Nine years ago this summer, my family and I took a leap of faith, following our hearts to live full-time in the White Mountains — but feeling somewhere deep down inside that we might be hurtling off the edge of comfortable and well-known suburbia and into the wilderness where modern services were concerned.

Where we lived on Boston’s South Shore, we were two minutes from good takeout pizza and a Starbucks, five minutes from a Super Stop and Shop (and not just any Stop and Shop, but one that actually sold wine and beer), and fifteen minutes from a new, upscale shopping plaza that had, of all things, an REI and a Whole Foods.  We’re not necessarily aggressive consumers, but there was a degree of comfort in the convenience we found all around us.

More to the point: we were fifteen minutes from the medical practice we’d grown up with as a young family, twenty minutes from a decent full-service hospital, and half an hour (if traffic was in your favor) from many of the best medical institutions in the world.  We didn’t spend too much time thinking about it, as we’re generally healthy people, but somewhere in the back of your mind, you knew.

Our path to residency in Waterville Valley followed the predictable arc that most mountain emigres cite:  when our kids were little we’d all but stopped skiing and enjoying life outdoors, especially in the winter.  I realized I was starting to fantasize about warmer climates to an unhealthy degree, and Nancy and I sprang into action. Bundled against the cold, our 4- and 2-year olds lapped the almost-flat J-Bar at Pat’s Peak between my legs and and pealed with delight. Two seasons and half a dozen sessions of mom-and-dad skiing, we took a leap and scheduled the kids’ for a day in Waterville Valley Resort’s excellent “Kids’ Kamp” program.  A good time was had by all, and we came back the next weekend.  All thoughts of warmer climates receded, and by the end of that summer, we had purchased a small condo in the Valley and begun the slow-but-certain process of falling in love with a place and finding it harder and harder to go home to the flatlands after each weekend.

Within two years, we sold our Boston area home and moved to the mountains full-time.  Even as we closed the door on our old home, though, I think both Nancy and I wondered exactly what we were signing up for in terms of daily living.  I’d gone to Plymouth State College in the early 1980s, when Speare Hospital was much smaller and was generally considered an option of last resort; Plymouth had one small, benighted P&C grocery store with high prices and produce that looked tired as it was put out “fresh”.  My friends would drive ten miles to Ashland to bring back enough fast-food to last a couple days, because we didn’t even have a McDonald’s.

I’m happy to say, in this one case, 30 years is a long time, and living in the mountains no longer means stepping back a decade or more in terms of services, provided you’re patient, reasonably good at planning, and even moderately resourceful.  Here’s what we’ve found in our time here.

The local medical scene is respectable or better

When I was in college, the western White Mountains were a classic underserved area in medical terms.  All that has changed considerably, and is still changing for the better.  On several occasions — the typical mishaps of family life — we have availed ourselves of Speare Memorial’s urgent care and emergency services, and have always been satisfied with the care we’ve received, the professionalism of the staff, and the facilities in general.  Bigger hospitals with more beds and specialists are available an hour away in Concord or Hanover, but we’ve never felt compelled to make the trip.

In terms of routine care and health maintenance, we’ve been perfectly satisfied with the care offered by Midstate Health Center, Plymouth Pediatrics, and Main Street Dental.  The level of professionalism and personal care has easily been equal to or better than what we found in the Greater Boston area.  For more esoteric specialities, you do find yourself traveling farther afield — Concord, Manchester, or Hanover — but for most routine healthcare, you’ll feel like you’re in good hands.

We’re also fortunate to have a number of specialists in sports-related medicine… chances are if you’re contemplating a move to the mountains, you’re inclined to be active outside, and, as I often say, if you play the games of the mountains, sooner or later you’re going to get hurt.  My family has come to rely on the expert care of Todd Mosenthal (chiropractic and sports medicine) and Melinda Johnston (a PhD-level physical therapist), and just lately on the Alpine Clinic (world-class orthopedic services).  I hope you don’t end up with aches and pains from your playtime, but if you do, you’ll be well cared for.

Keeping the pantry stocked

During my college years, you wouldn’t necessarily starve living in the White Mountains, but your range of choices and quality was necessarily very limited. I shopped whenever I was at home visiting my parents in Concord, and just about everyone I knew drove to Concord at least every couple of weeks to stock up. You’re still not surrounded by gourmet options, but things are much, much better now.

For your grocery needs, Hannafords is a good option, and their variety has improved even in the last few years.  Chase Street Market on Plymouth’s Main Street has a small but delightful selection of higher-end gourmet goods.  And, while I am no particular fan, Walmart on the Tenney Mountain Highway has just about everything you’ll need, if not necessarily everything you’d ever want.  For better prices and more shopping options, including a decent Market Basket and outlet mall, Tilton is only 50 minutes away (and — really — how many times have you spent half an hour in the car going across town in your suburb?).

