Inertia is a powerful thing. The older I get, the more pervasive this natural phenomenon seems to become.
Take, for example, a Friday night drive to one of my favorite New England ski areas — Loon Mountain Resort in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. Even during the pandemic, the drive from Boston along Interstate 93 can be a crawl, especially if the weather isn’t cooperating (though the widening of the highway south of Manchester has been a plus, it can still bottleneck at the state capital of Concord). I’ve always considered “the drive” to ski resorts as a necessary evil, a chore to endure in order to feed our alpine appetites.
Once we get to our accommodations, I usually make myself an adult beverage, plunk my derriere down in the closest cozy chair or sofa, put up my feet, and call it a day. A big part of that is because many New England resorts, Loon included, are a fair distance from the nearest town. Unlike western resorts — Breckenridge in Colorado and Park City in Utah spring to mind — New England resorts are more “self-contained,” limiting your options for dining and nightlife. A quiet cocktail and light banter with friends and family is all I’m looking for.
Unfortunately, my wife and daughters, who’ve been patient passengers during the drive, are usually eager to get out of the car and move around. That often puts us at loggerheads — me, wanting to be a couch potato, and my girls wanting to play night owls. That can be a formula for a tense evening.
The RiverWalk Resort at Loon changes that equation. Due to its tremendous location on the east side of Lincoln, along the eastern branch of the Pemigewasset River near the base of Loon’s South Peak (which first opened in 2007), this wonderful hotel gives everyone excellent access to the many attractions of this ski town, with minimal effort.
“RiverWalk is nestled in the heart of the White Mountains and centrally located for all of the activities and attractions the area has to offer,” said Brian Willette, vice president of sales who joined RiverWalk a few months after the hotel opened in June 2016. “We provide access within walking distance to local theaters, shopping and all of the year-round activities hosted by Loon Mountain.”
That’s particularly important if not everyone in your group is interested in grabbing first chair and skiing until the lifts close down. Not that you could be blamed for doing just that. Loon Mountain long has been one of New England’s premier ski and snowboard resorts. With 370 acres of skiable terrain, 2,100 foot-vertical drop from its 3,050-foot summit, 99 percent snowmaking coverage over 28 miles of trail, and award-winning terrain parks, Loon draws more than 340,000 skiers and snowboarders annually.
But if Loon had one glaring drawback, it was the actual distance between its original base lodge (home of its popular gondola) and the downtown of Lincoln. This cool New England ski community, situated right alongside Interstate 93 (Ski 93 for snowsports buffs), offers a host of family options, making it particularly appealing for anyone who doesn’t share the “sun up to sun down” downhill mindset.
Now, guests and owners can use RiverWalk as their “mission central,” gaining quick access to all of those attractions, including snowshoeing along the Lincoln Woods Trail, snow tubing and cross-country skiing at the Loon Mountain Adventure Center, or visiting the Ice Castle at Hobo Railroad. Youngsters can enjoy painting their own pottery creations at Fired on the Mountain, taking in a live performance at Jean’s Playhouse at the North Country Center for the Arts, or catching the latest movie releases at BarnZ Cinema.
Hungry? The main drag that runs through the middle of Lincoln — appropriately named Main Street (or Route 112) — has an eye-popping selection of dining spots, including a wide variety of ethnic choices, and RiverWalk puts them all within a short stroll or drive. Just consider this partial list of nearby culinary options: The Common Man, Pub 32, Nachos Mexican Restaurant, Gordi’s Fish & Steak House (the Bleu Cheese Filet Mignon is a special treat), CJ’s & Brittany’s Sports Bar and Restaurant, Black Mountain Burger Company, Flapjacks breakfast nook, Chieng Garden, Half Baked coffee shop, Enzo’s Pizzeria & Restaurant, El Greaco’s Pizza, One Love Brewery, Thai 9, the Gypsy Cafe, and El Charro Mexican.
The RiverWalk has its own superb restaurant, La Vista Italian Cuisine, with a wide-ranging menu (available for both dine-in or take-out) and an expansive wine cellar. Choose from delicious Italian-style pizza, pasta dishes, antipasti, salads, entrees and scrumptious desserts. The Seven Birches Winery, also on the grounds, features a tasting room that showcases wines produced from classic European varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay as well as locally sourced fruits like blueberries and apples. But there’s much more to this hotel than simply location.
Though it might sound sacrilegious to some New England old-timers (and I’m no spring chicken myself), RiverWalk strikes some of the same notes as the legendary Mount Washington Hotel in Bretton Woods. No, it doesn’t have the sweeping landscape — including the picture-perfect vista from Route 302 with the Presidential Range as a backdrop — or the world-class, old school charm of yesteryear that the grand hotel has carefully cultivated. But it does have a sparkling white facade topped by a red roof, the soothing Solstice North Day Spa, year-round heated pool and hot tubs, a fitness center, and a game room. The property’s large outdoor lagoon pool transforms in winter into a convenient skating rink, complete with a fire pit, reminiscent of the idyllic skating pond at Solitude Resort in Utah.
Concierge service at RiverWalk also is top notch, including valet parking, bell service, round-the-clock front desk and security details, housekeeping, room service and a shuttle coach. Staff members, from the front desk to the cleaning crew, are all friendly, helpful and well-versed in COVID precautions.
