Little Gem: The Cozy Thing, Down Pat

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Pats Peak base 0900

Pats Peak, N.H.

Snow White" lives at Pats Peak. And it would be easy to mistake the mountain itself-at 710 vertical feet-for one of her Seven Dwarfs.

"At Pats Peak, what you see is what you get," says Marketing Manager Doug Peel with refreshing candor. "We know our niche, and that is introducing the sport of skiing to the public."

What you get at this unpretentious New Hampshire resort is down-home skiing, guaranteed snow, lighted trails and more little people than Munchkin Land. On weekdays, school buses outnumber Saabs in the lot. On weekends, families come from around New England in search of Pats' peace.

Tiny, to be sure. But for a fairer sense of Pats' proportions, consider these annual stats: 10,000 kids in after-school programs; 364 night-league warriors battling its FIS-certified slalom hill; and 37,000 M&M cookies flying out of Chef Carol's kitchen.

And then there's Snow White, a monstrous 1936 air compressor salvaged from the Packard auto plant in Detroit. "Joe Pat," one of the three founding Patenaude brothers, was a snowmaking pioneer. He brought home Snow White-and, consequently, the U.S. Nationals-in 1974, when the White Mountains were brown. She's still at work, backboning a system that covers 95 percent of Pats' surprisingly diverse terrain.

The whirlwind tour of Pats reveals a veritable Beaufort scale of trails. Puff is a playful beginner route that snakes through the woods. Duster-to-Squall is the classic cruiser. West-facing Twister basks in sunlight on spring afternoons. And Tornado's new glades add an extra dimension to the frontside foursome of double-diamonds, which are served by the Vortex double.

"Near and neighborly," they like to say at Pats. It's all that when the locals blow in for race night. "The real fun is at the start," says Bob Cochran, former U.S. Ski Team star and now a doctor in nearby Keene Valley. "It's all gamesmanship. Everybody's trying to tell the biggest lie."

Later, in the cavernous lodge, racers congregate in the "popcorn room" (that's Pats code for "bar") to munch 'corn, quaff two-buck Alabama Slammers and relive memories of 15 minutes ago on the video monitor. "Most of us want to turn our heads," groans one grizzled vet.

Downstairs among the cubbies and cafeteria benches, parents await their children. Invariably, those M&M cookies await, too. Big as Frisbees, they're custom-made to spoil dinners. But Pats parents don't seem to mind.

Pats Peak, Henniker, N.H.
Where 17 miles west of Concord, Exit 5 off I-89.
Vital Stats 710 vertical feet, four chairlifts, 2 J-bars, 1 handle tow, 21 trails, 2 new glades.
Information and Conditions (888) 728-7732 or www.patspeak.com.
Lift Tickets $39; half-days $26. Seniors and children, $27/$21; special deals for Valley Chair only; Williwau handle tow is free.
Nearby Lodging The Meeting House (inn), (603) 428-3228; Henniker Motel (good for families), (603) 428-3536.
Food Daniel's (casual riverside dining), (603) 428-7621; The Country Spirit (American fare), (603) 428-7007.