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Return to Loon Mountain
An eastern-turned western skier returns to the birthplace of his skiing soul

By Brian Schott
Photos by Larry Turner

Lincoln, NH - With the first snowfall of the season settling onto the mountains, both in the Rockies of Montana where I now live, to the White Mountains of my youth, I am reminded of my return to eastern skiing last winter when I glided down the 3065-foot slopes of Loon Mountain.

Each autumn, I am reminded how deeply skiing has become rooted in my soul. My first ski experience began at 200-vertical-foot Nashoba Valley in Westford, Mass. in the third grade. After a major struggle with the rental equipment, I somehow wound up half way down an expert run called War Dance, struggling pitifully with both skis off, the safety straps wound in circles around my ankles. My hands were frozen, I was shivering and drenched with sweat, and the bus was leaving, way down in the parking lot that seemed miles away.

Somehow, the following week, I returned to try again. And for thirty years hence, I have returned to the slopes each winter to figure out another trick to the subtle art of sliding on snow.



Although I would continue skiing in school programs at Nashoba through high school, my folks began to take us on weekend ski trips to the bigger mountains up north. We'd pack the car in the early morning light and take off for the likes of Waterville Valley, Loon, and Cannon. Now here were some ski runs! Skiing began to take on a new dimension for me. Soaring views. Softer snow. Runs you could hum a whole tune on.

I also got my first taste of powder skiing in New Hampshire, and oooh-it was delicious. A deep winter storm dumped boot-deep snow and we bashed though moguls without sound, launched into the air, laughing when we fell (no bruises on your butt!).

At Dartmouth, I skied surprisingly little. No car. No money-a bad combination for this increasingly expensive sport. But with graduation looming, I hatched a plan with two friends to put off the "real world" for a year and move to a ski town. Prestigious bachelor's degrees in hand, we landed eight-dollar-an-hour jobs in a ski shop in Vail. I skied 126 days that winter and learned some good life lessons. One in particular: you don't have to be rich to live richly. I also landed my first writing job at Vail Valley Magazine.

After that post-grad winter, I jumped north to Whitefish, Montana in search of something less glitzy. And I ended up staying. Skiing had its hold on me, a playful grip that turned into a writing career.

Fast forward thirteen years across deep winters and visits to a majority of the west's best ski resorts and I am a member of the North American Snowsports Journalists Association. Our grueling annual meeting last winter called upon us to test the slopes of Loon, Bretton Woods, and Cannon. For me, it was an opportunity to return to the birthplace of my skiing soul.



Arriving at Loon, I actually felt like a kid again. My wife and I checked into the Mountain Club, a comfortable 175-room slopeside hotel bathed in the glow of the setting sun. We checked into the room, jumped on the bed, and sipped some wine on the deck before dinner at the Seasons Restaurant where we laughed with old friends and shared tastes of Black Angus beef and sea scallops. But it was off to bed early: there was work to be done in the morning.

After breakfast we caught a unique ride to the rental shop: a miniature, old-fashioned, wood-fired, steam train that runs from the Octagon Lodge to the Governor Adams Lodge. The tracks stretch only about a third of a mile, but it was a wonderful way to start the day. My inner child was re-awakening.


And for the next two days, all we did was play. Full steam ahead.

The sky was a beautiful blue and the air crisp as we loaded the Kancamagus Express Quad and ripped down intermediate Blue Ox as we skied to the gondola. I delighted in the leafless, deciduous trees that lined the trail, so different from the evergreens of the west. And as I carved over a little roller, I just had to jump into the air, testing my newly-rebuilt knee, the result of a nasty crash in Montana the winter before.

"This is a cruiser's paradise," Mark Randall from Averill Park, New York told me as we rode the cozy, four-person gondola, gazing out at the old, rounded mountains. "It's my first time here-and I'm already in love with it."

On another lap, Mike Gorman from Worcester, Mass offered, "Loon is such a great place to bring a companion, because the grooming is great and the trails are so diverse. I love the big rollers on the trails. It's dreamy, steep cruising. The length and width of the trails is very accommodating. But you know-I've never been to a ski area that I didn't like."

That makes two of us.



From the top of Loon Peak we checked out Big Dipper and the icy moguls under the East Basin chair. Slide. Slam! Slide. Slam! I'd forgotten how the ice glitters in the sun, but I enjoyed the shimmer, setting my edge carefully to find just the right place to turn. A lot of western skiers might complain about the hard-pack. Not me. I'm just playing around on these old-style, double fall line trails, whistling a little tune.

We zipped up the North Peak express quad to Loon's highest point, old boulders and gnarled trees scattered around the peak, and raced down Upper and Lower Flume runs, steep and fast, then took another lap and moved over to Walking Boss run. Although the conditions weren't right for it, I sneaked into the expert trees of Bucksaw, just for the challenge.

Recently I discovered that one of my good Montana friends also cut his ski teeth here. "Loon is one of the reasons skiing turned into a passion for me, because it was such a good experience to start with," Mike Powers said. "I skied my first black diamond run there."

Hungry after skiing the steeps of North Peak, we filled up on the delicious venison stew served in a bread bowl at the beautifully rustic Camp III Lodge, and then decided it was time to check out the new $16 million South Peak expansion, offering two new trails.

From the 2450-foot summit of South Peak, my wife and I looked west to Mt. Moosilauke and north to Franconia Notch, and then carved figure eights down Cruiser and Boom trails, two classic, winding runs that drop toward the historic village of Lincoln beyond the Pemigewasset River.

On the way up the Lincoln Express Quad, I noticed the thick crack of timber and the smell of smoke. A wrecker was clearing trees in the woods, part of Loon's multi-year expansion that will offer two new trails this winter, including the resort's first-ever double black diamond, Rip Saw.

With tired legs, we celebrated the day with a Tuckerman Brewing Company's Pale Ale at the Paul Bunyan Room in the base area, and then later that evening drove into Lincoln and dined at the Common Man restaurant where we were warmed by a massive fieldstone fireplace. The New England baked haddock was flakey and delicious, while the low brow atmosphere was as comfortable as a family meal at my Nana's as a child.



The next day, we just kept playing. Zig-zagging down the narrow runs. Marveling at the old worn rock. Loving being back here. Even with some ice.

As I grow older and the heavier responsibilities of life add layers to our natural, more lighthearted cores, there is no better way for me than a day on the slopes to remember that we are born to play. The West may have captured my skiing heart, but the East will always hold my skiing soul.


Brian Schott is a freelance writer based in Whitefish, Montana. Contact him at brian@brianschott.com. Larry Turner is a freelance photographer/writer from Malin,Oregon. He can be reached at skiturn789@yahoo.com..


Prints may be purchased by contacting Larry at Skiturn789@yahoo.com.

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