Friday, February 28, 2014

Bretton Woods Club Members For a Day

There are blissful moments when I go on vacation and say to myself, "I wish I could do this all the time!" A concierge with insider info into all the great things to do; healthy gourmet food at my fingertips; access to all the outdoor activities I love, like downhill and cross-country skiing, swimming, tennis and golf; kids' programs to keep them entertained when I need a break. Wouldn't it be great to be able to be a guest of the resort every weekend?

In fact, there is a way - the Bretton Woods Club.  We decided to see what the Bretton Woods Club's Alpine Club was all about.

Although we visited on a quiet weekday when parking close to the lodge was easy and lift lines nonexistent, it was still a treat to be able to pull up right in front of the Alpine Club, where a valet attendant quickly offered to carry our skis out onto the racks for us and then parked our car.

If we were regular members, our skis and boots would already be stored at the Club, where the attendants would see us coming, and like Norm at Cheers, "everybody knows your name" and our favorite things (skis in this case, not beer) would be out and waiting for us when we arrived. The idea of not having to schlep skis and poles and boot bags and distracted kids across the parking lot is very appealing!

After a tour of the Alpine Club, we enjoyed complimentary hot chocolate and muffins while we got booted up. It was so pleasant sitting in the overstuffed armchairs by the fire that we lingered a bit longer than usual getting ready to go out. Eileen Armstrong, Director of Membership at the Club, told us that there's always a group of members who take advantage of the first tracks benefit, and they are ready to hop on the lifts half an hour before the lifts open to the public. I'm guessing we'd definitely be part of that group that gets first tracks, whether it's for pristine corduroy or diving into untracked powpow. But this morning, we knew that once we got going, we'd be able to scoot right on to the lift from the BWC-only line.

At lunch, Bridget and Timmy eyed with interest the other kids sitting with their parents while we  enjoyed homemade mac and cheese and cooked to order sandwiches.  Eileen told us that many of the Alpine Club members are parents like us, with little rippers who are giving their parents a run for their money on the slopes. At first, she said, each family would sit by themselves at lunch, but a larger family atmosphere has grown here, and now she usually sees a posse of kids sitting together, with their parents enjoying some adult company nearby.

We focused on skiing for our vacation-week visit to the Club, but members can take advantage of all kinds of benefits and privileges, from use of the Omni Mount Washington Hotel's outdoor pool, to spa discounts, to complimentary time on the Slopeside Climbing Wall.  There are several different memberships to choose from that feature special benefits for ski, golf, and social memberships, or combinations of each.

They also offer members-only events like social mixers for adults and kid-specific programs like live animal visits or educational programs from the Mount Washington Observatory.

Skis need a tune? Just drop them off with one of the ski attendants and they'll be nice and sharp the following morning.

We love to bring family and friends with us to share our love of skiing and winter, and at the Club, members can bring along guests for just $25 a day.  Need a little more room for this guests?  Members get free two room-nights at the Omni Mount Washington Hotel (with some restrictions) and discounts on additional nights at Resort lodging properties.

Often connotations of a private club bring the notion of an exclusionary group of people that are more interested in seeing what kind of car you drive than in getting to know you.  That was hardly the case here. At the end of the day, our car was warmed up and waiting for us in front of the Alpine Club.  As we were leaving, we talked with one of the members who looked like she had kids about the same age as ours.  With a genuine smile she told us, "It really is like a big extended family here.  The kids have become fast friends, and love to ski together.  Everyone is so friendly and the staff really takes care of us here."  This unsolicited plug for the Club assured us that this is a place we really could call home.

The Club offers open houses throughout the season where you can learn more about what it's like to be a member, or you can schedule a "member for a day" visit like we did by contacting Eileen and her friendly staff to set up a personal tour.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Celebrating Our Own Olympics

Have you been glued to the games like we have? I realize that Olympians have rare talent and tenacity, yet it's fascinating for me when I think about the fact that these athletes are real people who grew up in little towns like the one we live in, and skied and trained at mountains that I've skied. The inspiration they spark in me every time I watch a skater glide across the ice or a snowboarder soar in inconceivable whirls and turns makes me wonder if we might be able to have our own Olympic moments on our next visit to Bretton Woods.

With Bridget's penchant for flying down the mountain, we'd obviously start our Olympic tour on Bode's Run. Bode Miller himself helped design this run from the top of Mount Rosebrook, and it's full of the variety you'd expect from the iconic skier, with a good little headwall at the top, and then some sweeping turns around clusters of maples for practicing those race turns.

