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Pats Peak plans expansion in Henniker

  • Pats Peak Ski Area announced a lift and trail expansion they are calling "Operation Cascade Basin, on Monday February 25, 2013. The announcement is said to add a triple chair and six new trails over the next three years.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor Staff)

    Pats Peak Ski Area announced a lift and trail expansion they are calling "Operation Cascade Basin, on Monday February 25, 2013. The announcement is said to add a triple chair and six new trails over the next three years.

    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor Staff)

  • Pats Peak Ski Area announced a lift and trail expansion they are calling "Operation Cascade Basin, on Monday February 25, 2013. The announcement is said to add a triple chair and six new trails over the next three years.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor Staff)

    Pats Peak Ski Area announced a lift and trail expansion they are calling "Operation Cascade Basin, on Monday February 25, 2013. The announcement is said to add a triple chair and six new trails over the next three years.

    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor Staff)

  • Pats Peak Ski Area announced a lift and trail expansion they are calling "Operation Cascade Basin, on Monday February 25, 2013. The announcement is said to add a triple chair and six new trails over the next three years.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor Staff)
  • Pats Peak Ski Area announced a lift and trail expansion they are calling "Operation Cascade Basin, on Monday February 25, 2013. The announcement is said to add a triple chair and six new trails over the next three years.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor Staff)

By next winter, skiers will be gliding down the east-facing side of Pats Peak.

The Henniker ski area is moving forward with plans to add a new triple chairlift and six new trails over the next three years.

“If anybody’s been up here on the weekends, they know that our slopes are a little cozy and we’ve been needing this additional terrain,” said General Manager Kris Blomback.

Blomback, who also is chairman of the Henniker Board of Selectmen, said he’s been planning the $1 million project for two years. It will add intermediate-level ski areas, “where we were a little thin on inventory,” he said.

The chairlift and four new trails will be open next winter, Blomback said.

Pats Peak secured the necessary state and local approvals last fall, but this winter’s ski season ensured the ski area had enough money to move forward.

Conservation easement

The expansion will cross some wetland areas approaching Craney Pond, from which Pats Peak draws water to make its own snow. But about 13 acres along the pond’s shoreline won’t be developed – the ski area and the town worked with Piscataquog Land Conservancy to secure a conservation easement.

The easement came in exchange for state approval to fill the other wetland areas, said Martha Sunderland, who has served on the Henniker Conservation Commission for more than 20 years.

“I think it was a win-win all the way around, and I think PLC is quite happy with this easement as well,” Sunderland said.

An easement was first suggested for just 6 acres, but Sunderland said it was challenging to find an organization to hold the easement.

Piscataquog Land Conservancy agreed to take the easement once it was expanded to 13 acres, said Paula Bellemore, the organization’s executive director. She said Pats Peak gave the organization $10,000 to maintain the easement.

“When an organization takes an easement, essentially the landowner is hiring us to make sure that the property is treated a particular way forever,” Bellemore said.

The ski area also received permission from the state Department of Environmental Services to draw more water from Craney Pond to manufacture snow.

Pats Peak uses up to 15 million gallons of water from the pond each ski season, and it will have permission to draw 40 million gallons per season under its new water-quality certification.

The state surveyed the pond and will require the ski area to monitor the pond and a downstream brook, said Gregg Comstock, supervisor of water quality planning for the Department of Environmental Services.

The ski area must limit the number of inches it draws from the pond’s shoreline at a given time, which Comstock said will protect amphibians that burrow into the shore during the winter.

Bellemore said the water pumped from the pond was initially a concern for Piscataquog Land Conservancy, but she was reassured after learning about the state regulations.

“There’s sort of a gut reaction, I think, that people have to that, an assumption that that must be bad for the pond,” she said. “And we did look at the reports. There’s quite a bit of oversight . . . and the pond is actually thriving.”

Few complaints

Sunderland said Blomback and Pats Peak have been transparent during their planning process, and she’s aware of few complaints from Henniker residents about the ski area’s expansion. Many residents are supportive of the ski area because it’s an important business in town, she said, and the Conservation Commission was enthusiastic about the expansion because it included the conservation easement.

“And you want your businesses in town to thrive and you want, at the same time, to minimize their environmental impacts,” she said. “And this was a pretty easy sell for us.
. . . There was the nice benefit of this protected shoreline.”

The expansion project received approval from Henniker’s planning board in October 2011. Blomback said he altered designs to address residents’ concerns, such as the location of lights along the slope for night skiing.

‘Birthday gift’

The project is Pats Peak’s first major project in a decade, and will add 20 acres of new ski area. It’s planned to be complete in three years, Blomback said, though its completion can depend on money.

“It’s part of the DNA of our company we don’t borrow money,” he said. “We’re an old Yankee company and we try to pay for things as we can afford them.”

The Pats Peak project comes as other New Hampshire ski areas also look to expand. Ragged Mountain in Danbury is planning a large expansion project with a new inn, dozens of trails and other upgrades.

In total, Pats Peak will have 36 trails and 10 lifts when its project is complete, making it still slightly smaller than other nearby ski areas. Ragged Mountain currently has 50 trails and five lifts, and Mount Sunapee Resort has 66 trails and 11 lifts.

Blomback didn’t rule out future expansion for Pats Peak, but said he’s focused on one project at a time. This expansion is “a big happy birthday gift from Pats Peak,” he said, as the ski area celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.

(Laura McCrystal can be reached at 369-3312 or
lmccrystal@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @lmccrystal.)

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