Wayne's World

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It's a beautiful Saturday in mid March. The wide runs of Bretton Woods's gently tilted main mountain gleam in the sun. Temperatures are in the upper 20s, with no wind. Six inches of new snow rest lightly on the slopes and drape the hardwoods, erasing the effects of 50-degree temperatures and rain two days ago.

SKIING colleague Mike Woods and I are here to check out Bretton Woods's new West Mountain terrain. Mike and I used to spend too much time together several years ago, riding Metro North's New Haven line home from our Manhattan offices; now, Mike operates out of our Burlington office, and I live in Boulder, Colorado. The West Mountain expansion gives us an excuse to get together again.

According to what we've heard, it's a good excuse. West Mountain expands Bretton Woods's terrain by 65 percent (to 345 skiable acres) and, rumor has it, ups the degree of difficulty on what had been a nice blue-square hill. But do the dozen or so black-diamond glades stand up to other tree runs in the East? And do they elevate the Woods to the status of its storied neighbors, Cannon and Wildcat? We can hardly wait to find out.

But we are so easily distracted. On our first lift ride up Mount Rosebrook, the original, blue-square face of Bretton Woods, the soft-packed runs beneath the Bethlehem Express Quad call to us. There's untracked powder on the edges of the trails and on the occasional steep pitches. So, before we dive into the trees, we grab eight to 10 turns in the untracked on aptly named Short & Sweet. We rip the cruising runs and cut up every other powder pocket we can find.

After a few fast laps on Mount Rosebrook, we're amped and hungry for something more. Something forested. We traverse to West Mountain, where a dozen or so new diamond and double-diamond glades reside amid the peak's five trails. The first glade we find is West Woods, a single-diamond alley that has cached several inches of soft new snow. We porpoise over the rolls and arc turns in the 15-foot-wide lane. Like several other new glades, West Woods is basically wide enough for two ski lines; Mike and I swap off on the left and right. (The glades are being widened for the coming season.) The pitch is only moderate, but there's little room for error, and the snow's ungroomed, which ups the ante. In new powder, it's an absolute blast. We soon discover that West's five double-black glades have more pitch but no more width; in Maple Woods I repeatedly find big tree trunks whizzing past, only inches away.

West Mountain is not just about glades, though. We take several screamers down the steepest of the trails, Waumbek, a rollercoaster run at the far western edge. I feel like I'm flying, then spot Mike accelerating away from me, arching forward and swooping over the snow like a big bird. I try to keep up as we blast across the flats that lead to the West Mountain Quad, the majestic white wave that is Mount Washington stretching across the horizon in the distance, its broad and bald summit gleaming in the sun.

By noon we've found that West Mountain has a bit more pitch than Mount Rosebrook. We like Waumbek, and the glades. Though even the steepest of these are relatively tame compared with the glades at Stowe, or even Stratton, Bretton Woods has made us feel like superskiers. We could get used to this.

Wayne Presby joins us for lunch. Wayne's the chairman of the various partnerships that control the resort, the nearby Mount Washington Hotel, and the cog railway that runs up Mount Washington. This is Wayne's world.

We ride the Bethlehem Express to the Top o' Quad restaurant, where the hostess shows us to our table-this is no simple mountainside cafeteria; it's sit-down service only. The ever-present Mount Washington fills the east-facing windows of the large dining room. Wayne orders a bottle of Dom Perignon, then switches to Cristal. Mike and I are beer guys; we quickly glance at each other, register our mutual disbelief, and assume he's kidding. He's no "Champagne doesn't make you feel heavy the way beer does," Wayne explains as the waiter pours. In Wayne's world, every restaurant and bar is well stocked with top-shelf bubbly. We settle in with our champagne and gorge ourselves on a grand lunch of elaborate pasta entrees.

After lunch we rip around the area till the lifts close, getting our fill of miles and grins. We retrace some of our earlier tracks, this time skiing Wayne's way-fast and loose. And Wayne's right about champagne: I feel positively light on my feet all afternoon.

After skiing we ooze into the Slopeside Lounge. It's hopping; the crowd is mostly from the Boston orbit, and Irish blood is thick. There's a Bailey's liquor promotion underway, and whenever folk rocker John Michael Williams takes a break, the emcee fills in with Irish humor and trivia. We relax, soaking up the scene and consuming another two bottles of Cristal. Or is it three?

