A benevolent fellow wanderer and ambassador of good will sent me an offer I couldn’t refuse. A chance to knock another mountain off The List; the third in a week’s time. The price was right (it could in no way be wrong!) and provided me the impetus to snag my third three day weekend in a row.
I was startled by the complete lack of snow in the northern Lakes Region right up through the Mount Washington Valley. The mountains suggested the month was only November; but the bitter cold suggested otherwise. Without the benefit of much natural snow–just fifteen inches year to date–Cranmore is currently relying entirely on man made snow. Without snow making, Cranmore would be completely brown.
And Cranmore was indeed blowing away today. But they are focusing on the mountain’s main routes, most of which are still not completely edge to edge; some trails were only two or three cat passes wide. Where the snow guns were blowing, the snow was soft and skied well. Other areas varied from very firm hard pack to frozen granular to loose frozen moth balls to scraped and slick frozen base. Knowing it was a discount day and conditions would not be at their best, I arrived early and left before things got too crowded. Cranmore needs natural snow badly both to freshen up open trails and to begin terrain expansion.
That said, Cranmore is doing well with what they have (or don’t have: not even an inch of natural snow base). From the summit of the wonderfully named Skimobile Express, there were somewhere between a half dozen to a dozen ways down the mountain (depending if you are counting unique runs or routes). Essentially all beginner terrain was open and nearly all of the groomed black diamond terrain was open. I was delighted to find that with exception of the Slopes (North, South, and East), all of Cranmore’s trails are fairly narrow and–excepting trails on the main face–generally curvy.
Cranmore only disappoints in how it skis. Despite the 1200′ vertical drop and high speed quad, I felt like I was on a smaller mountain. Nearby Black Mountain (1100′) and Mount Abram (1150′) both ski significantly larger than Cranmore though neither have the snow making powder to have even half as much terrain open as Cranmore does in this lean snow year. And Balsams–dropping 200′ less than Cranmore–was much more interesting and lively despite significantly less pitch. Cranmore is steeper than its shorter mid-sized competition but not nearly as fun or interesting.
Despite its awesome history and once premier destination status, Cranmore is more a mountain for families than for hucksters. Which is fine. My expectations were low going in and I was not disappointed. I confirmed my prejudice that there is a reason I had always overlooked Cranmore. But as noted last week, part of the reason for such explorations are to ensure I have not erred in my prejudgments.
Now back to your regularly scheduled powder chasing content.