By this point in winter, you might be thinking it's time to get out of here. If heading to palm trees and pink sand is not an option (which is the case for most of us), you might as well make the most of the white stuff and head north to the slopes. Don't know where to begin in the great, wide, New England wilderness? North Conway, NH, is always a good start.
Just a three-hour drive from downtown Boston, North Conway is easily accessible from I-93 and I-95. This quaint town provides a wealth of entertainment, from skiing to shopping. Here's a guide to some of the best values in the White Mountains.
Cheap: Conveniently located right off White Mountain Highway behind a major outlet mall, North Conway Grand Hotel is the town's crown jewel in terms of value and amenities. Rates tend to start at around $100 and include use of four year-round indoor and (new) outdoor pools and hot tubs and a fitness center. The rooms have minifridges, microwaves, and DVD players, which you can use with the front desk's free DVD library. The hotel also holds free children's activities daily. The in-house Mountainside Tavern and Restaurant is a little pricy, but they have the best New England clam chowder I have ever tasted.
North Conway Grand Hotel, Route 16 at Settler's Green Outlet Village, North Conway, NH, 603-356-9300, http://www.northconwaygrand.com
Cheaper: Across the street from North Conway Grand Hotel is a more basic but still decent option, Holiday Inn Express Hotel and Suites North Conway. While this hotel lacks some basic amenities like automatic front doors (good luck dragging in your luggage cart) and lotion in the bathrooms, it does include free breakfast, a computer in the lobby, and pillows thoughtfully labeled "firm" and "soft" on the beds. You had better get in your whole workout on the mountain, though, because the health and fitness center is off-site and not free. Overall, Holiday Inn Express is a clean, not-too-many-frills place to stay.
Holiday Inn Express Hotel and Suites North Conway, 1732 White Mountain Highway, North Conway, NH, 603-356-2551, http://www.hiexpress.com
Cheap: The food at A Taste of Thai is slightly more expensive and a little different than that of Thai restaurants I have patronized in Massachusetts, but this place is still a better value than a lot of the other restaurants in North Conway. The food is good, the presentation is cute, and the prices are reasonable. I recommend the Thai rolls ($5.95) and the Thai iced tea and iced coffee($2.50).
Cheaper: The surprising best dining value in all of North Conway is The Lobster Trap Restaurant, which is well-hidden way down a dark side street. The bread and some of the dishes are occasionally salty, but the mussels fra diablo [sic] ($9.95) is the best I have ever had. As if this dish and the linguine with white clam sauce ($9.95) aren't inexpensive enough, they are also part of an unadvertised special menu of "buy-one-get-one-for-cheaper." You can get two of these entrees for a total of $15.95 or $16.95. Just ask your server for this menu and enjoy North Conway's hidden jewel.
The Lobster Trap Restaurant, 2840 West Side Road, North Conway, NH, 603-356-5578, http://www.lobstertraprestaurant.comRentShop
The mall located in front of the North Conway Grand Hotel is the excellent Settler's Green Outlet Village, which boasts over 60 name-brand and designer stores. I recently got a $65 sweater from Bass for $3. Coach offers 20%-off coupons daily. The only detractor is that the stores are spread a little far apart, but if you can get over that minor annoyance, you can score some deep discounts (with no sales tax!).
Settler's Green Outlet Village, Route 16, North Conway, NH, 888-667-9636, http://www.settlersgreen.com
Rather than shelling out a premium on rental equipment at the mountain, hit up Great American Ski and Snowboard Rentals for your skis, boards, boots, and poles. You can easily find this shop on the main drag and rent your gear the day before you need it to ensure the following morning will be hassle-free.
Great American Ski and Snowboard Rentals, 2749 White Mountain Highway, North Conway, NH, 603-356-6040, http://www.skidemo.com
Close: If you can get up early enough, the one-hour drive to Sunday River is worth it. This colossal ski resort contains 132 trails and 16 lifts spread over eight interconnected mountains. In addition to being home to the infamous double-black-diamond White Heat, one of "the steepest, longest, widest trails in the East," Sunday River is also full of family-friendly options and everything in-between. While the lift ticket prices are a little high (starting at $75 a day for adults), the resort offers a Corporate Discount Program, so check if your office offers discounted passes.
Sunday River, Newry, ME, 207-824-3000, http://www.sundayriver.com
Closer: If Sunday River is a little too far and too costly, you can still cross the border into Maine and hit Shawnee Peak, a half-hour drive from North Conway. AAA members can get a $6 discount off the $53 adult ticket price, which includes night skiing. Just keep in mind that Shawnee is significantly smaller than Sunday River, with five lifts and over 40 trails and glades.
Shawnee Peak, 119 Mountain Road, Bridgton, ME, 207-647-8444, http://www.shawneepeak.com
Closest: The best family option is undoubtedly Cranmore Mountain Resort. If you stay in North Conway, Cranmore is conveniently located down the street from your hotel. Adult tickets start at just $49 or $45 if you buy them online. With 49 trails and nine lifts, this mountain is similar size to Shawnee, although the black diamond trails are decidedly less challenging (which may be a good or bad thing). This resort is very sunny (they say, "Tan More at Cranmore"), and the snow is very well-groomed. (Before he passed away in December, the mountain operations director was Jimmy Mersereau, who was chosen to be a groomer at the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics.)
Cranmore Mountain Resort, 1 Skimobile Road, North Conway, NH, 800-SUN-N-SKI, http://www.cranmore.com
Sure, Punxsutawny Phil predicted six more weeks of winter, but that forecast doesn't have to stop you from playing outside. If a bad case of cabin fever is getting you down, North Conway is the perfect escape to enjoy your New Year's resolution of getting fit and to relax with some retail therapy.