(Kathleen Baglio Humphreys/Union Leader Correspondent)
FRANCONIA — Steeped in history and tradition, Cannon Mountain has an undeniable appeal to skiers and riders drawn to the natural beauty and alluring terrain it offers.
Cannon Mountain has stood the test of time and is going strong on its 76th season.
Generation after generation return to Cannon each winter to enjoy adventure on the slopes, making family memories, and even though not a whole lot has changed visually to this down-home mountain, behind the scenes seamless modern improvements are taking place to make the Cannon experience even more memorable.
"There is nothing fancy about Cannon. It's really about the family experience," said General Manager John DeVivo. And that is how folks like it, a natural mountain, he said.
From the steeps of Avalanche and Gary's to the gentle rolls at Tuckerbrook Family Area, Cannon Mountain has terrain anyone can enjoy, learn on or become a hero on. About 50 percent of the mountain is the rough, rugged terrain they are famous for but there is an abundance of uncrowded blue and green trails for all ability levels that are well-groomed with plenty of quality snow. The philosophy at Cannon is to not groom the entire mountain but leave parts of some trails natural, the way they were before grooming became the norm.
Driving along Interstate 93 through Franconia Notch, only the famous Front Five can easily be seen, but there is a whole lot of impressive mountain up there and now even more with the acquisition of Mittersill. That added another mountain and 50 percent more terrain with 25 trails and historic glades. If the Mittersill lift is not running, hike over the "saddle" from Taft Slalom to the 3,650 foot high Mittersill backcountry where powder awaits. It's a rite of passage to hike and ski down Mittersill.
This past summer Cannon added 137 new low-energy, high-efficiency snow guns to boost snowmaking capacity. It can now pump 50 percent more water, which comes in handy especially when Mother Nature is being stingy with the white stuff. Cannon also added to its state-of-the-art grooming fleet and made trail improvements as part of a $1 million investment.
Over the past few years Cannon has doubled the lodge footprint and added a new rental shop. After a day on the slopes, relax by one of the two fireplaces or enjoy the Cannonball Pub.
Seasonal programs include the first race team established in New Hampshire, the Franconia Ski Club (FSC), which runs a competitive alpine race team for ages 6-20 with 175 athletes and a master's program. Nearly 300 young skiers and snowboarders are on snow each weekend with their snowsports instructors and improve their skills in various programs, some geared towards bumps, trees and the terrain park. Several hundred students from a dozen local schools participate in the program. Also available are group and private lessons for children and adults, special men's and women's only clinics, and on average 125 children benefit from walk-in lessons each weekend.
Cannon is one of New Hampshire's three 4,000-foot ski areas. The summit is served by the Cannonball Express and the Aerial Tramway, aka Mustard and Ketchup, due to the red or yellow color, which lets people off at 4,080 feet to enjoy the rush of going down the mountain or to grab a quick hot coca or lunch in the mountain top café first. The tram runs year-round, bringing visitors to the top for spectacular views of Mount Lafayette and various mountain ranges or to the bottom to visit the NH Ski Museum. Cannon boasts New Hampshire's highest ski area elevation and largest vertical drop, which is why the diehard skiers love Cannon.
As tradition would have it, Cannon opened the day after Thanksgiving and offered skiers and riders excellent snow on a variety of trails.
Eric Rivard of Goffstown said, "It was great skiing, especially for November."
Matthew Tobichuk, 13, of Wrentham, Mass., was smiling ear to ear after three-days of ski practice with FSC and said, "Skiing was awesome this weekend, super-fast. I was so excited to get back on skis. The conditions were excellent." Opening weekend included special homecoming events and fireworks on Saturday night.
"It was a great opening weekend, by all accounts our best season opener ever with smiling faces," said DeVivo. "We were lucky with the rain on Wednesday that the groomers could get out there on Wednesday and Thursday to groom and the new high-tech snow guns certainly helped. It was fantastic.""Our job is to sell fun," said DeVivo.
With 264 skiable acres, there is a lot of adventure awaiting.
"If we can patrol it, it will be opened," said DeVivo.
Cannon has been improving its terrain parks over the years and had its park ready to go on opening day to the excitement of freestylers, snowboarders and many of the race kids who couldn't wait to hit that rail or get big air off a jump on opening weekend.
Cannon Mountain is part of the Franconia Notch State Park, along with Lafayette Place Campground, the Flume Gorge and Echo Lake. "State ownership can carry a big stigma or something we can be proud of and we use it to our advantage when talking about the state park and surroundings area. To the everyday skier or rider it shouldn't matter who owns us, what matters is the experience. Our value is the surface you are on, and in our opinion it's the best in New Hampshire, and the surroundings because no one in New Hampshire can match our scenery except Wildcat and the invisible half of our value is the crowds that aren't around you. With very little expectation in New Hampshire, we are a great big mountain with fewer people. Especially when Mittersill is opened because that grabs about 25 percent of our crowd right there," said DeVivo.
Email Kathleen Humphreys at firstname.lastname@example.org