A half century ago, Nathaniel Goodrich used those words to extol the virtues of Waterville Valley Resort, a historic New Hampshire town surrounded by 700,000 acres of national forest. “Superficially it changes, as all things must,” Goodrich wrote. “But basically it remains the same.”
These days, Goodrich might be surprised to see Waterville Valley Resort ‘s nationally ranked tennis courts, summertime skateboard park, year-round ice arena, and cultural activities that range from bluegrass festivals to Shakespeare under the stars.
Or maybe not. Waterville Valley Resort has always been about wholesome, fun activities. It’s a unique combination of resort area, historic town, and nature-lover’s paradise, with an emphasis on family and community that brings people back year after year.
In the 1800s, visitors came to the valley by stagecoach to escape the heat of the city and enjoy an abundance of natural beauty. These days, visitors arrive by car, wending their way along the picturesque Mad River, which surges over boulder-strewn rapids on its way to “the town at the end of the road.”
When you arrive in Waterville Valley Resort, you can generally park your car and forget it. The Town Square is a pedestrian-only zone, and most activities are within walking distance or a short ride on the free open-air trolley that serves the valley. And activities there are, in abundance: year-round sports of every imaginable variety, for everyone from absolute beginners to experts; arts and education programs for children and adults; outdoor theater, gardening, and clubs. In Waterville Valley Resort, the words “I’m bored” are rarely, if ever, heard.
Take a Hike
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 club’s mission was to care for the valley’s many trails, but they also put on shows, skits and other activities for the amusement of summer visitors.
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 sweat-drenching ascents. Want a short jaunt to work off the fettuccine alfredo you just had at one of the Waterville Valley Resort ‘s restaurants? Take a stroll around Corcoran Pond at the center of town and enjoy the view of the surrounding mountains. Feeling a bit more adventurous? Wander through the woods and wildflowers on the valley floor, or hike past the scenic waterfalls of Cascade Brook. Ready to work up a sweat? Head up the 4,315-ft. summit of Mount Osceola for stunning views of the entire valley. If you’re really daring, you can take on the three peaks of Mount Tripyramid, the highest points in the valley. There are trails for the brave, the bold, and the beginners at Waterville Valley.
If you prefer wheels to hiking boots, bring your mountain bike to Waterville Valley Resort, or rent one there. Once again, you can take it as easy or as hard as you like. Whether its a leisurely ride around town or a dirt-kicking expedition through the woods, you’ll find plenty of trails to suit your mood—over 30 miles of them! You can even take a chair lift to the top of Snow’s Mountain and ride your bike down. The Adventure Center, located in the Town Square, provides well-maintained rental bikes for all levels of riders, and instructors to help you get started, make sure your bike is comfortable, and suggest trails to explore. If you’ve never biked before, it’s a great, non-threatening way to begin.
The Adventure Center is also home to the Waterville Valley Super Park, a skateboard and inline skate park that features a 10-foot-high half-pipe, vert ramp, street court, pyramids, grind rails, and more. There’s also an outdoor dirt BMX track. The park offers daily and seasonal admission, rentals, and skate camp for day and overnight campers from July 1 to August 12.
When it’s too hot for outdoor skating, head on 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 also sign up for figure skating and hockey lessons, along with youth hockey league tournaments. The arena is also home ice for the Plymouth State College hockey team, so locals and visitors can be found there throughout the season cheering for the PSC Panthers.
When they weren’t hiking, Waterville Valley Resort ‘s early guests were playing games, and golf was an early favorite. Summer visitors built the first, impromptu course in front of the Eliot’s Hotel back in 1898. That evolved into the Waterville Valley Golf Club, where beginners, duffers, and scratch golfers have been playing for over a century. It’s a family-friendly course surrounded by glorious 360-degree views of Mounts Tecumseh, Osceola and Sandwich.
The spirit of Waterville Valley Resort permeates the course, in contrast to more high-pressure clubs. “It’s more relaxed, not intimidating,” says Jim Wefers, manager of the Golden Eagle Lodge. On a summer day, you’re likely to see as many families with children playing as adult foursomes. And on summer evenings, adult visitors are invited to join locals in the popular Twilight League.
“Anyone can play,” says Bill Cantlin. “You just show up and we put names in a hat and pick foursomes.” Afterwards, players head to the clubhouse for $1 beers. It’s a welcome retreat for vacationers who want to escape from the family for a little while. “Those are some of the happiest guys I’ve seen,” says Cantlin.
By the way, don’t mistake “friendly” for “unchallenging.” The club recently completed a half-million dollar renovation designed to maintain the charm of the original course while adding new holes to challenge more experience players. “We wanted to create a course that would provide a good golfing experience for all levels of players,” says club pro Bill Baker.
Another favorite activity for early visitors to Waterville Valley Resort was tennis. Back in 1884, the valley had only one court; today there are 18, and they are among the best courts 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. Players as widely-known as two-time Grand Slam champion Rod Laver have enjoyed the red clay courts, along with beginners.
Throw in swimming, kayaking, paddle-boats, and you’ve got more activities than most folks can choose from. To make it easier, Waterville Valley offers its Summer Unlimited package. From Memorial Day to Columbus Day, visitors can pay one price and enjoy everything the valley has to offer: 9 holes of golf a day; unlimited court time at the tennis club; an hour of canoe, kayak or pedal 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.
