New England's best ski towns are exhilarating destinations with mountains to conquer and fun, friendly après-ski hangouts. Here's a frequent skier's guide to the region's ultimate destinations for winter fun on and off the slopes.
Sunday River draws skiers and snowboarders to the small town of Bethel, Maine, with some of the best snow conditions—and one of the longest winter-sports seasons—in the East. And while it’s not exactly a rollicking party town, there’s plenty of fun to be had here once you’re off the slopes.
The Foggy Goggle bar is the main venue for après-ski drinks, good food and live music right at the mountain, and if you’re staying at the Summit Hotel and don’t feel like driving, it has some late-night atmosphere, too. The new-ish restaurant at the hotel, Camp, also gets good reviews for its rustic atmosphere and upscale comfort food.
Right down the access road is the legendary Matterhorn, a rambling roadhouse of a ski bar which is a pretty sure bet for danceable live music and great pizza. The Sunday River shuttle will drop you off right at the door, and the last pickup is late enough to allow a full night of fun with friends old and new.
Founded in 1774, Bethel village is sometimes overlooked by Sunday River visitors, but it’s a cute little New England town with some nice restaurants (22 Broad for fine dining, Cho Sun for sushi and karaoke) and bars (local favorite Suds, and the venerable but lively Funky Red Barn) of its own.
Stowe is by far the most upscale ski town in New England and the closest you’ll come to an Aspen- or Telluride-like experience in the East. In addition to great bars and restaurants, Stowe boasts a variety of luxury resorts and spas, as well as a four-season recreation trail, movie theater and shopping, plus an ever-growing variety of lodging, dining, art galleries and entertainment options at the base of the ski mountain (Mt. Mansfield) itself. The Spruce Peak Performing Arts Center hosts concerts, theater productions and more, and the Vermont Ski and Snowboard Museum is an entertaining schuss through history.
We’re thrilled to report that the Rusty Nail, Stowe’s famed après-ski watering hole and live-music venue, has reopened and is presenting a full slate of performances; it’s now under the same ownership as the nearby Idletyme Brewing Company. Beer drinkers will also love Doc Ponds, which also is one of Stowe’s reliable dining spots. The quirky Matterhorn is equally loved for its lively bar scene and its sushi. To ease the aches and pains of a long day on the mountain, check out the spas at Topnotch, Stoweflake or the Stowe Mountain Lodge.
They call Killington “The Beast” for its remarkable size (six peaks, 21 lifts, 141 trails) and for having the longest vertical drop in New England. Once you’ve worn yourself out on on the slopes, head for the Lookout Tavern, easily spied with its colorful sign and rooftop deck; they’re known for their wings but serve a full menu, and in addition to oversized cocktails and beer, you can even order a glass of fancy champagne to toast the day’s conquests. For juicy steaks and libations in a more raucous atmosphere, the Wobbly Barn is the go-to, and the Pickel Barrel Night Club has a big stage for live music and three levels of dance floors and bars.
For farm-to-table dining in a lofty perch, check out the new Peak Lodge at Killington. If you’re in the mood for Italian, The Garlic is warm and friendly—a place where you can order a Tuscan feast or just tapas and cocktails. For a pint and a shot to wash down some authentic Irish food, try McGrath’s Irish Pub at the Inn at Long Trail.
North Conway and New Hampshire's Mount Washington Valley
You can almost walk from the slopes of Cranmore Mountain to the main drag in North Conway, and this is one of the few ski towns in New England where the mountain and town seem like one. There’s so much to do here when you’re not skiing or boarding, including riding the mountain coaster at Cranmore, taking a scenic train ride, ice skating at night, and summiting mighty Mount Washington by car or, in the winter, via snow coach.
The closely connected towns of Jackson and Bartlett add even more dining and winter sports options, including the old school Black Mountain and challenging Wildcat ski areas. For après ski we like the Red Parka for prime rib, drinking and dancing; the Moat Mountain House for sampling locally brewed beers and meeting new friends at the bar; the Shannon Door when we want to get our Irish on and the Muddy Moose for pub grub.
Lincoln, New Hampshire
Lincoln is home to Loon Mountain and, with its location just off of I-93, one of the easiest New England ski towns to get to, with charming Woodstock just on the other side of the highway. The Woodstock Inn & Brewery is our favorite après-ski stop in the area, with great food and some excellent brews by the mug and growler. Right off the slopes at Loon, you can head upstairs in the Octagon Lodge to the Paul Bunyan Room: a rare on-mountain bar with an authentic local atmosphere that features a wrap-around deck for viewing the slopes and a fireplace for warming up afterward. For a sit-down dinner, it’s still hard to beat The Common Man, a New England institution.
While you're in Lincoln, don't miss Ice Castles, New Hampshire: a marvelous palace made purely of frozen water.
Okemo Mountain gets a special mention here for its unique snowcat dining experience. The same slopes that looked so friendly and inviting during your day of skiing take on an air of mystery and adventure when you climb aboard the Grey Goose snowcat for a journey up the mountain to the Epic restaurant. Once you arrive, you’ll enjoy a five-course fireside dinner up among the stars (or snowflakes). Tom’s Loft Tavern is the local hotspot for après-ski drinks.
Coastal Camden may be known more for its lobster dinners than its skiing, but it's also home to the iconic Camden Snow Bowl, an old-fashioned New England ski area uniquely situated within sight of Penebscot Bay that’s currently undergoing a major renaissance.
The 80-year-old Snow Bowl, famous for its annual toboggan races, is getting a $4.5-million facelift that will include a new lodge, trails (now up to 20), glade skiing, lifts (including a new triple chair to the summit), and snowmaking. All of which is helping to put Camden on the map as a regional destination for snowsports as well as a great town for shopping and dining.
Off-mountain activities include shows at the Camden Opera House, browsing the boutiques on Main Street and Bay View Street, and lighthouse and schooner tours. Dining options include traditional Down East favorites like Cappy’s Chowder House and the acclaimed Natalie’s at the Camden Harbour Inn.