Originally Posted by tlougee
I have skied at almost all of the areas you mention over the last 25 years so here are my thoughts for what they are worth.
Wildcat and Canyon are like mountains in my mind due to the way the trails are cut, the history, the weather, their size, etc. I prefer Wildcat over Canyon because the views of Tuckerman's and the rest of mount Washington are fantastic and the snow is generally better in my opinion. Canyon is a real bear of mountain with some very steep and narrow trails. It is often icy due to the wind but on a good day it is a great place to ski. Both mountains have a certain old style feel that I really enjoy and they both have some great midweek deals, but neither really caters to the half-pipe crowd unless that has changed recently. Both would be longer drives from UNH then would be Loon/Waterville and gas prices being what they are that would factor into my thinking at least to some degree.
Waterville is the first of the big ski areas you hit on the way up 93 but it takes another 15 minutes once you get off the highway to get there so that can be a little deceiving. Waterville has a good variety of terrain with some really steep mogul runs one side, some twisty intermediate stuff on the other. Waterville generally has good snow and has a more modern overall feel then the older mountains discussed previously. They do have a couple of terrain parks as well.
I have not skied Loon for a few years but I did hike down it with the kids last week. My impression of Loon has always been of a largely intermediate mountain with good snow. Loon and Waterville are pretty close and I think are favored by the folks coming up from Mass. and as such can get crowded on weekends.
I have only skied Killington a couple of times and the last time was nearly 20 years ago so I don't have a lot to say about it other then the fact that the distance and lift ticket prices are mostly why I have not been back. I never had the feeling that there was anything there that could not be had for less in NH. In general Vermont lift ticket prices are higher then in NH so I stay away.
Sunday River is in some ways like Killington with the many peaks, huge resort thing going on. I haven't been there in years either but I can tell you it is quite a hall and I would find it tough to pass by Wildcat to drive another hour or two to go to Sunday River instead unless I had a good deal and a place to stay. The snow making at Sunday River and the grooming reminded me of Attitash.
Finally we come to Attitash which is one of my favorite mountains. Attitash is a North facing mountain that has both older, narrow cut trails, and newer, wider trails. I have always liked Attitash because it seems to have a lot of intermediate to expert trails with a substantial pitch to them. They have also expanded adding a new peak in the last ten years or so. The other thing that I really like about Attitash is that they make a ton of snow every year so you almost never hit that occasional thin spot like you see at the other areas. Their snow tends to be solid, even hard , but not icy the way it often gets at Canon. I have always thought of Attitash as a mountain where you can test your skills but not have to worry about icy and thin spots even in a poor snow year. They always seem to close at the end of the season with enough snow to keep going another month.
One area that you did not mention is Bretton Woods which like Wildcat has outstanding views of Mount Washington and some of the best hero snow you can imagine in the East. I swear they must groom that stuff to an inch of its life. The only down side to the snow at Bretton Woods is that it tends to get slushy in the spring where it is still nice and firm at Attitash. Bretton Woods and Attitash are at opposite ends of Crawford Notch. It can be snowing or rainng at one and sunny at the other. Up until recently Bretton Woods could get boring after a day or so for an expert skier as it is mostly an intermediate mountain with great snow and enchanting cruising trails that are very well cut in my opinion. They use the terrain very well. Bretton Woods has had significant glade skiing ever since I started skiing their in the 80s ( I also noticed some glades a Loon last week ) and now they have a new peak with lots of black diamonds that I really want to check out this season. Unfortunately Bretton Woods is another 20 to 30 minutes up past Canon if you steam straight up 93, or similar distance past Attitash if you come up via Rt. 16 and through Crawford Notch. It is definitely worth the trip but probably not the place you want to have your season pass unless you have a place to spend the night on a regular basis.
Speaking of which your son should check into finding youth hostels near ski areas he wants to try. I did that a few times, once at Okemo and it worked out great as a college kid. It is cheap and a nice way to meet different people.
If I had to buy one of the passes you are talking about I think I would go with the Threedom pass because it is a good deal and Waterville and Loon are some of the closes major areas and he can hook up with his buddy and split the gas money. I hear Cranmore is a local favorite for the folks who live around North Conway but I have never skied there mainly because it never seemed to be worth the drive.
You need to post more...this is one of the best trip posts I have ever read on epic, I have ski'd extensively in NH(at all the areas mentioned) and agree with nearly every word here. This is good stuff.
Re Cranmore, fun for a day but only when nearly 100% open. My kids grew up skiing at King Pine.....we always have fun there for a day, plus it is cheap. Pitch Pine is one of the steepest trails in NH, super steep and short vertical so easy to do laps on to dial in steep techinque in small doses.
The best true ski mountains in NH are Wildcat and Cannon. For a UNH student on a budget and with transportation issues, the threedom pass is the way to go. UNH of course has a strong NCAA ski team and a lot of ski clubs he should investigate both to get the local opinion. This information is avail at orientation for freshman. (we visited and my oldest son UNH was 2nd choice, he ended up in the flatlands, OHIO)
Good luck to your freshman, as for Durham....hope he likes HOCKEY
: We liked it a lot, but we like hockey.