The town of Jackson, New Hampshire has the bucolic look of a 19th century town that seems to have been the model for a Currier & Ives print. The visual inventory includes two covered bridges, surrounding snow-capped hills and mountains, and a handful of charming country inns in the village center. If that’s all it had, it would be pretty special.
But in fact, the town is the home of Jackson Ski Touring Foundation , the largest and best cross country ski center in the Northeast. The nonprofit, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2022, maintains and grooms the trails. You can’t drive through town in winter without seeing people taking classic ski lessons or watching more accomplished skiers flying though open snow fields on skate skis, like Olympian Jessie Diggins, who has raced in Jackson in the past. For cross country devotees like myself, a stay in Jackson is like reaching skiing nirvana.
“JacksonXC is special because of the way the skiing intertwines with the village,” said Ellen Chandler, the executive director of the Jackson Ski Touring Foundation. “That’s due to the beautiful geography and the generous cooperation of so many landowners.”
Jackson has 150 kilometers of trails and they are meticulously maintained, thanks to state of the art groomers and a dedicated staff. Jackson’s tracks are professionally laid out so that there are usually two classic ski tracks as well as a single wide lane of corduroy for skate skiers.
Headquartered in a building in the center of the village, the facility offers tickets, lessons and rentals. The terrain just out the door is easy and ideal for learning either classic skiing or skate skiing. That said, there are miles to go before you sleep. The Ellis River Trail can easily be reached on skis from the center of the village. Further afield, a five minute car ride gets you to the starting point of the Woodchuck and Eagle Fields, with views of Wildcat Mountain and Carter Dome. Even farther out from the village are the trails of the steeper and wooded Prospect Trails, into the surrounding White Mountain National Forest.
One of the joys of cross country skiing is that it doesn’t require an all-day commitment. You can easily ski for an hour or two. Go longer if you want, but as one of the greatest aerobic workouts around, you may not need or want to do more. As veteran classic skiers, my wife and I skied no more than three hours a day and felt blissfully exhilarated afterwards.
What also sets it apart is the ski environment. It’s easy to find yourself in the deep woods, on a very quiet trail that offers challenging climbs and descents. It’s a nice counterpoint to the wide open fields with stunning views of the White Mountains that are hallmarks of Jackson’s trail system, which winds throughout the town of Jackson.
“The trails weave the skiers into the community and the forest, creating a very holistic, physical, social and natural experience, said Chandler. “The setting is spectacular and we are lucky to have such a variety of terrain, flat, rolling and hilly all in close proximity.”
Jackson XC also has an excellent ski school, and a skate ski lesson with Jennie Caffrey, a patient and encouraging teacher, helped raise our fledgling skate ski prowess.
Jackson’s accommodations include two classics, The Wentworth Inn and The Inn at Thorn Hill & Spa. There’s a ski shop called Ski the Whites that carries gear for serious backcountry skiing and climbing, including brands like Trek and Norrona, which are fashionable enough for the non-skiers who simply want to look the part. There are a handful of restaurants in town, including the Wildcat Inn & Tavern, with its live music and walls festooned with ski memorabilia.
Those with a deep interest in food and wine should not miss a visit to Thompson House Eatery. Housed in a rambling farmhouse in the center of the village on five acres of fields and greenhouses, Thompson House epitomizes farm-to-table dining. It’s as local as local gets, with a short and focused menu and an inventive wine list. Kate Fournier is the maître d’ and manages an amiable and talented staff in a charming space that manages to be both quaint and sophisticated. Her husband, Chef Jeffrey Fournier, was a star on the Boston food scene who worked under the legendary Lydia Shire. He is the culinary wizard in the kitchen, reaching out to top purveyors and turning out fare like Pan Rendered Salmon, Fusilli Bolognese, Umami Bomb Roasted Mushroom Ragout, with Bench Risen Beignets for dessert. The food, service and décor add up to one of best dining experiences in Northern New England, a fitting match to the cross country mecca that is Jackson.