the skier's guide to... New England

There's an old-fashioned quaintness here which you won't find at any other resort in the world. The service is laid back rather than polished. And you won't feel pressure to turn up in the latest designer ski-wear. By Stephen Roe

TALL white church steeples, covered bridges, frozen lakes, snow- capped colonial farmhouses and red-brick Federalist homes. These are some of the sights that greet skiers as they drive north from Boston into the New England ski country of New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine.

New England is the laid-back, unhurried north eastern corner of the USA that retains a folksy charm you won't find elsewhere in America. Around a dozen ski resorts in New England are packaged by British tour operators, all within a two- to four-hour drive from the historic city of Boston, which itself is well worth a stopover.

Several daily non-stop flights operate between London and Boston, and keen competition has pushed fares to their lowest ever levels this season. Time difference is only five hours (compared to seven or eight in western USA) and because the mountains in New England are at a comparatively low altitude, there is no altitude sickness.

On the downside, it can be incredibly cold - as in the weeks just after New Year - creating icy slopes and less reliable snow conditions. This is not the place to come for guaranteed deep champagne powder. To compensate for this, many of the resorts have installed extensive and highly sophisticated snow-making equipment to ensure most of the runs stay open all season. Killington, in Vermont, took things to extremes last year and kept some runs open until mid-June to prove just how good its artificial snow making could be.

Renting a car is highly recommended and most winter package holidays to this area include one. The roads are good and it gives you a chance to try out several resorts and do some sightseeing and bargain hunting. There are no sales taxes in New Hampshire and discounted designer shopping malls and "factory outlets" can be found in all three states.

STYLE

When the Von Trapp family (of The Sound of Music fame) escaped Nazi persecution in Austria, they settled in the mountains of Vermont because the countryside so reminded them of home. Descendants of the family now run an excellent cross-country ski lodge just outside the picture-postcard village of Stowe. The reason they are still so happily ensconced in this backwater of North America is, perhaps, because things don't change too rapidly. Service in this part of the world is relaxed rather than polished and you would probably feel quite out of place if you turned out in the latest designer labels.

ACCOMMODATION

Many of the hotels and guest houses in New England are family run, providing cosy rooms, big log fires, good home cooking and bars where you can often meet the locals, not just fellow tourists. There is plenty of spacious self-catering close to the slopes and scores of good-value motels a short drive away. Very few of the big American chain hotels are in evidence here which makes for a refreshing change. Their rigid, standardised formats might not go down too well in this highly individualistic part of America. Most of the slope-side properties are either self-catering or in the functional two- and three-star categories.

To find somewhere special it is often worth staying a 20-30 minute drive away from the base stations.

Woodstock Inn in the pretty Vermont village of Woodstock greets its guests with a huge log fire in the lobby, cosy bars and excellent restaurants. The five-star hotel has cross country skiing from the door and can also arrange practice runs on the village's own mini ski mountain Suicide Six - which has just three lifts and nine pistes. Woodstock is a 25-minute drive from Killington, one of New England's biggest ski areas.

The Equinox is another excellent five-star property in Manchester Village, about 25 minutes from Stratton Mountain. Facilities here include an indoor pool and gym. Non-skiing partners are unlikely to get bored as Manchester is full of charming walks and opportunities to visit picturesque villages like nearby Dorset. There are also excellent heavily discounted designer label shopping outlets in the village.

The Green Mountain Inn is a popular hostelry in the heart of Stowe village, about 20 minutes on the shuttle from the base station. Its three-star rating really does not do it justice. It has several lively bars and restaurants and many of its rooms feature four-poster beds, fireplaces and jacuzzi baths.

The four-star Trapp Family Lodge outside Stowe village has great mountain views and cross-country skiing from the door. There is live entertainment, good restaurants, an indoor swimming pool, sauna and gym.

EATING

In keeping with most North American winter resorts, food on the mountain in New England tends to be pretty bland and predictable - with one or two notable exceptions like the Cliff House at the top of the gondola in Stowe which has stunning views and serves an excellent full-service lunch. Ten Acres is a good place for dinner in Stowe or you could try Miguels for Mexican food or Grades for a good burger and fries.

In most New England resorts you can enjoy huge home-cooked breakfasts in some unlikely looking hostelries. They can be great value and set you up for the day. Just ask advice from the locals. They really are exceptionally friendly here and they'll love your British accent!

In Killington you can eat Japanese, Chinese, Italian - in fact almost anything you fancy in what has become New England's most cosmopolitan ski resort. There are good steaks at the Wobbly Barn and if you like spare ribs, try Casey's Caboose.

APRES SKI

In family oriented resorts like Smugglers' Notch, apres ski activities can sometimes be little more than a game of Scrabble around a log fire, sipping a mug of hot chocolate. But those who want to party all night should head for Killington.

While it lacks charm during the daylight hours, Killington really comes to life at night. It is New England's biggest and brashest ski resort that promotes itself as "The Beast of the East". Killington has a special appeal for young Americans and at weekends, when the New Yorkers arrive, the bars and clubs are really humming. Among the noisiest are Charity, The Pickle Barrel and Nightspot.

BEST FOR BEGINNERS

Smugglers' Notch, in Vermont, is very much a family resort and ideal for first-time skiers. It justifiably prides itself on having some of the best facilities for young children and infants. Many of the hotels and packages allow kids to stay free when accompanied by their parents.

