Firmly placed in American ski history, Cannon focuses on the skiing product first instead of resort-style off mountain major development.
Nestled in the northern corner of New Hampshire’s renowned Franconia Notch State Park lays Cannon Mountain. Offering stunning views of the White Mountains, the longest vertical drop in the state, and easy access from an interstate highway, Cannon has been attracting families and expert skiers to its slopes since the 1930s. While Cannon may sometimes play victim to the harsher side of New England winters, a recent expansion has bolstered the strong community that takes deep pride in their mountain’s challenging slopes, supported by management intent on offering a skiing-first experience to mountain guests.
Though Cannon Mountain calls itself a ski area, not a resort, visitors have flocked to northern New Hampshire since trails were cut in the early 1930s. In its early history, Cannon accumulated multiple firsts in the ski resort industry: the first ski-racing trail in North America, the Taft Slalom, was cut on Cannon Mountain in 1933, and North American’s first aerial tramway was completed in 1938. Though the tram was replaced in 1980 by an updated, 70-passenger version, the original catapulted the area into international recognition, and helped to bring the Alpine Skiing World Cup races to North America for the first time in 1967. Today, the mountain is known for having the longest vertical drop in New Hampshire, and for US Olympic Ski Racer Bode Miller who grew up on its slopes. Its tram is still the only one in the state, too.
Cannon itself is owned by the state of New Hampshire, as it lies within Franconia Notch State Park. With a commitment to the ski experience first, the base area does not feature a multitude of amenities and lodging options, but rather a no-frills experience with the bare necessities. You may rent or buy gear, tune your equipment, and grab a bite to eat at the base, but don’t come expecting more for your day on the mountain. The focus on skiing is seen in quality groomers, abundant snowmaking, and emphasis on the mountain’s character that locals also love to promote. The mountain is frequently at the center of a number of rumors about its experience, normally focusing on the cold northern facing aspects and challenging terrain, though it truly offers a great experience for all.
+ The longest vertical drop in New Hampshire keeps the legs burning from bell to bell.
+ Situated in a very scenic and extremely accessible location, only a handful of yards from an interstate highway.
+ Skiing-first mentality puts on-mountain experiences first, including reasonable lift ticket pricing.
- Generally north-facing slopes can suffer from harsh White Mountain winters, including bitter winds and icy conditions
- Lack of on-mountain lodging and amenities prevents Cannon from becoming a true resort destination.
Cannon Mountain is frequently targeted by myths among eastern skiers, typically referring to its frequent cold temperatures, high winds, and challenging runs. While the steeps may be found, and the White Mountains can lend itself to chilly winds and icy coverage, these myths refer to just a fraction of the conditions and terrain found at the mountain. 52%, the majority of named trails at Cannon, are rated for intermediates, and Cannon is certainly not unique in its experience dealing with New England weather.
The ski area is generally divided into three main areas: The main face, Tuckerbrook Family Area, and Mittersill. The majority of runs are located on the main Cannon Mountain face, including both the tram and main base areas. The tram rapidly moves riders up the mountain’s summit approximately 2180 vertical feet up, the longest in the state. This part of the mountain also includes Cannon’s “Front Five” – five steep and classic runs in clear view of the highway as drivers cruise through Franconia Notch. The Peabody Express Quad chair, Eagle Cliff triple chair, Zoomer Triple chair, and Cannonball Quad chairs also access terrain on this part of the mountain.
The Tuckerbrook Family Area is perfect for beginners or low-end intermediates looking to hone their technique away from the crowds and skier traffic on the rest of the mountain. Tuckerbrook is located right next to the main base lodge and features mellow slopes, an intermediate gladed run, two surface lifts, and two chairlifts. This area also includes the Huckerbrook beginner terrain park for those looking to begin freestyle skiing and riding.
Mittersill is the newest addition to the Cannon Mountain terrain. Incorporated officially in 2009, the area had long been poached by locals who knew the way to the former Mittersill Ski Area runs. Mittersill closed in 1984, but its condos and hotel remain as the only on-mountain lodging options at Cannon. The Mittersill zone is still undergoing upgrades, mainly focusing on the ski-racing community at Cannon, but features a number of runs from steep to mellow groomers and glades.
Green circle rated terrain makes up only a small fraction of the runs at Cannon Mountain, though beginners should not lose interest. The Tuckerbrook Family Area offers eight named beginner runs away from the skier traffic funneling from advanced and intermediate runs coming from other parts of the mountain. Beginners can also find a number of suitable runs off of the Eagle Cliff chair from the main base. Cannon has also built freestyle terrain features on a pair of their beginner runs for those looking to hone their tricks and airs on easier features.
Often, Cannon gets a unfair reputation as a mainly steep, challenging mountain suitable for experts. The rumors couldn’t be farther from the truth, as 57% of the mountain is rated as blue square runs. Blue rated trails abound on all portions of the mountain, from wide groomers at Mittersill, to short runs in Tuckerbrook and long, sweeping trails on the mountain’s main face. The Tuckerbrook intermediate runs may be short and lacking for true-intermediates, but there are countless options on Cannon’s main face to appease any intermediate for multiple days.
Crucial to the mountain’s total experience, many of the best intermediate runs offer the same views that experts and advanced skiers can get of the surrounding White Mountains. Mt. Lafayette looms directly across the highway from Cannon though Mt. Washington’s white snowcapped peak is sometimes visible as well. A favorite intermediate top-to-bottom run is the Ravine trails, including Upper Ravine, Middle Ravine, and Lower Ravine. Intermediates may also be delighted to experience two of the “Front Five” runs—Gary’s and Rocket—to get a taste of the classic runs the mountain is known for.
