Lost revenue could spell end for senior citizen discount at Cannon Mountain

  • Skiers enjoy a quiet weekday ski at Cannon Mountain in Franconia in 2008. Free skiing for seniors could end.   Jim Cole / ap file

Monitor staff
Published: 4/6/2016 7:10:08 PM

Lawmakers are weighing whether to eliminate one of the perks of growing old – free weekday skiing.

After a fiery debate Wednesday, the House passed a bill that would let the state charge seniors to ski at Cannon Mountain.

Currently, New Hampshire residents over 65 can ski there for free on weekdays.

Critics of that policy say the senior discount is too deep and that few mountains in the area offer skiing at no cost. As New Hampshire’s population continues to age and life expectancy increases, they argue the free skiing perk costs the self-funded state parks system too much.

“I am unaware of any ski areas in New Hampshire or Vermont that allow seniors to ski free. There are discounts,” said Rep. John Mullen, a Middleton Republican. “It’s only fair we all pay our fair share.”

But supporters say New Hampshire should be encouraging older residents to lead healthy, active lives. The change, they argue, could dissuade low-income seniors from skiing at Cannon, off Interstate 93 in Franconia.

“We have encouraged our seniors to stay active during the cold, dark months by skiing midweek at Cannon,” said Rep. Brad Bailey, a Monroe Republican. “Think of all the people who ski for the exercise, but will not be able to afford to ski if you take this away.”

The proposal is part of a bigger package that would let the state raise weekend and holiday admission rates to parks, historical sites and beaches for residents over age 65. That population doesn’t have to pay anything to access the state’s recreational areas, and hasn’t since the 1970s.

It’s getting costly. The Department of Resources and Economic Development can’t project what type of money the bill would generate, but estimated senior freebies across the park system cost $233,000 in lost revenue during the 2015 season.

A top department official said the proposal strikes a solid balance between tradition and demographic realities. Over the last 35 years, the average life expectancy for a 65-year-old has increased by 12.2 years.

“We all know that ability to pay is a concern for all ages.. . . And we know no one wants to give up something they are getting for free,” Philip Bryce, director of the state Division of Parks and Recreation, said in a statement. “However, if everyone contributes something, then that helps make access to our parks more available and a better experience for all.”

The legislation would let the state-run Cannon Mountain charge seniors up to two-thirds the cost of admission on weekends and holidays, and up to one-third the cost of admission during the week.

Those changes, along with any proposed fees or discounts for senior weekend admission to recreational areas, would need approval from the Legislative Fiscal Committee. The division plans to propose a $139 midweek season pass at Cannon Mountain for seniors, according to Bryce.

Cannon Mountain currently offers seniors a 29 percent discount on weekends, so a lift ticket is $53 compared with the full price of $75.

The bill, filed by Sen. Nancy Stiles, has already passed the Republican-led Senate. Some House members were critical of the plan, but it ultimately passed the chamber Wednesday by a vote of 171-158. It now heads to the House Ways and Means Committee for further review.

But it was the changes for senior skiing rates that sparked the most debate.

Seniors made 2,112 free visits to Cannon Mountain last year, a value of about $110,000, according to the Division of Parks and Recreation. And 135 seniors got free midweek season passes, which let them avoid going to the ticket window at each visit. The processing fee for each season pass is $39, Bryce said.

Nearby ski areas offer midweek senior discounts that range from 19 percent to 68 percent off regular ticket prices, according to the division. Seniors over age 80 can ski for free at Loon, Waterville Valley and Bretton Woods.

(Allie Morris can be reached at 369-3307 or at amorris@cmonitor.com.)

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