LINCOLN, N.H. -- Near the summit of Loon Mountain, Dick Calvert came out of the fog and stopped at the trail junction next to me. ''I'm not a ski instructor," said Calvert, 82, ''but you might want to put your hands forward more." Then, as quickly as he had appeared, he took off into the mist, down the curves on Upper Picked Rock.
I didn't know Calvert, or Terry Lufkin, in her mid-50s, nor did they know each other. But the three of us had shared a gondola ride, and in those 10 minutes or so, found out a few things about one another. They were season-pass holders who already had skied more in November than most skiers will over an entire season.
For me, that's the beauty of returning to a familiar place. Just when you think you know the people and the area, you meet someone or learn something new.
Lincoln is a western White Mountain staple for Boston skiers headed north. They drive up Interstate 93, find their motel or condo, then eat, ski, and sleep for a couple of days before heading home.
In winter, when the Clark's Trading Post bears are hibernating, the water slide is closed, and the stairs up the 100-foot steel Indian Head Resort tower are cordoned off, Lincoln is transformed into a ski town with its strip of ski shops, shopping, restaurants, and lodging. Since 1966, Loon has been the beacon in a White Mountain National Forest kingdom of cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, and white-knuckle drives along the Kancamagus Highway.
Loon can get crazy crowded on blue-sky weekends as a train shuttles the masses between base lodges. The mountain's 2,100-foot vertical drop keeps the intermediate skier happy on long, winding trails. Blue-square sweets are found on Lower Picked Rock, Blue Ox, and Rampasture. North Peak, a tad off the beaten path, is prized for its Upper Flume challenges and convenient Sunset to Haulback bailout. If there's no race on Upper Rumrunner, there's that black diamond to beat. The Terrain Park and superpipe are twin-tipped favorites, while beginners have their secluded areas.
When the skiing and snowboarding are good, there's no reason to do anything else. But Loon also has tubing day and night Wednesday through Sunday, an indoor climbing wall with three routes, an outdoor skating rink, free Wi-Fi in the base lodges, the slopeside Viaggio Spa, Health & Racquet Club at the Loon Mountain Club, 35 kilometers of nordic skiing with trails along the chilled Pemigewasset River, and horseback riding through the snow.
Loon Equestrian Center, at the base of the ski area's South Mountain, offers the rides. You may not wear a helmet on the slopes, but you will on a horse -- it's required. Ski wear is fine for riding since the slow trail ride winds through forest. Not far from the stables, Loon plans to grow with South Peak home sites, four lifts, and 12 trails during a multiyear expansion.
Loon is not the only ski area in town. There is another tucked away near the main drag off Pollard Road. The tiny town hill, Kancamagus Recreation Area, has a rope tow, wide main slope, snowmaking, inexpensive lift tickets, and night skiing.
The winter lifestyle is reflected in Main Street shops like Lahout's Discount Warehouse. This strip is no North Conway, but upstairs at Lahout's you can find apparel bargains to rival the outlets. Lincoln has two bookshops, Innisfree and the Mountain Wanderer Map & Book Store. Steve Smith, who owns the latter, co-edits the Appalachian Mountain Club's White Mountain hiking guide.
Feeling creative? At Midnight Sun North, a global accessory shop in the Lincoln Square Mall, head to the back and design your own lamp. Kids jumpy? Creation Station in Depot Plaza is a paint-your-own-pottery place.
Lincoln's lodging options are varied from the almost slopeside Rivergreen and Nordic Inn condos to the hotels and motels on Route 3, which passes through neighboring North Woodstock and returns to Lincoln.
Before hitting the slopes, be apprised that White Mountain Bagel Co. has an eye-opening jalapeno cream cheese, while down the road on Main Street, Half Baked & Fully Brewed serves jolts of java all day. Refueling is a varied experience, from The Common Man and Fratello's on the Kancamagus to the funky Gypsy Cafe. Downstairs at the Kancamagus Motor Lodge is the smoky but friendly CJ's Penalty Box Sports Bar and Pub. The area's quintessential ski bar is Gordi's Fish & Steak House, with race bibs hanging from the beams, benchmarks from the careers of owners and former Olympians Gordi and Karen Eaton. There are pool tables upstairs at Truant's Tavern in North Woodstock while across the street is the popular Woodstock Inn Station and Brewery. Rustic, with trophy heads on the wall, it's a staple on a ski trip.
Contact Marty Basch, a New Hampshire writer, at email@example.com.