Waterville Valley Resort, New Hampshire, is one of the biggest ski destinations in New England. And, coming off a strong winter that is not a bad thing. Like many “ski towns” Waterville Valley is trying to build a year-round market – but the difference with this town in the White Mountains is that it was a summer destination for a century before anyone started skiing there.
Founded as a summer town in 1839, there was no skiing in Waterville Valley until the 1930s. Then in the 1960s, U.S. Olympic skier Tom Corcoran flew over Waterville Valley and knew he’d found what he was looking for—the perfect place for a planned community free from the urban sprawl of fast-food restaurants and big chain stores; a place where families could come to enjoy the outdoors in a safe, healthy environment.
The beginning of Corcoran’s vision was the Waterville Valley ski area, whose motto (“Altitude without the Attitude”) echoes the fun, family friendly atmosphere of the valley. By 1970 Waterville Valley was THE place to ski in the East, the only planned ski town, and the only one to offer Western-style Resort service east of the Rockies.
Summer took a back burner.
Now, six local hotels have banded together to bring summer back to this island in the White Mountains National Forest.
And unlike other ski towns, there are a strong host of reasons why.
Thanks to the White Mountain National Forest, Waterville Valley is home to the oldest network of hiking trails in America.
Hikers have been exploring Waterville Valley since the 1800s, when a group of guests at Greeley’s Hotel formed the Waterville Athletic and Improvement Association. The association is still in existence today and continues to oversee the valley’s 100 miles of trails, which range from easy walking paths to heart-thumping ascents. Visitors can stroll around Corcoran Pond in the Town Square, wander the woods and search for wildflowers, or hike up the 4,315-ft. summit of Mount Osceola. No matter the location, there’s always a view.
A favorite activity since the valley’s earliest days is tennis. Back in 1884, the valley had only one court. Today there are 18 courts and they are among the best in the country. Tennis Magazine ranks the Waterville Valley Tennis Center as one of the top 50 tennis resorts in America, and Tennis Resorts Online rated it the #2 spot in America for its glorious setting amidst the White Mountains. Next to the courts, a 9-hold golf course offers views, open fairways, and fun.
Nearby is the Adventure Center—headquarters for snowshoeing and Nordic skiing in the winter—and the summertime home of Waterville Valley Super Park, a skateboard and inline skate park featuring a 10-foot-high half-pipe, vert ramp, street court, pyramids, grind rails and more. Young skaters can also attend the Waterville Valley Skate Camp, which provides day and overnight campers with a safe environment for improving their skateboard skills, having fun, and making new friends.
When it’s too hot for outdoor skating, visitors head over to the Waterville Valley Ice Arena, a great place to cool off on a summer day. Open year-round, the newly renovated arena provides open skating, rentals and lessons for all ages. Youngsters and adults who dream of Olympic glory can sign up for figure skating, hockey lessons or youth hockey league tournaments. The arena serves as the home ice for the Plymouth State College hockey team. Locals and visitors can be found throughout the season cheering for the PSC Panthers.
Across the street is the White Mountain Athletic Club, where visitors can take a swim in the indoor and outdoor pools, work out in the cardio room, lift some weights or run a few laps on the indoor track. For after-workout relaxation there’s the hot tub, sauna, and steam room, or a meal at the Coyote Grill restaurant upstairs.
Waterville Valley’s central Town Square is a beehive of activity throughout the summer. On Wednesday afternoons, the Children’s Theatre Company performs classic fairy tales and folk tales. On Sundays, naturalists from the Squam Lakes Science Center present live animal programs. The Town Square courtyard also features live outdoor concerts many evenings. Visitors drop in with their lawn chairs and blankets to enjoy the music..
Waterville Valley’s recreation department hosts an active day camp program as well as bingo, ice cream socials, sports of all kinds, yoga, cooking, crafts, and many more activities for children and adults. Special community events are staged throughout the year. Family Play Day, for example, includes old-time festivities such as a fireman’s BBQ, a watermelon toss, a giant obstacle course and a pie-eating contest. The annual Paws on Packard’s Field features events especially for dogs and their people, and the Community Lau lights up the valley with tiki torches, live music and good food.
The Rey Center’s curious George cottage organizes weekly hikes, including “walk-talks,” with an invited speaker on topics such as the glacial history of White Mountains and alpine ecology. At times, hikers take part in the Appalachian Mountain Club’s “Mountain Watch” program, identifying and cataloging wildflowers as a way of tracking changes in the mountain habitat. Three times a month, the center hosts astronomy nights under the dark skies that first drew H.A. Rey to the valley. Local amateurs usually lead the star-gazing sessions, Once a month, an expert from the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center in Concord, NH, gives the talk.
To make it easier for visitors to enjoy the countless activities of this resort, Waterville Valley offers a Summer Unlimited package. From Memorial Day to Columbus Day, visitors can pay one price and enjoy everything the valley has to offer: Nine holes of golf a day; unlimited court time at the tennis club; an hour of canoe, kayak or peddle boat rental daily; two hours of bike rental daily; unlimited use of the facilities at the White Mountain Athletic Club, including indoor and outdoor swimming pools, whirlpools, saunas, weight rooms, and cardiovascular room; admission to the town recreation department’s open gym program; a day at camp for kids age 6 to 12; and even a ride up on Snow’s Mountain chair lift to view the scenery. All for one price, paid once.
Waterville Valley was designed and planned specifically as a self-contained, four seasons resort. Today in addition to its world-class ski area, Waterville Valley Resort has award-winning tennis courts, golf, hiking, biking, lodging, cultural activities and summer theater, an indoor ice rink, boating, a skate park, and a host of outdoor activities. Dining options include traditional favorites and elegant dining. For more information, call 1-800-GO-VALLEY or visit www.visitwatervillevalley.com.