Mittersill Racing Area Clearing to Resume Next Week
Mittersill Racing Area Phase 2 to include snowmaking, clearing of Taft Superslope.
Tuesday, April 7, 2015, NewEnglandSkiIndustry.com
With the 2014-15 ski season winding down, phase two construction is expected to begin next week, transforming the former Mittersill Backcountry Area into the Mittersill Racing Area. Mittersill terrain will be closed after April 12, 2015, according to Cannon Mountain's web site. In a dramatic departure from the original backcountry intent of the Mittersill acquisition, the centerpiece of the 2015 project will be the clearing of the widest ski trail in New Hampshire.
Mittersill as a Standalone Ski Area
Mittersill dates back to 1942, when Baron Hubert von Pantz opened a rope tow at his lodge near the foot of the Richard Taft CCC ski trail. With a harsh exposure to extreme Bungy-jar winds (one such event ripping the roof off the hotel), Mittersill's slopes were often unskiable during its early years. As a result, the area often had snow fences zigzagging its slopes to attempt to catch the snow before it blew away. Mittersill was the northernmost adopter of snowmaking in New England in 1957, as it could not rely on natural snow.
After its heyday in the 1960s, Mittersill's operations dwindled until its upper mountain permit from the White Mountain National Forest expired in 1984. Though the lifts remained idle, the lower slopes and some of the upper trails remained cleared during the subsequent quarter of century, heavily used by backcountry skiers.
Mittersill Land Swap
In 2008, the White Mountain National Forest agreed to transfer the upper portions of Mittersill to the State of New Hampshire via a land swap with the stipulation that no clearing take place beyond the existing trail foot print. In his November 13, 2008 decision, White Mountain National Forest Supervisor Tom Wagner agreed to a land swap with the State of New Hampshire to, "provide a remote, challenging backcountry skiing experience on the existing trails at Mittersill."
Cannon General Manager John DeVivo was quoted in February in 2009 as saying, "We're going to keep it fairly natural, fairly rough. That's what people love about it now. We want them to continue to have that backcountry experience."
In 2010, the State installed a $2.7 million double chairlift on Mittersill. According to WMUR that December, Cannon Marketing Director Greg Keeler "said Cannon has done limited trail clearing and brush cutting on Mittersill and that there are no plans to change that." Grooming operations over the saddle and down Mittersill commenced in February 2011.
Mittersill's chronic snow problems plagued the project from the start,
as the new chairlift only operated for 5.5 days in 2011-12.
Mittersill Racing Area Proposal
In early 2012, plans emerged from a group led by the Franconia Ski Club and Holderness School to redevelop the Mittersill Backcountry Area into the Mittersill Racing Area. Later that year, management announced a plan for the Franconia Ski Club to donate $3 million toward the cutting of race trails, installation of a racing T-Bar lift, and snowmaking. At the time, it was stated that all trail, lift, snowmaking construction costs would be paid by the ski club, while the state would pay operate and maintain the new facility.
At the April 12, 2013 Cannon Mountain Advisory Commission meeting, Cannon General Manager John DeVivo announced the Governor and Executive Council had approved the Mittersill Racing Expansion with the provision that the state must "make snow and groom Baron's Run/Taft Slope and/or other areas at Cannon as early as weather permits during each winter season." The Franconia Ski Club's lease would run for 20 years, with options to extend to 35 years.
In order to allow for previously prohibited clearing in protected areas, state management announced it had exempted itself from the restrictions by placing 65 to 80 acres of nearby land in preserved status.
Plans evolved in 2014, as the estimated cost increased to $4 million to be funded by the Franconia Ski Club, with the State of New Hampshire paying for additional Cannon snowmaking infrastructure needed for the project. The Governor and Executive Council approved $750,000 in new debt in June, in part to fund the base snowmaking infrastructure needed for the racing expansion. Cannon expects the project will increase its operational expenses by 10%.
2014 Phase 1 Construction
Phase 1 clearing took place on Baron's Run and Skyline in August and September 2014. The work area was later expanded to include blasting on a trail adjacent to Skyline. Following clearing and resurfacing, the new 165-foot wide Baron's Run debuted on December 20, 2014. Snowmaking may be installed on the trail in 2015. Baron's Run is expected to be closed to the public for racing 10-15% of the time.
2015 Phase 2 Construction
The final scope of 2015's Phase 2 is not yet finalized, however the centerpiece is expected to be the Taft Superslope. According to the agreement with the state, the Franconia Ski Club will have use of the superslope Friday-Sunday, while the Holderness School and Franconia Ski Club have use on Monday-Thursday.
The half mile long Taft Superslope will be roughly 300-400 feet wide, making it the widest trail in New Hampshire. Facing the same direction as the wind scoured Cannonball slope, the Taft Superslope will be more than twice Cannonball's width.
While the T-Bar installation was once projected for the 2015 off season, funds have not yet been procured. At present, the T-bar and remaining snowmaking infrastructure are expected to be installed in 2016. A new Franconia Ski Club headquarters building may be constructed at Mittersill thereafter.