When it comes to cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in the White Mountains, Bear Notch Ski Touring Center in Bartlett, New Hampshire, is one of the best-kept secrets. Hemmed in by Bartlett Haystack Mountain and the Saco River, this gem of a place hidden in plain sight receives a lot of snow and holds it well, and its dedicated owners lovingly groom and track it to perfection.

Bear Notch has been in the Garland family for 120 years. Brothers Doug and John run the business on 180 acres that were once a dairy farm. When those days faded, the family built a row of cabins to accommodate a growing number of weary travelers. And then, 28 years ago, the brothers decided to turn the land into a cross-country ski center.

Blue skies, warm sun, fun trails and great grooming make for a perfect day at Jackson Ski Touring. Carey Kish photo

“It was a good choice to make the switch to winter tourism with the cross-country skiing,” said Doug Garland. “We’re in a snow belt. It’s wind-protected and the snow eddies in here. We’ve got a lot to work with, and we take a lot of pride in our grooming. We love to see people out there enjoying themselves and the special beauty of this spot.”

Bear Notch is one of six Nordic ski and snowshoe centers in the Mt. Washington Valley, a geographic expanse around the highest peak in the Northeastern U.S. that ranges from Fryeburg west to the Crawford Notch vicinity and Gorham, New Hampshire, south to the Chocorua area. A scant two hours at best from Portland, the “Valley” is outdoor recreation bonanza.

White Mountain Nordic is an association of the six Valley touring centers. This year, they’re celebrating 40 years of promoting cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and other healthy and fun winter activities. With a combined total of more than 400 kilometers of trails, there’s a lot of snowy and scenic terrain to seek out and enjoy.

“A lot has changed over the association’s four decades. Grooming has become more sophisticated, some centers have added snowmaking, and equipment and gear has improved,” said Ellen Chandler, executive director of the Jackson Ski Touring Foundation. “But what hasn’t changed is the tremendous skiing culture that exists here in the Valley.”


Doug and John Garland at Bear Notch Ski Touring pride themselves on their trail grooming. Carey Kish photo

Jackson Ski Touring is the heart of picture-postcard Jackson, complete with a red covered bridge over the rushing Ellis River. The sprawling 150-kilometer trail network weaves through forests and across fields, extends miles along the river and leads up to the Black Mountain Ski Area. There are trails for every taste and ability, and with each kick and glide you’ll be venturing through a rich Nordic history that’ll take you days to explore.

The Mt. Washington Valley Ski Touring and Snowshoe Center trails link the villages of North Conway, Kearsarge and Intervale through the scenic Saco River Valley. Much of the 45-kilometer network is relatively flat or moderately rolling, but there are also some challenging sections. Start at the Whitaker Meeting House, where the maze of trails will guide you through the stately white pines of Whitaker Woods.

Enjoy big river and mountain views on the Mt. Washington Valley Ski Touring and Snowshoe Center trails. Courtesy of Mt. Washington Valley

The Great Glen Trails Outdoor Center is at the base of the Mt. Washington Auto Road just north of Pinkham Notch in the shadow of the towering Presidentials and the Carter Range. Emanating from the historic base lodge across from the Glen House Hotel, 20 kilometers of groomed and tracked trails meander over the hillside above the Peabody River, while backcountry skiers and snowshoers can take to 25 kilometers of ungroomed, canine-friendly trails.

The grand Mount Washington Hotel and a huge panorama of the Presidential Range mark the entrance to the Nordic center at Bretton Woods. One hundred kilometers of trails reach out across the golf course and through the woods along the tumbling Ammonoosuc River. Adjacent to the downhill ski area, a smaller but more difficult network of trails includes a T-bar lift and a high country loop.

The amazing Presidential Range views are possible on the trails at Bretton Woods. Carey Kish photo

Nestled in the hills of Madison, the Purity Spring XC & Snowshoe Reserve features a dozen kilometers of cross-country ski trails and 8 kilometers of dedicated snowshoe trails. Branching out from the King Pine Ski Area base lodge, enthusiasts can explore the beautiful woods around Purity Lake, the grounds of Purity Spring Resort and the Hoyt Wildlife Sanctuary.

Begin your White Mountain Nordic ski and snowshoe adventure at wmnordic.com.

Carey Kish of Mount Desert Island is the author of “Beer Hiking New England,” “AMC’s Best Day Hikes Along the Maine Coast” and the AMC “Maine Mountain Guide.” Follow more of Carey’s adventures on Facebook and on Instagram @careykish.

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