Author: Kyle McCarthy
Tags : Baby, Christmas Holiday, Family-Friendly Hotels, Kids, New Hampshire, North America, Snowsports, Spring Break, Teens, USA, Winter Getaway
This small mountain will never get taller, but its family appeal includes modern amenities, friendly staff, imaginative cuisine, and off-slope activities.
It's no wonder that the February President's Day holiday is called "Mass Week" in New Hampshire, if you consider that almost a dozen mountain resorts are between a two- and three-hour drive from Boston, Massachusetts. To accommodate the overflow crowds at these ski hills, the state recently modified its own school calendar to give local children the following week off and spread the vacation wealth at local resorts.
Unaware of its popularity, we New Yorkers shopped around for a full service mountain resort so that each family member could choose his own proportion of recreation to relaxation. New Hampshire beckoned with value prices and variety: the celebrated Bretton Woods, the larger Waterville Valley, the less developed Black or Cannon Mountains, and the compact, well-run Loon, winner of Transworld Snowboarding's "Best Terrain Park in the East" award. The terrain parks made Loon our teen's choice, and the abundance of intermediate trails was right for us.
We found Loon to be chock full of the amenities we weekend skiers like. It boasts fantastic views of the White Mountains National Forest and the Presidential Range, including Mt. Washington on a good day.
There's ample grooming, Kleenex available by many chairlifts, well contoured intermediate cruisers and a variety of tasty food outlets. Skiers can sample Jamaican jerk chicken and reggae music at the Summit Cafe then climb a classic firetower for evergreen forest views. Or, warm up in an Adirondack chair by the fire pit while dining on a freshly grilled bison burger and fries.
While most visitors waited for the speedy four-person gondola, we liked the Seven Brothers triple that went mid-mountain and deposited us in a good spot from which to choose a variety of intermediate trails. We also found the North Peak and the brand new South Peak, whose two big runs, Boomer and Cruiser opened for the winter 2008 season, are less crowded than the center of the resort.
The Loon resort itself has several small base areas which serve to dissipate the crowds. However, families with younger kids will want to head for the central Governor Adams base, named for Loon's founder (New Hampshire's governor in the mid-60s), which hosts the children's program and learning facilities. In addition to skiing on any of their three mountains or snowboarding in the three terrain parks, Loon has an adventure center for off-slope fun and the traditional New England towns of Lincoln and Woodstock, in which to shop for chocolates, maple products and cheese, nearby.
A Quintessential Family Resort
Loon is nothing if not a family resort, as parents with children under 18 make up most of the resort's clientele. This cozy place, diverse in its trail offerings, has fought to preserve the tranquil beauty of its White Mountains evergreen landscape. Chairlifts are built low on the hills, their tops hidden by trees to maintain a pristine view. The "cross town" lift called Tote Road transports skiers horizontally between two peaks, and provides one of the most serene places on the mountain. Terrain parks are silent, allowing users to pump their own music.
The slopes are well set up for young learners with clearly marked Family Zones for slow, controlled skiing (signs scream "Ski Fast Lose Pass!") Parents of young engineers will be thrilled to find an even bigger surprise: Loon's affection for railroads. Their Lilliputian railroad train, a two-foot gauge, wood-fired steam engine, pulls tiny cars filled with excited skiers and riders from one base camp to the next. The 920-foot-long track adjacent to the parking lot is the only route for the "J.E. Henry Railway" which was installed in the late 60's to commemorate the area's logging history. Loon also boasts a full size ca. 1906 East Branch & Lincoln steam engine, forever parked at the resort's other entrance along the Kancamangus Highway.
Exceptional Snowsports Learning
Extensive children's programs are centered on learning how to ski or ride. Licensed daycare facilities for ages 6-weeks to 6-years enable parents to enroll kids in a clean and cheerful setting and then enjoy their day. Children 3-years and older have the ability to take two one-hour lessons per day; two-hour lessons are available to older children with a 1:4 instructor to student ratio. Babies have a playroom as well as a sleep room, and all sessions include a healthy meal and snacks. The 3s have it the best -- their equipment rental is done in the daycare center, and they can go right outside to their own playground, where windows are cut into the surrounding fence so that anxious parents can "spy" on little ones in training. As the 3s advance with their pizza wedge turns, they move up to the nearby magic carpet and slope.
For ages 5-12, KinderCare accepts kids who want to combine group lessons with a little arts n' crafts and snow play outdoors in a convivial atmosphere run by young counselors. Teens and advanced skiers will appreciate the mountain's short, steep blacks and Ripsaw, the first double black diamond run. It opened in January 2009 as part of the $16 million South Peak expansion, adding another mountain face with its own quad lift, the quiet Pemigawassett base camp, and a new condo complex and base village to come. In Loon's ten year plan, according to spokesperson Stacy Lopes, a chairlift will connect the South Peak base with the nearby town of Lincoln.
