It’s Primary Season in New Hampshire. Time to Go Skiing!

It’s Primary Season in New Hampshire. Time to Go Skiing!

The day dawned sunny and clear and I knew New Hampshire’s Mount Washington, white with snow, would loom brilliantly in the blue sky, so I packed my skis and headed north — past the rock-climbing headquarters where, in 2004, I heard Dick Gephardt appeal for votes; through the famous covered bridge in Jackson, the backdrop of so many campaign advertisements; and up the hill past the

This is the virtually unknown and uncelebrated aspect of New Hampshire and its first-in-the-nation presidential primary: It actually is possible for lovers of skiing and politics to combine their two favorite sports. As someone who has covered 12 of the past 13 New Hampshire primaries for a series of newspapers, including The Times, I speak from experience.

In truth, you don’t really have to get up early to mix the outdoor sport of skiing with the indoor game of politics in the weeks before the primary, which this year is scheduled for Feb. 11. Sometimes the two are right outside your ski lodge.

The morning after my Black Mountain outing, I skied at North Conway’s fabled Cranmore Mountain, then simply popped nine-tenths of a mile down the road to see Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., speak to a standing-room-only crowd at North Conway’s Community Center. Perhaps it was only a coincidence that Mr. Buttigieg’s event was next door to the New England Ski Museum.

“This is part of why New Hampshire is so unusual,’’ the former Gov. John H. Sununu told me. “Our voters work hard at knowing all these candidates and they work hard at skiing in our White Mountains.’’

I’m not alone in spending primary season in New Hampshire. A 2016 study from the U.S. Travel Association found that for the past five contests, the average hotel occupancy was more than 78,000 nights higher for the year preceding the primary than in years when there is no primary, accounting for nearly $9 million in hotel revenue. Some people even come on package tours devoted to the primary.

Skiing and politics have long been intertwined in New Hampshire.

Mr. Sununu, who stopped skiing only when he turned 79, was the second governor of the state to be named White House chief of staff. He served George H.W. Bush a third of a century after Dwight D. Eisenhower selected Sherman Adams for the same role.

Mr. Adams founded Loon Mountain ski area, in Lincoln, after his White House years, when his wife, impatient with having him hanging around the house, pointed to the mountains and said, “There must be a place to ski up there somewhere.” For years, in red-and-white knee socks and a fur cap, he plied the trails at Loon while she ladled out hot chocolate in the lodge.

Senator Robert F. Kennedy helped Tom Corcoran, a star Dartmouth skier who competed in two Olympics, start Waterville Valley, a ski area favored by both Kennedy and, later, three Sununus — the first Gov. Sununu and his two sons, one a senator and the other now the state’s governor. Think of it as a dynasty on Dynastar skis.

The former Arizona Gov. Bruce Babbitt, a 1988 Democratic presidential candidate, hiked with his skis on his back up Mount Washington into the Tuckerman’s Ravine for a short descent, cut short by an avalanche. Later he and his wife skied at Cannon Mountain, in Franconia.

“Hattie and I spent the day skiing there and then we did a grip-and-greet event,” he told me. “Pretty much the best day of my presidential campaign.”

John F. Kerry, the Democratic senator from Massachusetts who won the 2004 New Hampshire primary en route to the party’s nomination, headed to Waterville Valley after finding himself 30 percentage points behind Gov. Howard Dean of Vermont in that contest as of Thanksgiving. There he shook hands, skied some runs and, according to David Wade, a longtime adviser who later became chief of staff when Mr. Kerry was Secretary of State, ‘‘showed he was going to see people wherever they were — the ‘fighting-back’ part of his campaign as he came back from the brink.”

News reporters covering the primary are on myriad email lists that pump out candidates’ schedules, but you don’t need to contact a dozen or so campaigns to know where to head after your morning ski. Instead, you can go to the website of the New Hampshire Union-Leader newspaper, whose onetime publisher, William Loeb (when the paper was called the Manchester Union-Leader), once was the scourge of Democratic candidates and is credited for prompting Senator Edmund S. Muskie to lash out at him, and perhaps to cry amid the falling snow, wounding the Maine lawmaker’s prospects in 1972. (He won New Hampshire but dropped out by April.)

Another good source is the website of the Democratic Party of New Hampshire, where events are listed by candidate. In both cases keep your eyes open to references to the letters “FITN.” on websites. Political pros know that stands for ‘’first-in-the-nation,’’ a special point of pride in these precincts.

But perhaps the most useful list is the one put together by Colin Van Ostern, the 2016 Democratic nominee for governor who was defeated by Chris Sununu. He assembles a list of campaign appearances by region, making it easy to find which events are close to your ski resort. (To sign up for his mailing list contact him at:

“I started doing it and then dozens and then hundreds of people signed up,” he said. In the last year, Mr. Van Ostern’s memos, distributed to a mailing list that has grown to 30,000 people, have become the quintessential Baedeker to New Hampshire presidential politics.

Many of the more picturesque hotels and ski resorts are in New Hampshire’s North Country, particularly in the White Mountains. Those in the shadow of the aptly named Presidential Range are especially lovely, including the Omni Mount Washington Hotel in Bretton Woods, where John Maynard Keynes and 44 finance ministers and economic leaders from the Allied nations met in 1944 and set up the International Monetary Fund.

The hotel, often a backdrop for campaign photos, sits in the shadow of both Mount Washington, the highest peak in the East, and the Bretton Woods ski resort, the largest in the state. North Conway, the site of Cranmore Mountain and within striking distance of the Black Mountain, Wildcat, Attitash and King Pine ski areas, has several inns and motels, including the fabled Eastern Slope Inn.

One of the classic campaign lodgings is the Bedford Village Inn, a favorite of George W. Bush during the 2000 New Hampshire Primary that he lost to Senator John McCain by 18 percentage points. It is about a half-hour from two smaller ski hills, Pats Peak and Tenney Mountain, and an hour and a half from Waterville Valley. Its great advantage: It is only a quarter-hour drive to downtown Manchester, site of many candidate events in the last days of the primary, when travel to the voter-scarce White Mountains eats up too much valuable campaign time, and only about eight minutes from St. Anselm College, where candidates often flock for a ready audience and smart questions from the students and faculty affiliated with its New Hampshire Institute of Politics.

For 81 years the climate observers atop Mount Washington have been evaluating each day’s weather on a sliding scale of 5 cents (impenetrable blizzard conditions and unforgiving cold) to 50 cents (brilliant sunshine and seasonably warm temperatures). These ratings still can be heard on WMWV radio (93.5 FM), another good source for campaign information. The day I headed to Black Mountain and then to two events was a 45-center. But truly, any day you can combine skiing and candidate viewing is worth that extra nickel.

David M. Shribman, for 16 years the executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, teaches at the Max Bell School of Public Policy at Montreal’s McGill University.

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