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When my parents took back my childhood room, I barely noticed. When they sold the house, I didn’t bat an eye. But when they sold our camp at Shawnee Peak, I cried.
Shawnee, formerly Pleasant Mountain, is a mid-size area less than an hour from Portland, Maine, and 30 minutes from North Conway, N.H. Like thousands of other kids from Greater Portland, I progressed from wedge to parallel on its slopes, soaked up spring rays on its decks and imitated the distinctive ski style of the cool kids (elbows in, turns initiated at the shoulders-to this day, the dead giveaway of an early-’70s Pleasant skier).
The mountain rises out of Moose Pond in the middle of nowhere, with views of Mt. Washington and the Presidentials to the west. But don’t be deceived by the rural setting: Shawnee is the largest night-skiing slope in New England, and it hums, day and night.
Families from Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts are drawn here by equal parts low-key atmosphere and decent skiing. The mountain’s 1,300-foot vertical is laced with predominantly intermediate runs on two faces-a mixture of wide slopes and winding trails with just enough steeps and moguls to keep you interested. Beginners get their own segregated area. Trails such as Jack Spratt, Haggett’s Hurdle, Cody’s Caper, Peter’s Plunge and Riley’s Run are as fun to ski as they are to say. The trails on the main face appear to spell out “lov” in ’60s-style block letters, especially when viewed at night.
Shawnee has a rich history. It opened in 1938 and went on to boast Maine’s first T-bar (1955) and first chairlift (1963). In the early ’70s, its ski school director, former Swiss National Team member Ruedi Wyrsch, put Shawnee at the forefront of the emerging freestyle and ballet movement. Wyrsch was renowned for his tip stands and stilt skiing, and he and fellow coach Bruce “Boogie” Boyle nurtured some of the earliest talents of the discipline, including filmmaker Greg Stump and his brother Geoff, Frank Howell, Peter Young, Doug Rand and Canadian Olympian Lee Lee Morrison.
Shawnee turns 65 this year. Despite bad winters, near bankruptcies, and changes in ownership and name during the ’80s and early ’90s, the area survives. Under current ownership, it’s again thriving-and again capturing the hearts of families like mine.