Mt. Sunapee reaches milestones amid legal contention
Lease holder wants state to add 175 acres to popular ski area
Bob Dunn — photos courtesy Jay Gamble, Mount Sunapee
Mt. Sunapee Ski Area, located in Newbury, New Hampshire, within the Mt. Sunapee State Park, is celebrating its 60th year as a ski area and concurrently its 10th year as a leased ski area from the State of New Hampshire by Diane and Tim Mueller. The Muellers also own and operate Okemo Mountain in Ludlow, Vermont, and Crested Butte in Colorado.
The newer "Sunapee Lodge".
The Muellers signed a 40-year lease with the State in 1998, with an initial term of 20 years and two extensions of 10 years each. For the past six years, they have been trying (unsuccessfully) to persuade the State to agree to the addition of 175 acres of state property to the lease. This expansion would bridge a gap between the ski area and approximately 700 acres of land the Muellers own on the west side of the mountain (the West Bowl). The change would allow the Muellers to add another lift to the area and provide access to the ski area from planned vacation homes and condos on their land. They filed a law suit against the State in October 2007, claiming that the original lease allowed for expansion of the area. Governor Lynch has not allowed the request to be voted on by the Executive Council and then the State Legislature, and that is the reason for the lawsuit. Governor Lynch has said that he would veto the request for expansion even if it were voted forward. The Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests issued a press release when the Governor tabled the request for expansion onto the Mueller's land, supporting his decision that the State should not allow development next to State land.
Riding the old rope tow, great for the glove industry.
Mt. Sunapee was started in 1948 with 1,185 acres given to the State by the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests with the intent that a State Park and Ski Area could be formed. The State opened the Mt. Sunapee Ski Area in December of 1948. The original lifts that year were a single chair up the mountain servicing three trails and two rope tows servicing the Beginners Area. The "North Peak Base Lodge" was also constructed. The Mittersill Development (which is privately owned) adjacent to Cannon Mountain was constructed in 1945, and, although not joined, there were trails to ski both ways from Cannon to Mittersill. Other lifts, triple, double chairs, T-Bar and Poma lifts were built at Sunapee from 1953 through 1989. Snowmaking was installed on six of the 24 trails in 1982. The area operated over the years and had some good years, but in the five years from 1992 till 1997 the area showed a net loss each year.
New Groomers working the slopes.
There was a lot of opposition to the lease in 1998, but local and statewide support gave the lease to the Muellers with many provisions. The arguments against leasing the area out at the time were that the State would lose control and not save any money, that lease holders would not care for the Park but just "milk" it for whatever money they could make, that the local area would therefore not do well, and that the State would pay its employees better wages.
Quad chair loading area.
The actual figures for the past ten years show a much different picture. After signing the lease on July 1, 1998, the Muellers installed a high-speed quad chair to replace the Summit Triple, and a quad chair to replace the Sun Bowl lift. They also built a halfpipe and terrain park and purchased three new grooming vehicles. In 1999 the "North Peak Lodge" (built in 1948) was replaced with a new, 24,000 square-foot "Sunapee Lodge", three new trails were added, and additional snowmaking was installed. The "Clipper Ship" quad chair replaced the old "Province" double chair and the newer beginners lift, a “moving carpet" was installed in 2000. In 2001 the management concentrated on improving the snowmaking plant with new pumps and constructing a new Ski Patrol building. A longer "moving carpet" was installed to replace an old pony handle lift on the Beginners Slope in 2002. Additional improvements were made to make Mount Sunapee an up-to-date ski area over the next five years with snowmaking, trails, grooming vehicles, rental equipment and a children's learning center. Total investment over the 10 years has been approximately $15 million according to the management.
The new tower snowmaking guns.
Financially, in the five years prior to the Muellers’ lease, the Mt. Sunapee Ski Area had not returned any money to the State (and during the past ten years, Cannon Mountain, another State-operated area, has not returned any money to the State). The Muellers over the past 10 years have paid the State almost $4 million in lease payments. In 1998 Mt. Sunapee had 110,000 visitors; in the 2005-06 season, almost 250,000 visited the mountain. The objectors to the original lease also argued that the State offered better pay; however, the facts are that in 1997 Sunapee had 14 full-time employees with gross wages of $946,000. In 2005-06 Mt. Sunapee had 28 full-time employees with gross wages of approximately $2.8 million and all with full benefits. Local property taxes on the property have also been paid, to the tune of over $835,000.
View of Lake Sunapee from the top of the mountain.
In their law-suit the Muellers argue that the State violated the lease agreement by refusing to consider their plans for additional lift and slope-side development on their own land that is adjacent to the State land. They had a study done and there was no wildlife that would be endangered in the area. They also planned to donate about 100 acres to the State to enlarge the State Park. New Hampshire State Councilor Ray Wieczorck (Republican) of Manchester has sided with the Muellers, saying that in the original lease there was "implied consent". The development of the Mueller land that is adjacent to the Mountain is primarily in the town of Goshen, which has a population of about 750. Through Mt. Sunapee, the Muellers have donated nearly $300,000 over the past ten years to local communities in the form of scholarships, donations to local schools, and support for various local libraries, chorus groups and halls.
The "moving carpet" replaces the rope tow.
It will be most interesting to see how the lawsuit turns out. In the meantime, get out your skis or board and head for the slopes, since the snow is great. Mount Sunapee and all the other New England Ski Resorts are waiting for you.
Most of the information in this article was acquired from New Hampshire State records, local records and Mt. Sunapee lease payments. For more information on the
ski area itself, click on MtSunapee.com.
Copyright © Rye Reflections 2008. All rights reserved.