Nov 15 • 1HR 36M

Podcast #104: Loon Mountain President and General Manager Brian Norton

A deep look at New Hampshire's most rapidly evolving ski area.

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Stuart Winchester
Everyone’s searching for skiing’s soul. I’m trying to find its brains.
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Who

Brian Norton, President and General Manager of Loon Mountain, New Hampshire

Norton. Photo courtesy of Loon Mountain

Recorded on

November 1, 2022

About Loon

Click here for a mountain stats overview

Owned by: Boyne Resorts

Pass affiliations: Ikon Pass, New England Pass

Reciprocal pass partners:

  • Unlimited access to Sunday River and Sugarloaf

  • 3 days each at Pleasant Mountain, Boyne Mountain, The Highlands, Brighton, Big Sky, Summit at Snoqualmie, Cypress

Located in: Lincoln, New Hampshire

Closest neighboring ski areas: Kanc (3 minutes), Cannon (21 minutes), Campton (26 minutes), Mt. Eustis (28 minutes), Mt. Prospect (35 minutes), Waterville Valley (37 minutes), Bretton Woods (38 minutes), Cranmore (55 minutes), Veterans Memorial (55 minutes), Ragged (58 minutes), King Pine (58 minutes), Attitash (1 hour), Gunstock (1 hour, 6 minutes), Black Mountain NH (1 hour, 7 minutes), Pleasant Mountain (1 hour, 7 minutes), Wildcat (1 hour, 13 minutes), Abenaki (1 hour, 15 minutes)

Base elevation: 950 feet

Summit elevation: 3,050 feet

Vertical drop: 2,100 feet

Skiable Acres: 370 (will increase to 400 with next year’s South Peak expansion)

Average annual snowfall: 160 inches

Trail count: 61 (20% black, 60% intermediate, 20% beginner)

Lift count: 11, plus one train (1 four-passenger gondola, 1 eight-pack, 3 high-speed quads, 1 fixed-grip quad, 3 doubles, 2 carpets - view Lift Blog’s of inventory of Loon’s lift fleet). Loon will add a second fixed-grip quad - this one with a carpet-loader - rising approximately 500 feet off the Escape Route parking lots, in 2023.

Historic Loon trailmaps on skimap.org.

Why I interviewed him

There are 26 ski areas in New Hampshire. And lots of good ones: Cannon, Waterville, Bretton Woods, Attitash, Wildcat. Black and Cranmore and Ragged and Gunstock and Sunapee. Pats Peak and Crotched and King Pine. Don’t “you forgot…” me, You-Forgot-[Blank] Bro. I’m making a point here: there are more good ski areas in this state than even You-Forgot-[Blank] Bro can keep track of.

That means I have plenty of podcast material: I’ve hosted the leaders of Cannon, Gunstock, Waterville Valley, Whaleback, Ragged, and Pats Peak on the podcast. And Loon, a conversation with then-President and General Manager Jay Scambio shortly after the resort launched its so-call Flight Path 2030 plan in early 2020.

So why, before I’ve checked off Bretton Woods or Black or Cranmore or any of the four Vail properties, am I revisiting Loon? Fair question. Plenty of answers. First, the Loon I discussed with Scambio in February 2020 is not the Loon that skiers ski today. And the Loon that skiers will make turns on before the end of this month is not the same Loon they’ll ski next year, or the year after that. Kanc 8 – New England’s first Octopus Lift – changed the whole flow of the resort, even though it followed the same line as the legacy lift. This year’s Seven Brothers upgrade should do the same. And next year’s small but significant South Peak expansion will continue the evolution.

Second, Scambio, young and smart and ambitious, jumped up the Boyne Resort food chain, and is now chief operating officer for the company’s day areas (Brighton, Summit at Snoqualmie, Cypress, and Loon), clearing the way for the young and smart and ambitious Norton to take the resort’s top job.

Third, my first Loon Mountain podcast did not age well from a technical point of view. Pre-Covid, I relied mostly on a telephone recording service to capture podcast audio. Sometimes this landed fine, but Jay and I sound as though we’re talking in a 1940s war movie recorded in a field tent. I also sound considerably less enthusiastic than I actually was. I wish I could re-master it or something, but for now, Storm Skiing Podcast number 12 is an artifact of a platform in motion, seeking its shape and identity. The Storm is a far better product now, and this is as close to a re-do as I’m going to get.

