We do have the famous Sierra and Cascade concrete. And remember, if you can ski ice, you can ski anything. Hence, some of America’s and the world’s best skiers come from New England. Bode who? During this trip, I visited Bode Miller’s hometown of Franconia, New Hampshire, on the very day that he wrapped up winning the World Cup Overall Title. Cannon Mountain is his home ski mountain, just down the road from Bretton Woods. New Hampshire has a potpourri of snow conditions. Oftentimes excellent, as were the conditions during our sojourn.
I had gone to Franconia solo to document poet Robert Frost’s New Hampshire home. It is located on a lonely dirt country road overlooking Cannon Mountain. It is here he wrote Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening and The Road Not Taken.
Checking in to the Omni Mount Washington Resort The Great Hall in the Omni Mount Washington Resort
Twilight at the Omni Mount Washington Resort Southern view of the Omni Mount Washington Resort
The Grand Ballroom in the Omni Mount Washington Resort Family fun at the Omni Mount Washington Resort
MOUNT WASHINGTON ARRIVAL
The arrival at Mount Washington Hotel was like a fairy tale. As New England’s largest wooden structure, the hotel stands out like a heavenly apparition of a place that you go if you have been really good in life. I mean, really good. I can only imagine!
Fresh snow white in color with a brilliant red roof (the style is based on Spanish Renaissance Revival), the Mount Washington Hotel commands one’s attention immediately…and it will last forever. The Hotel’s backdrop is Mount Washington and its lesser elevation historical constituents. The world’s first cog railroad etches a near-straight line up Mount Washington. The Ammonoosuc River lies at the foot of the famous Hotel. In winter and early spring, the river banks and flanks are part of the Nordic Center trail system. Its 100 kilometers of groomed classical and skate skiing tracks also allow for snowshoeing, snowmobiling, dog-sledding, tubing, ice skating, zip-lining and sleigh rides. Bretton Woods ski area—New Hampshire’s largest with 101 downhill trails—is adjacent.
Bretton Woods is owned by the Omni Mount Washington Resort—the new branding label used for Bretton Woods, Mount Washington Hotel and other facilities associated with the 1900 acre Resort. In 2006, Celebrated Associates and Crosland, Inc. purchased the properties. In the summer and early autumn, the Resort offers an 18-hole golf course along with fly fishing, mountaineering, an equestrian center, mountain biking and other fair-weather activities. Added to the venerable Hotel is a new spa and high-speed Internet access for each room.
Our arrival at the Mount Washington Hotel harkened back to an earlier era where each guest is pampered as though they are royalty…and indeed, in my thought, we are all royalty, or at least have the potential, based on good deeds and good works—not inherited entitlement.
The welcoming staff was superb. "Mr. Turner, welcome. May I assist you with this… and that…and may I answer any questions?" "Yes, and yes, and thank you," I replied, as all my needs were cared for in the most hospitable and thoughtful way.
Upon entering, I gushed at the first sight of the Great Hall with its warmth and French Renaissance style elegance, framed by a large fieldstone fireplace and a plethora of crystal chandeliers. Interwoven in the Great Hall carpet is a variety of flora of the White Mountains along with the tracks of moose, fox, bear and man. To unwind from the day—as NASJA members and I had skied Loon Mountain until early afternoon—I wanted to slip into the Rosebrook Bar for a cocktail…but our room was waiting. There was unpacking to be done and spiffing up in preparation for the evening festivities. The room was perfect, not overdone, like a timeless work of art. Amy and I unpacked, primped and departed for the Conservatory where old friends and new friends waited.
Conversation in the Cave Mount Washington Musicians
The Pianist Mila Filatova Roaring Twenties Party
CONSERVATORY AND THE CAVE
An assortment of appetizers and culinary pleasures awaited us, prepared by Washington’s superb Executive Chef Edward Swetz. We sampled brews from Tuckerman Brewing Company (my favorite), Woodstock Brewery and Peak Organic. Pianist Mila Filatova (a graduate, with honors, from Russia’s Conservatory of Music) performed, as our group chatter (coming from the voices of 150) was amplified by the intimacy of the room. On occasion, I would slip outside to the veranda for fresh air and a feel of nature, defined by the juxtaposition of human-made and non-human-made things.
As would be the protocol of many of us—after the formal or semi-formal events—we retired to The Cave for the last conversation and drink of the evening. One of the hotel handouts states, “The Cave, a former speakeasy that maintains its aura of subterfuge and indulgence” is a must to experience. It is popular for billiards and live entertainment. During the Prohibition Period (1917-1933), The Cave served drinks in tea cups. The Cave’s back room had windows to view the Hotel’s driveway in case “officials” showed up. Every evening during our stay, live music was performed, including The McClenathan Brothers, The Wicked Smart Hornband, Prohibition Party-Hot House Jazz and The Hit Squad. One evening we had a Great Gatsby/Roaring Twenties Dinner—complete with flapper dresses, pearls, boas, gangster hats and pinstriped suits—in the Hotel’s Dining Room, followed by a rollicking great time in The Cave.
