Published: November 2004
Few would disagree that the deal to let the owners of Okemo Mountain, Vt., take over operation of state-owned Mount Sunapee has been a success. Now New Hampshirites are struggling over the question of how much development of state-owned land is appropriate, as Sunapee's operators push a plan to expand the resort's boundaries in order to connect it to planned slopeside real estate parcels.
Since taking over the resort six years ago in a lease agreement, Tim and Diane Mueller have invested more than $14 million and increased Sunapee's skier visits from roughly 110,000 to about 250,000 annually. The lease now generates $650,000 a year, and the state uses that money-more than $2 million to date-for improvements at its other state-owned ski area, Cannon Mountain.
Now the Muellers, who this year added Crested Butte, Colo., to a growing conglomerate of resorts, are asking the state to lease it another 175 acres at the western boundary, on which they would put trails and a lift connecting Mount Sunapee to a private parcel where they want to build an undetermined number of housing units-perhaps as many as 250, including a hotel, condos and high-end private homes.
At initial hearings, Mount Sunapee skiers have favored the expansion, which would add 75 acres of skiable terrain, much of it similar in its gentleness to existing Sunapee trails. But a majority of those attending have voiced opposition, fearing the real estate development would have an undesirable impact on the region's rural quality. Some hearings have been surprisingly well-attended-not to mention sharply confrontational.
The state's Department of Resources and Economic Development expects to make its recommendation to the governor and the state's Executive Council, who will make the final decision on the lease expansion, in November. Permitting for the slopeside development would be a local issue for the tiny town of Goshen, for which the expansion would represent a 64 percent increase in housing.
Mount Sunapee managers stress that detailed plans for the real estate parcels have not been made, pending a decision from the state. Currently, there is no slopeside housing associated with the resort.