Last Wednesday, New Hampshire Governor Maggie Hassan signed a bill that may create the largest resort in the east out of a tiny, closed ski area called The Balsams. The resort hotel and Wilderness ski area have been closed since 2011 when the owners began renovations and ran out of cash. Now Les Otten, founder of American Skiing Company, has partnered with the Balsams ownership group to create the next big eastern ski resort. The bill the governor signed allows the state to back $28 million in development loans for the $143 million project.
Otten is perhaps best known for turning Sunday River from a one-lift operation to a 525,000 skier visit beast of the east. Circa 2002, his empire included Sunday River, Sugarloaf, Cranmore, Attitash, The Canyons, Killington, Sugarbush, Mount Snow, Heavenly and Steamboat. After leaving the ski industry, Otten created a renewable energy company and ran for Governor in Maine. He lost. Now, six years after selling The Canyons, he’s back in the lift business.
I consider The Balsams like a Sun Valley, perhaps past its heyday. The centerpiece of the 11,000-acre property is the 1860s-era Balsams Grand Hotel (no connection to the Grand Summit Hotels that were a staple at ASC resorts.) With a base elevation of 2,350 feet and 225” of annual snowfall, it’s akin to Jay Peak or Sugarloaf. The plan is to create 2,200 acres of ski terrain with 22 lifts including a gondola from the hotel to the ski area. Much like Sunday River and The Canyons, the total vertical is modest but terrain pods sprawl across numerous peaks.
Les Otten’s ownership group plans a 2016-2017 opening with nine lifts and a thousand acres of skiing. The resort’s original Riblet double will probably be removed; its chairs were already auctioned off. Two newer Partek triples will likely stay in service on the original mountain. I do not believe any lifts will go in this summer. That leaves a massive lift order for next summer, the likes of which we have not seen since 1997 when The Canyons built eight lifts at once. In that case, all three lift manufacturers had to be brought in to get the job done.