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Winter in the White Mountains: A Multi-Sport Playground

Winter adventurer and photographer Nicole Handel spent some time in New Hampshire’s White Mountains this winter exploring the variety of outdoor activities. Read on to learn more about where you can go trail running, cross country skiing and split boarding!

Two years ago, I made the move from Vermont to Conway, New Hampshire. I had spent plenty of time in the White Mountains, mostly for quick weekend trips, avalanche education, and big mountain runs, but I don’t think that I fully understood just how expansive the public land in New Hampshire is. Thanks to the vast and sprawling White Mountain National Forest, this area is a multi-sport playground. In one short winter weekend, with Conway as a home base, visitors and locals can easily ski, snowboard, fat bike, ice climb, and trail run to their heart’s content.

Below are a few of my favorite winter activities, in some of New Hampshire’s most iconic destinations. These spaces, like all other outdoor recreation spaces, can only exist in the way that they do by visitors following Leave No Trace principles and practices, like leaving nature as it is, respecting wildlife, and disposing of waste properly, to name a few. With continued attention to these practices, the White Mountains can remain wild and protected for us all to enjoy for many years to come.

1. Splitboarding or Skiing The Cog Railway (1 hour from North Conway, NH)

The Cog Railway is best known for taking visitors from Marshfield Base Station up to the summit of Mt. Washington. But, in the winter, skiers and split boarders can also ski uphill alongside the train track, as far as they’d like (including up to the summit of Mt. Washington) and then ski or board back down to Marshfield Base Station. The difficulty level of this tour is intermediate, and anyone venturing above treeline who does not plan to follow the Cog Railway down (and wants to instead drop into one of the many ski lines off of Mt. Washington) should have both avalanche education training as well as avalanche safety tools (like a beacon, shovel, and probe).

Waumbek Station, one of the stops along the Cog Railway.

Transitioning from uphill mode to downhill mode about 2 miles up The Cog.

Heading uphill, following The Cog Railway with friends.

2. Cross-Country Skiing at Whittaker Woods (in North Conway, NH)

Whittaker Woods, a public trail network conveniently located in the downtown of North Conway, turns into a community meeting place in the winter. With groomed trails (not seen here, due to getting caught in the middle of a snow storm) open to skiers, fat bikers, and snowshoers, Whittaker Woods is popular amongst both locals and visitors. Note: a trail pass is required to use these trails in the winter, and can be purchased at Ragged Mountain Equipment.

XC Skiing is a great way to get outside in the winter on skis, even if you don’t have years of experience. By choosing flatter, groomed trails, anyone can get on XC skis for the first time and have fun!

Whittaker Woods is dog-friendly, so you can head there with your pup, unlike most downhill ski locations! Just make sure that you clean up after your dog and follow leash guidelines!


3.  Trail Running the Moat Traverse (15 minutes from North Conway, NH)

The Moat Traverse is a 10-mile mountain hike or run just outside of North Conway that offers stunning views, great terrain, and a solid workout. The trailheads at either end of this traverse can get busy in the summer, but tend to be quieter in the winter. Make sure to wear snowshoes in fresh snow, so that you don’t posthole the trail; you’ll also likely want microspikes, as some spots on this trail get icy in the winter. Park at either the Diana’s Baths trailhead or the South Moat trailhead to run or hike this point-to-point traverse. (Note that you will need to spot a car at the other end of the traverse, unless you want to run the additional 10 road miles back to your car.)

If you are running or hiking with a dog, be sure to check leash requirements and as always, pack out any waste.

4. Splitboarding or Skiing The John Sherburne Ski Trail (30 minutes from North Conway, NH)

The John Sherburne Ski Trail, affectionately known as “The Sherb”, offers some of the most fun and accessible backcountry terrain in the area. By parking at the Pinkham Notch Visitor’s Center, you can ski up the Tuckerman Ravine Trail and transition at the Hermit Lake Shelter to ski down The Sherb. If you are a more experienced skier or rider, and have experience in avalanche terrain, you can also ski beyond the Hermit Lake Shelter to access some of Mt. Washington’s steeper terrain.

If you transition at the Hermit Lake Shelter, you will have skied uphill just over 2 miles, and will have 2 more miles of rolling, semi-technical (depending on conditions) terrain ahead of you. The Sherb is a wide, moderate grade trail that might be classified as a blue trail in good snow, and closer to a black trail in light snow or tracked-out conditions due to moguls and exposed rock or ice. While dogs are technically allowed on this trail, it can get quite busy and may not be safe for dogs during peak hours. As always, use caution if skiing with a dog or dogs.

Approaching the Hermit Lake Shelter on a splitboard heading up the Tuckerman Ravine Trail.

Views looking towards Mt. Washington from just beyond the Hermit Lake Shelter.

Heading down The Sherb after adding layers and switching into downhill mode.

A fun, mellow day on The Sherb thanks to good snow conditions.