When you live half an hour from the closest “real” store, you do get good at keeping shopping lists — and Amazon Prime, with an almost infinite variety of goods and two-day free shipping, is your best friend.

Nights you don’t want to cook for yourself

Admittedly, given the geographic distribution of the White Mountain region, you’re not going to wake up thinking you’re in Manhattan from a restaurant perspective… but we’re fortunate to have a number of very good restaurants within a reasonable drive.

You’re no doubt familiar with The Coyote Grill in Waterville Valley — still one of the best in the region for creative American cuisine and a consistent go-to where you’ll always feel welcome.  You probably have already tried The Blue Moon Cafe in Town Square, but if you haven’t, their concise menu has a surprising number of stand-outs, and the cozy atmosphere is hard to beat.

If you’re ready to go a little farther afield, Plymouth offers The Six-Burner Bistro, a comfortably converted older home with small dining rooms, pleasant service, and consistently good fare.  Lincoln offers a crazy quilt of dining options, but the very best in our experience is the Gypsy Cafe on the Kancamagus Highway (Rt 112) as you head toward Loon (just, don’t head toward Loon to ski, please).  The area has a number of Alex Rey’s popular Common Man offerings, but the very best in my opinion is Lake House in Meredith.

And in the morning, if you’re like me and can’t abide Dunkin Donuts coffee, we’re lucky to have Mad River Coffee Roasters in Campton (they recently moved to their new location on Six Flags Road; their coffee is also served at the Blue Moon and up at the mountain), and Cafe Monte Alto at Chase Street Market in Plymouth.

Life’s many necessary services

Humans don’t survive on bread and healthcare alone.  There are a ton of services we take for granted living in suburbia that the sane adult has to at least factor into any decision to move to a more remote region.  Fortunately, the White Mountains have come a long way in this regard, too.

In Waterville Valley, we’re exceptionally lucky to have a top-notch Public Safety department, highly trained both in community “policing” (with an extraordinarily empathetic touch) and emergency medical procedures.   Should you decide to spend a lot more time in the Valley, you will find Chris Hodges, Dave Noyes, Jeff Dropkin, Sgt. Katz, Andy Vermeersch, Joe LaCasse and the rest of the public safety team are highly professional and truly here for the people.

In our near-decade in the region, we’ve been lucky to find a lot of other professionals who make our lives easier and more comfortable, too.  The list is long, but here are a few standouts (and I share these somewhat reluctantly, because I like being able to schedule an appointment easily; all these folks have earned our respect and appreciation, though):

Thomas Roberts on Main Street in Plymouth is a professionally-run barber and hair salon with great service.

KTM Auto in Plymouth is a small, locally run, decidedly scruffy little auto repair shop.  They’re also scrupulously honest and genuinely friendly.

The Auto Spa on the Tenney Mountain Highway offers $10 hand-washes and full detail services.  Another honest, fair provider.

J Guinta Construction stands out for their careful attention to detail in snow-removal services (the local plowing business has been in tumult for the last couple seasons, but we were very happy with these guys last winter).

And, of course, if you’re planning to spend more time in the Valley, you’ll need the services of a reputable real estate agent.  Here, too, we’re really lucky to have Waterville Valley Realty and Roper Realty.  Since we first got involved with Waterville Valley real estate, we’ve called Kate Wheeler our broker (and friend), but I can honestly say I like and trust every agent we’ve ever interacted with at either agency.

And with that, I apologize for the brain-dump; I’ve been thinking lately, though, about all the people and agencies who’ve made our life here in Waterville Valley richer and more comfortable.  If you’re contemplating taking the plunge on a part- or full-time basis, I wanted to share our experiences.

After nearly nine years, we really have no regrets about making the move.  I can tell you, though, that the ebbs and flows of careers can surprise you even from a distance. That is a story for another day, though, and in the mean time, I will say that it’s a good thing you can be in Manchester Airport in 90 minutes, or in Burlington or Boston in two and a half hours.

 

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If you’re still with me after all that, chances are Waterville Valley holds a special place in your heart.  Consider the foregoing something of a screening device for the next couple points.

I write this occasional blog about Waterville Valley living under the auspices of the Waterville Valley Foundation.  Throughout our 25-plus year history, the Waterville Valley Foundation has sought to support the things that make Waterville Valley unique.  If you have an idea that you think deserves WVF support, I invite you to send us an email at info@watervillevalleyfoundation.org.  We’re always looking for a few good projects to support — but keep in mind that our charter is strictly within the Waterville Valley region, and that our preference is to support cultural, athletic and educational opportunities in Waterville Valley proper.

Further, if you’re truly passionate about the Valley and you’d like to be considered for our Board of Directors, we have several openings and would like to hear from you.  We meet approximately quarterly for several hours (plus time put into special projects as they come along), and would love to find several new, enthusiast board members who’re interested in bringing their energy to new projects that lend distinction to life in the Valley.  Fire us off an email to info@watervillevalleyfoundation.org.

 

 

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