A plea to NH: Leave Mt. Sunapee alone

Mt. Sunapee is fine just the way it is.

I have been a season-pass holder at Mt. Sunapee, with one or two gaps, for nearly 25 years. My idea of a perfect winter’s day is to get up early, work for a while, head to Mt. Sunapee for 10 or a dozen runs, then return to my desk and work.

Mt. Sunapee is my home mountain, and one of my favorite mountains. The only problem with Mt. Sunapee, from a skier’s perspective, is that it’s sort of small.

But please, please, please, state of New Hampshire, do NOT let the ski area at Mt. Sunapee expand. Mt. Sunapee is fine just the way it is.

The arguments for expanding Sunapee are straightforward.  And unconvincing.

It will generate employment.  It takes four people to run a chairlift.  Maybe they’ll have to hire another driver for their groomers.  Maybe one or two more ski patrollers.  That’s it.  Not a lot of jobs.

It will generate more revenue from skiers.  Maybe.  But the fact is that skier visits in New England are flat or declining, and have been for years.  If more people go to Mt. Sunapee, that just means fewer people will go to another New Hampshire ski area.  That’s called a zero-sum game.

But if you want to see the real reasons for expanding Mt. Sunapee, drive over to Ludlow or Stratton or Killington in Vermont. Drive up to Loon Mountain in New Hampshire.  Look around. You don’t see ski trails. You see real estate developments.

Running a ski area is a marginal business.  Developing real estate around a ski area is a hugely profitable business.  The leaseholders at Mt. Sunapee were pretty clear about that at the start, and have been absolutely clear about that in their development of Okemo and Crested Butte in Colorado. They want the west side of Mt. Sunapee planted thick with second homes and condos.  That’s where the profit is in running a ski area.

Yes, they have buried that fact in their current “master plan.” But that’s like a cat burying its poop. It doesn’t go away, it’s just hidden for a while, waiting for my children to discover it and choke on it. If the ski area expansion is approved, that’s what my children will be doing – choking on massive, ugly, landscape-wrecking development of one of New Hampshire’s nicest mountainsides.

If you want living, here-and-now evidence of this fact, just hike to the top of Sunapee’s South Peak chairlift.  One of the first things the Sunapee leaseholders did when they took over was to lay out and clear-cut house lots right up to the edge of the ski area. They are there right now, waiting for houses.  Ski-in, ski-out, that’s the name of the money-making game in the skiing business.  When the time comes, the master plan will be changed.

As I said, I ski Mt. Sunapee. I also hike Mt. Sunapee, I snowshoe Mt. Sunapee, I drive my mom around Mt. Sunapee, I take pictures of the flowers and foliage on Mt. Sunapee. What makes Sunapee most special is that balance: one mountain, with many ways to enjoy it. The one ugly thing about Mt. Sunapee, for nine months of the year, is all the crap that goes with the ski area. Pipes and piles of dirt and fields of weeds and poles and wires with chairs hanging from them, and big gouges in the mountain.

Mt. Sunapee doesn’t need any more of that junk. Much less does Mt. Sunapee need the threat, and the eventual certainty, that the west side of the mountain will be turned into a housing development for a few rich people to enjoy, and the rest of us to suffer.

Sunapee is a beautiful mountain, balanced in its landscape and the many activities it has to offer.  Please, please, please, New Hampshire, leave it that way. 

Mark Lennon is a New London resident.

Categories: Opinion