What a Thrill! Learning to Snowboard at Attitash Mountain, New Hampshire

A panoramic view from the summit of Attitash Mountain (photo by Evan Rubin).

By Evan Rubin and Samantha Mazzia

We’re on the summit of Attitash Mountain on our second day of snowboarding, where we can fully take in the breathtaking panoramic view of the New Hampshire’s White Mountains.  We count more than 20 mountain peaks, coated in layers of dense trees and snow.  The roads twist around and through the valleys, reminding us of our mesmerizing drive up to this region striking views of mountain ranges and frozen waterfalls. Nature at its purest.

After researching the best drivable destination for novice snowboarders we decided on Attitash Mountain in Bartlett, New Hampshire (www.attitash.com, 800-223-7669). Their web site clinched it for us: photos of the wintry mountain terrain. It was the perfect atmosphere for what I was looking for, but what sealed it was the value-packed Three-Clinic Package for novice snowboarders. The 3-day package ($130 for ages 13 years and older) includes novice lift tickets and rentals as well as three hours of on-snow lessons the first day, and 90-minute, on-snow instruction days two and three. The focus of the program is to calm your beginner’s fears and to make you feel like an accomplished novice snowboarder by the end of the third lesson.

The program exceeded our expectations, as we quickly lost any initial fear during the first session; by the second day’s lesson, we were working on intermediate skills. By the third day, we were eyeing the black diamond trails for a return visit.

Attitash is a prime location for beginners because the slopes are “forgiving” – that is they are wide, and you have plenty of room to maneuver and practice turns.

Attitash offers 67 trails, of which 20% are considered “green” – suitable for beginners; 47% novice, and 33% advanced trails. The resort also has two terrain parks.  The lift tickets give you access to both Attitash Mountain and its sister ski area Wildcat Mountain (both are owned by Peak Resorts), about 20 miles away, for a total of skiable 535 acres.

Day One

Attitash Mountain opens weekdays from 9 a.m. and weekends from 8:30 a.m. Lessons are offered twice a day, at 10:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. This gives you plenty of time to practice before and after your lessons.

The lodge where you check in and pick up rental equipment is located at the base of Attitash Mountain. The friendly staff were really helpful in getting us the correct equipment.  We met our instructor for our first day’s lesson Mikey-O.  The instructors are very patient. No matter how many questions or how long it would take to catch onto something, they kept an upbeat, positive attitude and always moved at a comfortable pace specific to each individual, even in a group setting.

Mikey-O identified the proper snowboard based on our height and leading foot.  He showed us a technique to find out which foot you lead with (have someone gently push you from behind and the first foot you step out with is your leading foot).  As our eagerness was intensifying, he led us outside and showed us how to get in and out of the bindings as if we were on top of the mountain.  In this pre-lesson phase, we were taught how to “skate” with only one foot strapped in.  We were able to experience what turning would feel like on our toes and then on our heels.  It was a relief to get a taste of being on the board would be like before we progressed to the slopes.

Every beginner starts on the “Snow Belt,” a small, inclined hill.  We skated to a motorized conveyor belt, where we stood upright as we were pulled to the top. This hill introduced us to the very basics of being in motion and stopping.

Once we were comfortable going down the Snow Belt, Mikey-O brought us to a ski lift for the “Learning Center” slope.  He gave us a rundown on how to get on and off a lift safely (this is not as easy as it looks).  To ensure our safety, our instructor signaled to the operator to slow the lift down as we skated off the first time.  We noticed throughout the three learning days that the ski operators were very attentive and helpful.

Evan gets ready to take the plunge as a first-time snowboarder (photo by Samantha Mazzia)

Finally, we were on top of the mountain. Gazing down, the adrenaline kicked in, and we strapped our second foot into the binding.  After teaching us how to distribute our weight, we were able to accomplish other simple snowboarding techniques; for example, leaning into a turn.  Mikey-O also gave us invaluable tips on how to fall safely and reassured us that everyone falls, including him, but if you fall correctly, you can use that momentum to get back up.   One by one, we followed his instructions, and as we reached mental checkpoints, he gave us individual pointers.

During our first three-hour lesson, we also learned how to travel down the slope using more advanced methods of turning, such as the “flying leaf,” where we would zigzag across the hill while angled on our heels.  And with that, we were finally able to accomplish snowboarding down the slope without stopping, working toward that wonderful flow that we see the more experienced snowboarders manage. We’re snowboarding!  We’re really snowboarding!

