Almost exactly eight years after it shut down, Tenney Mountain reopens to skiers

  • Sue Mclane takes a lunch break after her morning runs at Tenney Mountain on Thursday.

  • Skiers make their way down under the chair lift line at Tenney Mountain after operations were restored for the first time since 2010. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Michael Bouchard watches the 6,000-foot-long double chairlift carry opening-day customers up the mountain. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Adam Cushing gets ready to get on the chair lift at Tenney Mountain on Thursday, March 8, 2018. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Skiers make their way up the chair lift at Tenney Mountain Thursday, March 8, 2018 on the first day of operations since it closed down in 2010. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • The sign ‘Tenney is back’ at the base of the mountain on Thursday, March 8, 2018. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Adam Cushing gets ready to get on the chair lift at Tenney Mountain on Thursday, March 8, 2018. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Skiers make their way up the chairlift at Tenney Mountain on Thursday on the first day of operations since it closed down in 2010. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Thursday, March 08, 2018

Ask Sue Mclane when her mind finally changed away from skepticism about whether skiing would ever return to Tenney Mountain, and she has a ready answer.

“I don’t think it changed until this morning,” said Mclane, resting after taking a run down the ungroomed trails that awaited customers on Thursday’s “soft” reopening of Tenney Mountain Resort in Plymouth following eight long, schuss-free years.

“We never though it would open again,” she said of her family. “Nobody thought it would happen.”

Mclane taught her children to ski at Tenney decades ago when it was a thriving local resort and, like many people in the Plymouth area, has been following the news of the ski mountain’s possible rebirth. Also like many area residents, she was dubious, having seen several previous owners flame out quickly and disappear, the most recent shutting down abruptly on March 7, 2010, almost exactly eight years ago.

“We say we’re finishing off the 2010 season,” joked new owner Michael Bouchard, as he watched the 6,000-foot-long double chairlift carry opening-day customers up the mountain.

Day passes are $30, operations from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The lodge is open for restrooms and lockers, but no food service is available, nor are equipment rentals.

The idea of having opening day in early March is ludicrous – in the Northern Hemisphere at least – and it’s an indication of the main role of skiing and snowboarding here: to increase the value of planned development around the site by the Tenney Mountain Development Group.

A conceptual plan presented to the Plymouth planning board earlier this year included an 80-unit hotel, to be built as early as this year, followed by stores, 90 townhouses, a “senior living community,” and “an apartment complex for (Plymouth State) University clientele” over the next five to eight years.

Actually getting the ski area up and running was a vital first step to get town and community support of these plans, Bouchard said. It shows that the development group is serious, including main investor Alessandro Insolia of MAST Holdings LLC.

Brouchard estimates that around $4 million has been sunk into repairs of everything from snowmaking and grooming equipment to the lodge and even trenching for drainage around the mountain’s 1,400 vertical feet.

The mountain opened its tubing area two weeks ago, but a goal for this winter was also getting skis and snowboards up to the summit. Next season, Bouchard said, operations will be fully open.

With the snow still falling Thursday morning, grooming was on hold. As a result, skiing began with entirely unbroken trails atop a foot and a half of heavy snow left by the latest nor’easter.

That meant black-diamond trails were as difficult as their designation, which is not always the case on small mountains. Mclane, for one, admitted that slogging through the ungroomed runs proved a challenge to her self-described intermediate skills.

“But I made it down!” she said.

(Similarly, this reporter found that a single run down Edelweiss, an intermediate trail, took 20 tough minutes, including a half-dozen spills and a steep stretch where I swallowed my pride and side-stepped down.)

Mountain manager Kevin Young said grooming was planned for Thursday night, preparing for what is expected to be a busy weekend.

Regardless of conditions, the mood Thursday was happy, almost giddy.

“There’s been a big smile on everybody’s face,” said Monique Adams, who was selling lift tickets in the Witch’s Hat, a small building with a tall pointed roof that led to the nickname. “People have been waiting for this.”

One of those who had been waiting was lift mechanic Stephen Murray, whose experience at Tenney stretches back a dozen years.

“When I loaded the first people, I have to admit I shed a tear,” he said.

As a ski area, Tenney Mountain dates back to the 1930s, the earliest days of organized alpine skiing in New Hampshire, when the Edelwiess trail was cut around logging roads. The area formally opened in 1960 with two rope tows, and in 1968, the opening of the Tenney Mountain Highway made it relatively accessible from Interstate 93 and led to years of growth.

Although popular as a family mountain for the region, the ski area could not shake financial problems. It went through a name change, to Lookout, and several owners, including a Japanese firm in 2004 that had a technology called SnowMagic, which it said could make snow in warm weather.

In 2014, Bouchard’s group bought 900 acres of land for $1.2 million, largely for its mineral deposits until the idea of ski-oriented development took hold.

On Thursday, the interest and excitement caused by the opening could be felt even away from the chairlift.

“The guy’s got some big ideas, but he’s been working hard. I take my hat off to him,” said Bob White, a renter in Tenney Brook, one of several condominium developments around the ski area that were built in the 1980s and 1990s, contributing to the debt that hobbled some past owners.

“This is a nice, safe place to live, with great neighbors,” he said. “I think this is going to be good for people here, good for the community.”

White said he has one hope: That the new owners will improve the road that leads into the resort from Route 3A.

“It’s a mess,” he said.

Back up at the ski area’s parking lot, two folks particularly interested in the opening were Hank Binney and Ray Denis, who between them have more than 50 years of working at Tenney Mountain in virtually every job, and under many different people.

“There’s been, let’s see – one, two, three – I’d have to say six owners back to (Russel) Wilkinson, who really got it going” in 1996, Binney said. Until work started on the reopening, Binney’s job at Tenney was to keep the road plowed in winter, in case a fire started at one of the empty lodge buildings.

“I had it to all to myself for a while.”

Tenney Mountain would not have opened this week without the natural snowfall because the recent warm weather hammered its snowmaking efforts, so its 2018 spring season may not last very long. But Bouchard vowed that next winter would see it operating for real.

Now for the ironic twist: Bouchard doesn’t ski. He has tried it a few times this year because everybody said he should learn. But an itch to hit the trails isn’t the reason he’s overseen the rebirth.

“My biggest satisfaction is shutting up the naysayers,” he said.

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or dbrooks@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)