Cross Balsams Wilderness off The List! My long awaited first visit to Balsams Grand Resort in Dixville Notch New Hampshire is in the blogs! Holiday weekend blackouts on vouchers combined with excellent early season snowfall made Balsams a top prospect for New Years Eve day. Add in no lift lines or crowds on Christmas vacation week and the decision became a total no brainer.
Dixville Notch is way up there. The drive north on Route 3 was arduous coming from central New Hampshire. I can only imagine what that kind of drive is like from the metro Boston area. Never having been north of Lancaster on that side of the state, I was not impressed–excepting an incredible view of North and South Percy Peaks from Route 3.
The Balsams Wilderness ski area is disconnected from the hotel by a quarter of a mile. As such, you never see the hotel nor the notch approaching from the west. Views of the ski area from the approach on Route 26 are excellent as the mountain meanders in and out of view with most trails visible. Balsams features clearly defined top to bottom trails which fall off the summit in a very picturesque way, both on the hill and from a distance.
Management shows admirable restraint with their trail count of only sixteen. Five distinctive glades throughout the mountain are combined under one trail heading called “Wilderness Glades”. Other “side of trail” glades can be found on runs such as Notch, a one groomer wide roller coaster with a broken glade continuously slotting between the switchbacks. All trails retain character rich turns and rollers. You will not find a straight trail on the mountain excepting the lift line and you will not find a wide trail excepting the segregated beginner area.
Eleven distinctive top to bottom runs are offered from the top of the recently installed Partek Triple chair. All runs dump out at the bottom of the lift with only minimal poling and skating from Notch on far skier’s left. This is an ideal situation for a family: one summit lift and all trails meet at the only lodge. Above the rear of the lodge is a segregated beginner area served by its own recently installed Partek Triple chair. The sideways road entrance and beginner lift behind the base lodge is a rather unique setup.
The terrain at the Balsams Wilderness generally lacks pitch. Double Diamond Notch and Green Circle Monadnock being side by side is a testament to this fact. Trail width and degree of switchbacks seem to be primary designators of trail rating. Even the liftline trail Metallak seemed rather flat. This is great for families with little kids who will be thrilled to be able to ski any trail on the mountain. Any one with an acceptable parallel turn would have no problem skiing almost any slope.
Ungroomed terrain offerings were more than I expected including both liftlines, the glades, and lower Cascade. Unfortunately, this past Monday’s powder manked up due to warming temperatures. Otherwise, select pockets of untracked might have still been available. However, due to the mank factor, packed snow skied better than untracked. The glades were all enjoyable despite the gentle pitch. Think Stateside Glade or Bonaventure Glade at Jay Peak as an equivalent. Sadly, the center pole double liftline trail was closed due to a communications wire falling from the towers. Truly an unfortunate situation considering that the center pole double is dormant as evidenced by the seats having been removed from all chairs.
During the morning, I picked off the natural snow trails in short order. The glades would have been a lot of fun with powder but the lack of pitch would cause problems with deep or dense snow. Metallak and Notch featured trees along side the trails which felt less like glades and more like trails incorporated into the trail itself. Fun but not very glade-like.
After a fantastic lunch from Balsams’ well reputed chefs, I switched to the Six Stars for some epic carving. The pitch was just enough to get going at a good clip but not too much that any speed scrubbing was ever warranted. The result was top to bottom 1000 foot drop railroad tracks. Perfect worry free carving on turny trails with uneven rollers. Faster skiers need to constantly be on the look out for beginners, little ones, and snow plowers of all ages.
Balsams Wilderness is an ideal ski area for families not needing expert terrain offerings or a park. A single lift, a single lodge, cheap lift tickets, no lift lines, and no crowds (during a holiday week, no less) all combine for an excellent alternative to the sprawling, over priced, and over crowd resort. The terrain is character rich without requiring the skills normally required for old school trails in New England. While the lack of pitch might keep experts away, it will surely delight skiers and riders seeking quiet and mellow trails that never get scraped down from excessive traffic. The eleven unique options off the summit spreads everyone out extremely well.
Those searching for a way to get a significant other to give skiing a shot, look no further. A romantic getaway to Balsams with skiing in the mix might do the trick. For the unwilling sidekick, the resort has plenty of other things to do including cross country skiing, snowshoeing, and hiking amongst what ever else the resort offers inside.
While Balsams was a contender for a reliable two to three day old powder stash, none of its glades are a secret and the area offers no real unmarked stashes. The lack of pitch definitely plays against the area. Other areas with similar vertical challenges such as Black Mountain, NH and Mount Abram, ME offer adrenaline pumping options despite their mid-sized stature–Balsams can not compete with these other mid-sized mountains in terms of terrain. And the drive, even from central New Hampshire, is somewhat obnoxious. The perfect area for many skiers, it will likely be a one time visit for myself.