Crotched Mountain continues its uphill climb

Lots of snow and lots of customers made this a great season for southern New Hampshire’s two downhill ski areas, but the reborn Crotched Mountain is still trying to overcome having been out of the public eye for 13 years.

“I would say it was a very successful season — the weather was very good. We are not where we need to be yet, but we are on track,” said Felix Kagi, who runs Crotched Mountain with his wife, Margaret.

Kagi said Crotched had 88,000 skier visits this winter, more than double last year’s tally but still short of the 120,000-visit level sought by its owner, Peak Resorts. One skier visit equals one person paying to ski or snowboard for one day.

By contrast, nearby Pat’s Peak had around 146,000 skier visits, a record.

Crotched Mountain, straddling Bennington and Francestown about a half-hour north of Milford, was a staple of southern New Hampshire skiing for three decades. At one time it was home to two different ski areas, one on each side of the border.

The final resort went bankrupt in 1989, partly because of heavy debt brought on by building condominiums. There seemed little hope it would ever come back to life, particularly when Temple Mountain Ski Area in Peterborough also succumbed to changing market conditions.

But then Peak Resorts, which owns four small ski areas in the Midwest, bought the area in 2002 and spent $9 million to re-carve runs, improve chairlifts and build a huge lodge. It was the biggest expansion in New England skiing for two decades, and drew attention from around the country.

The work ran into the ski season last year, getting Crotched off to a slow start. That wasn’t a problem this year, and among other things the resort was able to attract high school ski teams, an important outreach in creating a family resort.

Kagi said about half the resort’s visits came from season-pass holders, which is one reason that its ski-rental business has been below expectations.

“We have really not been able to explore what I call the day-tripper — people come up from Massachusetts, Connecticut. There are just a lot of people who don’t know about us,” he said.

He also pointed to a common complaint from businesses located off major roads: Signage.

“There are a lot of people who get frustrated trying to get here,” he said. “There are not good signs.”

“But you know,” he added, “All roads lead to Crotched!”

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