West Mountain is not the only thing that's new at Bretton Woods. Last season was also the first time that the Mount Washington Hotel was open in winter. This magnificent cruise ship on land-think Titanic, moored at the western foot of Mount Washington, a mile from the ski area-was built in 1902 as a summer playground for Northeasterners who had the time and money to escape the coastal heat and humidity. Under Wayne's stewardship, it has been winterized to provide Northeastern skiers with a truly unique alternative to modern resort lodging. From its lower-level indoor pool, themed shops, restaurants, and lounges to its plush sitting rooms on the main level, it reflects the best of resort planning 100 years ago.

As we wait to check in, I admire the high ceilings, tall columns, wide, carpeted hallways, and grand staircase. Old gaslight fixtures adorn the walls. A uniformed operator runs the creaky, small, wood-paneled elevator across from the bell desk. The old-resort atmosphere is so thick and so retro, it's cool. I begin to feel elegant and refined.

There is strong evidence that drinking has always been popular at the Mount Washington. A simple, small bar beckons across the entry hall from the front desk, a fine location from which Mike and I watch the bellman struggle as he carts our bags off to our rooms. Just beyond that bar is the much larger and grander Conservatory, a glass-walled octagon with a domed ceiling and in-your-face views of Mount Washington.

The hotel's rooms are stately, oversized, and airy, thanks to those high ceilings. It's easy to see why the Mount Washington was chosen to host the historic 1944 Monetary Conference, which established the global postwar economic order. Plaques on the doors identify the conference attendees and other notables who have occupied these rooms: golfer Gene Sarazen in Room 115; Conference delegate Arthur de Souza Costa of Brazil and Governor James R. Thompson of Illinois in room 102. I feel I am in good company.

The Hotel still requires gentlemen to wear jackets for dinner (ties, thankfully, are not necessary). Properly attired in our best blue blazers, Mike and I enter the main dining room, an enormous salmon-colored octagon with a two-story atrium and huge glass chandelier at the center. The maitre d', Gideon Maheux, smiles and shows us to our table. He informs us it is ours for the duration of our stay, and that we will have the same waiter, too. The orchestra plays dance tunes from the '40s and '50s. Gray-haired retirees and young boomer families pack the tables and the dance floor. Waiters in tuxedo pants and starched white shirts dote professionally.

After a few days I feel quite sophisticated. I sense a new elegance in my skiing, a graceful swing in my gait as I stroll the magnificent hallways of the Mount Washington. And I have a new appreciation for expensive champagne. Party on, Wayne!


Destination: BRETTON WOODS, NEW HAMPSHIRE
What's New: The Zephyr Quad, which replaces the ancient Mount Oscar double and provides one-lift access from the base lodge to West Mountain; three new black-diamond glades at the far eastern edge of Mount Rosebrook.
Terrain: 31% beginner; 41% intermediate, 28% expert
Lift Tickets: Adult (19 and over), $51 weekend/holiday, $42 midweek; teens (13-18), $41/$35; junior (6-12), $33/$29; seniors, $15 midweek.
Best Deals: A midweek season pass for Bretton Woods and Cannon Mountain costs $199 and is available for purchase anytime; on nonholiday Wednesdays, two can ski the Woods for $42 ($21 each). Ski-and-stay packages at the Mount Washington Hotel, including unbelievably elaborate breakfast buffet and sumptuous dinner, are $279 midweek, $399 weekends, per couple. Packages at the Bretton Arms Country Inn and the Bretton Woods Motor Inn range from $109 midweek, and from $199 on weekends, per couple. All rates are per day, two-night minimum stay.
Info: 603-278-3320; www.brettonwoods.com
Little-Know-Fact: Bretton Woods has more terrain (345 acres) than any other ski area in New Hampshire.ccess from the base lodge to West Mountain; three new black-diamond glades at the far eastern edge of Mount Rosebrook.
Terrain: 31% beginner; 41% intermediate, 28% expert
Lift Tickets: Adult (19 and over), $51 weekend/holiday, $42 midweek; teens (13-18), $41/$35; junior (6-12), $33/$29; seniors, $15 midweek.
Best Deals: A midweek season pass for Bretton Woods and Cannon Mountain costs $199 and is available for purchase anytime; on nonholiday Wednesdays, two can ski the Woods for $42 ($21 each). Ski-and-stay packages at the Mount Washington Hotel, including unbelievably elaborate breakfast buffet and sumptuous dinner, are $279 midweek, $399 weekends, per couple. Packages at the Bretton Arms Country Inn and the Bretton Woods Motor Inn range from $109 midweek, and from $199 on weekends, per couple. All rates are per day, two-night minimum stay.
Info: 603-278-3320; www.brettonwoods.com
Little-Know-Fact: Bretton Woods has more terrain (345 acres) than any other ski area in New Hampshire.