Travel | Culture | History

A Weekend at the Omni Mount Washington Hotel

The Omni Mount Washington Hotel was built in 1902, making it 120 years old this year. When you walk into this place, you feel the history and grandeur. It’s a time machine of sorts, bringing you back to another era. And yet it’s timeless (if a bit creaky here and there). I’d stayed here before, maybe 15 years ago. When the world seemed different. The hotel has grown since then with more than $90 million in modernizations and additions. The old heated pool is gone, replaced by a 25,000 square foot modern spa, now with a newer heated pool a longer walk away down the hill (dress accordingly).

The hotel was built by Joseph Stickney between 1900 and 1902. He died a year after it opened, but his name is still associated with the place. The hotel stayed in the family until 1944, when the hotel, closed for the war, was sold off. Having stayed here twice now, I can say the place seems to be thriving. For Omni, it’s more than just an old hotel, there’s the Bretton Woods Ski Resort, a couple of golf courses, a large nordic center and a number of other properties to manage. Unlike some owners, they’re actually improving the investment instead of milking it for all it’s worth. It’s noticeably improved in the 7 years they’ve owned it.

Any resort begins with the people who support it, and you notice a fair measure of joy in the staff working the restaurants, bars, nordic center and hotel that you don’t always see in the hospitality industry. This mix of international and local staff genuinely seem happy to be there, happy to talk to you, happy to represent the Omni Mount Washington Hotel. This set the tone for the stay, as everything seemed so… pleasant. Hard to pull that off with 800 guests staying there on the first weekend of March, when everyone was busy and the guests can be demanding.

The dining options at the hotel are more than acceptable. There are three distinct restaurants with different menus: the main dining room (which used to have a large dance floor in the middle that’s become a popular bar), Stickney’s Restaurant, and for the busy weekends, a third themed dining option in the Grand Ballroom (on our stay a Chinese food buffet with Disney movies playing for families). The food was excellent for each of the meals we had, but with a notable luxury price tag. You don’t stay and eat at an Omni without throwing down some serious cash. So staying here is either a splurge or a lifestyle choice. Reservations are required for dinner at the Main Dining Room and Stickney’s, and I’m told you ought to make those reservations well in advance. We managed a late table at Stickney’s our first night and settled for the Ballroom buffet the second night.

The bar scene is active, with all the skiers and hikers returning to celebrate the calories burned with a nightcap or three. The Cave is an old speakeasy deep in the basement that reminded us of the Cavern in Liverpool where The Beatles once played. The walls are granite and brick, and you enter through a granite tunnel. There are plenty of other places to get a drink beyond this, and we spent a couple of hours talking about life in this mad world nursing glasses of wine in the Observatory.

Naturally, there’s plenty to do besides eating and drinking. We opted to skip the skiing on our weekend and instead went snowshoeing on the groomed trails that originate at the nordic center. The trails are extensive and relatively quiet. There was just enough snow left for snowshoeing or XC-skiing, but the horse drawn sleigh rides seemed to be suspended as the snow cover in this mild winter didn’t allow it in early March.

What do you do after snowshoeing for miles? You go for a swim in the outdoor pool, of course. With the water heated to—I’m guessing—85 degrees it provided the perfect way to soak in the mild winter air with spectacular views of the White Mountains and the Presidential Range. For all the changes Omni has made, I’m glad they still offer the heated outdoor pool. It was memorable fifteen years ago in the old pool, and it surely was this time in the new one.

There’s one more thing to know about the Mount Washington Hotel, and it’s the connection to history. For the hotel was the site of the Bretton Woods Conference in 1944, when 44 Allied nations gathered at the hotel to establish the Articles of Agreement for the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The hotel justifiably makes a point of highlighting this history, and you can walk around the table where some key discussions happened that impact us to this day.

So there you have it. The Omni Mount Washington Hotel is a glorious destination year-round. Our winter weekend reminded us just how wonderful this place is. You’ll pay for it, but it surely is an experience worth having now and then. I hope it won’t be another fifteen years for me.

The Omni Mount Washington Hotel
Heated pool with Mount Washington in the background
Site of the Bretton Woods Conference

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