• by Karen Cummings

Valley's Cross Country Skiing Trails Are Hailed as 'Best in the East'

THERE'S NO QUESTION that Mt. Washington Valley has great downhill skiing, spectacular scenery, lots of shopping, amazing restaurants, nifty night life, and wide choices of lodging.


With all that, however, there's only one thing which has officially been designated "the best in the East."


That would be the Valley's cross country skiing.

Actually, it was the 156-kilometer Jackson Ski Touring Foundation, specifically, which was named best in the East by Snow Country Magazine in 1992 and "number one in the eastern United States" by Skiing Magazine last season.


But, with expansion of the cross country trails at King Pine, the addition of the all-new Great Glen Trails in Pinkham Notch, plus JSTF, the Mt. Washington Valley Ski Touring Association, nearby Bretton Woods Cross Country, the town's Whitaker Woods, the National Forest, the trails maintained by the Tamworth Outing Club, and those maintained by the Snowvillage Inn, Mt. Washington Valley has become the East's number one cross country skiing destination.


And what great timing. Cross country skiing is being hailed as the sport of the '90s. Combining healthful aerobic exercise with the thrill of being outdoors, cross country skiing also has the advantage of being relatively easy to learn and affordable.


And over the years, the Valley's cross country skiing has joined with the region's other winter pursuits in helping to provide a continued economic lift.


So, even if there’s no snow on the trails (except at Great Glen, where they have snowmaking!) as we go to print with our annual "Ear of the Year" issue, we here at The Mountain Ear have chosen the plethora of cross country trails lacing the Valley and the surrounding hills and vales as the official recipient of the 1994 "Ear of the Year" award.

IT WAS IN THE 1930S, as this region suffered through the Depression, that a few of Jackson's trails were first cut. There already were wide open fields for the "new" (to the U.S.) sport of downhill skiing, but trails for ski touring had to be cut through the woods.


One of those early trails, the Langlauf Trail, was maintained by the Jackson Ski & Outing Club, which was formed in 1936 to help to promote traveling to the summer resort town during the long (and quiet) winters. Sections of the trail, which started in the middle of the town and circled over Black Mountain, ending up back in the village, are still used in JSTF's current trail system.


In 1936, a Jackson Ski & Outing club brochure stated, "Come to Jackson for your winter vacation... Here you will find a whole community talking, thinking and acting skiing..."


Funny how the more things change, the more... Well, Jackson's fortunes actually went downhill, so to speak, as interest in the '40s and '50s turned to lift-serviced skiing. As JSTF Executive Director Thom Perkins described the atmosphere in Jackson during the late '60s and early '70s in his 1988 historic perspective of the Foundation, "Winter was a season that businesses got through."


But by 1968, a revival of interest in cross country skiing was beginning to be felt. Peggy Frost, then owner of the Jack Frost Shop, offered cross country ski lessons. In 1970, the shop started renting cross country skis and gave lessons both at the shop and at Black Mountain. Brad Boynton, then owner of the Wildcat Tavern, offered a trail system behind his inn and Dick Whipple of the Dana Place Inn had his maintenance man maintain a small trail system for guests.


Interest grew and through the concerted efforts of many Jackson residents—made possible due to the lack of business and job opportunities at the time according to Perkins' research—the Jackson Ski Touring Foundation was incorporated on July 17, 1972. Nearly 80 landowners consented to have trails cut on their land. The U.S. Forest Service issued a special-use permit for cross country ski trails on the White Mountain National Forest and JSTF was born.


"Jackson intends to present America with its first ski touring village of which there is no equivalent west of the fjords of Norway," wrote JSTF organizers Brad Boynton and Skip Sherman in 1973.


THAT THEY ACCOMPLISHED this appears to be evident. And now, though JSTF holds firmly to the pre-eminent position in Mt. Washington Valley, additional cross country centers-add to the diversity, giving Valley visitors and residents alike such a wide range of choices that they can pick a different place to ski every day of the week.

Here's what's offered, going from largest to smallest: JSTF-156 kilometers; Bretton Woods Cross Country Center-90 kilometers; Mt. Washington Valley Ski Touring Association-65 kilometers; Great Glen Trails-51 kilometers (16 groomed, 35 backcountry); King Pine Cross Country Center-22 kilometers; Snowvillage Inn-10 kilometers; and Hemenway State Forest (maintained by Tamworth Outing Club)-8 kilometers.


The total equals 367 kilometers, and that doesn't include the free trails in North Conway's Whitaker Woods, or the miles of backcountry skiing available in the White Mountain National Forest.


So, whether you head for the "remote experience"—according to grooming director Sheldon Perry—of the Hemenway State Forest in Tamworth, try the challenging Wildcat Valley Trail down the back side of Wildcat, first scouted in 1972 by JSTF pioneers Bob Cheney, John Keeney, Gene Chandler, Jim Dunwell and Avery Caldwell, or skate or glide down the flat but scenic Intervale, you'll be guaranteed to be experiencing some of the best in the East.

This "Ear of the Year" goes to all who helped to build the trails and to all those who work to maintain them. Let it snow! •

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