For my money, Jackson Ski Touring Center in Jackson, New Hampshire, is the best commercial Nordic ski area in New England. Situated in the southern highlands of the Presidential Range, Jackson has 100 kilometers of trails and encompasses 60 square miles. There is something for every skier, from beginner to expert. The trails vary from gentle wooded traverses to difficult mountain descents. World class race courses are included in the network, and spectacular mountain vistas can be observed on the higher elevation routes.
There are additional benefits at Jackson. Proximity to the highest mountain range in the northeastern United States provides better snow conditions for a longer period of time than most Nordic ski areas in the region. It also offers exceptional grooming services that optimize the skiing experience, and its website includes reliable daily trail reports.
Despite the fact that Jackson is a two-hour drive from my home in Topsham, I find myself traveling there several times each winter. My trips to Jackson have been particularly numerous this year given the consistently inferior snow in most of Maine.
With the ski season winding down, my wife Nancy and I decided on an early March three-day trip to Jackson. My plan was to ski while she would explore their extensive system of snowshoe trails. An advantage of being old and both semi-retired, we have the flexibility to take impromptu weekday vacations when trails are less crowded. I think that about exhausts the advantages.
One word described the weather during our visit to Jackson: windy. On the day before our arrival, near hurricane level gusts had felled trees and caused widespread power outages. We encountered the first indications of the severity of the windstorm while purchasing ski passes. The lodge had lost power and could only take cash. Since our preference was to begin with the Prospect Farm Trails located 5 miles north on the south slope of Wildcat Mountain, the attendant provided circuitous directions to the trailhead. A large fallen tree blocked the main route. We experienced higher than average winds every day.
The Jackson trail system is divided into four major sectors: Prospect Farm Trails, East Pasture Network, Village Trails and the Ellis River Corridor. I like them all, but Prospect Farm is my favorite. Consisting of long routes on scenic, lightly traveled trails, I have two preferences that approximate 15 and 17 kilometers. That day, I chose the longest.
When recreating at Jackson, one quickly realizes it attracts many outstanding skiers. Accomplished skate skiers gracefully carve up steep hills, while classic skiers glide along well-groomed tracks. An acquaintance from southern New Hampshire recently remarked, “When I ski here, I feel inadequate.” Since I’m a mediocre classic skier, I can relate. However, given my age and arthritic infirmities, I’m just glad to be participating. I continue to hope some of that talent will eventually wear off on me.
Surfaces were fast on my ascent to the top of blustery Boggy Brook Trail, where the mountain views were exceptional. Following a stimulating descent to Wildcat Valley Trail, a short uphill pitch connected with the undulating Quail Trail. Turning right on UST Trail, I proceeded up a gradual incline to a scenic location where I observed clouds gusting over the summit of snow-covered Mount Washington. After swiftly spiraling downhill to Wildcat Valley Trail, another climb led me to a picturesque traverse on Orchard Trail. When I arrived back at the trailhead, Nancy reported the snowshoeing was excellent.
More wind and exceptional skiing and snowshoeing adventures were on the menu for day two. Following a repeat of the previous day in the morning, we drove to the lodge in Jackson Village. From there, I completed an afternoon ski along the Ellis River on the South Ellis Trail.
Our third day in paradise was colder and windier than the previous two. First stop was the Village Trails. I cheated as Nancy dropped me off at the top of Woodchuck Trail. She motored to the lodge to begin snowshoeing Wigglesworth Trail and the impressive Flume Path. My descent through superbly groomed Eagle Field and down twisting Yodel Trail to the lodge was intoxicating. The vacation ended with another ski on the Ellis River Corridor, culminating with an exhilarating return double-poling much of the slick South Ellis Trail. Lackluster skills don’t limit the quality of the goodtime.