The Concord Monitor is launching its Environmental Reporting Lab, a long-term effort to better inform the community about the New Hampshire environment. To launch phase 1 of this effort, we need your help. The money raised will go toward hiring a full-time environmental reporter.

Please consider donating to this effort.


Tenney Mountain Ski Area is ready to (partially) reopen, but bring your own skis

Last modified: 10/24/2015 12:38:42 AM
Michael Bouchard has learned many lessons since he began trying to bring Tenney Mountain Ski Area back from the dead, but one of the loudest that the non-skiing scientist has learned is this: Don’t mess with alpine tradition.

“When I said I was going to change the name of the trails, I was called every name in the book,” the 51-year-old Bouchard said during a recent interview in the lodge, laughing at the memory. “I had to say, ‘I’m sorry, I won’t do it!’ ”

That’s not the only feedback Bouchard has received from the community and the many followers of the Tenney Mountain Ski Area page on Facebook, where Bouchard posts updates, sometimes several times a day. Like most small New Hampshire ski areas, Tenney built up a devoted following during its four decades of operation, and the prospect that it might return after being shut down for five years has people excited, online and in person.

“I can’t go anywhere without hearing ‘I learned to ski at Tenney’ or ‘My kids learned at Tenney.’ I hear it constantly,” said Bouchard, who moved to Plymouth with his wife, Kimberlee, to oversee Tenney’s rebirth.

So here’s the scoop: Tenney Mountain plans to reopen Dec. 15, in what geeks would call beta mode. Only half the mountain, the northern side, will have snowmaking and grooming because of issues with the pipes on the rest of the mountain, and just one chairlift, the shorter one, will be running.

Further, there won’t be any equipment rentals and other amenities will be limited. Tickets will likely be priced somewhere around $25, although that hasn’t been settled.

This unusual startup is necessary partly because the chairlifts have been sitting idle for so long that they are nearing a deadline, after which far more expensive upgrades would have to be made to meet current design requirements. The Tramway and Amusement Ride Safety is set to vote today on whether to accept certain engine upgrades. If they are approved, which bureau Chief Briggs Lockwood said seems likely, then the chairlifts will be load-tested by having a 187-pound dummy (probably a box holding water) put on every seat on every uphill chair at once.

Unless problems are discovered, the mountain will be good to go, Lockwood said.

“The contractor has done recent maintenance, so (we’re) pretty up to speed on the maintenance end of things,” said Lockwood.

The ski area won’t be elegant, but it’ll be something, and should give the area a running start toward a full reopening next season. The area hosted the White Mountain Brewers’ Festival last weekend to help spread the word, and was active in attempts to save the dilapidated Plymouth ski jump.

Plymouth Regional High School will be using the open area for Alpine race training, and some other schools, as well as Plymouth State University, are interested.

A lot of excitement

“It’s really exciting,” said Peter Rivers of Littleton, who knew Tenney during his undergraduate days at nearby Plymouth State University in the early 1980s and later from his job as a beer distributor for Amoskeag Beverages. He was at the lodge Wednesday discussing a possible beer contract, having connected with Bouchard the way many in town do – by grabbing him.

“I saw him. I ran down the street. He was leaving but I said, ‘You’re not going to make the flight, you’re going to talk to us,’ ” Rivers said.

That’s typical, Bouchard said: “This is a small place. Everybody knows you.”

As Bouchard tells the story, that sense of community may have kept Tenney Mountain Ski Area from dying completely.

Bouchard is a native of Chelsea, Mass., and co-founded an engineering firm in Nashua called Third Rail Wireless, now Secure Axxess. He is officially Sir Michael Bouchard, having been knighted as part of the Knights of Malta, an order that dates to the Middle Ages.

Bouchard became interested in this defunct ski area almost four years ago because of the mountain’s mineral content, and said his original plan was to sell off the chairlifts and other equipment, because neither he nor his wife, Kimberlee, nor other investors had ever skied.

What changed his mind? Partly, it was development opportunities resulting from the mountain’s complicated history.

