2001 Number 7 Resort in the East: Loon Mountain, N.H.

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Loon Mountain embodies the three L's of good real estate: location, location, location. The two-hour straight-shot from Boston won Loon a Gold Medal for accessibility. But don't think Loon rests on its easy-commute status. Nestled in New Hampshire's White Mountain National Forest, Loon has worked hard to carve out a niche for always ego-boosting and sometimes challenging skiing. "Loon's grooming is great!" cheers one reader. "Great cruising trails!" Long known as the home of powerful snowmaking, impeccable grooming and wide-open acres of cushy trails, Loon tried five years back to expand into more advanced territory. Stalled by anti-expansion locals, the resort turned instead to improving what it already had. Last season, an upgraded terrain park drew raves, as did a new expert glade. Still, most advanced skiers find Loon lacking. "Too tame. I never got a chance to get excited," one reader complains. This season the resort unveils seven acres of rolling tree-skiing to lure never-evers into the woods. While the nearby town of Lincoln lacks spunk, on-mountain events are plentiful. There's tubing, those crazy snowbikes and an après Slopeside Adventure Center with bonfires, skating and family entertainers. And then there are the crowds. While Loon remains relatively quiet on weekdays, the easy Boston drive packs it on weekends. Advice? Hit the gondola early and stay on the upper mountain. Loon is never going to be a place where jarring steeps take your breath away, but it has become a resort where the gentle mix of easy access, forgiving pitches and fabulous grooming can be positively breathtaking.

WHAT'S NEW Tree-skiing 101: seven acres of moderate, open tree skiing nestled between easy slopes on the lower mountain.

A GOOD DEAL Lodging and lift-ticket packages at Parker's Motel start at $49 per person. Call (603) 745-8341.

MEDALS GOLD Accessibility; SILVER Lodging, Dining, Après-Ski, Off-Hill Activities, Family Programs.

HIGH/LOW RANK Accessibility (9), Lodging (15), Family Programs (20); Challenge (65), Terrain (66), Value (72).

DON'T MISS Winter horseback riding at the Equestrian Center. Canter or trot through the snow-filled woods along the Pemigewasset River for a singular New Hampshire resort experience.

READER REMARKS (+) "Ego-inflating, down-home atmosphere." (-) "Crowded! Crowded! Crowded!" "The lifts are always a wait."