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  • Correspondent photo by Peggy Newland

    Hitting the cross-country trails.
  • A tourist walks up the “Street of Sighs” in Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay. The galleries and shops along the 18th-century cobblestone lane once housed brothels. Illustrates TRAVEL-URUGUAY (category t), by Hilary Krieger, special to The Washington Post. Moved Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2011. (MUST CREDIT: Photo for The Washington Post by Hilary Krieger.)
Sunday, February 12, 2012

Being in the right place at the right time on mountain getaways

Sometimes, it isn’t shop ’til you drop, it’s ski ’til you drop.

Especially if you’re traveling with friends who’d rather cross-country in Jackson and Franconia and downhill at Sugarloaf.

Sure, there’s retail therapy, but what’s better is fresh tracks down a slope, hot chocolate in a Thermos and winter wonderland in every direction. Throw in some hot tubs, a little fine dining, and a room with a view, and you have a good weekend away with the women.

White Mountains

Martha and I get to Jackson just when Jackson Ski Touring goes half-price. Perhaps shopping at Ragged Mountain Outlet prior to skiing was a sign of bargains. We scored big in fleece: gloves, hats, scarves, even blankets. All half off.

“You ladies hit it perfectly,” the ticket agent tells us as she points to the clock. “Twelve dollars for the rest of the afternoon.”

She hands us a trail map with more than 154 kilometers of trails, most of it skiable that day thanks to 10 inches of new snow.

“Why don’t we take Yodel up to Eagle Mountain Fields?” I suggest, and Martha agrees.

We head up the winding trail and careen down a pine-filled path to the open vista highlighting Spruce, Wildcat and Black mountains surrounding Jackson.

We have the trails to ourselves. The racers we saw in the parking lot have packed up and gone down to the pubs for late lunch, and here we are, leisurely enjoying the groomed trails at our own pace.

Even the roller-coaster zip of the Wave trail is peaceful, so we decide to brave both John and Henry hills without fear of crashing into pine trees or random racers. For three hours, and then for one last run at dusk, it’s our private resort.

We drive over Crawford Pass. Mount Washington is lit up by a full moon. Cars are stopped along the highway, so Martha and I pull over, too. We stand and stare up at the iced mound of snow. It’s brilliant, like a white, glazed castle.

Perfect, and free of charge.

Because our families are skiing at Cannon Mountain the next day, Martha and I decide to spend the night at Sunset Hill House. Offering discounted rates on sites such as Travelzoo and Groupon, we stay one night for the package deal.

The drive up to the Sugar Hill area is mysteriously eerie. No cars, no streetlights, only a full moon casting shadows on the Gothic white clapboard churches perched on ledges, the maple sugaring cabins long past being open.

It seems we go up and up and up until we find the Sunset Hill House. Soon, we are rewarded by a welcoming fireplace in the lobby and a pub with warm drinks and comfort food.

The newly decorated suite and hot tub can wait. They have scallops in cream sauce and hot toddies in the lounge.

Martha and I walk in wearing ski pants and snow boots and the bartender smiles.

“Take a load off,” she says.

So we do.

The next day, after a full-course breakfast of croissants and homemade oatmeal with granola, we head to the backside of Cannon and cross-country ski the high-altitude trails of Franconia Touring. There’s a bit more ice on this side of the White Mountains, but Martha and I are ready for adventure. We ski Fiji Trail and find ourselves zigzagging over frozen brooks and around cliff ledges.

“This is an adventure,” Martha says with a laugh. We feel like mountain women in the back country as wind howls over Cannon Mountain.

The trails of an abandoned ski resort – Mittersill – beckon us higher and higher. Then, a downhill skier leaps from an icy ledge above us and we watch him pop down the trail we’ve recently skied up.

“Oh, my,” I say.

“Time to shop,” Martha replies. So, we head to Franconia and reward ourselves with half-off deals at Garnet Hill outlet.

Sugarloaf, Maine

The first time I skied Sugarloaf, I was in high school, and I came down in a medic sled. I had taken a wrong turn off Tote Road and was on an expert, double-black-diamond trail.

If I stayed upright on two skis, I would basically slide face first down the mountain. So, I sat and waited and when the ski patrol came, they strapped into the sled and took me down to the bottom.

When they unstrapped me, I walked unassisted to the Bag Pub and stayed there for the rest of the afternoon.

Thirty years later, I decided to conquer that mountain on two skis, and without help. I pick the Sugarloaf Mountain Hotel for a long weekend because it’s at the base of the mountain – the exact location of my medic sled release. I figure if I don’t succeed again, I can slide directly into the hot tub and call it a day.

With teenage daughter in tow, I might be motivated to leave the warm confines of a full-service resort.

The next morning, my daughter takes me to the top of Sugarloaf.

“Let’s try Tote Road first,” I suggest.

“No,” Haley says. “Let’s go on Blade Ax.”

“That sounds appealing,” I joke. “Is there one called Death Trap?”

“Don’t be a loser, Mom,” Haley says.

I contemplate continuing my loser history at Sugarloaf by longingly looking down at the Bag Pub – a tiny speck at the bottom of the mountain. The wind howls and the trail map blows away. Stunted pines, frozen with encrusted snow, surround us on all sides.

“How about Blade Glade?” Haley asks.

“That sounds safe,” I say.

Haley rolls her eyes. “Bubblecuffer? Narrow Gauge? Or Boom Scooter?”

I vote for Boom Scooter in honor of my challenge.

It wasn’t pretty. It was snowplow and screaming, wide wedge and jerky turn. I wasn’t necessarily upright for most of it. But I made it down Boom Scooter with my teenage daughter cheering me on.

Before I knew it, I was back on the chairlift, and we skied all afternoon on trails such as Buckboard, White Nitro, Stump Shot and Powder Keg. By the end of the day, Haley says, “Not bad, Mom.”

I take her into the Bag Pub for a well-deserved burger and an extra-large fry.