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East Coast

Independents Day: Cannon Mountain, N.H.

This state-owned, community-run ski area is where a legendary American ski racer cut his teeth and it holds the largest vertical descent in New Hampshire.

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Those in search of a ski area that embodies independence and an old school vibe need look no further than Cannon. Diehards longing for the good old days of skiing will be drawn at first to what Cannon doesn’t have. There are no trail-side homes or condos, never mind slopeside lodging. There’s no ski town at the base, instead just a quintessential, old school base lodge. There’s no posh ski shop luring you in with fur-lined hoods. There’s no… frou-frou.

That, the many who heap adoration on the ski area say, pairs perfectly with what Cannon does have: terrain for everyone from the timid beginner to the World Champion (this is Bode Miller’s home mountain, after all); a historic and beloved tram; breathtaking views of Lafayette Mountain and Franconia Notch; an accessible location just a minute off the highway; and last but not least, the most vertical (2,180 feet) of any New Hampshire ski area. But most of all, Cannon has a certain je ne sais quoi; an intoxicating mix of community and soulful vibe most likely concocted when the Tram, the first of its kind in America, was built using the backs, muscles, and sweat of 50 local men.

Skiing Cannon Mountain
The Taft Slalom Trail, the first ski racing trail in North America, was cut in 1933.Courtesy of Greg Keeler

From then on, Cannon has been all about community, and while it is state-owned and run, it stands as a truly independent mountain. The Tram, for example, in operation for more than 80 years, takes skiers and riders up to some epic trails. But Cannonites, being who they are, have also cut secret trails and tree lines that—if you’re lucky—one of the “Tram People” will help you find. Through the years, the mountain’s trail system has grown, not just to offer more of the steeps locals love, but more and more of something for everyone. The Tuckerbrook learning area is evidence: Tucked into the mountain, it’s easily accessible, yet feels like its own little learning wonderland. Cannonites want their beginners to feel that same sense of “away from it all” bliss they themselves so love.

For years, though, locals kept a big secret. Mittersill, a kind of ghost ski area just a quick peak-hike away from Cannon, was their special escape. Today, Mittersill has lift access, an idea that, before it became reality, scared loyalists who were hesitant to share their secret playground. Typical of Cannonites, though—once they realized lift access didn’t detract from Mittersill’s magic, they banded together to raise funds to add snowmaking capabilities to the area. Their personal playground, they realized, was worth sharing.

A first glance at Cannon may leave visitors with some preconceived notions about the mountain. It’s steep and challenging, they might guess—a true skier’s mountain. And it is.

But what they’d realize after exploring Cannon is that it’s an every-kind-of-skier’s mountain. Families embrace it for a lifetime; seniors show up five days a week to take morning runs as a group; teens rip down the trails dreaming of one day being the next Cannon superstar; and World Champions forever embrace it as their home hill.

80's Day at Cannon Mountain N.H.
Cannonites get into the groove for the ski area’s ’80’s day. Photo Credit: Greg Keeler

“I have skied amazing places all over the world but there is something very special about Cannon,” says ski racing legend, Bode Miller. “It’s the history and community, the lift attendants that have been there 30 years, the old school fall lines of the trails, the families who still pack lunches and carpool. It’s fun and it’s familiar.”

How to Get to Cannon Mountain, N.H.

Besides its soulful, indy vibe, one of Cannon’s best assets is how accessible it is. Located right off I-93, the mountain is a straight shot from Concord, N.H. (1-hour drive) and Boston, Mass. (2.5-hour drive), and is also within striking distance of Burlington, Vt., and Portland, Maine. If Cannon is your destination but lots of skiing is your goal, consider visiting nearby Loon Mountain Resort, Waterville Valley Ski Area, and Bretton Woods, three other New Hampshire gems all within 30 minutes of Cannon.

Cannon Mountain Skier Stats

  • Skiable Acres: 285
  • Annual Snowfall (inches): 160
  • Summit Elevation (feet): 4,080
  • Vertical Drop (feet): 2,180

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Originally published in the January 2020 issue of SKI Magazine. For more great writing delivered directly to your inbox, SUBSCRIBE NOW.