N.H.'s Balsams resort makes tradition a primary draw


Back in the days of luxury train travel, steamer trunks and white-gloved butlers, the American countryside was dotted with grand dame resorts catering to upscale ski and summer travelers. Guests would arrive by rail, stay for weeks on end and, because many of these properties were in remote locations, have all their meals on-site.

With the ascendancy of the automobile, all that changed. Of the few that remain, the Balsams Grand Resort Hotel in New Hampshire's Great Woods is still going strong, mostly as a result of sticking to its roots.

The attractions at the resort, situated on 15,000 acres in Dixville Notch near the Canadian border, are plentiful nearly year-round, with the exception of a monthlong closure in early spring. In winter, the resort's location benefits from the so-called "notch effect," which locals swear keeps snow conditions at optimal levels.

Downhill ski enthusiasts can hit the slopes at the alpine ski area, which features 16 trails, five glades and a half-pipe for snowboarders. The vertical drop is only about 1,000 feet, and some runs are more than a mile long, making them a good choice for novice and intermediate skiers. The layout is family-friendly, with all trails running from the top of the lift to the base lodge.

Nordic skiers can choose from 57 miles of cross-country ski trails, 46 of which are groomed and offer a variety of terrain. Skates also are available at the Nordic center for use on the resort's private rink as well as snowshoes that guests can use on designated trails.

But while winter sports are an important draw, they don't explain Balsams' longevity. The hotel, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, boasts a number of details not easily duplicated in newer ski resorts.

The resort grabs national attention every four years thanks to the Ballot Room, where all local voters (17 at last count) gather to cast their votes at midnight on Election Day for each presidential race (primary as well as general). The polls close about one minute later, making Dixville Notch the first municipality in the nation to declare its vote.

The public rooms include a recently restored lobby as well as hallways adorned with photos of famous guests, from presidents to movie stars, over the generations.

Meal plans include service in the grand dining room, complete with waiters in bow ties and silver place settings.

This year, the Balsams Grand Resort Hotel created a Ski Free Package for $89 per person per night, double, from January through March. Available Sundays to Thursdays, excluding holidays, the package includes accommodations, breakfast, lift tickets to the alpine ski area and trail passes for cross-country skiing.

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