New Hampshire State Parks leaders gathered interested public tonight to present alternatives for future lift service on Cannon Mountain’s east side. At issue is the Cannon Mountain Aerial Tram, which turns 43 this year. Cannon General Manager John DeVivo and Parks Director Phil Bryce said the state is at a crossroads because multiple systems are in need of overhaul and parts are becoming more difficult to source.
Franconia Notch State Park, which includes Cannon Mountain and the Tram, generates almost half the annual revenue for the entire state park system with the tram alone generating $1.5 million in ticket sales. The tram’s iconic ketchup and mustard colored cabins are particularly popular in the summer as an accessible way for visitors to enjoy the White Mountains.
Three options are to overhaul the current 70 passenger tram, build a new tram or switch to a gondola. It became clear very quickly at the meeting that everyone wants a new tram, which would cost upwards of $25 million. A detachable gondola was presented as costing more to build, 25 to 30 percent more to maintain while increasing capacity two to five times on the summit. The wind issue was also widely pointed to, particularly acute on a day which saw almost every New England ski area blow down. At one point, a state senator in attendance asked the public to raise hands for a tram or gondola and every single person wanted the tram. “How much cachet does a gondola have?” said one attendee. “Nobody cares about a gondola,” said another.
The questions then turned to what kind of tram and when. Cannon officials presented 80 and 100 person cabins as options with the existing tram buildings likely to be reused. Construction would take two summers and a winter, during which time other lifts could service the summit. As for manufacturer, DeVivo made clear his preference for Doppelmayr-Garaventa, citing a longstanding relationship involving most of Cannon’s lifts. A Doppelmayr sales rep and engineer are visiting Cannon on Monday to move ideas forward. It’s important to note while Doppelmayr has built the majority of North American aerial tramways, Leitner-Poma has examples as well, namely the Roosevelt Island Tram in New York City and the Goldbelt Tram in Alaska. Ultimately the decision whether to go with a sole source contract or a competitive bid process is up to the Governor and his Executive Council. The current Governor is Chris Sununu, a Republican up for reelection who also happens to have intimate knowledge of the lift manufacturer landscape as past CEO of Waterville Valley.
Why now? The current tram is estimated to have 3-5 years of life left before a major overhaul is needed. Also New Hampshire is set to receive $995 million in American Rescue Plan funds which must be used for pandemic related purposes before 2027. Apparently outdoor recreation capital expenses qualify under the program and that is why State Parks officials want to act now. Ultimately the New Hampshire House and Senate will decide how to allocate the ARPA funds. If you have thoughts on the new tram proposal, you can send them to TramComments@dncr.nh.gov through March 1st. If the project gets funded, construction could start in 2023 or 2024.