Mikey-O, as well as our other instructors, ended the lesson with what to focus on while practicing in order to advance to the next level.  Using the techniques we learned in our first session, we snowboarded fluently down the Beginner’s slopes until the lifts closed in the late afternoon.

Day Two

After breakfast in the lodge, we decided to attend the 12:30 p.m. class so we could practice what we learned the previous day before the lesson.

Our second day instructor, Mike Fischer, started us on the Learning Center slope to evaluate our skill level from the day before. As only the two of us were in the class, he focused on our individual development. After snowboarding down the Beginner’s slopes a few times, Mike F. saw that we were ready to try an intermediate slope, even though we didn’t feel as confident in ourselves as he seemed to feel in us.

We rode the lift to the Summit at 1,750 ft above the base of the mountain (2350 ft above sea level). We skated over to a posted map of the trails where we could also take in the breathtaking view. Lush evergreens surrounded us, and we were entranced by the jagged mountain range snaking off into the horizon.  In the distance, the peaks were being engulfed by thick clouds with breaks blue sky and the sun’s vibrant light. It is snowboarding that brings us to this place, and the exhilaration you feel being outdoors that keep you going back up.

A spiral staircase next to the lift led to a circular overlook where visitors can sit and enjoy the 360-degree panoramic view, learn about the scenery from another posted map, and take photos. Before taking the staircase, we made sure that our boards were flipped upside down with the bindings dug into the snow.  It would have been a long way down on foot if we lost the boards.

Our instructor, Mike F., brought us to the head of the intermediate trail, where he took advantage of the long ride down to advance our techniques.  We built on our current abilities (such as they were) and focused on how to comfortably connect our turns.

Mike exercised a “mirroring” method to improve our heel and toe slides while in a controlled leaning position.  By having our hands resting against his hands he rode backwards in front of us down the trail.  Doing this effectively helped us understand how to maintain our balance.

Taking in the interesting scenery as we traveled down the mountain, we realized the trail was long enough to relax, get into a rhythm and have fun.  Mike explained that one of their philosophies as instructors is to get us comfortable enough to go down any slope by showing us around the mountain and teaching us how to explore the different trails.

Day Three

Evan and Samantha on the Attitash summit, no longer first-timers, feeling like real snowboarders after three days of lessons.

After arriving at the clinic area in the morning, we were greeted by two instructors who started our lesson with a fun, warm-up game of musical boards. Focusing on situational awareness, Ryan Holden showed us how to be more cautious of other people and our surroundings.  At the end of the lesson, our instructors left us with a demonstration of more advanced techniques, which gave us something to progress towards.

Looking back at the three days: in our first class we learned to turn leaning forward and backwards, leading with our head and our shoulders. In the second class, we practiced linking turns. In the last session, our other instructor, James Dumphy, showed us how to rely more on our legs to improve transitioning between turns.   He kept reminding us to “stay loose,” and “most importantly, have fun.” And with all of this thorough and enthusiastic training, we were able to do just that.

We spent the rest of the third day “shredding” down the mountain, exploring the various intermediate and beginner trails, and without falling!

Attitash Mountain and Bear Peak trails link together, which give beginners the ability to navigate all over the mountains. We also noticed that some of the advanced, black diamond trails run through forested terrain – maybe we’ll try them during our next visit.

Nor’Easter Mountain Coaster

There are more ways to get down the mountain at Attitash than on skis or snowboard:

One of the unique year-round attractions of Attitash Mountain is the Nor’Easter Mountain Coaster,  a thrilling ride of 4,300 feet of banked curves and dips down the Attitash mountainside. You ride in two-person carts set to twin stainless steel tracks, just like a rollercoaster, reaching speeds up to 25 miles per hour, dropping 316 vertical feet on the way down.

Tickets are $12/ride ($10 with lift ticket or season pass), or purchase a three-ride package for $30 ($25 with lift ticket or season pass). The ride is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekends and holidays. The Coaster will close with the Resort on March 31, 2013, and reopen for Summer operation over Memorial Day weekend.

New for 2012/2013 Season

Peak Resorts, which owns Attitash Mountain and its sister mountain, Wildcat, have made significant improvements for this season, much of it making the mountains more appealing and accessible to beginner skiers and riders like us.

Attitash has opened new learning terrain which is available for free! Two new lower-mountain beginner trails were added to the Bear Peak base area, serviced with a renovated, handle tow, surface lift can now be used at no charge.

