Here’s the absolute truth: you DO NOT need a big ski area with lots of vertical drop and a ton of high-speed lifts (and expensive lift tickets) to have a great day of skiing. What you DO need is good snow and the right attitude. It helps if the ski area has some interesting terrain to play on, a fun-friendly attitude where the staff smiles and greets you like an old friend, and delicious hot chocolate in the base lodge if it’s cold outside. King Pine Ski Area has all of those . . .
EasternSlopes.com publisher David Shedd and I were looking for a good morning of skiing before a lunchtime meeting in North Conway, NH. This was January 6, 2017, a week after the first major snowstorm of the season dropped 15 inches or more of fluffy powder on the region, and four days after another storm added 3 inches of water-soaked glop on top of that. When the temps dropped, that glop froze into a breakable crust, nightmare conditions for ungroomed terrain. We knew the “big guys” in the neighborhood would have their massive arsenals of snowguns firing and their fleets of groomers out slicing and dicing the frozen glop into skiable corduroy. But little King Pine was the first ski are in New Hampshire to have 100% of their terrain open this season, and we wanted to see how they were doing post-glopstorm. The answer was, “just fine, thanks!”
Get to the base lodge of any ski hill just before the lifts turn on a cold weekday morning and you are likely to see a group of regulars getting booted up for their morning turns. These are generally older skiers, they all seem to know each other, and on this morning, the local posse seemed genuinely excited by the prospect of making turns on fresh corduroy under a pure blue sky. David and I fit right in and felt right at home.
We were among the first on the chair. These aren’t high speed lifts, but they are plenty fast enough. A minute or so after unloading at the top, we were back on the lift smiling and laughing after a fast warm-up run on perfect corduroy. That’s the beauty of King Pine. It doesn’t take long to get down, but it doesn’t take long to get back up, either. You work your legs in short, intense intervals with a recovery period between. Because of this recovery period and the fact that it lets you keep skiing all morning (and all afternoon) without taking a break, I’d be be willing to bet that most skiers log nearly as many vertical feet in a day at King Pine as they do at many of the bigger mountains.
The glades and bumps weren’t skiable on this particular morning (they wouldn’t have been at any of the other nearby areas, either), so we stuck mainly to the trails on the steeper north face. Red Pine, Jack Pine, and Pine Brule were all perfectly groomed and invited quick yo-yo runs that left you smiling. When we wanted a change, we skied under the snowguns on White Pine, occasionally getting launched by some of the mounds of snow there. Great fun.
King Pine is a perfect place to practice a specific skill, whether it’s speed control on a steep pitch, long, looping carved turns, bumps technique, a terrain-park trick or even tree-avoidance. You can find the perfect piece of terrain to practice on, and it it again and again in rapid succession, fine tuning your technique and building muscle memory.
Around 10 o’clock we’d already made a dozen runs. That’s when we noticed a sign offering a “$10 tune and wax in 10 minutes.” We both needed a fresh edge on our skis and decided this seemed like a perfect opportunity. So we handed over our skis, got a cup of hot cocoa, and took a break. It took a little more than 10 minutes because our skis were cold and wet when we brought them in. But by the time we had finished our cocoa and gotten our jackets back on, the skis were ready. A good tune comes from the ski tech, not the equipment he or she uses, and this was a great touch-up for the price. We especially noticed the new wax when skiing under the snowguns.
By the time we had to leave, we’d made more than two dozen runs and had an absolutely great morning of skiing. Did I mention that adult mid-week ski tickets are only $40 (weekends are $55) . . . This is a place where you can actually afford to take a whole family skiing. Enjoy.