Next, we may want to see how we'd fare against gold medal ski race winner Ted Ligety. Even 4-year-old Timmy can see how he would compare to Ted with a few runs down the NASTAR course.  Every time you race NASTAR you are racing against Ted and his Par Time. The handicap you earn is the percentage your time is behind Ted's time (e.g. 15 handicap = 15 percent behind Ted's time). NASTAR is the acronym for the NAtional STAndard Race and is the largest public grassroots ski race program in the world. Participants compete within their age and gender groups to win platinum, gold, silver and bronze medals. 

For some freestyle flair, we'll have to hit one of the kids' favorite runs, Coos Caper. My guys are too little to actually hit any of the features, but they love to ride up and over the big whales of snow carved out for the big kids to fly off. Safety note: we try to keep our forays into this playground to the times that the real freestylers aren't there, like early in the morning -we don't want a little ripper to be hidden behind one of the jumps and have someone land on them!

We've enjoyed the Bretton Woods Nordic Marathon in the past, and the 2014 event is coming up on March 8. It's a great place for even a casual cross-country skier to get the feel of participating in a big Nordic event. There have been some famous names in Nordic racing participate in this event in the past, like Olympians Justin Freeman and Dorcas Wonsavage, but hundreds of participants have enjoyed this race, entering the full, half, or untamed divisions. Participants get amazing goody bags, and the banquet at the Omni Mount Washington Hotel that follows is the kind you'd only expect from a grand hotel.

When sliding down a snowy run at thrilling speeds is our Olympic aspiration, we can imagine we're on a luge on the tubing hill near the Bretton Woods Nordic Center. From the base of the tubing hill, it's normal to hear uncontrollable giggles and shrieks of laughter as kids and adults alike careen down the slope.

Next, we might try some ice dancing in one of the most scenic spots you could think of: on the rooftop of the spa and convention center at the Omni Mount Washington Hotel.  With the Presidential Range in the background, I'm hoping the views will make up for the fact that we aren't the most graceful of skaters, and if we have to pick ourselves up a few times, well then there's always a warm mug of hot cocoa waiting for us inside at the Rosebrook Bar in the Hotel.

As history buffs know, the Gold Standard was set at Bretton Woods, and I know that going for the gold will be a ton for us too, even if it's only in our imaginations!

Friday, February 7, 2014

Sense of Skiing Place

Growing up, I didn't have a "home mountain" where we skied all the time. Ever the frugal Yankee, my dad took us all over New England and New York, searching out "cost-effective" (read:cheap) ways for my sister and I to ski. There was a sense of adventure in the pre-dawn loading up all the gear and piling in to the car to explore new terrain. We kept a mental list of all the different places we'd been, some of which now aren't even in business anymore.

But there's always a bit of a learning curve when you go to a new resort.

I'm not a huge fan of crowds, so I like to know where to park, the best nook in the lodge to boot up, and a pattern to follow around the mountain to avoid the mid-morning rush. Time on snow is always too short, and I don't want to waste any of that precious time schlepping through parking lots or standing in line if I can avoid it.

Having insider knowledge can mean the difference between a lunchtime run-of-the-mill burger and a delightful twist on a standard lunch that makes your belly smile.

So while there are certainly times when we have an opportunity to ski at other mountains, I think its great that my kids are developing a sense of place at Bretton Woods.

To foster the kids' sense of accomplishment and spur them to try new trails, Outdoor Dad came up with the idea this year to have the kids keep track of all the trails they've skied this year on a trail map. Each kid has his or her own trail map, and on it they highlight the trails they've been on.

It's great to hear 4-year-old Timmy exclaim, "I get to add a new trail to my map!"

Timmy has always been a big fan of maps, and going back to the trail map again and again has been great in teaching where they are on the mountain, and how to get around.  If he has a favorite trail in mind, like the roller coaster ride over the big mounds older kids use to catch air on the Coos Caper terrain park, he knows that the easiest way to get there is on the Zephyr Quad.  Bridget has learned that you can't get to the fast steep turns of Fire Tower if you are standing in front of Chutters without skiing down to the base first.

There's also a sense of security in a familiar place. We obviously do our best to keep track of our little rippers at all time, but Timmy especially has a tendency to wander towards whatever he finds interesting at the moment. We've kept him in out sights so far (knock on wood), but we've talked about where we would meet if we ever got separated and I'm pretty sure he could find his way. I also know that with so many good friends always around the resort, he'd be sure to find a helping hand if he needed one.

There's a practicality of having a common language about where we are, where to meet, and later sharing tales about where we went. And as the kids get older and hitting the slopes without Mom or Dad keeping a constant watch on them, I know that there will be friends all over the mountain who recognize them and will let me know if there's any trouble.  Right now, however, I'm enjoying seeing them grow into confident explorers on their home mountain.