A Super Experience at N.H.’s Loon Mountain

  • Seth Learned of Campton, N.H. gets some air in Loon’s superpipe. The superpipe at the Lincoln, N.H., ski resort is the only one in the Granite State.

Special to the Valley News
Sunday, February 25, 2018

What’s about 425 feet long with 18-foot high walls? New Hampshire’s only superpipe.

The elongated halfpipe takes center stage in Loon Mountain Park, one of six terrain parks across the Lincoln, N.H., ski resort.

Easily spotted from outside the Octagon Lodge and during the early stages of the gondola ride to the mountain’s summit, the pipe is a showcase for skiers and snowboarders soaring above the snow.

With the recent gold medal halfpipe wins for the U.S. at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, the pipe’s stock rises.

“We do tend to see increased interest in the superpipe after major events like the Olympics and the X Games,” Loon communications manager Greg Kwasnick said in an email. “We host several superpipe competitions each winter, and during an Olympic year participation in those events typically increases.”

The superpipe has been a natural evolution of snowboarding at Loon since riders were first allowed to use the Kissing Cousin chairlift in 1983, but only after passing a test. The first terrain park came about 10 years later on Lower Northstar. It wasn’t until 2003 that the superpipe opened to the public.

Now it’s up to the snowboarding terrain park manager, Jared Minassian, to supervise the building and maintenance of it.

The “push for the pipe” begins during December’s holiday season with about five days of snowmaking, weather dependent. Once the snow whales are in, the snowcats are unleashed to create it. That also takes about five days, with a crew of two or three Snowcats running 10-12 hours.

The crew makes one wall at a time. Then a curved pipe-fitting tool called a Zaugg, attached to the Snowcat, is used to give the pipe its shape.

The pipe doesn’t need much maintenance in winter unless there’s a major snowstorm, when excess snow on the walls is cleared.

“Come springtime is really when more maintenance is required with the sun beaming down on it and, with warmer temps, the slush tends to fall down into he pipe,” said Minassian. “We’ll throw a little bit of salt in it to help keep its shape, but in the springtime it gets cut every few days or so.”

You don’t have to be on the caliber of Chloe Kim or Shaun White to use the pipe. It’s a fun way to end a run through the park or if you come in to the pipe from adjacent trails Seven Brothers and Picked Rock.

“You can even be a beginner and just use the walls to carve up and down like terrain based learning and progress from there,” Minassian said.

Plus it’s no secret that terrain parks are known for holding groomed corduroy throughout the day on the sides of the features, and the pipe is no exception. A wide deck allow skiers to peer into the pipe, and some simply enjoy the view while skiing through it, too, looking up.

Area residents, weekend warriors and out-of-town pros use the pipe. Loon hosts a handful of United States of America Snowboard and Freeski Association events each season that draw crowds.

One regular pipe rider is Seth Learned, of Campton, N.H. He’s a former snowboard competitor turned police officer and occasional pipe-cutter who participated in the U.S. Open in Vermont and several USASA events.

“It goes to my roots,” he said. “I’ve always loved halfpipe. I feel it defines you as a snowboarder. It takes a lot more dedication and a lot more practice to get good at it.”

Not only does he look to improve his skills, he enjoys seeing young rider progress.

“I love being here when the kids are learning.,” Learned said. “You can see them start by barely making it up to the wall to eventually getting up top.”

Is the pipe for you? Loon is serving up Oakley’s Droppin’ In, a two-day women’s freestyle camp March 17-18.

The park and pipe skills sessions for skiers and snowboarders have girls and women ages 13 and up working with pro athletes, trying to bring their skills to the next level.

Past coaches have included Olympic silver medalist snowboarder Gretchen Bleiler and U.S. Freeskiing Open champ Grete Eliasson.

Throughout the winter, Loon also offers single-day Park and Pipe Progression Camps for skiers and snowboarders ages 10-17. The clinics target high-flying intermediate level riders and skiers.

Whether catching air or firmly grounded, a run through the pipe is a super experience.