Downhill Racers: In The North Country A Tough, New Venue For Going Faster, Farther

Mar 23, 2015

Credit Chris Jensen for NHPR

For decades ski racers have gathered on slopes like Gary’s at Cannon Mountain. But some have had their eyes on the nearby, state-owned Mittersill ski area.

“Well, Franconia Ski Club for a long time has wanted to move its training operation,” said John DeVivo, the general manager at Cannon. “They’ve really wanted to be off of the main mountain and really out of everybody’s way and no surprise the general public has wanted that equally.”

And now there’s an effort to make two trails at Mittersill into first-class racing facilities that could host national competitions.

The non-profit Franconia Ski Club is trying to fund the $4 million project using private funds, said Rich Smith, one of the club’s directors.

Credit Chris Jensen for NHPR

The money is going to widen the two trails, add snow-making equipment and a rope tow.

That makes this one of the state’s largest private-public projects.

And the equipment will be turned over to the state, said Smith.

For recreational skiers the good news is that they will no longer have to share part of Cannon Mountain with racers.

And those recreational skiers will still be able to use Mittersill, including the two trails being improved for racing.

The centerpiece of the project is Baron’s run, said DeVivo.

“ Fifty meters wide. Five thousand feet in length. Truly a world-class ski trail.”

Baron’s has been approved the International Ski Federation for Super Giant Slalom, Giant Slalom and Slalom, said Eric Harlow, an official with the United States Ski and Snowboard Association.

Reports that the U.S. Ski team is eyeing Mittersill as a place to train are wrong, said Harlow. But he says it will be a terrific and much-needed spot for elite junior racers.

“We’ll bring the best kids in the region together from all over the region to ski on a really tough hill and great venue that will prepare them for tougher venues across the country and in some cases across the world.”

“In the East we just don’t have that many of those big-mountain type of venues.”

  

But if things go according to plan Mittersill will never be overrun with racers.

Terms of the agreement between Cannon and the Franconia Ski Club limit racers to about 10 percent of Baron’s run at any given time.

They would have more access to the other trail -- Taft – the whole thing half the time the time, or constantly using half its width.

In exchange for the improvements the racers can use the facility for 20 years with the option to renew for a shorter period.

The Franconia Ski Club may also build a clubhouse at the base of Mittersill, DeVivo said.

The state will take over the costs, including operating the tow rope and snow-making equipment.

DeVivo said that could add about 10 percent to Cannon’s costs. But he predicted income from more skiers will offset that.

“We think it will be a wash at worst.”

Mittersill is to the right of Cannon.

There have been some complaints about cutting down trees to widen the trails.

But DeVivo said the trails are no bigger than in 1989 when the state bought Mittersill.

“As part of our original agreement with White Mountain National Forest and Audubon Society and with Fish and Game we can’t exceed the 1989 footprint.”

  

DeVivo said widening the Taft trail will mean a reduction in the amount of glade skiing at Mittersill.

But he plans to offset that by trimming and thus opening up some other areas for skiing among the trees.

But the changes at Mittersill hold the most promise for ski racers: Mittersill could host national races, including junior championships – which are three to five day events… There could also be multi-day training camps.

All hold the promise of boosting the local economy.

“I think it is a fabulous idea,” said Meg Brown, the executive director of the Franconia Notch Chamber of Commerce.

An official of the nearby Mittersill Alpine Resort declined to comment on the project.

In the meantime, though, the Ski Club needs to raise that $4 million. According to the club, which is working with the Holderness School, they are already half way there.

Credit Chris Jensen for NHPR