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New Hampshire, without skiing

Roller-coasters, tubing, zip lines abound

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Skiing isn't the only way to enjoy a wintry mountain.

Just look at New Hampshire, where you can ride mountain roller-coasters, slide down tubing hills, zoom along zip lines and ride up to the northeast's highest peak aboard a van outfitted with what look like tank tracks.

The scenic drive to central New Hampshire, home of the White Mountains, is part of the fun. It takes you along snow-capped mountains, through the Franconia Notch mountain pass and by the picturesque Mount Washington Hotel in Bretton Woods.

For our family, which is not big on downhill skiing, Cranmore Mountain Resort in North Conway, N.H., provided just the right mix to amuse parents and children ages 6, 10 and 13.

Though it's a big ski hill with 57 trails and 10 lifts, Cranmore has a small-town feel and exceptionally friendly staff.

For non-skiers and those seeking a break from skiing, Cranmore features a "mountain adventure park," essentially an outdoor amusement park open winter and summer.

Tubing is the main attraction this time of year, with 10 groomed 200-metre lanes. A magic carpet gently pulls people, tubes in tow, up the hill. Kids over one metre tall can ride alone; others must go down on a lap.

These days, many ski hills offer tubing. Cranmore stands out because of its adjacent attractions.

The most unusual is the Mountain Coaster. Sitting in two-person carts equipped with seatbelts, riders zip up and down part of the mountain on tracks about one kilometre in length. Children nine and older can ride the coaster alone.

Carts can reach speeds of 40 kilometres an hour, but riders use hand levers to regulate how fast they go through the many twists and turns.

Even a coaster-hater among us enjoyed the ride because she could control the speed. I made the mistake of riding gloveless so I could snap photos. Not smart on a chilly day.

One of the kids convinced me to try the two other rides. Another big mistake for a guy with a fear of heights (and dying), though my daughter gave the rides a thumbs-up.

First, we rode the Soaring Eagle Zipline. Fastened into side-by-side chairs, we were hoisted into the air and then shot up the hill -- backward -- on a suspended line. Nice view of the surrounding mountains. Then, it flung us back down the hill, a length of about 200 metres, at about 55 kilometres per hour. Yikes.

Next, we jumped on the Giant Swing. After we were safely strapped into seats, the swing was slowly cranked up into the air and then suddenly dropped, leaving me breathless but my daughter smiling. It's a mercifully short ride.

If the cold gets to be too much, there's an indoor adventure zone, featuring a bungee trampoline, a bouncy house and a seven-metre-tall webbed climbing structure.

On Saturdays, when the mountain adventure park is open until 9 p.m., Cranmore puts on Cranapalooza festivals of music, entertainment and games.

The adventure park and indoor zone are open Friday to Sunday.

Prices vary depending on what you want to do. We opted for two hours of tubing and three "mountain adventure tickets" each. Cost: $39 per person. Each ticket gets you one ride on the coaster or the swing, or one hour in the indoor adventure zone.

There are other non-skiing things to do in this part of New Hampshire.

The Mount Washington Auto Road (of "This car climbed... " bumper-sticker fame) offers trips up the mountain in winter. Visitors ride in a "SnowCoach," a van retrofitted with tracks for the treacherous winter road conditions. (The road is closed to private vehicles between December and March.)

Mount Washington is the tallest peak in the northeast, at 1,917 metres above sea level. The coach takes visitors halfway up, to just above the treeline. Adventurers can opt to cross-country ski or snowshoe back down the mountain.

The excursions are offered daily, weather permitting. They run an hour and a quarter, leaving from Great Glen Trails in Gorham, N.H. The cost is $45 for adults and $30 for children age 5-12.

If you're brave (and in good shape, in case you have to hike to safety), the Mount Washington Observatory organizes day trips and overnight educational visits to the top of Mount Washington.

The weather is extreme up there year-round. The observatory says it's home to "the world's worst weather" because Mount Washington gets the brunt of three major storm tracks. The cost of the trips varies. Visit its website for details.

Loon Mountain, in Lincoln, N.H., is a major ski hill that, like Cranmore, offers several alternatives to skiing.

There are two tubing runs, served by a chairlift. Loon has a twist on tubing. Unlike most hills, its tubes feature steering levers and brakes, making the ride down a little more interesting. The hill also offers skating and a zip line that runs 200 metres across the Pemigewasset River.

-- Postmedia News

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 30, 2013 D5

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