Franconia, New Hampshire

BEST PLACE TO STAKE YOUR CLAIM

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Population: 900
Annual Household Income: $37,600
Median Home Price: $131,500
Climate: Typical New England, with an extra dose of mountain shade.

A generation ago, cannon mountain, just outside this hamlet in north-central New Hampshire, ranked as one of the handful of dominant New England skier magnets. Jean-Claude Killy stopped in for World Cup races, and Franconia bustled as a second-home getaway for well-heeled Bostonians. Since then, the state-owned ski area has fallen well behind the Killingtons and Sunday Rivers of the region, in part because its location within Franconia Notch State Park has kept condomania at bay. But Franconia is beginning to stir again now that the state is fast-tracking a $23 million plan to expand the mountain--installing a high-speed quad lift, revamping trails, and reviving a ghost resort next door called Mittersill. Lest you suspect this simply means that the vandals are at the gates, note that New Hampshire will likely never allow large real-estate development on or around the mountain, which will keep away those seeking ski-in convenience at Chalet de Fromage¡type eyesores. Franconia draws those who loathe the overbuilding at other Northeast resorts, but no doubt others will come to check out the upgraded slopes and stick around for the time-warp charm and rugged alpine surroundings that decades ago drew no less a New England fun hog than Robert Frost. So don't dawdle too long.

THE HOME FRONT: Once news of the Cannon expansion spread, listings ignored for two years suddenly sold, and houses in the former white-elephant village at the base of Mittersill ($125,000 to $250,000 as of five minutes ago) began to attract buyers as well. The town itself consists of three tiny burgs--Franconia proper (the most Our Town precinct), Sugar Hill (showier properties and second homes), and the more spacious and farm-dotted Easton. All feature a similar jumble of seasoned farmhouses, Victorians, colonials, and sixties- and seventies-vintage chalets, typically priced from $90,000 to $125,000, along with newer high-ticket custom-builts and Capes.

THE BACKYARD: Quite simply, the Arcadia for virtually every New England outdoor activity that takes place on dry land. Downhillers and snowboarders have Cannon, Loon Mountain, Waterville Valley, and even Tuckerman's Ravine, while cross-country skiers venture out on hundreds of miles of trails in and around Franconia. The Pemigewasset Wilderness and Franconia Ridge remain campers' and day hikers' paradises, and Carter and Pinkham Notches, the traditional jumping-off points for walks in the Presidentials, are a short drive away. And then there's nearby North Conway, the hub of Northeast rock climbing; miles of back roads and switchbacks for cyclists; undisturbed trout streams...You get the picture.

NINE TO FIVE: Few come for career advancement, so expect to be underwhelmed. Franconia's enterprise is mostly tourist-dependent, with some artists and workshops devoted to crafts. Garnet Hill, an upscale mail-order linens clearinghouse, employs 400, many of them part-time. Others commute the nine miles to Littleton and punch the clock at such regional employers as the Littleton Stamp and Coin Company (mail-order collectibles) and Hitchiner Manufacturing (golf clubs). For the medically credentialed, there's Littleton Regional Hospital. For the merely smitten, well, where there's a will there's a way.

ON THE TOWN: The Dutch Treat is the most popular spot to tilt a glass, running neck-and-neck with the burger-and-suds Village House. Locals meander into the Grateful Bread bakery for coffee and the latest scuttlebutt, or any of several oh-so-tasteful dining rooms--Franconia Inn, Sugar Hill Inn, Sunset Hill House--ringing the town.

THE PRICE OF PARADISE: Be aware of predictable climatic issues--the short and whimsical growing season, the long and serious winter--and that a quick run to the mall means a 45-minute trek to Concord.

DON'T BE SEEN WITHOUT: Skis both wide and narrow.

BEST OF THE REST MARBLE, CO: Dirt-road aerie just below Aspen's radar. DAVIS, WV: D.C.'s bikers have found it. Get there before the bureaucrats do. FERNIE, BC: Crested Butte circa 1970.

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