Writing about hiking for the Maine Sunday Telegram this summer, I dedicated a column to hiking in the White Mountains. The reasoning was that despite being across state lines, the mountains in New Hampshire are actually easier to get to for a lot of southern Maine residents than Maine’s greatest peaks.

I’m circling back to the topic because the same is true in the winter. Loon Mountain, just on the other side of the Kancamagus Pass, is a shorter drive from the Portland area than some of my favorite Maine resorts.

Loon has a shorter history than some of New England’s more storied resorts, having opened in 1966. The area was the brainchild of Sherman Adams, a former New Hampshire governor who saw great potential in the mountain because of its beginner-friendly grade and its location just off well-traveled Route 3 on the Kancamagus Highway.

Loon quickly expanded east, and added more challenging terrain and a new chairlift. Decades later the resort expanded both east and west, nearly doubling its size by the end of the 1980s. The most recent push was to the adjacent South Peak, which opened with two lifts and a number of trails in 2007.

Loon’s 61 trails are spread across three peaks, each with a slightly different feel. The 3,050-foot North Peak is the highest point at Loon, sits on the resort’s easternmost edge and accesses the most expert terrain. Loon Peak is the colorful center of the resort, the first peak to open and the terminus of Loon’s gondola. South Peak is home to nearly a dozen intermediate and advanced trails, all accessed by a single high-speed quad. It’s a bit more private than the main resort and this is by design – the peak has a separate base area, and can only be accessed from the main resort by shuttle or by the Tote Road Quad that connects the areas.

The trails are in the classic New England style. Rather than straight highways, the trails are winding and narrow, and feel like they’re cut into the flesh of the mountain. One of my favorites is Bear Claw, which winds past a huge chunk of granite. You can’t beat the view, either – the White Mountain National Forest is laid out like a blanket in front of you, and Mt. Washington looms to the northeast.

Given Loon’s northeast-facing slopes, it makes sense to work the mountain east to west to stay with the sun. Hitch a ride to the summit of Loon Peak on the gondola, grab a cuppa at the Summit Cafe and spend the early morning on the trails off North Peak. Spend the midday skiing the top-to-bottom slopes accessed by the gondola, then close the day on Cruiser and Boom Run on South Peak.

I will note that expert is a relative term at Loon. Their black diamonds don’t have the same oomph as many other resorts. Still, there are thrills to be found. The North Peak offers some solid steeps, and the few glades are consistently challenging. Just be warned that skiers looking for sidecountry, extreme steeps and leg-burning bumps might want to look elsewhere.

But the skiing is just half the appeal of Loon. Unlike many Maine resorts, Loon has stuff to do when you’re not on the hill. The resort has three base lodges, each with its own charm. There’s even a unique way to get around – the 600 feet between the Octagon and Governor Adams buildings can be crossed by a ride on an antique steam locomotive.

Off the hill there’s food, lodging and entertainment aplenty in the abutting town of Lincoln.

From southern Maine, Loon can be most directly reached by Route 302 or Route 113. The two meet in Fryeburg, and drivers then can hop on 112 in Conway and continue over the Kancamagus Pass.

With so much great skiing in Maine, it’s easy to forget the mountains in our figurative backyard. This winter I urge you to explore the ski areas of New England and find some new favorite trails. There’s no better place to start than Loon.

Josh Christie is a freelance writer and lifetime outdoors enthusiast. He shares column space in Outdoors with his father, John. Josh can be contacted at:

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