Ride the classic 4-person gondola to the 2,750-foot pinnacle of Loon Peak—one of three mountaintops that comprise Loon Mountain in Lincoln, New Hampshire—and pause for a moment to drink in the sprawling vista before pointing your skis downslope and taking the plunge.
If Mother Nature has cooperated with a bluebird morning, behold then the magnificent jumble of snowy summits that stretch far and wide from west to north to east as far as your eyes can see. The Kinsmans and Cannon; Flume, Liberty, Lincoln and Lafayette; Owls Head and Garfield, and the Bonds stall tall among the countless square miles of national forest and wilderness.
The spectacular view is one reason this skier enjoys playing on the slopes of Loon Mountain; the other, of course, is the terrific skiing and great variety of it on 27 miles of trails over 370 acres with an impressive 2,100 feet of vertical. In fact, I’m headed there this coming weekend, bone chilling cold be damned. But hey, it’s January and this is New England.
In advance of my visit I caught up with Greg Kwasnik, Loon’s communications manager, to get the skinny on what to expect, it having been a couple seasons since I was last at the mountain.
“We’re off to a good start this winter, but we are hoping for more snow,” said Kwasnik. “We’ve got the groomers working hard and the snowmakers doing their thing right now.”
Given the frigid temps ahead, plenty of snowmaking will surely fill the bill I’m sure until the winter snows can get back on schedule. All things considered, Loon is looking pretty good for the weekend with 48 trails set to open and all 12 lifts ready to turn.
“Loon has one of the most powerful and technologically advanced snowmaking systems in New England, which allows us to open terrain faster in the early season, and helps us maintain excellent snow conditions even during challenging stretches of weather,” said Kwasnik. “We bounced back exceptionally quickly after some challenging December weather, making snow on over 90% of our open terrain during the last week of the month.”
There’s terrain to suit everybody at Loon, no matter what you like to ski or what type of skier you are, everything from old New England-style trails to wide open cruisers to glades, noted Kwasnik.
For skiers like you and me who don’t get to Loon Mountain as often as we’d like—or for those who perhaps have never skied there—I asked Greg for some advice on how best to ski the mountain to get the most out of your time there.
Kwasnik recommends starting your day early with a ride on the gondola, Loon’s signature lift, which departs from the Octagon Lodge and deposits you at the top of Loon Peak.
“From there you can access the majority of the mountain and lots of terrain,” Kwasnik confirmed.
The gondola is the main attraction for many Loon skiers, and as such, it gets pretty busy. Ride the gondola early in the day, then head to either side of it to avoid the crowds as the morning progresses.
At the North Peak Express Quad “you’ll rarely find yourself waiting in line” as you make run after sweet run on the 3,050-foot North Peak.
On the opposite side of Loon Peak is South Peak, which is a little off the beaten path and often overlooked by skiers because you need to ride a chair to reach it.
“Take the Tote Road Quad along the high ridge of the mountain and you’ll have all of South Peak waiting for you,” said Kwasnik. “There’s always less people there and with the Lincoln Express quad you can really rack up a lot of vertical on the cruisers and steeps.”
Skiers looking to follow the sun through the day, not a bad thing to think about in the depths of the January cold, might consider warming up on the intermediate terrain under the gondola and on the lower mountain, where the there’s good sun from 8 to noon. From 10 to noon, head for North Peak, and in the afternoon, South Peak.
All this chatter about great skiing is already making me hungry (and thirsty, of course), so where are you going to satisfy the empty stomach during your day at Loon?
“Try the Summit Café at the top of the gondola,” recommends Kwasnik. The Jamaican-themed eatery is famous for its Reggae Rolls of jerked pork. You can also get breakfast burritos, rum punches and other tasty stuff.
The Camp III Lodge at the base of North Peak is where you’ll find venison stew, bison burgers and the like.
“It’s a nice mid-mountain spot, and it has a great deck,” noted Kwasnik.
For an après ski thirst quencher, duck into the Paul Bunyan Room upstairs in the Octagon Lodge. Considered the “birthplace of après at Loon,” this fun spot features two-dozen draft beers, live music and hearty fare.
There are a handful of other dining spots in both the Octagon Lodge and the Governor Adams Lodge, which is situated at the base of the Kancamagus Express Quad. And while you could make your way over to the Governor Adams Lodge on skis, you’ll have a heckuva lot more fun hopping aboard the train that runs between the two lodges.
The J.E. Henry Railroad—which shuttles skiers along the base of the mountain all day long—is a throwback to the narrow-gauge White Mountain logging trains of more than a century ago. The antique steam locomotive originally burned coal but was retrofitted to burn wood when it arrived at Loon in the 1970s. How very cool. Count me in for a ride!
There’s more to do at Loon in addition to downhill skiing, and visitors so inclined will want to check out the Adventure Center, which is housed in an old barn on the banks of the Pemigewasset River just steps from the Octagon Lodge.
“It’s our base camp for off-mountain fun,” Kwasnik said. Check out the center for snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, ice skating, and zip-line adventures that take you out over the river and back. Yeah!
Shuttles will take you from the center a mile to the trailhead and a nice network of x-c and snowshoe trails. Guided ski and snowshoe treks can also be arranged. Equipment rentals are available.
OK then Loon Mountain, here I come… Hope to see you there this winter too!
MORE INFO: Loon Mountain, (800) 229-LOON.