“We are committed to beginner skiers and snowboarders,” said John Lowell, General Manager of Attitash Mountain Resort. “This new, and free, learning area is just the start of a Learn2 branded initiative between Attitash and Wildcat [Attitash's sister mountain, 20 miles away] that includes related terrain, surface lift and snowmaking improvements for this season, as well as new, affordable all-inclusive ski school instructional programs valid for use between the two ski areas that are designed to be inviting and easy when introducing beginners to a lifelong sport.”

Over $50,000 was invested creating the trails, adding snowmaking enhancements, renovating and installing the new free surface lift at Bear Peak, and also relocating the conveyor belt surface lift on the Attitash side to better enhance the experience for novice skiers and snowboarders using the learning slope there. New rental equipment was also purchased to enhance the beginners’ experience.

Another improvement this season is that Attitash Mountain Resort relocated its terrain park to Bear Peak. The new Abenaki Park is situated on Lower Mythmaker and Kachina and can be accessed from the mid-station of Abenaki Quad. Abenaki Park is the next progressive step for Peak Resorts to utilize a crew of innovative park groomers and cutters and central fabrication shops to develop and maintain freestyle terrain areas and parks that are appropriate for each resort. The move will also allow for expanded intermediate terrain on the Attitash side opening up Thad’s Choice for all skiers and snowboarders.

Twenty miles from Attitash is its sister mountain, Wildcat Mountain, where your lift ticket is valid, adding variety to longer stays.

For beginners, it means yet another opportunity to enjoy the spectacular view from the summit.

Well known as an expert skier’s mountain Wildcat has added improvements for beginners and in fact, has New Hampshire’s longest summit-to-base novice trail, Polecat, which runs 2.75 miles with spectacular views of the Presidential Range.  For beginner skiers/riders, there is a new surface lift and beginner terrain at the base area plus the gentle learning terrain on the Snowcat Slope. Intermediate terrain includes top-to-bottom winding open runs like Lynx, voted Most Scenic Trail in the North Conway Area by National Geographic. If you like steeps, tree sking and moguls, you’ll get your heart pumping skiing various lift lines and tucking in to your favorite secret stash.

“The legend of Wildcat Mountain is that it’s a super, challenging mountain,” said Josh Boyd, General Manager of Wildcat Mountain. “The truth is that it has excellent learning terrain, including New Hampshire’s longest, summit-to-base, novice trail, but we’ve lacked a surface lift for new skiers and snowboarders; one that would aid our ski school teaching beginner adults and children. I’m happy to say we now have that surface lift this season.”

Peak Resorts, which owns Attitash and Wildcat, made $500,000 in snowmaking improvements and hardware for both ski areas this season. A total of 101 tower guns were installed at the two resorts. Attitash installed 40 new tower guns adding to its already impressive snowmaking system. Wildcat Mountain added 61 tower guns to its arsenal, installed on the Bobcat & Cheetah trails.

Wildcat Mountain is a year-round destination with Mt. Washington and the Presidential Range directly across the way. The view and the landscape of Wildcat Mountain attracts summer and fall visitors to ride to the 4,062-foot summit on the Wildcat Express, the high-speed quad in winter months but a Scenic Gondola in the summer months. You can explore The Way of the Wildcat Trail at the base area, or, for thrill-seekers, absorb the scenery on our four-person ZipRider zip-line, which operates in the summer months.

Lodging

The only on-mountain lodging at Attitash is the Attitash Grand Summit Hotel is nestled slopeside at the base of Bear Peak. The all-season resort hotel affords 143 guest rooms, ranging from spacious standard hotel rooms to multiple bedroom suites with full kitchens.

The hotel is ski in/out in winter, but in spring and summer, the Grand Summit Hotel  provides shuttle access to Attitash Mountain Resort, where you can enjoy the resort’s attractions including the Nor’Easter Mountain Coaster, Alpine Slide, Horseback Riding, Mountain Biking, Waterslides and more. In the fall, one of the most popular attractions in the valley is to take the Conway Scenic Railroad Dining Car and enjoy a meal prepared on-board by the Attitash Culinary Team, as you experience an excursion to Crawford Notch during peak foliage.

There are also any number of quaint inns, lodges, cottages, hotels and motels in the area (see the website, www.attitash.com).

Attitash Resort is open for snowboarding until March 31, 2013, and offers free shuttle service to some hotels, free Wi-Fi in the lodge and free parking. The base lodge has pleasant dining places as well as the rental shop. Go to the Resort website (www.attitash.com, 800-223-7669) for discounts and promotions.

Attitash Mountain Resort, Route 302 Bartlett, NH 03812, 800-223-SNOW (7669), 24-hour Toll-free Snowphone: 877-677-SNOW, www.attitash.com.

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