Fourth, the guest I originally had scheduled for the week of Oct. 31 had to cancel. Loon had just announced the South expansion, and the timing seemed perfect to revisit a New England favorite. Norton was good enough to step in, even in the midst of intensive preseason prep.

So here you go: Loon podcast number two. It won’t be the last.

Loon’s gondola above the clouds. Photo courtesy of Loon Mountain.

What we talked about

How Loon determines opening day; potential changes to the terrain-opening cadence; “I hate the thought that you do something one way because you’ve always done it that way”; from college student/East Basin liftie to president and general manager; Wachusett nights; that New Hampshire vibe; Planet Terrain Park; living through the Booth Creek-Boyne Resorts transition; Loon, the most popular kid on the block; managing skier volume; why Loon doesn’t have night skiing, and whether the ski area has ever considered it; the amazing Kanc 8; “so much of our guest’s day is not skiing”; how the new lift changed Loon skier patterns and other reflections on season one; Kanc’s chaotic, wonderful lift queue; evolving the Governor’s Lodge side of the resort; the Seven Brothers upgrade: “it’s a new lift … you won’t recognize it”; the slight modifications to the location of the top and bottom terminals; the fate of the Seven Brothers triple; comparing the new and old lifts; the importance of terrain parks to Loon; thinking through long-term upgrades to the South Peak and North Peak Express quads and the gondola; what having “the most technologically advanced lift fleet in New England” means; thoughts on the future of the East Basin double; breaking down the 2023 South Peak expansion; what it means to finally run a lift up from the massive Escape Route parking lots; the importance of connecting Loon to Lincoln; evolving Loon’s learning experience; breaking down the bottom and top terminals of the coming quad lift and why it will sit slightly away from the parking lot; where the expansion will fit into the terrain-opening sequence; Loon’s evolving glade philosophy; where Loon will be eliminating a glade and why; where new glades will be coming online; three huge projects at Loon in three years: “this is a commitment across the board to grow”; what the Westward Trail expansion is and when we could see it; breaking down potential additional development on North Peak; why Lincoln Peak Express doesn’t go to the summit of South Peak; Loon’s absolute commitment to snowmaking; why Loon will require Ikon Pass reservations this coming season, and how the mountain will set the number of reservations for each day.

Why I thought that now was a good time for this interview

It’s all just changing so fast. Ever since dropping Flight Path 2030 plan in early 2020, Loon has built the massive and gorgeous Kancamagus eight-pack (New England’s first), rebuilt the old Kanc quad and moved it across the mountains to replace the Seven Brothers triple chair, and announced a 30-acre 2023 expansion that will finally knot the ski area’s massive Escape Route parking lots to the rest of the resort with a lift. And the mountain has built all that around Covid-19, with all its operational disorientation and a one-year delay on construction of Kanc 8 (originally scheduled to go live in 2020).

They’re just getting going. Flight Path’s overarching goal, from a skier-experience point of view, is to stand up “the most technologically advanced lift network in the East to increase uphill speed and achieve ultimate comfort.” That means upgrades to the Lincoln and North Peak high-speed quads and that weird little four-person gondola. The snowmaking system, hundreds of guns that can already bury most of Loon’s 370 acres by Christmas, is going full auto. New trails are likely incoming for North and South peaks. More glades, too. The Westward Trail expansion could potentially add hundreds more acres and shoot Loon past Bretton Woods for the largest-in-New Hampshire title.

Even if Loon stopped with next year’s expansion, the place would be in good shape. Lincoln Peak Express is only 15 years old. North Peak is 18. Kanc 8 is a glorious, beautiful machine, standing monolithic at Governor Adams, so smooth in its ascent that it appears to float up the rise. And Seven Brothers is more than a lift-and-shift – “It’s a new lift,” Norton tells me on the podcast, after Doppelmayr spent a year on an overhaul so thorough that “you won’t recognize it.”

