An Insider's Guide to the Best Backcountry Skiing at Loon Mountain Resort

White out in the Loon backcountry
White out in the Loon backcountry Loon Mountain Resort
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Fans of tree-skiing and glades are overjoyed with Loon Mountain Resort's commitment over the past few years to increase acreage and deep powder opportunities.

The 3,050-foot North Peak is the highest point on the mountain, sitting out on the resort’s easternmost boundary. While a bit off-the-beaten-path in terms of distance from the base, this is where you’ll find adventurous skiers heading for early, especially on a day when there’s fresh snow.

A great way to jumpstart a day on the slopes begins by taking the gondola to the top; then, traverse over to the North Peak Express Quad. You’ll be able to do a short run over to Lower Walking Boss, which is a wide glade and a great warm-up, with room for plenty of gentle turns. Additional treeline glades on this part of the mountain are Upper Walking Boss and Buck Saw Woods.

While Loon Mountain has strict policies against out-of-bounds skiing, there are places on Upper Walking Boss that offer ungroomed backcountry powder. Just be sure that your skills are at the upper end, and you have experience navigating expert terrain. (Rumor has it that locals even know about a secret ski trail that takes you all the way out to Black Mountain.)

Tree-skiing at its finest
Tree-skiing at its finest Loon Mountain Resort

Loon has other glade runs on the Loon Peak section of the mountain. Both Skidder Woods and Mike’s Way Woods are black diamond-level trails, and the latter serves up secluded skiing, which—with fresh snow—is treeline skiing at its finest.

Triple Trouble is a narrow, ungroomed, natural-snow trail for classic skiing. While not technically a glade, it remains a favorite, especially among longtime Loon fans, as their most challenging trail.

From North Peak, it's an easy jaunt to South Peak, the resort’s newest, south-facing mini-area, on the people-moving Tote Road Quad. The chair doesn't go vertically, but rather across a high valley from peak to peak, and it runs in both directions. There is some spectacular scenery to be enjoyed, including a lake and majestic Mount Washington to the north. There, you’ll find Loon’s newest glade run: Undercut. Interestingly, longtime Loon skiers have been hiking over from the Loon summit and secretly skiing Undercut, as well as Boom Run and Cruiser. Now, with South Peak finally open, it’s all part of your day pass, with transportation included.

While Loon Mountain doesn’t offer any backcountry options on its resort, fans of the sport don’t have to travel too far afield to find it. Along the Pemigewasset River, just north of Lincoln, NH is an ideal tour for anyone new to backcountry skiing.

Lincoln Woods Trail/Wilderness Trail, just a mere 3 miles away from the resort and 4 miles from the center of town, via NH-112 East (also known as the Kancamagus Highway) delivers nearly 11 miles of ungroomed adventure, traversing the winding riverbed.

Possibly the most compelling aspect of this trail is the logging history that predates its return to a wilderness state. During the late 1800s, lumber baron, J.E. Henry, was in the midst of laying waste to the natural beauty of the area. The entire Pemigewasset Wildereness—comprised of some 45,000 acres—was being systematically clear-cut. Massive erosion and forest fires followed. But the area has recovered nicely from the blight, mainly due to legislation and federal intervention, which returned the region to its wilderness state.

Follow the treeline and you’ll see an abundance of white birch, which thrives in recently logged areas. This is evidence of second growth forest. Along the Lincoln Trail, there is a mix of northern hardwoods interspersed with conifer, mainly red spruce, which eventually will reclaim its dominance in the region, as they were prior to logging.

The trailhead for Lincoln Woods will be off the large, well-marked parking lot on the left (headed east).

Another backcountry outing for experienced skiers with skins, which isn't far from the resort, is the trek around the shores of Lonesome Lake in Franconia Notch State Park. Just 10 miles from the parking lot at Loon, the viewable twin peaks of the 4,000+ feet North and South Kinsman Mountains, along with drifting snow across the frozen lake, will make you think you are looking at a well-executed painting, one that you are in the center of.

The trail begins at the well-marked Lonesome Lake Trailhead. Snowmobilers use this paved path that cuts through the notch. There is winter camping available at Lafayette Place Campground, but there are no facilities.

Snowboarding at Loon Mountain Resort
Snowboarding at Loon Mountain Resort Alex Kehr

Just keep in mind that winter trail conditions vary daily. When off-resort, it’s best to plan ahead. Breaking trails can be exhausting. Whether on skis or snowshoes, weather, temperature changes, and less daylight are all things to consider. Higher elevations require certain equipment. Snowshoes with crampons or skins for backcountry skis are required. Water, some energy snacks, a guidebook (like one of the AMC guides ), a map, matches or lighter, and a flashlight with extra batteries are essentials for your pack.

If downhill isn’t your thing, exploring Loon via snowshoes or cross-country skis is a great way to experience the scope of the mountain and resort. With 20 km of groomed trails (and snowmaking), there’s plenty of Nordic terrain to traverse.

Loon also offers guided snowshoe tours of the summit. These include snowshoe rentals along with a gondola ride up the mountain. Once at the top, you’ll get two hours of snowshoeing, shepherded by professional guides.

Whether you are looking for deep powder, treeline downhill options, or, if your outdoor adventure preferences lean to the Nordic side of skiing, Loon Mountain Resort has got you covered. And if you want to go off the resort for some backcountry skiing or snowshoeing, there are some great places not far from where you’ll be staying.

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