Loon’s Snowmaking Heritage

From the moment Loon Mountain opened on Nov. 15, Ken Mack has been a busy man. As Loon’s chief snowmaking manager, Ken has spent the last three weeks engineering a moveable blizzard that’s raged across the mountain, opening 25 trails and 170 acres of skiing and riding – an early season record for Loon.

Ken Mack makes snow in mid-November of this year.
Ken Mack makes snow in mid-November of this year.opening 25 trails and 170 acres of skiing and riding – an early season record for Loon.

Although Ken oversees one of the most advanced snowmaking systems in North America, his connection to Loon Mountain began long before snowmaking came to the resort. In fact, it’s a connection that predates Loon itself.

Back in the early 1960s, Loon Mountain was merely an idea. The brainchild of Sherman Adams, former New Hampshire governor and chief of staff  for President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Loon would serve as a family resort along the newly-constructed Kancamagus Highway, so tourism could begin to replace the dying logging and paper industries as an economic driver for the area. After extensive scouting, Lincoln was chosen as the ideal site for the resort, and workers began the arduous task of carving a ski resort from the mountainside.

One of those workers was Roy Willey, Sr., Ken’s grandfather. Willey spent two years on-site, hewing the resort from the wilderness.

“He was here since the beginning, really. He knew Sherman Adams,” Ken says. “He was here two seasons before the mountain opened, because it took a couple years to build the mountain.”

After Loon opened on December 27, 1966, Willey served as the maintenance manager for the growing resort.

“He was the maintenance foreman. They kind of did everything back then,” Ken says. “They would groom, they would plow, work on the vehicles – it was a small operation.”

Over the next 46 years, a number of Ken’s relatives worked at Loon at one time or another. There was his father Clayton; his mother Barbi, who was a member of the ski patrol and worked as the ski school supervisor during the 70s and 80s; and his uncle Lee Willey, who still works as a grooming supervisor. Ken’s grandfather continued to work for Loon in various capacities – most recently as a groomer – until 2011. He passed away that April, two weeks after grooming his final run.

Today, Ken continues the tradition set by his grandfather. This winter will be Ken’s 13th season at Loon, and he’s well aware of his family’s legacy. When he and his crew were cutting new trails on South Peak several years ago, Ken would ask his grandfather for advice. After all, his grandfather did the same work more than four decades ago.

“When I took over as manager and we started doing all this work over on South Peak, whenever I got in a pickle I could always go see him and he would talk me through it,” Ken says. “He was a great resource for me.”

Ken Mack, making snow on Upper Bear Claw earlier this season.

Ken Mack, making snow on Upper Bear Claw earlier this season.

Just last summer, Ken and his crew replaced the tracks on the J.E. Henry Railroad, the narrow-gauge track that connects the Whistlestop Café to the Governor’s Lodge. When he was pulling up the old railroad ties, Ken was reminded of his father and grandfather, who built the tracks in the 1970s.

As he laid down the new tracks, Ken knew he was securing his family’s connection to Loon for another generation.

“I didn’t plan on it, but it is comforting,” Ken says of extending his family’s Loon legacy. “I’m pretty nostalgic, so I kind of get a kick out of that.”

To learn more about Loon’s snowmaking system, pick up a copy of Loon Magazine at your nearest newsstand. Just kidding! Get it here at the resort or read it online! emag-thumb

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