7 Days in New Hampshire: Snowshoeing in a winter playground

Day 3: A quest for snowshoes and switchel

It’s my third day in New Hampshire and I have yet to feel the wind, even in the heart of Mount Washington Valley.

Mount Washington is the highest peak on the East Coast, famous for its “wtf” weather. And yet, it’s been calm. It feels like a great day for snowshoeing.

Mt. Washington, NH, the highest peak in the East and home to the most extreme weather. Photo: Russel Toris/Flickr.
After breakfast at Stonehurst Manor (the waitress rightfully steered me toward the Stonehurst Gravlax: cured North Atlantic Salmon, poached eggs, spinach and Worcestershire onions on a bagel with a lemon caper dill Hollandaise sauce), I headed to the town of Eaton, a few miles outside Conway.

I needed to procure snowshoes. There are plenty of outfitters in the area that rent them for $15 a day, but instead I found Ralph on Craigslist.

Ralph was selling a pair of traditional wood and leather snowshoes made by Treffle Bolduc, who I learned was a legendary North Conway craftsman.

I met Ralph and his wife outside the Eaton Village Store, overlooking Crystal Lake, which was absolutely picturesque with the white blanket and the sun out. I’m told the lake is full of brown trout.

I’m immediately grateful for this Craigslist diversion, as it led me to the hidden gems in Eaton and to learning about Bolduc. I am also now the proud owner of a pair of New Hampshire-made ash beavertail snowshoes.

New wheels at Crystal Lake, Eaton, New Hampshire. Thanks Craigslist. Photo: Jon Coen.
North Conway is something of the East Coast’s version of Tahoe, minus the tacky casinos and McConkey’s at Squaw.

From here you can access Attitash, Cranmore, Black Mountain, and Shawnee Peak, with opportunities for snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, dog sledding, and ice fishing. In a few months, this area will be all about camping, hiking, fishing, and kayaking, followed by leaf peeping in the fall. Between North Conway and Conway proper, there’s a thriving art scene, not to mention a ton of dining options for one valley.

The Stonehurst sits adjacent to Whitaker Woods, a wooded hiking and cross-country ski loop. You’re supposed to have a pass to use the trails, and the Stonehurst offers them complimentary to guests.

I strapped on my new Bolducs and started floating across the snow, quickly working up a sweat. Whitaker Woods was gorgeous, with a lot of animal tracks and about a dozen smiling folks cross-country skiing.

After the trek, the Local Grocer was easy to find on the White Mountain Highway. It’s the area’s defacto health-food market/café/juice bar/yoga/granola headquarters. Any vegetarian would be pleased with the Tempeh Rueben or Funky Monkey Smoothie.

I grabbed an Up Mountain Switchel for the ride. If you’ve never had switchel, it’s an unusual New England beverage made of maple syrup, apple cider vinegar, and ginger. It might be an acquired taste, but apple cider vinegar is damn good for cold weather ailments.

Fresh smoothies after snowshoeing at The Local Grocer, North Conway. Photo: Courtesy of The Local Grocer.
I drive less than two hours to the “the seacoast” as they call it, which is uniquely New Hampshire. I checked into Lamie’s Inn in Hampton, a 32-room brick inn built before the American Revolution.

The low pressure system that delivered the fresh snow we rode on Wednesday is now sitting in the North Atlantic Ocean, pushing swell back to the East Coast. I spoke with longtime friend, noted surf and snow photographer and Granite State native, Brian Nevins, who said he got a surf today. It wasn’t firing, but there should still be a wave tomorrow for some of the coast’s 18 miles of rocks and crannies.

And if that doesn’t pan out, I will simply make it my mission to try every lobster roll in Portsmouth. I’ll tell you who has the best.

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