Smugglers' provides a good introduction to a first- time ski holiday and its ski school has a reputation for gentle learning techniques. The nearby resort of Stowe also has good ski and snowboard teaching facilities and a sizeable self contained area of gentle nursery slopes. Further north in the state of Maine, Sunday River features a "Guaranteed to Learn to Ski in One Day" programme, which sounds a little ambitious to me. Teenagers and twentysomethings skiing or snowboarding for the first time might prefer the extensive teaching schools at Killington, where 45 per cent of the pistes are said to be in the green "easy run" category.

INTERMEDIATES

Vermont's Stratton Mountain has a reputation for its immaculate grooming of dozens of ideal cruising intermediate runs. Even its black diamond runs are said to be maintained in such a manicured condition as to avoid too much difficulty. And for those who tire of the slopes early, there are arcades of designer label shopping outlets just a 20-minute drive away in Manchester Village. As a result locals have dubbed the area "Yuppie Hill".

Killington also has miles of good intermediate cruising runs. To enjoy sampling several good but smaller intermediate resorts in one holiday, it is worth pointing your rental car up Interstate 93 for two hours from Boston into New Hampshire. Here you can ski a different resort each day choosing between Loon, Bretton Woods, Waterville Valley, Cannon and several other smaller centres. They are all so close that it really doesn't matter which one you decide to stay in.

EXPERTS

Advanced skiers will enjoy getting the adrenaline pumping on some of the more testing black diamond pistes and tricky mogul fields at Maine's Sunday River. Head for the Barker, White Cap and Aurora Peaks and try runs like Obsession, Vortex, Shock Wave, Agony and White Heat.

There are some breathtaking views of Bethel Village and the surrounding valley. Killington also has its share of steep terrain and some long mogul runs. Outer Limits and Devil's Fiddle are not for the faint hearted. Even Stowe, noted more for its intermediate and easy terrain, has four very steep double diamond chutes which can be extremely tricky in icy conditions.

SNOWBOARDERS

Snowboarders are welcomed all over New England with each resort now competing to build bigger and better facilities and fun parks. Stratton Mountain was voted the best resort in North America for snowboarding in 1997 and will host the 1998 US Open Snowboarding Championships from March 19-23. A huge new snowboarding park was opened this season which includes a championship half pipe and numerous other special features for boarders which are described as the "world's ultimate snowboard showcase". One of the main chairlifts climbs directly over the park giving passengers a bird's eye view of all the action. Stratton has snowboard instruction programmes for everyone from beginners to expert standards and there are dedicated residential snowboard camps.

HOW TO GET THERE

British Airways (0345 222111) has fares this season from London to Boston return for pounds l89, inclusive of all departure taxes. American Airlines (0345 789789) has Boston return for pounds 195 inclusive and Virgin Atlantic (01293 747747) has Boston return for pounds 188 inclusive. All flights are non-stop. In Boston it is best to hire a car and drive north for two to four hours depending on your selected resort area. Fly/drive fares are also available and most winter sports packages to New England include car hire.

TOUR OPERATORS

Ski Independence (0990 550555) has the Trapp Family Lodge at Stowe, Vermont for seven nights, including flights with American Airlines to Boston and car rental from pounds 579.

Inghams (0181 780 4444) has seven nights at the Snow Cap Inn, Sunday River, Maine from pounds 369, including flights with Virgin Atlantic and car hire.

Virgin Ski (01293 617181) has seven nights at Continental 93 Travellers' Inn, New Hampshire, including flights and car hire from pounds 419.

Ski the American Dream (0181 552 1201) has seven nights at The Village, at Smugglers' Notch, Vermont for a family of four from pounds l,339, including flights and car hire. Crystal Holidays (0181 399 5144) is offering a total of seven nights at the Crystal Club Hotel in Killington, Vermont with half board, free wine, flights to Boston with Virgin Atlantic, car hire or coach transfers from pounds 535.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
people Ex-wife of John Lennon has died at her home in Spain
News
Nick Clegg on the campaign trail in Glasgow on Wednesday; he says education is his top priority
peopleNick Clegg remains optimistic despite dismal Lib Dem poll ratings
Life and Style
2 Karl Lagerfeld and Choupette
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
Buttoned up: Ryan Reynolds with Helen Mirren in ‘Woman in Gold’
filmFor every box-office smash in his Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. Now he says it's time for a reboot
News
people
News
Actress Julianne Moore wins the Best Actress in a Leading Role Award for 'Still Alice' during the 87th Annual Academy Awards in Hollywood, California
people
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Car Sales Executive - OTE £36,000

    £12500 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This established Wakefield Deal...

    Guru Careers: .NET Developers / Software Developers

    Competitive (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: our .NET Developers / Software Dev...

    Sheridan Maine: Accounts Assistant

    £25,000 - £30,000: Sheridan Maine: Are you looking for a fantastic opportunity...

    Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester

    £25000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester...

    Day In a Page

    War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

    War with Isis

    Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
    Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

    A spring in your step?

    Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

    Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
    Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

    Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

    For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
    Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

    Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

    As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
    The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

    UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

    Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
    Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

    Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

    Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
    Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

    Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

    If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
    10 best compact cameras

    A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

    If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
    Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

    Paul Scholes column

    Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
    Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

    Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

    Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
    Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

    Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

    The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
    General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

    The masterminds behind the election

    How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
    Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

    Machine Gun America

    The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
    The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

    The ethics of pet food

    Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?