The 500-vertical-foot, beginner-oriented expansion, to be served by a carpet-loaded fixed-grip quad, seems small in the scale of 2,100-vertical-foot, super-octopus-lift-served Loon. But the new pod is a crucial connection both to the checkerboard of outer-edge parking lots currently served by shuttlebuses, and to the town of Lincoln, the edges of which sit walking distance to the new lift. The expansion will also add new beginner terrain, a product that extra-intermediate Loon currently lacks in meaningful quantities. Here’s a peek:

And here’s how the little pod will fit in with the rest of the resort:

With so much so recently accomplished, and so much more incoming, this seemed like a perfect moment to check in with one of New England – and, really, America’s – most rapidly evolving ski areas.

What I got wrong

Rumors were all over the place last year that Kanc 8 experienced intermittent power issues last season. I asked Norton about this in the podcast, and it turns out that the rumors weren’t true. But I asked the question in a way that presumed they were. Instead of asking “what was happening with the intermittent power issues,” I should have framed it this way: “There was a lot of chatter that intermittent power issues interfered with Kanc 8 operating last year – was that true?” I’ll do better.

Loon’s small, strange gondola, in a snowstorn. Photo courtesy of Loon Mountain.

Why you should ski Loon Mountain

If you’re questing for rad, keep driving. Cannon is 20 minutes up the road. Loon is many things, but challenging is not one of them (watch this be the site of my next catastrophic injury). Here’s what it is: one of the best exactly-in-the-middle mountains in New England skiing. Its peers are Okemo and Mount Snow and Bretton Woods; lots of fast lifts, ExtraGroomed and extra busy, with lots of skiers welcomed by the welcoming terrain.

Loon is, in other words, what every ski area east of the Rockies was trying to be before terrain parks and glades and bumps made skiing more interesting: a perfect groomed ski area. Approachable and modest, big and sprawling enough to feel like an adventure, well-appointed with Boyne’s particular brand of largess.

Loon has an amazing terrain park, of course. Some steeper stuff off North and South. Some trees if you’re timing is right. But that’s not the point of the place (well, the park sort of is), and it doesn’t need to be. Loon is for blue skiers like Jay is for glade skiers and like springtime Killington is for bump skiers. Groomers are the point here. Let them run.

But stop, please, mid-mountain beneath the Kanc 8. Watch this beautiful machine glide. Up and over and away, the smoothest lift in skiing. Rising from frantic load terminal to propelled silence as it advances toward the summit, floating and flying and encased in a bubble. Then catch the J.E. Henry railroad over to the gondola, ride to the summit, board Tote Road – the party lift – across the mountain decorous with pines, sprawling like a mini-Sugarbush, and roll the endless, glorious blue-square Cruiser or Boom Run to the base. This is Loon – a big ramble, quirky and stimulating and easy – easy to ski, easy to like, easy to settle into and ride.

The Kanc 8 loading carpet. Photo by Greg Premru, courtesy of Loon Mountain.

Podcast notes

  • Norton noted that previous plans for the South Peak expansion had included two proposed lifts. This version, which, according to New England Ski History, dates to 2013, shows one possible alignment, with two crisscrossing fixed-grip quads oriented against the existing Cruiser and Escape Route trails. This plan also included the magic carpets:

  • We also briefly discussed the so-called “Westward Trail expansion,” which Flight Path 2030 names as a potential late-stage project. Norton noted that several hundred additional acres exist within Loon’s permit area, that plans for such an expansion have existed for decades, and that this is what the Westward Trail expansion referred to. Unfortunately, I’ve been unable to locate these maps. If you are in possession of any, please send them over.

  • I attended Kanc 8’s grand opening last December. Here’s video of the first-ever chair:

  • And of course, the J.E. Henry, an honest-to-goodness steam engine that skiers ride between the Governor Adams and Octagon base areas:

    Photo by Stuart Winchester.

The Storm explores the world of lift-served skiing year-round. Join us.

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The Storm publishes year-round, and guarantees 100 articles per year. This is article 122/100 in 2022, and number 368 since launching on Oct. 13, 2019. Want to send feedback? Reply to this email and I will answer (unless you sound insane, or, more likely, I just get busy). You can also email skiing@substack.com.