NORTH CONWAY, N.H. -- After a long day of skiing, sliding, and falling down, we all -- children, parents, grandparents, and aunts -- gather inside the condo overlooking the gleaming mountain. We peel off wet coats and clomp around awkwardly in ski boots as we lay slushy, snow-crusted mittens and hats on the radiator. The little ones hobble around the doorway and track in pieces of ice that become cool puddles in the carpet.
Later, we'll notice those wet spots when they soak our stockinged feet, but at the moment we are too numb from the cold to care. We change into warm pajamas and sweat suits and gather in the living room to await the stroke of midnight.
New Year's Eve at Cranmore Mountain Resort in the Mount Washington Valley has been a tradition in my family for years.
Sitting on sofas around the fireplace, we play cards, pore over puzzles, drink hot chocolate, and nosh on appetizers while reminiscing about past years. I recall one year that I bravely, and stupidly, decided not to start on a beginner trail; my cousin agreed that we were both accomplished enough to skip that kids' stuff. She then got to see me wipe out. I still remember sliding down that mountain, skis and poles flying in all directions, spinning and falling on my stomach, trying to grip the slick snow.
Word to the wise: You are never too old for the beginner slope.
As we act out the scene for the rest of the family, fireworks crackle and spray across the dark, clear sky. Streams of red, blue, and purple slice through the blackness, and the Mount Cranmore New Year's celebration comes alive with a parade of skiers skirting down the mountain, torches in hand, illuminating the night with a trail of twinkling flames.
This year, the celebration at Cranmore will last much longer. Cranapalooza 2005 will begin Jan. 1 and continue every Saturday through March 12. A family festival from 2-9 p.m. each Saturday will include jugglers, clowns, sleigh rides, and face painting at the base of the mountain. The terrain park, 11 lighted trails, and the snow tubing area will stay open after dark.
In addition to Cranapalooza, weekly ''block parties" are hosted most Mondays at Cranmore, 4-6 p.m., with games and activities for children and parents. Party themes include Hawaii, Wild West, and Mardi Gras; hot chocolate and popcorn are staples.
Indeed, the entire Mount Washington Valley has a weeklong winter celebration Feb. 25-March 6, with holiday festivals and parades. Ski resorts throughout the valley also have their own festivals with ski demo days, music, races, giveaways, and slopeside entertainment.
Black Mountain, for example, has a midwinter carnival in early February and a family ski-and-ride weekend at the end of that month. Attitash has weeklong Winterfest celebrations this month and in February with skiing and snowboarding competitions; guided snowshoe tours; family games, contests, and activities; and live music and promotions in Ptarmigan's Pub for adults.
Bretton Woods has aprs-ski parties for children on Saturdays, 4:30-6 p.m. While their children enjoy sledding, animal shows, or movies, parents can relax with entertainment in the Slopeside Lounge. Another event in southern New Hampshire is the Mountain Dew Challenge, which travels to various mountains with games, prizes, entertainment, and races.
Tubing parks at Bretton Woods and Cranmore take sledding to a whole new level. Forget trudging uphill with your toboggan. Instead, take a chairlift up and choose a tubing run to come down.
To get started on these mountains, children as young as 3 can attend camps or lessons and strap on a snowboard or skis. These tiny beginners are often seen singing, giggling, and falling down at the base of the mountain, but an occasional preschooler, wearing a helmet half the size of her body, whizzes down the mountain, making even the most accomplished adult skier feel inadequate.
In addition to skiing, there are, of course, the famous (or infamous) outlet complexes. Pick up free maps in the ski lodges, restaurants, or resorts for the Tanger Outlets, Settlers' Green Outlet Village Plus, and White Mountain Outlet. The Wooden Soldier Gift Store is separate from these large plazas, but can be worth the trip for the miniature, extravagant holiday dresses and coats for children.
Also, the Conway Scenic Railroad offers one- and two-hour round-trip train rides through the area. In the dining car ''Chocorua," enjoy the scenery with your formal three-course meal.
Continue the evening at Nestlenook Farm, a Victorian-inspired winter wonderland with sleigh rides and ice skating. An ornate bridge crosses over the skating pond and a gazebo off to one side completes the picture. Finish the day inside the gazebo with complimentary hot cocoa beside a fire.
Jillian Orlando is a freelance writer in Boston.