“Parents love the Summer Unlimited program,” says Bill Cantlin. “It gives them so many choices, and Dad’s not constantly reaching into his wallet every time the kids want to do something.”
Curiosity and Culture under the Stars
Waterville Valley Resort is more than just an outdoor paradise. It’s also an artistic and cultural center, a tradition that stretches back to its earliest days. Poets and painters have long frequented the region, and in the late 1950s, the creators of the immensely popular Curious George books, H.A. and Margret Rey, made it their summer home.
The Rey’s cottage, now known as the Curious George Cottage, became a magnet for local children–who were allowed to watch the famous authors at work—and an intellectual and creative center for the town.
Today, the Rey’s spirit lives on in the Margret and H.A Rey Center, which hosts nature walks, literary groups, writers workshops, discussion clubs, a monthly lecture series, art shows, and activities for children. Among the most popular is the Curious Kids program, which takes children and families into the White Mountain National Forest around surrounding Waterville Valley for learning experiences.
The Rey Center also hosts regular astronomy nights under Waterville Valley’s dark skies, still unspoiled by urban glare, conducted by local amateurs and experts from the Christa McAuliffe Planetarium in Concord. Vacationers and visitors are welcome at all of the Rey Center events.
Visitors also rub elbows with locals at star-filled evenings sponsored by Shakespeare in the Valley, a professional troupe that presents the Bard’s works under the stars with the majestic White Mountains as a backdrop. The productions are held in conjunction with the Waterville Valley recreation department, which also offers a full slate of activities year-round for residents and visitors. Perhaps the most popular is the day camp program, which welcomes children ages 4 to 12 on a first-come, first-served basis for jam-packed days of indoor and outdoor activities. Although reservations are accepted, they aren’t required, which gives visitors the flexibility to make last-minute plans–the kids will have a safe, fun-filled day while mom and dad are playing golf, tennis, or simply enjoying some time alone.
Along with day camp, Waterville Valley’s recreation department also hosts bingo, ice cream socials, sports of all kinds, yoga, cooking, crafts, and many more activities for children and adults. “This place gets a lot of use,” says Stephanie Gardner, Waterville’s recreation director.
Still a Winner in Winter
In the 1960’s, Waterville Valley became a year-round resort community when US. Olympic skier Tom Corcoran first came to the area. Corcoran envisioned a planned community free from the urban sprawl of fast-food restaurants and big box 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 family-fun atmosphere of the valley. The resort features 2 high-speed detachable quads, 2 triples, 3 doubles, 5 surface lifts, and has trails for skiers of every ability.
Waterville Valley has hosted 13 World Cup skiing events. It’s also home to the Waterville Valley Academy ski school—an academic sports program for competitive skiers and snowboarders—as well as the Black and Blue Trail Smashers ski club, whose members have won several major awards in regional championships.
At the Adventure Center in Town Square, the focus of winter activities is cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Waterville Valley has 120 KM of groomed trails, almost all of which are 16-feet wide, with a classic track on the outside. The trails are nationally ranked in ski guides, and according to cross-country skier Bill Cantlin, “The grooming is extraordinary.” Cantlin, who has helped out with NCAA tournaments says, “It’s better than the grooming the NCAA does.”
And no one gets left out of the fun. The Waterville Valley ski area sponsors the AbilityPLUS Adaptive program, which teams physically and mentally challenged children and adults with caring volunteers who help them enjoy the thrill of skiing, free from the encumbrance of wheelchairs or braces.
That’s typical of the attitude in Waterville Valley Resort. “It’s a small community with a big heart,” says Bruce Saenger, a one-timer visitor who now runs a successful consultancy from Waterville Valley. This year, Waterville Valley hosted the winter games for Special Olympics New Hampshire, with over 400 inspiring athletes competing. “The whole community supported the games,” says Saenger.
They also pitched in to support Wounded Warriors, a program that brings wounded veterans from Walter Reed Medical Center to Waterville Valley for a retreat. The guests stay in private homes and are treated to skiing, activities, and a reception, all donated by the community.
The Town at the End of the Road
For many visitors, simply driving to Waterville Valley Resort is a breath-taking experience—or perhaps “breath-releasing.” Time and again, visitors describe turning off the highway and heading to the valley as a letting go of the outside world and a deep-seated sense of heading home.
“There is something about this place that has drawn people to return year after year, and their children also, their grandchildren, and now even their great-great-grandchildren,” wrote Nathaniel Goodrich in 1952. “In a world of change and upheaval, in times when so many shift from place to place till they have no roots anywhere, Waterville Valley Resort has come to seem one place that is home to them, is changeless…It comes down to this: Waterville is continuance.”
“I think he got that about right,” says Tom Corcoran.
So do we.
Areas like Waterville Valley Resort, to which families return generation after generation, allow parents to show their children what their most deeply-held values are. In Waterville Valley, those values are family, community, integrity, tradition and love of nature and the outdoors. But now, people are moving to this town of some 400 people to live year round. Being just over two hours from Boston, Waterville is a pristine resort of 500 acres surrounded by the White Mountain National Forest. Waterville Valley Resort has a world-class ski area, award-winning tennis courts, golf, hiking, biking, lodging, water sports, indoor ice rink, tennis, boating, a skate park, and a host of outdoor activities. What it doesn’t have are fast-food places, stoplights and big box stores.
For more information on Waterville Valley Resort call 1-800-GO-VALLEY , or go to www.visitwatervillevalley.com .