NATIONAL HISTORIC LANDMARK
The Mount Washington Hotel and nearby Bretton Arms Inn were designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1986. It was here that the Bretton Woods International Monetary Conference took place July 1-22, 1944—attended by 44 nations—establishing the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the US dollar as the standard to measure all world currencies. The world prosperity and the rebuilding of the defeated nations following WWII is directly attributed to the decisions made at Bretton Woods.
The Mount Washington Hotel was built by wealthy New Hampshire native Joseph Stickney in 1900-02—a Y-shaped building with 45-degree angled wings, with a large kitchen in the middle. With state-of-the-art everything, the seasonal hotel never had a staff below 350. Stickney died in 1903 and his wife Carolyn, 27 years his younger, took over ownership until her passing in 1936. Later known as The Princess because of her marriage to a French royal, Carolyn was known to be kind and friendly, yet she had an heir of “not being outdone” when it came to dressing up for evening dining in her private dining room (known as the Princess Lounge) where she hosted many summer parties. Behind a curtain she would watch all of the lady guests come down the stairs and if any were better dressed than she, she would change her outfit. The “ghost” of the Princess is still seen by some of the workers and guests of the Hotel.
While staying at the hotel, make sure that you take a guided walking tour of the inside and outside grounds as the history is fascinating.
Scotch tasting Nordic Center
HOTEL OPENS AS A YEAR-ROUND RESORT
1999 marked the beginning of a new era of the hotel, as it was opened for the first time as a year-round resort. With the winter opening, Ski Magazine said it best, “Eastern skiing now has an experience that, for elegance and class, competes with anything in the world”.
Our experience underscores this fact. I had the pleasure and challenge of downhill skiing Bretton Woods for several days, enjoying of variety of conditions from powder, groomed to spring corn snow. Among my favorite runs were those in Rosebrook Canyon as they are more challenging. For speed and exhilaration, Waumbek, Jacob’s Ladder and Starr King runs were great fun. Herb’s Secret was a nice little find, too. One morning, in brilliant sunlight, I Nordic skied along the river—an act of pure delight with the Presidential Range as my skiing backdrop. During the ski, I paused to photograph families as they tubed the little slope beside the hotel.
Like any great hotel of note, dining is essential to the guest’s experience. Mount Washington Hotel is no exception. The hotel has offerings from the formal to the informal. At the Dining Room, during evening dinner hours, gentlemen are required to wear jackets. Not so, though, for the less formal Rosebrook Lounge and Stickney’s Restaurant. New Hampshire mountain views from the Dining Room and Rosebrook are spectacular. The food and wine the same.
Though most of our meals were in the Dining Room, one evening we walked over to the Bretton Arms Inn which dates back to 1896 when it was known as the Farm Cottage. This fine dining inn is intimate and immensely satisfying. I had the pleasure of Maine lobster tossed with fusilli pasta. Amy went for the coriander grilled free range Long Island duck breast and her brother Jason satisfied his appetite on seared Atlantic salmon with pesto crust, lobster asparagus herb spatzle and scallop nage. One day I will go back to the Inn for breakfast and order their crab hash.
During our stay at the Hotel, one late afternoon, we attended a scotch tasting workshop in the Gifford Room, instructed by scotch enthusiast and collector Nigel Manley. Never a scotch fan—though now I’m willing to sip one every once in a while—I was intrigued and amused by the offering. Covering the top of the glass with one’s hand after the pour, then slowly opening to scent the scotch smell fulfilled me as much as the taste.
Cog Railroad Path New England Covered Bridge
Cog Railway Mount Washington Railway
THE COG RAILROAD
A must while visiting Bretton Woods and Mount Washington Hotel is to take a ride on the world’s first cog railroad. It is unlike any experience I’ve ever had. Though we only went to the 4,100 foot elevation, the spring through fall operating season allows a visit to the summit of Mount Washington. The unique steam train climbs the mountain on two cog gears. The first summit trip was made in 1869 by the locomotive Old Peppersass. More info can be found at www.thecog.com. One of the most exhilarating aspects of the descent is the climb up Jacob’s Ladder where passengers in the front seat of the rail coach are 14 feet above the folks in the back row. If that isn’t steep, I don’t know what is!
THE GRAND DAME
The Mount Washington Hotel is indeed a grand dame in the new world of opulent resorts. It has aged well, it has been well renovated. To boot, it is very affordable with packages—including skiing—as little as $100 a night. A matriarch in America’s hotel landscape, one of the Omni Mount Washington Resort’s brochures quotes the naturalist writer Nathaniel Hawthorne, “Happiness is like a butterfly which, if you sit quietly, may alight upon you.” They’ve added to the quote, “He might have added where you sit helps, too.” There is no such thing as a bad seat at the Mount Washington Hotel.
IMPORTANT INFORMATION: www.omnimountwashingtonresort.com; 1-800-258-0330
Nearest airports: Portland, ME 95 miles; Manchester, NH 105 miles; Boston 160 miles.
Larry can be reached at POB 312, Malin,OR 97632/phone#541-723-6041/larryturnerphotography.com