New England chowder: Tested, ranked and reviewed by FREESKIER magazine

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New England chowder: Tested, ranked and reviewed by FREESKIER magazine

Featured Image: Legal Sea Foods via Facebook

Back in December 2020, the FREESKIER crew had the unique opportunity to travel to six ski areas in six days around New England. Apart from skiing low-tide early season conditions in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont, we took it upon ourselves to find the best damn chowder on the East Coast. Seeking the creamiest, clam-iest, corniest, most delectable soups across four states, we slurped our own path.

Now, let’s get one thing clear: We’re not food critics, nor do we know how the hell to make chowder, but we do know when something tastes fucking delicious. So, based on first impressions, presentation and, of course, that aspect of umami—a certified trip to Flavortown—we present to you, the chowder-hunting FREESKIER audience, the completely arbitrary, totally unnecessary and entirely delicious Ultimate First Annual New England Regional Chowder Rankings.

Gunstock Mountain

Overall Impression: Nice creaminess, homemade, hunky potato chunks, big pieces of clam. 9/10 would recommend.

Located just twenty minutes from the infamous Weirs Beach in Laconia, New Hampshire, Gunstock Mountain offers unprecedented views of Lake Winnipesaukee and, on a good day, Mount Washington, the highest peak in the Northeastern United States. The county-owned ski area, founded in 1937, is a community hub that offers night skiing, outreach programs for local youth and makes its clam chowder in-house, under the same timber beams that stood there in the 1930s. The chowder here was delectable: Combining big ‘ol chunks of potato and clam in a creamy, savory broth, it was an ideal lunch before taking a few afternoon laps. A slowed-down ski experience, with three lifts and a handful of creatively constructed terrain parks, marks this small hill as one to visit if you’re looking to get away from the hustle-and-bustle of the rest of the world.

Sunday River Ski Resort

Overall Impression: Delicate broth, nice chunks of fish, well-presented with scallions, 8/10 would recommend.

At lunchtime, the chowder cauldron in the ski lodge cafeteria at Sunday River was empty, the bottom crusty from the heater meant to keep the soup warm. After a morning of skiing around some of the resort’s 870 acres of terrain—mostly pristine groomers of manmade snow and short shots in the trees—we found our stomachs grumbling for our daily dose and relocated to the Sunday River Brewing Company just down the road. At the Brewing Company, where psychedelic fractals don the beer cans, the “Soup of the Day” was a fish chowder, not clam. Oh well. Served with a proper soup spoon built for big slurps and garnished with chopped scallions, it was a delicately delicious bowl worth trying on your next visit to Sunday River.

Jay Peak Resort

Overall Impression: We cheated—we ate ramen noodles at Jay Peak. The soup had our tastebuds bursting with happiness. 11/10 would recommend.

When we pulled into Montgomery, Vermont, the night before skiing at Jay Peak, snow was falling heavily from the dark sky. We stayed at Grampa Grunts Lodge—one of those “if you know, you know” scenarios, a ski lodge that thrived in the hot doggin’ era. As the story goes: The current owner’s dad won the building in a poker game in the mid-1970s, it became the hot spot to stay for skiers on a budget and continues to offer cheap, homey accommodations. After a good sleep and a late-night stint in the original, in-house sauna, we woke to 10 inches of fresh snow on the ground.

Skiing Jay Peak is unique: It’s gritty and friendly, inviting and heart-pounding. Steep shots in the trees and relentless groomers make for some of the best skiing you’ll find anywhere in the country. By midday, we were starved. Thankfully, we’d met up with Jordan and Momo Antonucci, owners of Miso Hungry, a ramen “food truck” stationed in an old tram car at the base of the mountain. The couple showed us a few secret stashes before Momo had to split and get the ramen shop open for the day.

The ramen we were served consisted of homemade noodles, slow-roasted pork belly that melted on our tongues and an amazingly flavorful broth—a bone broth that stews for eight hours daily—warmed our souls with each sip.

Bolton Valley

Overall Impression: Homemade corn chowder paired with night skiing—is there a better combination? Outright delicious. Slightly spicy. 10/10 would recommend.

Bolton Valley, one of the closest ski areas to Burlington, Vermont, is a hidden gem, providing access to inbounds terrain and backcountry shots, alike. We arrived in the afternoon, but the lifts weren’t stopping anytime soon—night skiing is one of Bolton Valley’s biggest draws, bringing college students from the University of Vermont in droves. With temperatures around zero degrees, four laps and one straight-line under the chairlift sufficiently stung our faces. Relocating to the James Moore Tavern, we chomped on homemade corn chowder, a deep yellow, thick soup with specks of red pepper. It warmed the mouth, all the way down to the belly and fueled our ambition to take a couple more laps in negative temperatures; they call that “corn chowder for the soul.”

Wachusett Mountain

Overall Impression: Classic chowder done right. Meaty, luscious clams—best of the tour. Plenty of flavor. 9/10 would recommend.

At Waschusett Mountain, just over an hour north of Boston, Massachusetts, skiing is alive-and-well. On Friday evening we rolled into town, the place was bustling and snow-making machines were cranking “fresh” into the air and onto the runs. Skiing as the sun set over the horizon on a set of rocketships, otherwise known as the Parlor Skis’ New Englander, we carved trenches on Wachusett’s frontside until dark. Piles of “fresh” snow lined the intermediate runs, becoming obstacle courses with enormous, Suburban-sized hunks of snow lining the ski area’s “intermediate” runs. Apparently this is commonplace at Wachusett.

We relocated to the Coppertop Lounge, a fancy name for “the bar in the base lodge,” once we were coated in a frost of fake snow. Inside, we ordered the “standard” clam chowder, which was brewing in a small caldron behind the bartender, next to a lineup of schnapps and whiskey. Within seconds—maybe a minute, at most—the soup was presented to us. This was a no-frills, classic-style clam chowder: Meaty chunks of clam, a creamy broth, bunches of potatoes and a pack of Westminster oyster crackers on the side. Heaven.

Killington Resort

Overall Impression: Fishy. Overdone. Opt for the chicken fingers. 7/10 would recommend.

Killington Resort is one of Vermont’s classic ski areas. “The Beast of the East” gives East Coasters the chance to ski bumps late into the season, explore winding runs through tight trees and reach top speed on race-quality groomers. It’s been a staple in the Vermont ski scene since the 1960s. The chowder has room for improvement but, the chicken fingers, they infused my tastebuds with a nostalgia of ski lodge lunches of my youth. Little ranch, little ketchup, pure bliss.