One of Cannon’s oft-repeated myths refers to steep, challenging terrain. While there is plenty to go around for beginners and intermediates across the mountain’s slopes, it does feature a small handful of heart-pumping runs for advanced and expert skiers. Cannon does not use double-black diamond ratings on its slopes, though it is important to remember that ski rating systems are always relative to other slopes at the same location. Glades are few and far between, but are staircase-like in steepness that is unrivaled among competing New Hampshire resorts.
Three of Cannon’s “Front Five” – Avalanche, Paulie’s Folly, and Zoomer, are rated for advanced skiers. These runs are short and sweet, following the fall line directly towards Echo Lake and the tram base area. The main Cannon Mountain face also offers black-diamond rated runs towards the summit, with excellent views from the Profile and Skylight runs. Running underneath the tram, DJ’s Tramline is the true expert trail at Cannon, featuring boulders with mandatory airs and a straight shot that has been skied long before the run was officially included on the trail map. Kinsman Glade, running along the ski area’s border near the tramline, is also one of the longest gladed runs in the East.
The Mittersill zone also features a couple gladed runs and steep groomers. Though often used for ski racing, the Taft Training Slope features a consistent steep slope for skiers looking to open up their turns. Golden Birches Glade and Idiot’s Delight are options for tree skiers on this side of the mountain, too. The Tuckerbrook Family Area does not include expert-rated runs in efforts to move advanced skier traffic away from those learning to ski.
Cannon’s unique location within New Hampshire’s Franconia Notch State Park allows skiers and riders looking for a backcountry experience to get creative following hiking trails and open slides in the area. Though these options are numerous, caution is emphasized as Cannon Mountain itself features a variety of massive unmarked cliffs that bring climbers to its walls throughout the summer. As always, knowing before you go is the name of the game.
Utilizing parking areas alongside the stretch of Interstate 93 that accesses Cannon, there are a number of hiking trails that also may bring backcountry skiers atop massive chutes and slides off nearby Mt. Lafayette and Mt. Liberty. The White Mountains are the only mountains in the northeast that prominently feature slide paths, areas where trees have been cleared by rock slides of avalanches. These can make for awesome expert backcountry runs if skied under the right conditions, and the only avalanche association in the Northeast issues advisories from nearby Mt. Washington.
While not technically a backcountry trail, a short, fun hike from the top of the tram to the observation deck atop the mountain offers all guests an uninterrupted sight of Mt. Lafayette across the notch, and views into New York, Vermont, Maine, and Canada.
For those looking for a quick bite, there are numerous snack shops and cafeterias offering typical ski mountain fare. The 4080 Café at the top of the tram, the Notchview Base Lodge, and the Peabody Base Lodge all offer food, with the latter including a buffet-style ski area cafeteria. Having a spot to warm up with coffee or hot chocolate at the mountain’s summit can also be crucial on the colder days of the season.
For those looking for slightly more adventurous options, the Cannonball Pub within the Peabody Base Lodge is the go-to spot. It can be tough to get a table within the restaurant at lunchtime, but the wait is often worth it for creative takes on mountain sandwiches and north country foods. Later in the day, the bar often features après skiing events and live music, too, while serving beers from many local New Hampshire breweries.
Cannon Mountain does not feature a mountain village at its base area. The only on-mountain village to speak of would refer to Mittersill Alpine Resort’s collection of approximately 50 condominium units tucked into the corner of the ski area. While it does have its own exit from Interstate 93, the tram base area consists solely of the Tram house building, the New England Ski Museum, and the Franconia Notch State Park headquarters. The main base area does include a rental shop, a gear shop, a tuning shop, and cafeteria options along with the Cannonball Pub. As the mountain categorizes itself as a ski area, not resort, guests may need to leave the immediate area for their lodging, food, and shopping needs.
Due to Cannon’s location within the state park, visitors may often need to drive to find restaurants and bars in the area outside of the base area offerings. Due to the presence of the large White Mountains, towns can often be spread out in this part of the state, though the drive can often be worth it. Such hole-in-the-wall restaurants may be hard to find, but knowing the inside scoop could lead to a perfect New Hampshire mountain meal for you and your guests.
Indian Head Resort, just a short ten minute drive down NH-3 from Cannon, has a full-service restaurant and bar, including meal plans for visitors to save money if they are staying on-property. Down the road, Woodstock, NH has a number of food options. A local favorite, the Woodstock Inn, Station, and Brewery has a large and varied menu including north country favorites, along with plentiful beer options made right in-house. The bar also offers live music most weekend nights, and is always rotating in seasonal brews created by their own brew masters.
Skiing has been the name of the game at Cannon Mountain during winter since the 1930s when the Civilian Conservation Corps cut the first ski trails. For those looking for different recreation, ice climbing or winter hiking options within Franconia Notch State Park are endless. Be prepared, however, as weather conditions can change quickly and violently in the winter.
During the fringe seasons, kayaking is allowed on Echo Lake near the mountain’s base, and weather is typically more favorable to hiking. Rock climbing is a big attraction on the cliffs within the notch during summer months.
Cannon is also the home to the New England Ski Museum, documenting the list of accolades the mountain has acquired along with other historical ski artifacts from the region. The aerial tram, located nearby, also operates year-round for visitors looking for a ride to the summit.