And the RiverWalk units are chock full of modern amenities, something you won’t necessarily find at the 120-year-old Mount Washington Hotel. That’s because RiverWalk at Loon is a “fractional” residential hotel, where each apartment-style unit is privately owned.
“RiverWalk offers a few types of ownership, with the most popular product being presented as fractional ownership,” said Willette. “We define a fraction as a one-sixth (annually), which presents eight to nine weeks of deeded ownership throughout the calendar year.
“Each residence is well-appointed and offers a resort lifestyle experience, the benefits of luxury ownership and is completely turn-key and maintenance free,” he said. “Each owner purchases a fixed residence that rotates on a one-sixth calendar for usage. This rotation equally distributes each week over a six-year cycle.”
If “fractional ownership” sounds similar to “timeshare,” it should. In practice, the concepts work much the same, with exchange privileges to resorts around the globe. The biggest difference is that the owners hold the deed to their own share of each unit. That deed can be sold at any time, or passed down to the owner’s family members.
All together, the RiverWalk currently boasts 79 fully furnished units (of a planned 178), ranging from studios at less than 400 square feet, one-bedroom units from 674 to 831 square feet, two-bedroom units from 1,041 to 1,428 square feet, to three-bedroom units, including executive suites and penthouses, up to 2,100 square feet. Fractional ownerships begin at $50,000 for a studio and spiral to nearly $200,000 for a three-bedroom unit.
At any given time, the owners can put their units into a rental pool, making them available to visitors.
“If owners don’t use all of their days or weeks, our optional in-house rental program is a simple way to have their residence rented for them to generate rental income,” said Willette. “Rental by owner is very popular.”
Want more incentives? In addition to the “fractional” weeks that owners purchased, RiverWalk’s “Space Available” program allows owners to use a comparable unit anytime the entire complex is less than 90 percent occupied by simply paying a nominal housekeeping fee. In short, the program provides RiverWalk owners additional vacation time beyond the weeks they’ve previously purchased.
Each unit, as Willette mentioned, is exceptionally well-equipped, making a great escape for owners and guests alike. Units have balconies that look out over the Pemigewasset River and Loon Mountain or a more expansive view of the Presidential Range and downtown Lincoln (great for both morning coffee or après ski cocktails).
All RiverWalk units come with either a kitchenette or full kitchen, which is a big plus for the self-sufficient crowd (like my clan). These are fully stocked with glassware, bowls, plates, pots and pans, and utensils (including a wine bottle opener, which ought to be mandatory in any ski town hotel room), as well as an oven, microwave, refrigerator, coffeemaker and dishwasher, and granite countertops for all your prep work. Guests can bring groceries themselves, or take advantage of RiverWalk’s partnership with Purple Tomato. With 48 hours advance notice, guests can order groceries from Purple Tomato and have them waiting upon arrival.
The unit furnishings are comfortable but sturdy, the bedding is plush, and each room has a good-sized flat-screen TV. Soothing paint schemes and decorations, combined with the natural light streaming through large windows, invite rest and relaxation. During a recent stop at RiverWalk this past summer, my wife took full advantage of our unit’s large soaking tub. She had taken a tumble on her mountain bike earlier that day, and the in-room tub was the perfect antidote for her bruised bones and aching muscles.
“Yes, this will do just fine,” Lauri whispered as she slipped into the bathtub, the bubbles rising to her chin, a glass of wine nearby.
The soaking tub, she said, is the “perfect remedy after a day on the slopes if you don’t feel like being exposed to the cold-air trip to a outdoor hot tub.”
Here’s another, subtle difference to RiverWalk that you may not realize until late at night, when all you want to do is drift away to dreamland. The place was solidly constructed, which translates to minimal noise from neighbors and hallways. Like it or not, the reality is that New England is littered with hotels and condo complexes that were built on the cheap, when the economy was good and developers looked to take advantage of the popularity of ski country properties. Anyone who has ever stayed at one of these places with cellophane-thin walls and floors and ceilings knows exactly what I’m talking about.
Conversely, RiverWalk was built to last, which means blissful silence when you want it. For me, it’s hard to put a price on that.
Ownership at RiverWalk also means four-season fun. At Loon, spring translates to lighter traffic, outstanding views, and the local rivers and falls cascading with melted snow. There are dozens of trails to hike and caves and gorges to explore, fishing, kayaking and train rides.
During the summer months, the Lincoln area offers almost limitless hiking, cycling (on and off-road), swimming and exploring. Take the Loon gondola to the top of the resort for Sunday breakfast. RiverWalk owners can explore local caves, watch local artisans at work, check out the trained bears or a zipline at Alpine Adventures, rent an all-terrain vehicle through Dirtventures or Out Back Kayak, or play mini-golf. The possibilities seem endless, until autumn rolls around.
After Labor Day, visitors come from all over the world during autumn to drive the 34 miles of the Kangamagus Highway, just up the road from the entrance of RiverWalk. The cool temperatures and clean, crisp air make hiking, pedaling or horseback riding even more fun. Don’t miss the New Hampshire Highland Games & Festival, expected to return in September 2021.
Still, winter remains king in Lincoln, thanks to Loon. With a family-friendly trail breakdown of 60 percent intermediate, with 20 percent beginner and 20 percent expert, covered by more than 160 inches of annual snowfall and wave upon wave of manmade fluff, Loon is a skier’s delight.
Guests to the RiverWalk will feel the same about Lincoln’s newest hotel.
22 South Mountain Drive