Kids and adults with special needs have the good fortune to be at the home of the White Mountain Adaptive Ski School (603/745-6281) that assists those with mobility or cognitive issues to learn how to ski and enjoy the outdoors. WMASS's teaching team is headed by Geoff Krill, who has used a monoski to descend Tuckerman's Ravine and race for the Paralympics. According to Krill, while many kids with autism and similar learning disorders can function well within the KinderCare setting, kids who need one-on-one teaching should be enrolled in WMASS, where classes run $40 per session. Morning, afternoon and week-long programs cater to many needs, and this exceptional facility works with more than 200 volunteers to provide more than 2,000 lessons annually, including snowsports, and biking or watersports in summer.
Loon's Mountainside Condo Options
In order to maximize family time on the slopes, we stayed at the ski-in/ski-out Mountain Club on Loon, a great choice for families. Taking advantage of a third night free special, we selected a large, comfortable unit and brought supplies to make daily breakfast. As Loon's most convenient lodging option, the Mountain Club's slopeside suites typically combine a large king-bedded room with a single sleep sofa and bath; with a studio unit with full kitchen, dining table, two double sofabeds and bath for families. All together, our spacious unit could sleep up to six. A small balcony overlooked the slopes and Pemigawasset River and each unit has its own ski locker.
The Loon Mountain Club common facilities include a fully stocked deli, laundry rooms on each level, and a large lobby with fireplace, free WiFI access in the grand lobby, satellite lounges with board games, a small video arcade, a slopeside cafe and a fancier dining room for evenings, and an excellent spa with indoor pool and indoor and outdoor hot tubs. Their concierge provides a babysitting referral service, and evening children's activities are held over school holidays. Starting rates range from $130/night for a studio sleeping four to $300/night for a one-bedroom condo sleeping six; reunion planners should consider the suite for 10!
The Viaggio Spa is a big surprise in a small town like Lincoln, as much for its variety of wellness therapies and beauty treatments as for the excellence of its massage therapists. Our family treated itself to massages with Chad, Adid and Annie and came away absolutely delighted with the deep tissue pummeling we each received. All guests at the Loon Mountain Club can take advantage of the spa's large pool; comfortable locker rooms; unisex steam bath, sauna and whirlpool. Families staying at one of the small B&Bs in town can purchase a day pass ($20/adult, $15/teens or seniors) and enjoy the spa facilities, or book a spa treatment during their visit.
There are many other lodging options in the area, ranging from the nearby full-service condos at the InnSeason Resorts (866/873-2766) to the value Comfort Inn & Suites (888-589-8112) which has its own indoor pool and free continental breakfast; both have free shuttles to the mountain. There are dozens of local B&Bs too, and we especially liked the Woodstock Inn (603/745-3951) in Woodstock for its frilly dÃ©cor and terrific restaurant.
Out & About Lincoln and Woodstock
For some time away, snow lovers can visit the Loon Adventure Center and plan an afternoon of skating, rock wall climbing, tubing or snowshoeing. The full service InnSeason Resort (603/731-1941) runs a Friday and Saturday Night Skiing Shuttle from downtown Lincoln to nearby Bretton Woods for only $20 including the ride and lift ticket.
Families can also spend time snowmobiling if there's enough snow, painting pottery in town at Creation Station (603/745-8205; Rt 112 at Depot Plaza in Lincoln, NH 03251), or practicing at the indoor Waterville Valley Ice Arena. We heard great things about the nightly Moose Spotting Tour (603/745-2744) a safari by headlight organized by naturalists from Pemi Valley Excursions.
Eating out around Loon (not to say the food on mountain wasn't exceptional -- it was) is a New England treat. The Common Man is one outlet of a small New Hampshire chain of rustic wooden houses with big stone fireplaces, a cozy bar decorated with ski and farming memorabilia, and low couches with coffee tables that families like for sharing cheddar nachos off the casual bar menu. There's often a wait for the main dining room, especially for the Sunday Night Roast Turkey special, because the sophisticated menu of fresh seafood and steaks served with wine pairings is very popular.
Rather than wait (and it's very pleasant because the restaurant offers a complimentary cheese, dip and crackers buffet), we settled into a couch and had a mac n' cheese pizza, Bessie & Porky burger (topped with pulled Bar BQ pork), and Common Man's famous crab cakes, winner of a 2008 New Hampshire magazine award.
Another evening was spent at the Woodstock Inn's (603/745-3951) Clement Room Grill Restaurant, a pretty tablecloth dining room that attracts families only when the popular, casual Woodstock Station is crowded. Having dined at both, we can testify to the fine service and excellent cuisine at Clement. We sampled a hearty New England lobster bisque, delicious roast duck a l'orange, and grilled salmon with a maple glaze.
On our way out of town our teen asked to go back, so we tried again to get a table at the casual Woodstock Station. It was packed at lunch on a snowy Thursday, but we enjoyed a sampler of fried jalapenos, chicken fingers, onion rings, calamari, and chips with crab and artichoke dip. The eclectic lunch menu includes a curried pasta, several types of burgers and sandwiches, a few soups and a big variety of super desserts.
Who knew New Hampshire had so much to offer?