Crotched Mountain ski area cuts back operations as other Vail resorts in N.H. have problems

  • Skiing at Crotched Mountain. Staff photo by Ben Conant

  • Opening day at Crotched Mountain Ski and Ride in 2018. Staff photo by Ben Conant

  • Ski patrol at Crotched Mountain is one of the region's coldest jobs. Staff photo by Ben Conant

  • Snowmaking at Crotched Mountain. Staff file photo by Ben Conant

Monitor staff
Published: 1/4/2022 9:45:33 AM

After getting a late start to the ski season, Crotched Mountain resort has angered some season pass holders by cutting back its operating schedule to five days a week and dropping its Midnight Madness hours, as other New Hampshire areas owned by Vail Resorts have faced difficulties this season.

“They sell you a pass for you and your kids, and they’re not cheap, for a 7-day-a-week mountain. Then, first they don’t open up until after Christmas … then this,” said Ryan Nealley of New Boston.

“Tuesday night ski program (at Crotched) is supposed to have race training. All of a sudden that’s gone, with no notice, and it’s not like they give our money back,” said Nealley, who paid $1,000 for his daughter’s training program. The program is continuing on Saturdays.

Crotched, in Francestown, didn’t open at all until Dec. 26 — two weeks after nearby Pats Peak in Henniker and almost a full month after Wachusett Mountain in Massachusetts — and then suffered a last-minute shutdown for what it said was lift maintenance on Dec. 28, in the middle of school vacation week.

On Dec. 30 Crotched Mountain announced that it would not open on Mondays or Tuesdays for the foreseeable future, and would shut down by 9 p.m., ending a weekend Midnight Madness program that had long drawn enthusiastic fans.

In a Dec. 30 posting on social media, Crotched Mountain general manager Susan Donnelly wrote: “Mother Nature has been historically stingy with natural snow and consistent snowmaking temperatures, and we’ve had to contend with significant hurdles in regard to the COVID pandemic and staffing. … We will continue working toward solutions to these challenges and will reassess our operations strategy as the season progresses.”

Crotched, Wildcat and Attitash were among the resorts bought in 2019 when Vail purchased their owner, Peak Resorts. Vail already operated Mount Sunapee Resort, located on land owned by the state of New Hampshire.

Adam White, spokesman for Vail Resorts in the Northeast, wrote in an email Tuesday that as well as difficulties with staffing and weather, “some mechanical issues within our systems have been complicated by delays in getting parts due to supply chain issues.”

Donnelly’s Dec. 30 announcement triggered more than 200 comments on Facebook, mostly from angry or confused customers.

“This is BS! If this had been known before, I would have not put my daughter in ski team there and kept her at Pats. At least they can operate a mountain,” wrote a typical comment.

Adding to the concern, Wildcat and Attitash ski areas issued public apologies via Instagram and other outlets just before Christmas about the lack of open trails on the two mountains, which are much larger than relatively small Crotched.
“Attitash and Wildcat have also had to contend with similar challenges such as staffing, weather and maintenance,” wrote White. “Both resorts have some older equipment that can require significant maintenance at times. Some early-season issues with snowmaking at Wildcat have been resolved, and the Wildcat Express Quad is now running. Some electrical problems with Attitash’s Summit Triple that resulted in service interruptions last week have also been resolved.”

Nealley, who grew up near Attitash and has been skiing “since I was 2,” was sharply critical of Vail’s operations of Attitash and Wildcat, including shortage of open trails and chairlift problems.

“It feels like they’re just trying to lock people into having an Epic Pass, so if they go on a vacation they have to go to a Vail mountain … because their local mountain has been crap all year,” he said. “They’re just not spending money, not doing it right – trying to save money.”

Vail Resorts isn’t alone in having trouble filling slots for lift attendants, mechanics, grooming machine operators and other positions needed to open trails. The National Ski Areas Association has estimated that two-thirds of U.S. ski areas were unable to fill all open jobs last season and face at least as many issues this season.

On recent days complaints have arisen about another Vail property in Washington state, Stevens Pass, which was so slow to open that pass holders have threatened lawsuits and started an online petition, demanding redress. Somne Vail-owned areas have reported huge lift lines attributed partly to enormous sales of the company-wide Epic Pass, which covers virtually all Vail resorts.

The Colorado Sun said Vail resorts reported that it sold 2.1 million pre-purchased tickets and season passes, a staggering 76% increase over last winter.

 Vail rec ently announced that it has purchased three ski areas in Pennsylvania, giving it a total of 40 ski areas in three countries, including its namesake, Vail Resort in Colorado .

Crotched Mountain Ski Area in Francestown has an unusual history. It began in the 1960s to serve disabled people from the nearby Crotched Mountain Rehabilitation Center and operated as a traditional ski area for decades, at one time merging with an area on the adjoining mountain. It shut in 1990, one of many small, independent resorts that didn’t survive a wave of consolidation, and seemed likely to join scores of “lost” ski areas on hillsides around New England.

But Crotched Mountain was reborn in 2002, when Missouri-based Peak Resorts bought it and rebuilt the entire resort, cutting new trails, installing new chairlifts and constructing a new lodge and associated buildings. This was perhaps the biggest redevelopment of a closed ski area in state history.

David Brooks bio photo

David Brooks is a reporter and the writer of the sci/tech column Granite Geek and blog, as well as moderator of Science Cafe Concord events. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in mathematics he became a newspaperman, working in Virginia and Tennessee before spending 28 years at the Nashua Telegraph . He joined the Monitor in 2015.

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