“Gotta love rumors,” says Les Otten in an email last week. He is not, he says, the buyer for Saddleback resort—and as of this writing there is still no word on who that mysterious party is.
Otten has plenty to do with his own ski resort revival project at the defunct Balsams Wilderness Resort in Dixville Notch, N.H. The permit and planning phase is proceeding smoothly there, he says, though it’s too soon to commit to a timeline for reopening.
Meanwhile, two other defunct New England ski areas of significant size and stature—Vermont’s Ascutney Mountain and New Hampshire’s Tenney Mountain—are poised to come back online as well. If the snow has been terrible in East this year, at least the warm weather has given them good working conditions in the rush to reopen. Ascutney, unfazed by the weather, plans a reopening celebration this Saturday (Feb. 6). Tenney expects to reopen almost any day now.
Though Ascutney’s revival will be very modest at first—a ropetow serving 180 vertical feet—it’s a place with considerable history, size, and potential, and the non-profit group that runs it has interesting plans for its future.
Skiers cut its first trail, Screaming Eagle, in 1938, and at its zenith Ascutney’s 1,800 vertical feet were served by a network of lifts that included a high-speed quad (now at Crotched Mountain, N.H., according to Wikipedia). The New England Lost Ski Areas Project, a compendium of shuttered resorts, calls it the “most advanced lost ski area in New England.”
Now a public-private partnership headed by a new 501(c)3 group, Ascutney Outdoors, aims to establish a multi-use wintersports facility on a sustainable financial footing, and backcountry enthusiasts should be especially pleased with its plans. Permits only allow for the reinstallation of lifts up to a point on the mountain just above the old midstation—roughly three-quarters of the way up, says Ascutney Outdoors executive director Laura Farrell. Above that, the old trails will be kept clear, glading will open up new treed terrain, and access will be strictly human powered.
“It’s a good mountain—a tough one. When it gets snow it’s fabulous.” says Farrell. “It hasn’t had a lot of success in the past, but this time the goal is to make it sustainable.”
The midstation lift would likely be a surface platter-pull (or “poma”), and Ascutney Outdoors hopes to have it in place by next winter, finances permitting. (Tax deductible donations, good for powder karma, can be made at ascutneyoutdoors.org.) For now, skiing on the rope-tow slope is free.
Snowshoeing, mountain biking, and snow biking are also part of the plans and will be featured (as snow permits) at Saturday’s opening celebration. There’ll also be live music and equipment demos (including fat bikes) courtesy of Burlington’s Outdoor Gear Exchange. The skiing is free.
At Tenney Mountain (1,400 vertical feet, closed since 2010), reopening seems imminent, but the owner, Sir Michael Bouchard (Order of Malta), is reluctant to make promises as he attends (hands-on) to final preparations.
Bouchard has said he will focus first on reopening only half the mountain (the North side), with one chairlift, and that snowmaking quality will be a priority going forward, along with night-skiing on all 50 trails and eventual development of slopeside real estate.
Bouchard is not himself a skier; he reportedly purchased the area for its minerals, then was convinced by Tenney fans that it could succeed as a ski area. New England skiers will recall that Tenney, located in Plymouth, N.H., was the site of short-lived summer skiing a decade ago. An experimental snowmaking system was installed at the summit, from where its chipped ice would be spread downhill. That project proved unprofitable.
Would-be Tenney skiers can watch the resort’s Facebook page, where Bouchard posts continual updates on his progress toward reopening.