The Ski Train to Happiness: Loon Mountain, NH
by Mitch Kaplan
In the end, the train takes center stage. Really. Not the perfectly slide-able snow. Not the snowtubing. Not the terrain parks (even though there’s a perfectly wonderful mini-park). Not even the skating rink or the indoor climbing wall.
Nope. It’s the train.
The miniature, narrow-gauge, wood-fired, steam train runs from Loon Mountain Resort’s Octagon base lodge to the Governor Adams Base Lodge. That’s a stretch of perhaps a third of a mile. Maybe a bit more, but certainly not more than four-tenths of a mile. But, kids - especially kids of a certain age - will drop everything (including all that equipment they’re carrying; you know, the skis and poles you’ve told them must be their own responsibility) when they see that train.
And they’ll see it alright. Or, more accurately, first they’ll hear it. Its distinctive whistle can be heard throughout the long, narrow valley. And once they’ve seen it? Well, they simply must ride it.
Okay, I confess. Even I demanded a ride. We might’ve waited ten minutes for the next departure. And, the ride itself lasted but a minute or two. And, we could’ve ridden the Kancamagus Quad and skied back to the Octagon. But, hey, there’s nothing like a train ride, no matter how brief.
But, don’t get me wrong. We did ski, too.
Loon has long stood out for a variety qualities. It first gained some notoriety for having the guts to limit daily ticket sales. Later, it became one of the leaders in offering alternative ways to slide downhill. That kind of innovation continues at the resort, but our most recent visit generated proof of one more essential quality: there’s no substitute for high quality snow farming.
There's no doubt that eastern snow can be sketchy, but luckily for us, about five inches of new fell during our Loon visit. But, even before that, we slid on very skiable, hard-packed surfaces. Proving, naturally, that if you make it, and you groom it, they will come.
Small kids, of course, don’t worry too much about snow quality. They just want to slide. And among Loon’s joys are the alternative snowplay modes. For the really small ones, ages 4 and up, they offer Tot Snowshoeing; Tot Skating with double-bladed skates; Tot Tubing; and an available, three-dollar Loon S’mores Kit for making S’mores around the bonfire. Or, you can put it all together with an affordable Tot Fun Package that includes skating, tubing and that S’mores kit.
More senior juniors can indulge themselves in odd venues like Snow Skates and Snow Decks (likened to skateboarding on snow); Snow Cycles (likened to biking on snow); or Snow Scoots (described as extreme, BMX-style, snow bikes).
As if strapping sticks or boards to your feet and heading downhill isn’t crazy enough.
We know, of course, that simply sliding downhill isn’t enough for many in the junior generation. So, it might just be a good idea to pack them off to one of Loon’s Freestyle Progression Camps. You can ski or board to enter these day-long sessions; just be at least seven years old and sliding on an intermediate level. If you qualify, you’ll be out there learning to ramp up your skills in the terrain park and halfpipe. The mountain has small, medium and large terrain parks, plus a superpipe, in which to practice.
The resort offers all the expected kids’ programs, from day care to group and private lessons. They also offer some rare off-snow options. Like horseback riding, horse-drawn wagon rides, that indoor climbing wall and, yes, that miniature train.
This year, there’s good off-snow news for stressed out parents, too. A new spa, Viaggio Spa & Health Club, has opened at The Mountain Club at Loon, the area’s only ski in/out lodging facility. Full service is offered at Viaggio, in a small, pleasant and not overly frou-frou environment. How can you dislike a place that offers a Tiramisu Body Scrub and a Dead Sea Mud Wrap? Or, that’ll rub your adolescent’s face in it with a Teen Facial?
The Mountain Club’s fitness facilities cover the full gamut. The multi-purpose squash/basketball/walleyball court can be rented by the hour. Bring the family down for some apres ski ball pounding that’ll guarantee they’re worn out and will sleep through the night. How cool is that?
Pretty cool, yes. But, for some of us, not as cool as that mini steam train. One guy I know - okay, it’s the guy who wrote this - rode the train four times without getting off at either end of the line. Cool ride.
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...... Mitch Kaplan
is the author of The Unofficial Guide to the Mid-Atlantic with Kids, The Cheapskate’s Guide to Myrtle Beach and The Golf Book of Lists. He is a contributor to The Unofficial Guide to New England & New York with Kids and to the annual guide Ski America & Canada.