Tenney Mountain is surrounded by condominiums and houses, some so close that they almost overlap the platter lift that serves the tubing run, but there is room for plenty more. Most importantly, enough sewer connections were built to handle 2,300 housing units, but only 253 were built before bankruptcy got in the way. The units, most of which are full, are owned separately and overseen by five different homeowners associations.

Bouchard has plans to make use of this sewer capacity by building more slope-side units, and perhaps develop an open-air performance arena close to Route 3A to create four-season income.

But he said the tipping point on saving Tenney Mountain occurred when a tire blew out on a trailer as he and some others were leaving the area after doing some work.

“It was Sunday night, it was snowing. We pulled over by the fire station, they opened up the door, said ‘we can help’ – they didn’t have their coats – they pulled out the jacks, got to work. They didn’t know who we were, they just helped,” Bouchard said. “That’s when we decided to go with the ski area.”

“Having said that,” he added, “we didn’t know how much work it was going to be.”

Tenney Mountain was opened in 1960 by Sam Hall, a World War II veteran of the fabled 10th Mountain Division, many of whose members started ski areas throughout the U.S. Hall turned an informal ski operation on Tenney Mountain into a real ski area with 1,600 vertical feet. It thrived with families, schools and local business, but his reluctance to add snowmaking eventually derailed operations.

Hall sold it in 1984, setting off nearly three complicated decades that saw little growth, including the condo development, and lots of failure. Four owners came and went, often via bankruptcy.

Tenney wasn’t alone in this turmoil. Dozens of smaller and mid-sized ski areas in New England failed over this period as the cost of insurance, snowmaking and other amenities expected by modern customers mounted.

The last owner of Tenney Mountain, a New York investment firm, put the place on the block before the 2010 season. It sat, largely unattended, ever since.

$4 million and counting

Bouchard bought close to 900 acres in November 2014 for a reported $1.2 million. He and a small investor group have spent close to $4 million so far as problems have piled up.

They include vandalism. People broke into the lodge and sprayed fire extinguishers around the room, while others burned down the warming hut atop the main peak. (It will be replaced by the odd-looking ticket booth, known to locals as the “witch’s hat” because of its tall conical roof.)

Then there’s theft. More than 300 valves and nozzles on the snowmaking pipes were stolen, presumably for their copper, and many other pipes have been taken, sometimes after being sawed off. Even the trail maps that once directed skiers around the mountain have been lifted.

As an added problem, the final owners just walked away without shutting things down properly. Bouchard said they left food in the freezer – the whole kitchen had to be gutted – and water sitting in the snowmaking pipes, causing some to burst during winter, which is the main reason only half the mountain will be open this winter.

It goes on. Just this week Bouchard found that one of the four huge diesel engines that pump water and air up the mountain as part of snowmaking has seized up and must be replaced.

One thing that makes Bouchard optimistic is the engineering expertise that was developed by his team during years of research and development for commercial and defense companies. He thinks it can help the area cut the cost of energy, which he said can be as much as 75 percent of total operating costs of a ski area, and perhaps create a new revenue stream by developing equipment which can be sold to other areas.

Tenney’s future comes during something of a resurgence for smaller ski areas. Crotched Mountain in Francestown was shut down for almost a decade before Peak Resorts bought it a decade ago, although that company had to tear down virtually all of the buildings and even reshape the runs before it could be reopened. Pats Peak in Henniker expanded to a second peak two years ago, and Granite Gorge – the former Pinnacle Ski Area – has reopened in Roxbury. Even McIntyre Ski Area in Manchester is thriving.

Bouchard thinks that bodes well for Tenney, and he plans to make it part of a recreation and economic driver for the town and the North Country.

“The infrastructure’s in place,” he said. “We just need to get it all working, and we will really have something.”

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


Support Local Journalism

Subscribe to the Concord Monitor, recently named the best paper of its size in New England.

Concord Monitor Office

1 Monitor Drive
Concord,NH 03301


© 2021 Concord Monitor
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy