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WHY GO: Did you ever see the movie Big Fish? The scene in which one of the main characters finds a welcoming, beautiful small town hidden in the middle of the woods? That’s what viewing Waterville Valley’s Town Square for the first time feels like. Whitewashed buildings encircle a courtyard where you’ll find an Information Booth in summer and a Nordic ski track come winter. It’s like Pleasantville with winter sports. And stargazing. The married co-authors of Curious George, Margaret and Hans Rey, summered in Waterville Valley specifically for the dark skies, and left their mark on the town.
Is Waterville Valley a town? Is it a ski resort? Well, actually, it’s both, and there are people who lived here, summered here, and skied here as kids, and are now returning to live here permanently as older adults. What’s the magic? Why go? Read on and you’ll find out.
Things to Do in Waterville Valley NH
Waterville Valley has gone through many ups and downs since Tom Cochran opened this ski-hill in 1966. After being purchased and run by a corporate entity, the resort lost a bit of it’s close-knit, family owned flavor. But according to Peter Sununu (son of H.W. Bush’s Chief of Staff, John), his brother Chris and other locals have pooled resources to buy much of Waterville Valley and are bringing back the family-friendly, low key New Hampshire vibe.
One of the best reasons to come here is the “Park Your Car Once” aspect. Between the proximity of Town Square, and the Ski Mountain Shuttle bus, you really don’t have to drive anywhere.
EXPERIENCE: The Rey Center, Town Square. The center of Waterville Valley village is achingly adorable – something out of a fairy-tale. Waterville Valley most likely nurtured several of the Curious George books written by summer residents, Margaret and Hans Rey. Now, the Rey Center offers playtime, crafts, programs, readings and other events for kids and families. Waterville Valley’s mascot, Bruce the Moose, might even make an appearance, along with Curious George and The Man in the Yellow Hat.
SKI: Of course, this is how most people first approach this area. While not New Hampshire’s largest ski resort (that would be Cannon for vertical drop and Loon for acreage) Waterville Valley Ski Mountain is a contender with 55 trails and 12 lifts. Plans are in the works to expand as well. If you’re in your 70’s or 80’s (90’s?) and still look forward to a few runs before lunch, come here. Waterville Valley is home to the oldest Senior Ski Program in the country – the “Silver Streaks.” For convenience, the Waterville Valley Shuttle will pick you up and drop you off at Town Square or any lodging in town, just three miles from the mountain.
SKY RIDE/HIKE: Snow’s Mountain Chair Lift. It’s a very slow, long ride to the top of this hill adjacent to the Golf Course (not at the Ski Mountain), so don’t plan to ride it back down.
It’s much more fun traversing picturesque waterfalls, swimming holes and fishing pools, and walking back downhill (about a 5 mile hike on Upper Snows, Cascade and Lower Snows Trails).
“FAT” BIKES: The whole area is designed for recreation. Rent a mountain bike and take it up Snow’s Mountain lift and ride down.
GOLF: In season of course. Each of the nine holes is marked by a post, sign and a hanging flower basket; quite possibly the cutest golf course you’ll ever see.
KAYAK: In summer, there’s a very small pond adjacent to Town Square, where you can practice your paddling.
READ: Osceola Library. This is one of the cutest libraries I’ve ever seen, and combined with the bookstore in Town Square, renders Waterville Valley one of the most literate, reading-friendly ski resorts in New England.
TUBING: On a hill near the golf course, cold parents (or cold kids) can go into the Golf Clubhouse to stay warm while watching the others play. Night lights for tubing are astronomer-friendly, specifically designed to lessen the impact on the area’s dark skies.
SKATE: There’s an indoor skating rink! Just make sure it’s not being used by the local Hockey Team.
FITNESS CENTER: This private club has everything – a massive indoor tennis court, two nearly Olympic-size pools (one inside, one out), a serious cardio/weight room, and much more. When its bitterly cold, oppressively hot, or raining outside, this climate-controlled center is an invaluable benefit to a stay here.
SHOP: Town Square. An indie bookshop in a ski resort? Don’t ya just love it? While your brood is out on the hills, spend some restful hours in Bookmonger, catching up on some best sellers or more intellectual fare. There’s also several dress and gift shops: Dreams & Visions Gifts, the Jugtown Country Store, 1829 Outfitters, The Valley Brand, and even a US Post Office.
DISCOUNT: Freedom Pass. Ask for the Summer or Winter Freedom Pass when booking a room in one of seven area hotels or lodges. For an extra $20 or so, you’ll get hundreds of dollars worth of experiences, including a 9-hole day of Golf, unlimited tennis, 2-hour hour bike rental, Kayak rental, a Snow’s Mountain Sky ride, and lots more in summer. Ice Skating, Yoga classes, athletic club and other perks in Winter.
DISCOUNT: Lift Tickets. Get up to 55% off the price of tickets by checking out Waterville.com. Even better, you are not required to ski consecutive days during your stay.
Where to Eat in Waterville Valley
COFFEE: Jugtown, Town Square. It’s Waterville Valley’s version of a General Store, complete with non-perishable pantry food and a selection of coffees already brewed in the morning.
COFFEE/BREAKFAST: Potbellies. Counter service, but the breakfast wraps are great, especially if you want to get to the mountain quickly.
EAT/DINNER: Coyote Grill. Upstairs in the Recreation Center, this chef-owned farm-to-table place is the highest-end eatery in Waterville Valley. Though entrees, like Thai Chicken and Shrimp ($23) and Tortilla Chicken $19 are good, my vote goes to the amazing starters and sides – like the Fried Fingerling Potatoes with Shaved Parm ($6) and Asian Steamed Buns ($7.50), along with crafted cocktails.
EAT/DINNER: Valley Pub, Town Square. On a second floor overlooking Village Square, this upmarket pub serves up 100% Grass Fed Black Angus Burgers, lots of wings, mozza sticks, but also Captain Morgan Spiked Mussells ($12) and the decadent “Candied Corned-Beef Rueben” ($12) – carmelized and a tinge sweet. Entrees are reasonably priced for a resort town – all under $20, and service is fast and friendly.
ICE CREAM: Pigpens, Town Square. What little town doesn’t have its own homemade ice-cream shop? Adorable.
EAT ON THE HILL: There are several restaurants on the mountain – T-Bars for great open faced sandwiches and Buckets, Bones and Brews on the base lodge porch.
Where to Stay in Waterville Valley NH
If you require a “Luxury Resort” on the level of Aspen or Vail, Waterville Valley is not for you. But if you want comfort, community and family reunions that won’t break your budget, check out the following lodgings.
STAY: Golden Eagle Lodge. A “Resort Condominium” hotel, each apartment has a full kitchen and is individually decorated. You can request an apartment that has been “done to the nines” or the bare minimum and pay accordingly. There is no restaurant in the building, but Golden Eagle is a few steps away from Town Square where you’ll find a selection of places to eat.
In its capacity as a hotel, Golden Eagle offers an indoor pool and sauna, daily housekeeping, complimentary coffee in the lobby, a resort shuttle and free wi-fi. In off season, one bedroom condos (which can accommodate 4 people) start at $120 a night, and go up to $320 a night in season
STAY: Black Bear Lodge. Also a “Condo Hotel,” similar to Golden Eagle, a few paces further from Town Square. Room rates range from $109 to $285 for up to 8 people.
STAY: Town Square Condos. At the moment, some 1-3 bedroom units on 3rd floor of Town Hall – right in the center of Town Square – are undergoing renovations. Perfect for large families who want to be in the thick of things.